Landing an English teaching position in South Korea

Part One: Getting your visa

First off, you need a degree in any field, some recruiters (Gone2Korea) may tell you that you won’t get hired if you’re a guy and/or you don’t have a degree in education but this is BS and just pure laziness on their part and are likely financially motivated to make you apply through the public EPIK program.  Also the Korean government typically only issues E2 visas to English, Canadian, American, Australian, New Zealand, and South African citizens.

There are two major hiring windows in S. Korea: Feb/March and Aug/September.  So when you know which window you want to start work in then you should start getting these documents ready no more than 6 months away from your intended start date.  This is critically true for having your degree and criminal record check (CRC), these must be no more than 6 months old when you start applying for the visa.

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You should get a national level CRC (RCMP/FBI) and get your fingerprints taken electronically to expedite the time taken to process them.  This could take anywhere from a week or so to get the results mailed back to months or even depending on the competency of your police service – never.  When I went to Vietnam to volunteer teaching English the RCMP simply never sent my results back and never bothered to pick up their phones or send me anything other than an automated email….the second time I got the results back in under 10 days, go figure.

While applying for the CRC, ask your uni to send you two sealed copies of your transcripts.  In this early phase you can go get 5-6 passport pictures as there will not be much more you can do until you get your CRC, most recruiters will be looking for candidates who have their CRC taken care of because this takes the longest to acquire typically.

Once you have your CRC and degree in hand, take copies of them to a notary service (private or public) and have them notarized.  After these two documents are notarized you can then take them (the copies and the originals) to the Korean consulate, along with a sealed transcript and passport.  There should be no waiting time to get these documents affix the consulate seal, i.e. you should be able to go there and get the consulate staff to afix the consulate stamp there and then.

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With this out of the way, you can feel free to contact recruiters about finding a job.  This is not to say you can not start talking to recruiters before you’ve got the aforementioned documents take care of, but many will give priority to candidates with these items already in hand.  Dave’s ESL Cafe is a great place to find job listings posted by many of the recruiters and they typically repost the same jobs on a nearly daily basis.  Gone2Korea has alot of great information on their website but if you are looking for a hagwon job as a guy without an education degree, they will tell you it is not worth their time trying.  As I said before this BS.  Personally, I recommend Appletree Global Recruiting http://www.appletreeedu.com/ They were fast to respond to my application (basic personal information, resume, professional picture (this is standard for all recruiting firms)) and actually listened to my preferences.  Many recruiters will ignore your preferences (e.g. Daegu, kindergarten/elementary) and repeatedly send you job listings they need to fill.  What impressed me most about Appletree was that instead of sending me school jobs and asking if I wanted to apply, they already sent my resume and information to schools and only sent me their information when the school wanted an interview, if I liked what I saw I would agree to arrange an interview.  Interviews are typically via phone or skype and last no more than 30mins.  I landed my job after only two interviews. For the best results, take a shotgun approach and apply to as many recruiters as possible as you will get so many more interviews and job offers than just sticking with one recruiter.

Once a school wants to give you a job, and you agree (more info on what to look for in the contract in the second part of the post), then you must send a package of documents to the Korean Immigration department, this includes your 4 passport photos, notarized copies of degree and CRC (also sending your original CRC I believe), your resume, job contract, copy of your passport info page, and self-medical form….there may be one or two other things but your recruiter will confirm what you need to send at this time in the visa process.

Next, once you receive your visa number, you will complete a visa application and take this as well as another passport photo, your passport, $72, and your other transcript to the Korean consulate closest to you.  The time to process this varies between 5-10 business days they will tell you.  Be assured that you are supposed to leave your visa there and you come back for it after the processing time is up.  You can leave an express envelope with them to send it to you rather than having to go in personally.  In my case I think they saw how little time I had left before I was to come here and they expedited my application and sent it via the Expresspost envelope I had left with the consulate staff.  After your passport is in your hands you will see it has been stamped with the E-2 visa and you are now golden! You can look forward to working in Korea.

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Part two: Public vs. private

Public Pros:

  • Reliable employers and workplace
  • 4 weeks vacation
  • Contracts respected
  • Co-teacher (could be argued a con depending on your co-teacher)
  • More prestige
  • Just generally a better option to working at a hagwon
  • Orientation period before starting work

Public Cons:

  • Extremely competitive due to the S. Korean government slashing the EPIK program in recent years
  • No guarantee you will work at the location you desire
  • You will probably be the only native-speaker at your school
  • More certifications needed e.g. in class TEFL/TESOL/CELTA, B.Ed, MA, etc

Private Pros:

  • More job opportunities year round
  • Potential to make more money
  • Freedom to choose where you want to work
  • Your school will probably have other foreign ESL teachers
  • More selection in what age group you want to teach i.e. kindie, elementary, middle, high school, adults
  • More variation in work times

Private Cons:

  • Slowly growing more competitive as teachers from EPIK are pushed out and look for hagwon jobs
  • More work (depends on the job)
  • Less reliable working conditions e.g. management, contracts, housing, workload, etc
  • Only 10 vacation days, typically 5 in summer and 5 in winter but some schools spread the days out across the year into glorified long weekends…thus limiting the prospect of backpacking expeditions!!
  • Potentially longer work days

Interview and contract advice:

1) the school should pay for the flight; it used to be a return trip and now due to the poor economic conditions this has changed more to a one-way ticket

2) in an interview dress professionally

3) have questions

4) if they don’t ask for a teaching demo, to really impress them ask to do one

5) have questions to ask the director/teacher who will be interviewing you

6) If they offer the job, ask for the email of a current/former teachers (former teachers are better as they will not be under any duress), ask the teacher what conditions are like, are contracts respected, how long they’ve been at school, how many foreign teachers are there, it is a good sign if teachers have stayed there beyond the first year

7) ask to see pictures of the apartment or similar living quarters

8) have the number of hours a week and month specified in the contract

9) make sure there is a clause including pension; it is illegal for schools to not offer a pension

10) the contract could mention working a few Saturdays/Sundays, do what I have done before and ask that you get an addendum guaranteeing you will only work no more than 5 Saturdays/Sundays in the year

11) make sure severance pay is included in the contract, this is standard to all contracts and should be equal to one month of pay

12) standard starting salary without formal teaching experience is 2.1m KRW.

This is all that comes to mind at the moment but I think even if you did some more research online you should find that I’ve touched on the most pressing concerns when considering signing a contract for a year in a completely foreign land. I should also note there is no guarantee they will keep their word on the contract…but if the former/current teacher doesn’t ring any alarm bells then you can be fairly sure that you will be treated well and given what is stipulated in the contract.

If there are any questions please feel free to leave a comment!

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