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Types of ESL Jobs in South Korea: Public vs Private Schools

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South Korea is one of the most popular locations to teach English abroad.  It’s important to understand though that there are really two distinct types of ESL jobs in South Korea: teaching at a public school or a private school. Many Korean students attend public school, then go to a private school to keep studying in the afternoon or evening. CIEE’s Teach in South Korea program can help you connect with either type of job!

Teacher helping student in South Korean classroom

Public school positions are arranged by EPIK, a South Korean government program. CIEE is an official EPIK partner and provides candidates with timelines, guidance, and tips for applying to EPIK and navigating the complicated and competitive EPIK application process.

CIEE also has relationships with dozens of trusted private schools, which are also called hagwons in Korea. These are private, reputable, for-profit companies that recruit local and foreign teachers, and CIEE can get you ready and arrange hiring interviews for you.

You’ll need to decide whether you want to teach in a public school or private school based on the factors that are most important to you personally. Both are suitable for first-time teachers. Keep in mind that EPIK public schools are more competitive, especially for Fall start dates, and require extra work to apply. 

Review the comparison below to see the pros and cons of each type and decide which is the best fit for you!

Public vs Private Schools in Korea – Similarities

Teaching jobs at public and private schools in Korea share many similarities and both school types are popular with foreign teachers.  The following are some of the common features you can expect from either type of school.

Kids putting plants in pots in classroom

Job Benefits: Flight, Housing, and Insurance

In addition to salary, both types of schools provide: 

  • Rent-free housing with basic furnishings: bed, table, fridge, etc. 
  • Reimbursement for part or all of a one-way flight to South Korea.
  • Enrollment in Korea’s National Health Insurance system.

With either school type, the salary and rent-free apartment make it easy to save money while teaching in South Korea.

Age of Students  

At both types of schools, most of your classes will be with primary school children. Some private school jobs also have kindergarten ages, and some public-school jobs also have middle school ages, but all applicants should be ready to work with primary school as their main focus.

Contract Duration

Both types of schools require a 12-month contract. Upon successful completion of the contract, both types of schools will pay a completion/severance bonus equal to about one month’s pay.

Feedback From Past Teachers in Korea

Teachers at both school types generally report prompt salary payment and good experiences overall, with just occasional issues related to communication, last-minute changes, and apartment cleanliness.

Public vs Private Schools in Korea - Differences

Despite the similarities outlined above, there are some key differences between teaching at public and private schools in Korea that make the experience of teaching at each school type unique.  Read about the key differences below so you can decide which school type will be a better fit for you depending on your personal preferences. 

Teacher and students playing around


For public schools, the salary is 2.1 to 2.4 million won/month, depending on the province. 
For private schools, salaries range from 2.3 to 3.0 million won/month. Salaries at the high end of the range usually correspond to a slightly heavier workload.

Schedule and Workload

Jobs at both school types are considered full-time, and take place Monday to Friday. Expect 2-4 mandatory special events per year on Saturdays or Sundays, like a talent show, field trip, or sports day.

For public schools, you can expect daytime hours, i.e. 7-3 or 8-4pm. Within those times, expect a schedule with 20-25 hours of teaching per week (not counting time for commuting, meetings, free periods, assemblies, lesson prep, etc.).

For private schools, most jobs have evening hours like 11-7 or 2-10pm, but a small number of daytime-only kindergarten jobs exist. Expect a schedule with 30-34 hours of teaching per week (not counting time for meetings, free periods, meetings, assemblies, etc.).

Class Size, Co-Teachers, and Colleagues

For public schools, you can expect larger classes with 20-30 students. You’ll have a Korean co-teacher in the room with you most of the time, but you WON’T have other expat teachers at your school.

For private schools, you can expect smaller classes with 5-12 students. You WON’T have a co-teacher in the room with you, but you will likely have other expat teachers working at your school.

So, if having a co-teacher is important for you, that may steer you toward public schools. But if having other expat teachers around is important, that may steer you toward private schools. 

South Korean kids listening to teacher speaking

Friends and Partners

For public schools, siblings and married couples may request placement together, but requests for joint placement with a friend or unmarried partner will likely not be fulfilled. 
For private schools, it’s usually easy to be placed at the same school as a friend, spouse, or unmarried partner if you want!

Locations and Placement Preferences

For public schools:

  • You have little to no influence over where you are placed. EPIK only allows you to list one province or metro city as your preference. If they can’t place you there, they will assign you to another province where there is need. 
  • Seoul is extremely competitive, and Busan requires an Education degree or in-person TEFL course.
  • Successful EPIK candidates receive their province assignment about 6 weeks before departure.
  • After arriving, they will be assigned to 2-4 specific schools, and rotate between them on different days of the week. This means more time commuting compared to private schools.

For private schools:

  • You will have much more control over location. We’ll gather your preferences, then during the job search you can decline interviews from areas you don’t like. 
  • Central Seoul is still competitive, but large numbers of first-time teachers get placed in the greater Seoul area (Gyeonggi Province).
  • Private school candidates almost always work at a single school location, close by to their apartment, which keeps commuting to a minimum.

Vacation Time

In addition to paid national holidays, public schools give 24-26 paid vacation days per year, while private schools give 9-10 paid vacation days per year.

Next Steps

The Choice Is Yours

Whether you choose to teach in a public or private school in Korea, CIEE’s Teach in South Korea program will help you every step of the way.