Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching in South Korea
Is TEFL certification required to teach in South Korea?Click to Open
It depends on the school type. For public schools, TEFL certification is required unless you have an Education degree or teaching license. Not all private schools require TEFL, but they all strongly prefer teachers with certificates, and you would be at a serious competitive disadvantage trying to find a job without it. ESL teachers in Korea have a high level of responsibility for planning lessons and managing classes, and TEFL certification will help make sure you’re prepared for this.
For these reasons, CIEE’s standard program in Korea includes our online 150 hour TEFL certification course as a built-in feature! This training takes 3-4 months to complete, and new sessions start every two weeks. Our TEFL team will enroll you in a course after your Teach in Korea application is accepted and you have paid the Commitment Deposit.
If you already have TEFL, an Education degree, or a teaching license, you can apply to our Basics program, which has all the same support and placements, just without TEFL.
How competitive are teaching jobs in Korea? Are there interviews?Click to Open
As long as you meet the eligibility requirements (see our program pages for these), CIEE has a high acceptance rate. We want to help as many people teach abroad as possible!
EPIK public school positions are competitive, so it’s important to start preparing early. The EPIK program’s acceptance rate changes from season to season based on their needs, so it’s hard to predict. For private schools, it’s easier to get a job, and we have a strong track record of successful placement outcomes.
There are video interviews for both school types, and these are very important. Candidates should be energetic and professional, and demonstrate enthusiasm for teaching, not just travelling. We share additional tips with our candidates when they get to this phase of the process!
I haven’t graduated yet, can I still apply?Click to Open
Yes! If you haven’t graduated yet (or haven’t received your degree), please submit a letter from either your Academic Advisor or Registrar to confirm your anticipated graduation date and degree type. You can upload this to your Educational Documents section in place of your diploma and transcripts. You should also check with your university to see when you will receive the actual diploma, since you’ll need this eventually for the visa.
Why should I pay a fee to teach in Korea?Click to Open
Our fee-based program means you can expect the highest level of service and assistance. Unlike recruiters who rely on commissions from schools, CIEE works for you, and puts your interests first. Our years of experience and firsthand advice from alumni will help you have a successful experience. At every step of the process, the guidance and support that we offer sets us apart from the rest.
For candidates who will be taking our TEFL course as part of the package, the ability to combine that certification and your job search preparations under one roof is also a great benefit!
Are recommendation letters required?Click to Open
All candidates must have two recommenders submit letters on their behalf. These should be from people who have supervised your work, either at university, a paid job, or a substantial volunteer position.
For private schools, digital letters with typed or scanned signatures are acceptable. Make sure that CIEE receives these by the application deadline, either through your application tasks, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the EPIK public school program, you must collect signed original letters yourself. You’ll need scans for EPIK’s application process, but keep the originals in a safe place to mail to EPIK in the later stages. They are picky about formatting rules, so be sure to review the requirements for EPIK recommendation letters.
What’s the difference between public and private schools in Korea?Click to Open
CIEE can help you apply to teaching jobs at public schools with the national EPIK program, or to teaching jobs at private school academies, also called hagwons.
Public school instructors have 20-25 teaching hours per week, and normally rotate between multiple schools on a weekly schedule. Public schools give you slightly longer vacations, but less control over where in Korea you will be placed.
On the other hand, private schools give you much more control over your placement location, since you’ll be interviewing with a specific school instead of a centralized government agency. The workload is around 30 teaching hours per week, and vacations are a bit shorter. Unlike public schools, private academies hire multiple foreign teachers, so you’ll be working with a few other expats.
For a detailed comparison of public and private schools in Korea, check out this handout!
