Below I have made a list of criteria I think are essential when looking for a country to teach in and either start a career in ESL or continue one.
Types of schools
Public (EPIK program), private (hagwons), international, college, university; the whole shebang!
Kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school, university students, adults
Most jobs are limited to kindergarten and elementary although there are plenty of job opportunities for teaching older students, those types of jobs are more significantly competitive.
2.1m -> 3m+ KRW per month
Most starting jobs start at 2.1m KRW but it can get lower depending on the job. I’d say most hagwons pay between 2.1m -> 2.4m KRW and but if you can find work at one of the major nationwide hagwons like POLY you could even make up to 2.8m KRW. Jobs beyond 2.8m KRW are typically high end university jobs, teaching corporate clients, or teaching English to engineering, law, or medical students or professionals. I should also say that there is growing talk about wage stagnation since the early 2000s and due to the current downcast economic situation in South Korea.
One-way flight ticket, medical insurance, pension, one month severance pay, housing or housing allowance
I think anyone can agree that is a great set of benefits. At the same time, factors like the poor economic climate in South Korea and increasing competition in the hagwon market is leading hagwon owners to try cut back on these benefits. Even back in late 2013 I remember most hagwons included prepaid return trip flights. Now, it seems the norm has become a one-way flight ticket. It is also becoming quite common for schools to try not to offer the pension. This is despite a recent Supreme Court ruling that it is illegal for schools to not offer the pension to teachers working on the E-2 English teaching visa. (If I have mistaken the meaning of the ruling please leave a comment).
Potential to save
HIGH. If you budget and don’t go out party at every opportunity it is quite easy to save up to half a paycheck. Also, at the end of your contract you get your severance pay, last paycheck, AND you can cash out your pension contributions. So that means even if you are making just 2.1m KRW p/m, you will get 6m+ KRW when you leave. It is possible to save up to $18,000 in a single year. The caveat being that most people don’t save that much. The lifestyle is simply too comfortable for many to not indulge a little bit.
Standard of living
HIGH. The cost of living may be increasing but it is still quite modest compared to the cost of living in most of the US, Canada, the UK and other English speaking countries. English teachers who live prudently can afford to go out for dinner a couple times a week, go for a weekend trip once a month, maybe do a bit of retail therapy, and have a few nights out. South Korea has a world-class transport infrastructure complete with a vast network of buses, subway systems in every major city, a wonderful train system crowned by the high speed KTX, and Incheon international airport which has top-notch connections to the rest of Asia. There is also a huge friendly and supportive expat scene which makes making friends easy and countless opportunities to get involved in this community through various sporting, cultural, religious, and language groups.
Major teaching locations
Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Incheon, Ulsan, Gwangju
South Korea has every kind of location on offer; cosmopolitan metropolises like Seoul and Busan, smaller cities like Gwangju or Pohang, island paradise Jeju island, and tiny towns out in the countryside for those who like a bit of peace and quiet. Just know that getting a job in central Seoul, as opposed to the surrounding satelite cities, is very competitive. Busan is even more competitive.
Potential to climb ladder
LOW. If your aim is to eventually move into more senior teaching or management positions, South Korea is not the place to do it. It is very rare to hear of foreign directors or head teachers. These positions are 99/100 reserved for Koreans. However, I’d say that if you’re able to master Korean then perhaps it is possible. I just haven’t heard of any such examples.
Professional development options
MEDIUM. A great place to develop your teaching skills is KOTESOL which is an organization of English teachers of all types who meet and discuss ideas, changes, stories, and methods to further improve as teachers. There are TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA courses in South Korea but these are quite expensive when taking into account the cost of the course, accommodation, and food.
South Korea in one word