10 Reasons not to get an English teaching job in South Korea

10 bad Reasons to become a teacher in South Korea

This is an uncharacteristically negative post, it’s not meant to be a rant or because of any personal reasons. The list merely provides some honest 3rd party advance. Most of the information online about teaching in South Korea, English ESL teaching and E2 sponsored stuff, is from recruiters trying to find people for their roles. At the end of the day a recruiter wants to get you a job in Korea because that’s how they make money not because they think you’ll love it here in South Korea.

Many (if not most) people reading this will think none of these ten reason apply to them, if so great. Take the next step in your ESL teaching in South Korea path. However other may benefit and not make a mistake by coming to South Korea on the wrong pretense. The reasons are also generalized and are not focused on any school or area.

Our 10 Reasons

These are our 10 bad reasons to start an English Teaching Job in South Korea, They are in no particular order;

1. Travel

This is a popular reason why people take E2 teaching jobs in Korea as they want to travel but for whatever reason they can’t do it backpacker / gap-year style. Traveling is for Travelers and Teaching is for Teachers. Yes you can travel a little when within Korea without much difficulty, however don’t expect to jet off somewhere new every month or so. Vacation (Holiday) time is low in Korea and international traveling is expensive, plus you have the pressures of a full time job to consider.

2. Love

You shouldn’t come to Korea because you think that Korean’s (as well as fellow Expats) are easy and will jump into bed with you without any thought. Even on the less sleazy side, dating with Koreans is not easy and so if you can’t get a date (or laid) back home you’ll have no more luck here.

3. The Easy Life

An E2 teaching job in South Korea is full time role, with teachers working 5 days a week and having office hours sometimes over 10 hours a day. Also most Hagwon (private schools) teachers have no co-teacher so you will be alone with a group of kids you need controlling, entertaining and (of course) teaching for upwards of an hour.  Then you have to do the same thing again. It is not an easy job.

4. Big Money

It is true you can save good money whilst working in South Korea however there is a limit to the amount of money you can earn and even the most qualified and experienced teachers don’t make tons of money. It can be a stepping stone to working as a teacher either back home or in another country, but ESL teachers don’t make a future.

5. To learn Korean

Although you’re in Korea, first and foremost you’re an English teacher and so every work day you’re expected to speak English even to your co-workers. So although you can study Korean in your free time, it will take much longer than if you were a student.

6. Full immersion of Korean Culture

This is similar to learning Korean, your environment will be very English focused and so full immersion is not possible. Having said that you can still dive into what Korea has to offer at weekends and on vacations.


Just because you’re a fan of Big Bang or Girls Generation doesn’t mean that teaching English is the best job for you. Also just because you’re in Korea doesn’t improve your chances much of finding a job within the KPOP industry. However most of your students will like KPOP so you’ll at least have something to talk about.

8. Japan (or other Asian countries)

If you love Japan, Japanese culture or the culture of any other Asian country that isn’t a good reason to come to South Korea. They are very different countries and if you love Japan you should focus on going to Japan. Don’t just come to South Korea because it’s easier or cheaper, come because you want to.

9. To join friends or family

Just because your friend from University loves teaching in Korea doesn’t mean that you’ll love it too. Social life in Korea can be great, however that’s just on the weekends. During the week you have a full time job.
Family refers more to couples, taking a job in Korea needs to be a joint decision. If one of you really wants to go live and work in Korea but the other doesn’t, forcing this situation could cause issues in the future and could create unneeded tension within the relationship.

10. To escape unemployment (because it’s a job)

Just because you can get a job as an English teacher in South Korea doesn’t mean you should take it. At the end of the day you could get a job at McDonalds back home just until you find your dream job. But moving 1000s of miles away from home and doing a job that you have no interest in is maybe a bad move. However life isn’t a sure thing and sometimes you need to take a risk or gamble. Maybe teaching is the career you were looking for. The point is this is that if you know what you want to do, do that don’t just settle for second best.


10 Reasons not to get an English Job in South Korea

If you’re still interested here is our guide to becoming an English Teacher in South Korea including E2 Visa Requirements.

Agree or Disagree? Any other reasons you can think of? Let us know, but please try not to take any of these 10 reasons personally. If you have any questions regarding teaching and working in general within South Korea, feel free to let us know.

*Update* Here is our new 10 Good Reasons to become a teacher in South Korea

Thank you

Modern Seoul
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  1. I wish I would have read something like this before I came to Korea! I love it here, but reading an article like this would have better prepared me. I probably had too high of expectations, but I was going off of information that my recruiter, and others, gave me. I am glad I made the decision to move here though! It’s a big step, but worth it.

    • Too many people avoid the negatives and focus on the positives. Having a clear idea of what Korea and ESL teaching here is like makes the step easier.
      Coming in open minded is good but coming in realistically is better:)

  2. I actually do not agree with several of your points. And others that you listed such as Japan, escaping unemployment, and KPOP-well, that would just be silly if you came to South Korea for any of those reasons. The area in which I do not agree with your “negative” points is travel. My sister often tells me “your life is a vacation right now” and that is kind of true. I have been all over Korea-Busan, Jinju, Gyeongju, Jeju, and I am going to Seoul this weekend. Furthermore, I have been to Taiwan, I am going to Japan in 3 weeks, and when my contract is up, I am taking a massive trip with my earnings-Vietnam->Cambodia->Thailand->Malaysia->Singapore->Hawaii->home (and still going home with savings). That is about a month of traveling for very little money considering Southeast Asia is very inexpensive. Other points where I disagree: the easy life and big money. I personally work 30 hours or less per week and as a college graduate, am making more money here than I was making in my job back in the US right out of college (and I was working over 40 hours a week there). I am able to pay off a lot of money in student loans each month and still have plenty to spare for travel and entertainment. While it is not big money, it is more than enough to survive on, even if you have debts. Also, you say you can’t be fully immersed in Korean culture because of your English surroundings. I totally disagree. Maybe in Seoul this would be more difficult because there are many pleasures for Westerners to enjoy, but try making Korean friends and not focusing on hanging out with other Westerners. I live on Geoje, which boasts a large foreigner population. Not a ton of natives speak English, so I feel pretty immersed in the culture here. While you are surrounded by English speakers at school, I would say use that to your advantage! I hang out with my adult students all the time and they teach me a lot about culture and language. Maybe instead of listing the negatives about your experience, try to stay positive about it and actually try and enjoy it. Just my two cents. There are plenty of negatives to this experience, trust me, I have lived them, but you have to always take the good with the bad. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience so don’t take it for granted!

    • To reply to your points that I’m not saying it’s not completely impossible in certain situations but it shouldn’t be take as a given. Also although these reasons are slightly based on personal experience, my reason for originally coming to Korea was not one of them.
      Some people come to Korea focused not on the job and instead on things.
      I agree completely that it is possible to travel within Korea without an issue on weekends but internationally its difficult for hagwon teachers with limited vacation time plus it can be expensive. Therefore it shouldn’t be expected
      Working hours differs from school to school, personally a couple of years ago I was working 10hours a day (50hours a week) here and I almost quit and went home, and I know of others who have quit.
      culture and language again depends partly on location and other factors, again such as school.

      Overall it’s an important area for discussion, parts of expat life in Korea shouldn’t taken as a given. Listing the positives of Korean Expat ESL life is all well and good but coming here with realistic expectations from the beginning in my opinion is better than coming and feeling mislead or disappointed.

      Also I will post a positive 10 part list at some this week to even out the scales.

  3. Try French teacher (or any other european language), it’s ten times worse. Because pay is awful and no visa in many case. English teacher is still the only job that can find roughly any native english speaker who have any degree in any field, unless he is really a criminal. It’s easy : in years of living in Korea, I never met any english native who is, or was NOT an english teacher. Never met one who didn’t have any visa. I can name dozens of french with no visa, high degrees, clever, and absolutly no job.

    • Sounds like being a French Teacher in Korea is risky move. It’s also strange as English teachers are on an E2 visa, which is for Foreign Language Teachers. Why can’t French nationals get an E2 for teaching French?

      • http://www.korea4expats.com/article-E2-English-teaching-visa-Korea.html
        While it is true that the E2 applies to any foreign language teacher (including French), holding a Bachelor’s Degree in any field, it can be very difficult to obtain one to teach a language other than English here. If you’re teaching French, for example, you MUST be from France. And to obtain an E2 visa at all, you have to get a contract with a school and obtain the visa BEFORE entering South Korea. For us English teachers, that’s a piece of cake, because even if you’re just getting a contract from some sketchy hagwon, it’s pretty easy to get in as long as you meet the degree, background check, and medical requirements. For a French (or other European) national, there is a slightly different process and it’s almost impossible to find schools or recruiters online for languages aside from English, which makes it, in turn, near-impossible to obtain a teaching contract and thus an E2 visa before entering the country. It’s much easier to find a job once you’re here, but you cannot apply for an E2 visa while in Korea. You have to leave, get your visa, and come back, which can be expensive and often your visa will get turned down if you don’t return to your home country to do it, because the embassy/consulate will realize you’re just making a visa run, which is not exactly illegal, but it IS highly frowned upon.

  4. I have worked in Korea on and off for seven years and this is a very good, well-written argument. I like it here. Howeve…

    It’s always easy to gt negative here but at the same time, I wish I’d done research into it before I came. It certainly isn’t an easy life with lots of money but it CAN be a rewarding time. I would add another to the article and that is people “using” you for your language skills. Don’t let it happen.

  5. The only thing here I really take issue with is how much you stress that you’ll have a full-time job, and only because seriously… if you’re taking a job in Korea, you’re an adult. It should go without saying that you’ll have a full-time job and have to act like an adult (as opposed to a sorority sister or frat bro) during the work week.
    I’ve lived in Korea for 2 years now and I came here knowing I would generally only get around 10 vacation days a year along with weekends, and sometimes you’ll have to work a Saturday or two (either to make up for a paid holiday during the week or to teach extra exam-prep classes. You’re usually not paid overtime for this). It’s all in a contract, which you should peruse thoroughly before signing. Sometimes you just get bad luck on the draw and end up in a bad hagwon with a really crappy situation (there’s an entire hagwon “blacklist” online – just google it if you’re curious or want to scope out a school before signing a contract). It happens. But seriously, don’t come here thinking you can just continue living like a drunken college student. Korea can be a lot of fun. You can get drunk and party on the weekends and sometimes you’ll even have time to go to a different country for vacation (actually, it’s not that expensive. A plane ticket to Japan, China, or the Philippines can be as low as $100-$500 round trip from Korea. If you want to go to Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of Asia that are a bit further, especially if you’re going during a typical vacation time or peak season, expect to pay more – that’s how airline tickets usually work).
    Yes, this is serious work. But don’t take yourself TOO seriously, either. If you’re all work and no play, Korea won’t be any fun for you, either.

    • This is basically our point (and therefore we agree with your point), as we guess you already know so many people come to work in South Korea without any ESL experience or even knowing much about life in South Korea. They see it as a working holiday or gap year.
      The point of this post is to tell people that ESL teaching in South Korea is a full time job and that the job should be your focus. 9 hours a day dealing with young children isn’t enjoyable for all and the choice on coming to Korea shouldn’t be taken lightly.

  6. I’m actually Half Korean and lived there for 10 years, and although my Korean is pretty rusty I can make it through a conversation easy with no discernible accent. Graduated college somewhere else in Asia recently and I’m set to work for JPMorgan for a year before I have to go back to Korea. Hopefully I can get a non-teaching job there but I’d gladly take any job I can get that requires me to speak english (because I’m loads more comfortable using it) and I’m going to show this list to all my friends here who want to tag along with me thinking being an english teacher in a foreign country will be a piece of cake just because they speak english haha.

  7. I am professional English teacher from Europe.
    I want to get a job in Korea.
    Who can help with any useful information. please write me!
    I am waiting for your reply and i hope for help!

  8. Hi and thanks for writing this blog. I agree and confirm that these reasons are truly real at the place that I am working right now. I started few month ago as an English teacher at an Academy (hagwan) and I always got surprises with the administrators. Late pays, no human resources dept when help is needed, extra hours not paid, short vacations, tons of task to do (including cleaning my classroom and office)….maybe I’m just unlucky to have landed here…

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