South Korea offers cheap living and great pay for English teachers. With careful planning, you can earn a few thousand dollars within a couple of months to finance your travels, writes Lindy Sinka
The big step to move abroad to teach, live, and ultimately travel and learn a new culture is a tricky one. One of the easiest places to start your teaching English adventure is South Korea. It is also a snap to land a job in China, Japan, or Taiwan, but teaching English in Korea is a good choice for a variety of reasons. If you time it properly, you can work for a month in Korea and see what you think of it before you make any long term commitments.
I recommend getting a job at one of the numerous English learning camps that take place in Korea in the summer (mid-July to mid-August) or winter (unfortunately, many of these usually start on Dec. 29th and run to mid-February). The summer camps usually last a month in Korea and if you do it right you can squeeze in two camps while you are there. Winter camps tend to last from two weeks up to a month. The good thing about summer camp is that the school session is about to start so they are in real need of teachers. You are in high demand. Some of the positions don’t even require a university diploma, but most of them do. Some English teaching jobs in Korea require a TEFL qualification, but I assure you it is not necessary.
You can typically make anywhere from 2,500,000-3,000,000 won for a month-long camp. [$2400US to $2900US]. You do the math – it’s not too shabby (See Travelhappy’s Currency Converter) You will get free accommodation and food while you work at the camp.
Ask your potential employer lots of questions
When you apply for English teaching jobs in Korea, be absolutely sure to ask questions about the accommodation- don’t take anything for granted! A friend of mine was stuck in the woods in a little cabin with no heat in the middle of winter and let me tell you it is freezing.
Don’t be fooled by offers that seem to good to be true. I applied for a job this past winter that advertised a salary on the high end plus flight reimbursement. Upon further clarification, with real perseverance on my part, I discovered that is was not at all a reimbursement but merely deducted from my final salary. I wrote a feisty letter explaining the difference in semantics and declined the job but they did change their ad very shortly there afterwards. So, the moral of the story is- you really can’t be too careful.
A lot of the camps are run by private companies and sometimes will try to cheat you out of your final salary. Ask lots of questions and negotiate your salary – they need you. As far as the Korean winter camps go… well, you may have to celebrate New Year’s with a bunch of screaming kids but you will get paid more. The demand for teachers is much higher in winter as most people don’t want to give up their holidays and it is expensive to fly during that time. And did I mention that it is cold? Well, it is.
Finding a job online
You can find lots of Korean camp jobs and other longer term jobs on www.eslcafe.com, www.hiteacher.com, www.englishspectrum.com, www.eslemployment.com, and one of my favorites www.koreabridge.com/classifieds/index/htm. There are all good websites and the last one has it broken down by location in Korea and also has a lot of other helpful information. like language exchange, cultural classes, apartments for rent and generally useful stuff. There’s also the Seoul Craigslist.
The other big benefit of getting a Korea camp job first is that once you have it and start the job hunt many of the schools, hogwans, and language school will pay for you to fly to Japan to get a working visa. The camp jobs will allow you to get up to a 90 day temporary visa and that is a good start but you will need to get a different visa in order to stick around.
Choices for jobs
The choices come down to this for full time English teaching jobs in Korea : public or private schools ranging from kindergarten to high school, hogwans which are privately run institutions (money-making pits), and the coveted university jobs (www.aacircle.com.au/teach-in-korea-info.htm). One of the best bits about working in Korea is that if you are careful in choosing your job you can get nice accommodation for free. This will allow you to save a lot more money. The cost of living in Japan is outrageous – I know, I lived there for over 3 years and it is very rare to have free accommodation as part of the deal. Most of the employers actually charge you more than you would pay on your own for sharing with 3 or 4 people, but it is not easy to get your own place in Japan.
You can save lots of cash
With an English teaching job in Korea, you can save heaps of money if you are not running wild in the streets of Seoul every weekend. It is easy to spent pocketfuls of cash if you aren’t careful…. Not that I would know. Really. Nearly all contracts are for a year and if you work for a public school or university you will get long holidays. We like long holidays. Korea just doesn’t have that exotic ring to it like Japan or China so you will have a larger assortment of jobs to choose from. This means you can be a lot choosier about what kind of job you want to take.
The country and the people
Korea is a lovely country despite the biting cold and sauna-like summers. The people are truly hospitable and extremely friendly. I have never had so much help. I think that may be due to the fact that Korea is very Christian. More than 25% of the population is Christian, but it seems like a lot more. When I say I say this because there are churches everywhere-in rice fields in what looks like the middle of nowhere.