How does the placement process work?Click to Open
If you choose public schools, CIEE will give you guidance, tips, and reminders to help you prepare visa documents and make your application for EPIK as strong as it can be. If you pass EPIK’s video interview, you’ll mail them your visa documents. Once those are received, EPIK will assign you to a specific province or metro area, and guide you through the visa process. EPIK candidates don’t have much influence over where they get placed. Learn more about applying to public schools
If you apply to private schools, you will discuss your preferences with our in-country team, who will then arrange video interviews with potential employers. Before the interview, you’ll get a summary of the position and the location. If you don’t like the school, you can let us know and we will work to find one that feels like a better fit. Learn more about applying to private schools
Where in South Korea do CIEE teachers get placed?Click to Open
We place teachers all over Korea. Public schools are found throughout the country, while private school placements tend to cluster in cities and suburban areas. Many of our private school placements are in the greater Seoul area, so that’s a more reliable way to get a job near the capitol. For both school types, the center of Seoul is extremely competitive.
It is best if you can keep an open mind about location, as this allows for a wider search, however, it is understandable to have placement preferences and you can indicate these throughout the process.
Can friends or couples teach in South Korea together?Click to Open
We get this question a lot: Can couples teach in South Korea together? Can friends teach in South Korea together? With private school jobs, it’s pretty easy to do, since many of them are hiring two or more teachers simultaneously. Both people should apply to CIEE’s program at the same time, and communicate their request clearly in conversations about placement preferences.
On the other hand, EPIK will only consider requests for joint placement from married couples.
How long are teaching contracts in Korea? Can I renew after my first year?Click to Open
All of our partners in South Korea require a 12 month (365 day) commitment. No one-semester contracts are available. If your job performance is satisfactory, the school will likely invite you to renew your contract for another year!
Foreign teachers receive short breaks between semesters, but they continue to teach for most of the summer with special programs like English language camps or adult education.
Living and Working
What kind of housing is included with teaching jobs in Korea?Click to Open
In addition to the monthly salary, all of our partner schools will arrange safe, comfortable housing for teachers. It is generally a studio or a one-bedroom apartment. In the rare situation where you would be sharing your apartment with another foreign teacher of the same gender, the school would make you aware of this before signing the contract.
Do schools in South Korea give you a curriculum to follow?Click to Open
The curriculum you will need to follow varies greatly from school to school. Some schools have a structured curriculum while others have general teaching outcomes for the semester. You will learn more about the expectations and resources your school has once you arrive and meet your colleagues.
Since you can’t know these exact details in advance, it’s a good idea to be prepared for anything. Start gathering lesson ideas online, talk to friends who are teachers, and consider taking CIEE’s online TEFL training course. It’s a great way to get yourself ready!
How many hours per week will I teach? What will my role be?Click to Open
Wherever you are placed, expect to have the role of a lead teacher. Working hours will vary slightly from school to school, but a typical assignment for public schools is 20-25 classroom hours with the rest of your schedule available for planning. The typical assignment in a private school is 30 classroom hours with additional hours for planning. In the beginning of your time in either school type you will spend more hours planning as you are still getting comfortable with the curriculum and the students’ levels.
At a public school you will often have a Korean co-teacher to help with classroom management, as those classes are usually around 30 students. Private schools have smaller classes, usually around 8-15 students.
How heavy is the workload compared to other countries?Click to Open
South Korea does have a heavier workload than some of our other programs. The expectations for your lesson plans, classroom skills, and enthusiasm tend to be a bit higher, which is one of the reasons we strongly advise getting your TEFL certification.
In Korea, workload is measured by the number of hours spent teaching in the classroom each week: 20-25 hours at public schools, and 30 hours at private schools. Beyond those hours, expect to spend additional time on meetings, free periods, lunch supervision, special events and lesson prep. For private schools, first-year teachers typically need to spend significant time on lesson prep after hours, since their daily schedules are quite full and they don’t have free periods during the day to plan.
