Teach English in Korea: How much money can you REALLY save?

It’s not necessarily the love of teaching that drives many foreigners to teach English in Korea. Ulterior motives such as paying off student loans and saving for future travels are just a few reasons why teaching English in Korea has become so popular.

Why I chose to teach English in Korea

My goal: spend 1 year doing something completely out of the ordinary, in a totally foreign country, with the intention of traveling and exploring the world after (dream big).

How am I going to do this: teach abroad and save as much money as humanly possible.

So, how much can you save if you teach English in Korea?

How much money can you save if you teach English in Korea?

Income

Salaries for English teachers in Korea who work at private academies (hagwons) start at 2.1 million won per month ($1 936) and can go up to 2.8 million ($2 500). This amount is highly dependant on your teaching experience but if luck is on your side, you may get a better offer without necessarily having any experience on your CV.

Unfortunately, work experience in other fields not related to teaching doesn’t count and so you’ll have to start at the bottom like I did.

Income tax in Korea ranges from 2.5% – 5% and this is deducted from your monthly salary. This amount is minimal when compared to the income taxes in South Africa which can exceed 20%.

Therefore, the minimum amount you can expect to receive each month is 2 030 700 won ($1 870).

You may think that this salary is low compared to what you were earning back home. However, there are numerous benefits that will most likely change your opinion of this.

Additional income

  • Severance pay: Upon completion of a 12-month contract, you receive a bonus which is equivalent to 1 month’s salary.
  • Overtime is paid when you are asked to work more than 120 teaching hours a month. This is the industry norm, so if you do any additional work, you will be compensated for it.
  • There are also opportunities to earn additional income, which include private tutoring. However, this can be risky as it’s technically illegal for foreign teachers (on an E2 sponsored visa) to teach private classes outside of their normal classes. Yes, you can get deported and as my doctor appropriately put it when I had LASEK eye surgery, I’m a scaredy-cat and so I won’t be taking any chances with the law.

Korean won

Perks of choosing to teach English in Korea

1) Free airfare

Your school will cover the costs of your plane ticket to Korea. Sometimes they’ll even offer to pay for your return flight back home upon completion of your contract.

2) Free housing

Teachers in Korea can expect to receive a semi-furnished apartment within walking distance from their school. I had to quickly adapt to my small apartment (especially the bathroom situation) but like everything in life, you need to embrace the cultural differences and be open to change. And, it’s free of course, so who’s complaining?

Housing for teachers in Korea

Our living area, dining room and bedroom all in one!

3) Medical insurance

By law, all Korean schools have to cover 50% of foreign teachers medical insurance. The balance is deducted from your salary. This amount is minimal and ranges from 1.5%-2.5% of your total income.

Luckily for me, my school covers my medical insurance in full and so I don’t have to contribute to this.

4) School lunches

Not all schools provide lunch for staff, but ours does. It may not always taste as good as it looks, but it’s free and if we can stomach it, we’ll eat it!

5) Pension fund

A portion of your monthly salary will go towards your pension fund. Your school will match this amount and you will receive this lump sum upon completion of your contract.

However, South Africans are exempt from making pension fund payments.

6) No need for a car – which means no monthly car payments, no car insurance, and no fuel costs

The public transportation system in Korea is incredible. It makes life so much easier, and cheaper. Coming from South Africa where we don’t have this luxury, I can appreciate this one benefit of living in a first world country. The trains and buses run a tight ship, but they do so seamlessly, with no delays or issues. All public transport in Korea is reliable, clean and safe.

The transportation system in Korea is unlike any other. Fast, reliable and safe.

The transportation system in Korea is unlike any other. Fast, reliable and safe.

Expenses

So now that my rent, transportation, and health insurance are covered, what do I actually pay for?

These expenses are based on my actual costs. They do not include additional spendings such as clothing, holidays and other luxuries.

My monthly expenses generally include the following:

Total monthly expenses628 000 won ($580)
Utilities53 000 won ($49)
Living expenses560 000 won ($517)
Cell phone15 000 won ($14)

1) Housing expenses/utilities: 53 000 won ($49)

The above cost for housing includes the following:

  • Electricity: 20 000 won ($18)
  • Gas: 10 000 won ($9)
  • Internet: 8 000 won ($7)
  • Maintenance: 15 000 won ($14)

This is rather low considering that in South Africa, I would spend this amount on internet costs alone.

As I live with my boyfriend, my utility costs are slightly lower than they would be if I were living alone. To see full details of my Korean apartment, check out this post.

2) Living expenses: 560 000 won ($517)

Gary and I each put 560 000 won into a shared account that we use to cover all household expenses, groceries, transport, eating out, and entertainment for the month.

In order to save money, we only eat out once or twice a week and cook most of our own food. This is rather difficult as the food in Korea is to die for. Just thinking of a Korean BBQ and Dalkgalbi makes my mouth water. However, if we eat out more often, we’d not only be broke, but slightly heavier too.

We manage to get by with this amount, however, the last week is always touch and go and we may tuck into our personal accounts if we decided to visit Seoul for the night.

Your social habits can have a huge impact on how much money you spend. Alcohol is expensive in Korea (compared to South Africa) and that coupled with the munchies after a big night, could have you spending a big chunk of your salary.

Dalkgalbi is one of my favorite meals in Korea! I could eat this every day if I had to.

Dalkgalbi is one of my favorite meals in Korea! I could eat this every day if I had to.