You will see neon crosses everywhere, even along seemingly deserted areas. There is by no means any shortage of places to worship.
This being the case Korea leans towards the conservative side of things. Depending on what kind of person you are you may find it a bit of a surprise at first. With that in mind I can say confidently that Seoul is a great city and extremely easy to get around on your own. Gotta love the infrastructure that comes with the Olympics. Hooray.
Once you are outside of the big cities, Korea is still very agricultural. This is not a bad thing but you can imagine it is very very quiet and you will definitely feel a little out of place. Don’t let that worry you though, like I said Koreans are generally extremely friendly and will try to help you even if they can’t speak a word of English.
One other good thing is the buses. Most Koreans travel by bus and it is very cheap. Long-distance travel may take a little longer, though you could opt for the more expensive express train, but it is convenient and there are nearly always buses leaving in fairly short intervals.
Watch out for the names. Many cities have nearly identical names and are often spelled in multiple ways due to letter mixing of b’s, d’s and accents. You could end up someplace that sounds the same and is even spelled the same but is not where you meant to be. Don’t be fooled by thinking that just because you showed the smiling ticket lady the map she would put you on the right bus. Looks can be deceiving.
Upon arriving in a new and completely unfamiliar place you might have to go into tourist information and ask with a meek smile-“What town am I in?” and the woman behind the counter wonders what is wrong with you, but answers again with a smile. You then discover you are hundreds of kilometers away from your intended destination. Hmmm, what is there to do around here? You may at this point be wondering if you wanted to take my advice. Trust me. It was not my fault.
Short-Term Visa (Camps Only C-4)
One thing that is important to understand about English teaching in Korea is the rules of the visa. Unfortunately, these are quite nebulous and it seems there are always new regulations passed but no matter what they never seem uniform. Each embassy seems to have its own way of doing things.
For camps you will need an E-2 visa. Once you have all the required paperwork you can pop into the embassy or consulate nearest you and should have your visa in 3 working days. The only problem is for these camps they are notorious procrastinators and you may well find your self begging at the embassy door trying to explain that you just got the documents and that you have already purchased your airline ticket.
My best advice is start looking for the camp jobs early and after you get one you think looks good bug the crap out of them to get you the paperwork. It may work. I have been very pesky in the past and still did not get the paperwork till Christmas Day and spent the entire day in the embassy. They don’t celebrate Christmas in Japan. It was not very pleasant.
You will have to pay the cost of the visa yourself and it varies by country but usually runs about $30 to $50 USD. This is standard. You can request up to 90 days but depending on the mood of the person issuing your visa you may get exactly what you need or a bit more. Always ask for 90 and see what you get. They won’t deny your visa- so give it a shot. In the past if your visa was long enough you could fit in two cheeky camps (usually just summer because the school break is longer) but it has all gotten a bit sticky in the past year. It all depends on if they write the name of your camp on the visa you receive. For example at the Tokyo Consulate they always do this but in Osaka they do not. So you can work more than one camp if your visa is from Osaka and not Tokyo. Again, each embassy/consulate does it differently.
There is no actual information in black and white about this. I have searched as I found myself trying to do two camps but there is nothing. Some people have had to fly to Japan at their own expense because their visa had the camp name on it. Immigration is tough on these camps as they are usually run by private organizations and are seen to be elitist, as only rich kids get the chance to attend them. They have been known to “raid” these camps and if the paperwork is not in order some poor souls have been ordered to leave the country and the camp can be fined heavily.
Long term work visa (E-2 Visa)
Once you land a longer contract teaching English in Korea and get your visa (outside the country) there are some things you should be aware of. Your visa is tied to the company you work for – think of it as an umbilical cord. If you change jobs you have to get an entirely new visa, which means a trip to Japan. You are restricted from working additional jobs without the permission, in writing, from your parent company. They are strict about this. Remember they are a formerly communist country. They don’t let a lot of things slide. You can easily get another visa if you change jobs but you may have to pay for your flight, but the good thing is flights are cheap and they may even pick up the tab. It depends on how badly they need you. Always negotiate. They will always initially say no, but be stern and they will come around. Business is business and they have a lot more money then you do. Koreans have taken to capitalism and they can be quite ruthless when it comes to money and profit.
Don’t let any of this deter you. You can make a nice chunk of money but just be a little careful. If you don’t want to stick around for a long term contract teaching English in Korea you’ll have a few thousand dollars in your hands and can travel in South East Asia for a while on that. All in all, Korea is a good place to live, travel, and work.