How do I get a Korean bank account? Can I use US bank/credit cards?Click to Open
Once you arrive at your school, a colleague will help you set up a local bank account, which is usually ready 3-5 weeks after you arrive. Most teachers are paid by direct deposit, but your first paycheck might be in cash if that’s not ready yet. You can continue to use your U.S. bank or credit cards abroad, but you will need to contact your home financial institution to discuss fees, travel alerts, and security.
Are teacher salaries in Korea enough to cover cost of living?Click to Open
Yes! South Korea has one of the highest starting salaries for entry-level English teachers, when you consider that rent-free housing is already provided. If you’re living like a local, other costs of living are significantly lower than in the US. This means that you can take care of meals, groceries, utilities, internet, cell phone, and local transportation, and still have plenty of money left over each month. You can use it to plan amazing trips, make student loan payments, or just save it up and bring it back with you!
WHAT IS THE DRESS CODE FOR TEACHING IN SOUTH KOREA?Click to Open
Expectations vary between schools. Some are very casual (jeans and a t-shirt), while others look for smart casual. Tattoos should be covered while teaching and non-ear piercings may need to be taken out or covered. Most schools would expect men to tie back long hair and be clean-shaven, but some may be flexible about this once they get to know you.
Can I bring my cat or dog?Click to Open
No. It’s very difficult to “import” an animal into South Korea, and then re-import them back to your home country when you return home. Employers and landlords won’t allow you to have a pet in your small studio apartment. You’ll need to find someone for your pet to live with while you teach abroad.
Travel and Arrival
WILL THERE BE ORIENTATION ON ARRIVAL?Click to Open
For our Teach in South Korea programs, CIEE does not organize a traditional, in-person orientation on arrival, because of the wide variety of start dates set by different employers. Here’s a look at the support and resources provided by each program:
Candidates placed with the EPIK public school program will participate in a multi-day, in-person orientation organized by EPIK. Past teachers have described this event as helpful, and a great way to meet other foreign teachers when you first arrive.
Leading up to departure, CIEE will help highlight other relevant resources to help EPIK candidates get ready! EPIK teachers will get their in-country support from colleagues at school, as well as from EPIK’s administrative team.
On the other hand, most private schools provide only limited training/orientation to incoming teachers. For this reason, we've built strong pre-departure guides for our hagwon teachers to review ahead of departure, so they have a good idea of what to expect and how to operate effectively and appropriately in their positions.
Hagwon teachers will get their in-country support from colleagues at school, as well as from CIEE’s in-country placement team.
Is it safe to teach in South Korea?Click to Open
South Korea periodically finds itself in the headlines because of posturing by its northern neighbor, but in reality it has enjoyed peace and stability for over 65 years since fighting ended in the Korean war. At CIEE, we use our international connections and resources to monitor safety and security in all of our destinations, relying on public and non-public information sources. At this time, we are confident that South Korea is a safe country in which to live and teach, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. No place is completely risk-free, whether at home or abroad, and it’s important to follow common sense practices, such as not walking alone after dark, keeping your passport in a safe place, and being careful around roadways and motor vehicles.
For more information about safety in South Korea, please consult the State Department’s country page, and consider enrolling in the STEP program, which can be helpful for concerned family members as well!
Do schools in Korea cover visas and flights?Click to Open
Public schools will give you 1.3 million won as a transportation allowance. This happens 1-6 months after arrival depending on the province you are placed in. Most private schools will reimburse you for all or most of your one-way flight to Korea with your first paycheck. Some will pay for your flight home rather than your flight to Korea. This detail will be confirmed in writing at the time of each job offer.
After a job offer, you will need to wait until your visa is approved before buying tickets, since that will determine your exact travel date. Teachers typically buy flights 2-4 weeks before departure.
Teachers should expect to cover the cost of their visa ($45 plus shipping for US citizens), as well as an apostilled background check (about $80 plus shipping) and apostilled diploma copy ($20-70, depending on your US state). EPIK candidates: after a successful interview, budget $70 to send your documents to EPIK by international express carrier, since this is highly time sensitive!