What are the requirements to teach English in Korea?
1. You must be a citizen a country where English is the official language.
For example, the United States, Canada, the UK (Ireland, Scotland, Whales), Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.
While some teachers may NOT have been born in one of the countries mentioned above, but immigrated and eventually became a permanent resident or citizen, they will have at least needed to have studied from Grade 7 for a a total of 10 years in one of these countries, to qualify to teach English in Korea.
This means you should have attended Junior High (grades 7,8,9), High School (grades 10,11, 12) and then 4 years of college there. That makes 10 years total.
While English is spoken in the Philippines and India, unfortunately, anyone from these 2 countries will not be eligible to obtain an E-2 teaching visa in Korea as Korean immigration doesn’t approve them.
Of course there are hundreds if not thousands of Filipinos teaching English to Koreans online, and perhaps illegally in Korea at schools, but they don’t qualify for an E2 teaching visa. They risk deportation if caught unless they’re married to a Korean and have permanent residence, for instance. It’s a grey area, but they would not qualify for an E2 visa.
2. You must hold a 4 year degree such as a Bachelor’s of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in any field from one of the 6 countries listed below.
While you will see English teaching jobs listed in Korea where the school or recruiter specifies that they want an English teacher who has an education degree with a major in English or Linguistics, or even has a Master’s degree… these majors or graduate degrees are sometimes “preferred” by certain English institutes in Korea. They are often nice to haves, NOT must haves.
The majority of English institutes (hagwons) don’t specify a major. So, a degree in any major usually qualifies. It all depends how competitive the job is.
Upon being hired, you will have to present your original degree, copies (notarized or apostilled depending on your country of origin) and also you must submit copies of your academic transcripts (sealed in an envelope and notarized and apostilled also).
3. You must undergo a criminal background check to ensure you have no criminal charges in your home country.
The criminal background check is valid for 6 months. After 6 months it’s considered outdated. If you haven’t gotten an English teaching job in Korea after six months, you’ll have to repeat the criminal background check. So, make sure you’re hired before 6 months lapses.
Criminal background checks require fingerprinting. You will have to pay for these.
Some teachers have asked whether a DUI, shoplifting, etc, will prevent them from getting an E-2 work visa to teach in Korea. I’m by no means a legal expert, but it really depends on how long ago the activity took place and how Korean immigration perceives it.
It is possible to get certain criminal infractions expunged from your record, but that’s something you’d need to consult a lawyer on and it takes time.
Korea immigration is mostly on the look out for rapists, child molesters, violent offenders, drug pushers and more foreigners with serious crimes since most English teachers are working with children and the government and schools need to protect minors.
Any criminal background check must be processed by a police department, or a government agency that handles background checks in your home country.
You cannot simply order a CBC online by a third-party agency and submit it to Korean immigration. It will be rejected.
4. You must submit a health statement and take a health exam.
Anyone who is offered a teaching contract in Korea (hired by a school) must submit a health statement to the Korean immigration office when they apply for an E2 teaching visa.
All teachers must also undertake a medical exam at a Korean medical clinic.
The doctor will perform blood and urine tests, chest x-rays, and ask questions about your physical and mental health.
Korean doctors are looking for contagious diseases such as HIV, HEP, TB, STD’s etc during these medical tests.
They also want to ensure you are not abusing narcotics. Here’s a more in depth article about what to expect if you’re taking a drug test in Korea.
If you have any type of mental issues which require medications, you will probably be screened out and not be given an E2 visa.
Some teachers have stopped taking their mental medications such as anxiety disorder medicine, etc weeks before their medical check ups in Korea and lie about any mental conditions during the health check up.
If you have the ability to deal with any mental issues on your own or they can be controlled through drugs, then it’s up to you how you respond during the health questions in your health statement or to the doctor.
It’s also worthwhile to point out that if you have visible tattoos on your arms, neck, face, or body piercing in your nose, tongue, mouth, etc, these types of bod art may prevent you from getting hired by a hagwon.
Impressions are very important in Korea, especially those of teachers. Tattoos haven’t caught on yet in Korea, so school directors, students and their parents may not approve if their teacher has any such body art.
5. Consider getting a 120 hour TESOL or TEFL certificate.
While getting a certification in teaching English overseas is NOT mandatory to teach English in Korean hagwons, public school programs such as EPIK/SMOE and GEPIK require a 120 hour TEFL/TESOL certificate with at least 60 hours to be done in a real live classroom.
Choosing to take a TEFL/TESOL course, even if you only want to teach at a hagwon is still a good idea.
It does NOT have to be 120 hours and it could only be done just online. However, it’s a good introduction to teaching English abroad.
A good TEFL/TESL course online and or offline will give you a grammar teaching refresher, show you what to expect in the ESL classroom, teach you how to create lessons, how to manage your classes, and help you deal with the shock of living and working in a new culture such as Korea.
6. Once you’ve gotten all your documents in order and you’re hired by a recruiter or school to teach in Korea, you can book your flight to Korea. This is often paid by your hagwon.
Upon arriving, your school will set you up with school owned housing (usually a studio or one bedroom apartment, or perhaps a two bedroom with a room-mate). They’ll show you around the school, introduce you to staff and students, let you observe some classes, provide some teacher training.
They may also hep you set up a Korean bank account, get a transportation card, obtain a mobile phone, and then take you to the immigration office to apply for your ARC or alien registration card (or E2 visa).
You’ll need to bring your passport and give it to immigration so they can stamp your passport with an E2 visa. This could take up to a week or longer, depending on the case load of foreign work visas Korean immigration has to process.
While your E2 visa is being processed, it’s not a good idea to be teaching English in your school, privately or outside of your school, since you aren’t legally allowed to teach English since you don’t have your E2 working visa yet.
Your hagwon may want you to teach before your visa is approved by immigration, so if you do, make sure it’s done only on at your place of work, not offsite like at companies, or another school. You should be alright.
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