How To Get Started

Do you want to teach ESL in Korea, but don’t know where to start? Here is a list of the most important things you must do to start the application process.


Photo by Steve Cadman

1.) Get certified. You must have at least a four year degree for most teaching jobs, and some jobs require either a masters degree or a TESOL/TEFL (Teaching English as as second language/teaching English as a foreign language) certification as well. Neither of us did a TESOL/TEFL program, but here are some certification programs some of our friends and fellow ESL teachers in Korea have used and would recommend:

2.) Find a recruiting company. This is really the only legitimate way to find a job in Korea. Let them do the hard work of job searching, submitting your paperwork, arranging the interviews and doing all of the correspondence. You’ll need to apply and get accepted by a recruiting company before any other part of the process can begin. Here are our recruiting company recommendations, based on our own experience and the experiences of other ESL teachers in Korea:

3.) Start getting your paperwork in order early. You’ll most likely need:

  • An updated resume
  • A notarized copy of your diploma(s)
  • A notarized copy of your TESOL, TEFL or teaching certificate (if applicable)
  • Several sealed copies of your college, university and/or graduate school transcripts
  • A Criminal Record Check. NOTE: For Americans, this means a National FBI background check, not a state one. You will not pass the background check if you have any felonies on your record or any misdemeanors Korea considers a felony (like a DUI).
  • Once you receive your background check, you’ll need to get an Apostille seal certificate affixed to it. This is an internationally recognized notary, and for Americans, it can usually be done at your State Department or using a mail-delivery service. For more specific information on the background checks required for each country, see this website.
  • A passport with at least a year left before expiration and at least two empty pages left (this is just a personal recommendation–your visa will take up a whole page and you’ll need at least one more page for your entry and exit stamps).
  • Several standard-size passport photos
  • Two recommendation letters from a professional source, like an employer, professor or supervisor (for public schools only). The letters must include the person’s full name, their job title, address, contact number and an ink signature. It is very important that all of these elements are present in the recommendation letters–be clear with your recommenders on what is required to avoid any mishaps.
  • If you are married and are seeking joint housing, there is a chance you might be required to show a marriage certificate. We weren’t asked to do this, but just in case, you might want to have a notarized copy of your marriage certificate on hand.

*Don’t forget to make photocopies of all of your documents for yourself just in case something gets lost in the mail–better safe than sorry!

4.) Choose which type of job you want to apply for: public schools, or private schools. If you choose public schools, there are three branches you’ll need to choose from: SMOE  (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, which encompasses all of the schools in Seoul proper), GEPIK (Gyeonggi English Program in Korea, which includes all public schools in Seoul’s suburbs), or EPIK (English Program In Korea, which is all public schools in the rest of Korea). Once you’ve decided your preference, your recruiting company can point you in the right direction of how to begin the application process.

Personally, we recommend going the public school route. Because public schools are standardized and monitored by the government, you are way less likely to get screwed over. Your pay, vacation time and all other contract terms are set in advance and are (for the most part) inflexible. You’ll likely get about 20 days of vacation time (which is twice the amount of most private schools), and you’ll have an English-speaking liaison in your education office that can help you with any problems you may encounter with your contract.

Private schools have the allure of a bit higher pay (and if you have extensive experience, much higher pay), but there are just so many horror stories about private schools not honoring contracts, not buying their employees the required health insurance, refusing vacation time and much more. If you choose to go this route, do your research and make sure you talk to a past teacher from the school about his or her experience.

5.) Apply! Your recruiting company will let you know the specifics of what you’ll need to do for each job. Chances are you’ll submit your paperwork, and then if you pass that round you’ll be expected to complete a phone or Skype interview.

Good luck! Feel free to contact us if you have any more questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Click here to visit The Arrival Store

This page contains some affiliate links. This means if you click on the links and then make a purchase, we will receive a commission–which helps us pay our bills and keep the lights on at World Walk About. Thanks for your support!

11 Responses to “How To Get Started”

  1. Tomas August 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Looks like an interesting position mixed together with an adventure, as a former ESL teacher i know it’s a very rewarding job.
    Tomas recently posted…TOEFL ListeningMy Profile

    • Andrea August 31, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      We’ve certainly had an adventure! Where did you used to teach?

  2. Nick January 18, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    I am interested in teaching in Korea. I have visited twice and love the country. I plead no contest to a Misdemeanor Obstruction of an Officer charge in 2004. I do not know if this will show up on my FBI background check. Does South Korea consider a Misdemeanor Obstruction of an Officer charge to be a felony and would it disqualify me from teaching in South Korea?


    • Andrea January 19, 2015 at 9:21 am #

      Hi Nick, thanks for reading! I really have no idea what specifically counts as a misdemeanor and what counts as a felony in Korea, sorry! I think your best bet is to connect with a recruiter. They can tell you specifics like that. I have listed some of the recruiters I know about above on point #2. Good luck!

  3. Nicole March 22, 2015 at 4:45 pm #

    Hi, I know that two reference letters are required when applying to public schools, but not when applying to hagwons. I’m planning on applying to private schools, but would you recommend getting the reference letters anyway. Are there some private schools that want them or just a list of references to call?

    • Andrea March 23, 2015 at 2:17 pm #

      I don’t see why it would hurt to just have the letters on hand in case you need them, but I really have no idea about what the private schools want or expect, I only worked at a public school. I think your best bet is to check with a recruiter and find out exactly what each job/company you’re interested in requires. Good luck!

  4. Joel August 23, 2015 at 12:12 am #

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m Malaysian and I’ve been toying around with the idea of going to Korea to work/travel after I’m done with university. Love your blog! 🙂

    • Andrea August 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

      Thanks for reading! I hope you found it helpful. Let me know if you have any questions, and good luck! 🙂

  5. Brixter September 27, 2016 at 11:56 pm #

    Do we need to learn korean language to be an esl teacher?


  1. The Top 10 Couple Travel Bloggers - The Best Blogs of 2013 | Latitude 34 Travel Blog - Photography, Reviews, Tips - November 24, 2013

    […] Favorite Article: “Teaching ESL in Korea, How To Get Started” […]

  2. The Top 10 Couple Travel Bloggers - The Best Blogs of 2013 - November 24, 2013

    […] Favorite Article: “Teaching ESL in Korea, How To Get Started” […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: