Although a few other opportunities are available for work (particularly for those with Korean language skills), the biggest demand is for English teachers. Koreans have an insatiable appetite for studying English and the country is a deservedly popular place for English-language teachers to find work.
Native English teachers on a one-year contract can expect to earn around W2.5 million or more a month, with a furnished apartment, return flights, 50% of medical insurance, 10 days paid holiday and a one-month completion bonus all included in the package. Income tax is very low (around 4%), although a 4.5% pension contribution (reclaimable by some nationalities) is compulsory. Careful spenders can save heaps.
Most English teachers work in a hagwon (private language school) but some are employed by universities or government schools. Company classes, English camps and teaching via the telephone are also possible, as is private tutoring although this is technically illegal. Teaching hours in a hagwon are usually around 30 hours a week and are likely to involve split shifts, and evening and Saturday classes. A degree in any subject is sufficient as long as English is your native language. However, it’s a good idea to obtain some kind of English-teaching qualification before you arrive, as this increases your options and you should be able to find (and do) a better job.
Some hagwon owners are less than ideal employers and don’t pay all that they promise, so check out the warnings on the websites at the end of this section before committing yourself. Ask any prospective employer for the email addresses of foreign English teachers working at the hagwon, and contact them for their opinion and advice. One important point to keep in mind is that if you change employers, you will usually need to obtain a new work visa, which requires you to leave the country to pick up your new visa. Your new employer may pick up all or at least part of the tab for this.
The best starting point for finding out more about the English-teaching scene is the Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK; www.atek.or.kr). The English-language newspapers have very few job advertisements, but vacancies are advertised on the following websites:
www.englishspectrum.com Has stacks of job offers (job seekers can advertise too) and a bulletin board with accommodation options.
www.eslcafe.com New job postings daily and useful forums on working and living in Korea.
www.planetesl.com Not only job listings but also lesson plans and a whole lot of other info about living and working in Korea.
For most government and private offices, business hours are from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday. From November to February government offices may close an hour earlier. Tourist information centres are usually open from 9am to 6pm daily while national parks are open daily from sunrise to sunset. Keep in mind that many (but not all) government-run museums and tourist sites close on Mondays.
Banking hours are from 9.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday. The hours that ATMs are available vary and are written on the machine, but they are not generally open 24 hours. Post offices are generally open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, but some are open longer hours.
Department stores traditionally open from 10.30am to 7.30pm six days a week. Nowadays some open every day and a few open until late evening. New youth-oriented shopping malls tend to stay open until 10pm. Small general stores often stay open until midnight even in suburban areas, and many convenience stores are open 24 hours. Shops are generally open from 10am to around 9pm every day, but the trend towards more days off means that some do now close on Sunday. Travel agents may take Saturday afternoon off as well as Sunday.
Restaurants usually open from 11am to 10pm every day. Cinemas traditionally open at 11am, with the last show ending just before midnight, but a few run later. In big cities, midnight showings and even all-night movies are becoming a more popular option.
Pubs and bars open daily from 6pm to midnight but they close later on Friday and Saturday. Some open at noon for the thirsty early birds.
There is plenty for night owls to do in Korean cities as some saunas, restaurants, PC bang (internet rooms), DVD bang (room for watching DVDs), noraebang (karaoke rooms), convenience stores, bars and nightclubs stay open all night.
Teach English in South Korea with an i-to-i TEFL Course
You don’t need teaching qualifications or fluent Korean to start a new life in South Korea. Teach English while experiencing the temples and lush rice paddies of this inspiring country. Check out our partner’s resources on teaching abroad – we think you’ll fall for it, heart and Seoul.