3) Cell phone: 15 000 won ($14)

Free wi-fi is available almost everywhere in Korea. I arrived with a phone and purchased a sim card and package that allows limited phone calls and 5 gigs of data for 70 000 won ($56 / $14 per month). This has lasted me for 4 months and it’s still going strong. My service provider has definitely done something wrong as I’m sure I’ve exceeded my call and data limit, but I’m not complaining.

You actually don’t even need to purchase data, but it does come in handy when there is no wi-fi and you’re stuck trying to find the route home.

The bottom line

Total savings per month

Total savings per month1 402 700 won ($1 293)
Salary2 100 000 won ($1 936)
- Taxes (3%)69 300 won ($64)
- Monthly expenses628 000 won ($580)

Total savings upon completion of your contract

Total savings18 863 100 won ($17 000)
Net income after 12 months1 402 700 won x 12 = 16 832 400 won ($15 520)
+ Severance pay (after tax)2 030 700 won ($1 870)

Yes, that’s right! You can save over $17 000 if you teach English in Korea for 1 year!

Ok, so what’s the catch?

Teach English in Korea

In order to get a teaching job in Korea, there are three basic requirements that you need to meet.

Firstly, you need to have citizenship from an English-speaking country. These countries include South Africa, Canada, USA, Ireland, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Secondly, you need to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. This does not need to be a teaching qualification.

Lastly, you must have a clear criminal record.

But how much will it cost to get to Korea?

4 years ago I left for France where I worked on the superyachts. There were numerous courses that needed to be completed, as well as visas and flight costs that needed to be paid for. These were all at my personal expense which added up to over $4 000 and needed to be settled before I even got a job.

So what if you don’t have that kind of money just lying around? Well, no stress as you don’t need to.

Your flight to Korea is covered by your new school and they also take care of all visa sponsorship costs. Upon arrival, you will need to have a medical check which costs around $100 but this is also covered by your school. (You may want to confirm that this as some teachers are required to pay for the medical themselves).

So what do you pay for?

  • Courier your contract and other documents to Korea: $55
  • Police clearance: $12
  • Passport photos and other miscellaneous items: $20
  • Money to get you by for your first month in Korea (as you’ll only be paid at the end of the month): $550
  • TEFL course: $35

What is TEFL?

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is also commonly referred to as TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). After completion of your TEFL course, you will have greater insight into the teaching methods and techniques that will assist you in the classroom.

There are numerous TEFL courses that offer both online and in-class instruction. I completed a 120-hour online certification through Teachtefl. The standard and quality of the course really impressed me and I would highly recommend it. I booked through a 3rd party, Daddy’s Deals, and received a massive discount on this course. Originally it was $175 but I only paid $35.

Is a TEFL certification compulsory to teach English in Korea?

Yes and no. Teaching at a Korean public school requires you to have this certification. However, private schools (hagwons) are more lenient on this rule. My word of advice: do it. The competition is increasing and you don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity because you didn’t complete the course.

Is your salary dependant on what TEFL course you complete?

No. There is no need to spend unnecessary money on expensive, in-class programmes as a 120-hour online certification is a basic requirement needed. If you have a teaching degree, there is no need to do a TEFL course.

Teaching English in South Korea

Sounds great, but I only want to teach English in Korea for 6 months

Most schools offer 12-month contracts and if you want to leave earlier, you’d need to give 2 months notice. However, you will forfeit your severance pay and would need to pay back your airfare.

This was something I was considering before I moved to Korea, as I wanted to teach for 6 months and then travel for an additional 6. However, 6 months salary is just not enough to support the travels on my bucket list. Besides, Korea is an amazing country and there is so much to do, see and learn. And to be honest, I don’t think I’m ready to say goodbye to my kiddies just yet! It takes a few months for the children to really warm up to you, and once you form a bond with them, it’s not easy to let go.

Over the next few months I will be sharing my exact living costs, savings, how I’ve been spending my hard-earned cash and why I’m not even close to my goal of saving $17 000 teaching in Korea!

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How much money can you really save teaching English in Korea?

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2 Comments

  1. Hey,
    Hope you are doing good !!

    Your living experience is South Korea is really helpful. I have one query though:

    1. Can Non-native English speakers teach in Korea? If they hold Bachelors degree (Commerce field and not Arts) along with 400 Hrs of TEFL certification. No prior teaching experience.
    2. Do we face racisim in Korea because of our skin colour (I’ve read too many articles where it says, you are treated bad cause of your skin colour – Brown :(:(:( ) and Nationality?
    I also heard parents would not want an Indian teacher to teach their kids. No offense!!! Had to ask before deciding on anything.

    I would love to work in Korea, it’s been my dream!
    If you could provide some insight on these topic would be much appreciated!!
    Looking forward to your response.

    Take care 🙂

    1. Hi Maddy! Thanks for your message. Glad you found this blog helpful. To answer your questions, 1) Unfortunately, you have to be a native English speaker in order to teach English in Korea. If you’re from Australia, NZ, South Africa, America, Canada, or UK you shouldn’t have a problem. However, If you’re not from these places you may find teaching opportunities in other countries, but make sure you do your research as I have heard of a lot of scams. 2) Regarding racism, I cannot speak first hand on this but Koreans living in the smaller towns and the countryside are not used to seeing foreigners, no matter the color of your skin. I lived in one of these towns and often got a lot of stares and couldn’t communicate with the locals as English is not often spoken here. But this is one reason I loved living in these areas because I had such a unique and true Korean experience. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. I’m so excited for you, I love Korea!!

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