Teaching English in the Republic of Korea (South Korea)
There are currently over 900 Irish citizens living and working in Korea. The majority of those working in Korea are teaching English in private language institutes, public schools or universities.
Teaching English in Korea
Teaching English in Korea can be a positive experience, and the majority of those Irish citizens who come here as English teachers find this to be so. However, it is important to remember that English language teaching is a large and lucrative commercial operation here in Korea. Unfortunately, as with all such operations, some language institutes are not as reputable as others.
The Embassy has received occasional complaints from Irish citizens teaching English in Korea about alleged misrepresentation of their living and working conditions. The most frequent complaints are that schools, institutions or recruiting agents misrepresent, or change, without consultation, contract terms including salaries, working conditions, living arrangements and benefits (including health insurance) and the need for an appropriate work visa.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade strongly recommends travel and health insurance for all overseas travel. You should check with your insurer to make sure that your policy meets your needs, that it covers you while in employment in Korea and that it covers repatriation costs in the event of illness, accident or death.
Before You Commit Yourself
Some preparatory research before coming to Korea to take up employment is essential. Before entering into any written contract, it is advisable to check the following points:
- details of present and past teachers and seek references from them
- location of the institute and where you will be based, how long the institute has operated, and how many foreign teachers it employs
- class sizes and expected working hours
- accommodation, taxation, medical cover, who pays for air tickets, termination of contract arrangements, termination benefits etc.
Please note that medical treatment, accommodation and utilities can be expensive if not included in the employment contract. The Irish Embassy cannot investigate, certify or vouch for prospective employers.
Contracts in Korea
As with many aspects of Korea, personal relationships are a central part of the Korean business culture. It is common for a contract to be regarded as the beginning of a relationship rather than an unchangeable binding document establishing the parameters of employment. Employers often view the contract as being flexible and subject to further negotiation. The oral contract between the employer and employee is regarded as being the “real” contract, which the employer can change unilaterally. Always keep copies of all correspondence with your employer and/or recruiting agency.
Contracts should clearly state all terms and conditions of employment and it is up to each individual to evaluate any offer of employment. Contracts should be reviewed carefully before they are signed. As both written and oral agreements are legally binding, an oral agreement, if proven, may take precedence over a written contract. Be careful not to make statements to an employer that can be construed to be a valid change to the terms of an employment agreement.
In common with many other societies in the region, Korea is a very hierarchical society. A superior does not expect to be questioned or challenged about their decisions. One should be careful to avoid confrontation with an employer, especially in the presence of others. It is not unknown for dismissals to occur following such confrontations. While Korean teachers hold a high status in society, ESL teachers are often regarded as not being professional teachers.
- Passport - your employer has no legal right to hold your passport, and is not required to do so by the Korean authorities. Please contact the Irish Embassy if your employer insists on keeping your passport.
- Original Documentation - The Embassy recommends obtaining apostilled copies of your degree for submission to your employer and the Korean Immigration Service. Original documents are often retained.
- Working Hours – most private language academies teach students outside of normal school hours, thus it is common to teach in the early morning and in the evening and working on Saturdays is very common.
- Airfare – some institutions undertake to provide teachers with tickets home or to pay the costs of the journey to Korea on completion of their contracts. Such undertakings are not always honoured.
- Pension & Tax issues – the websites of the National Pension Service and the National Tax Service provide useful information in English on pension and taxation schemes in Korea.
The Irish Embassy is unable to intervene in any personal, legal or contractual dispute with an employer. We are unable to offer legal advice but can provide details of English speaking lawyers and also the contact details of a local organisation that offers free legal advice to foreign workers in Korea. We cannot assist in meeting legal costs.
Names – if the parchment received from your third level institution does not show exactly the same name as that which appears on your passport, you are likely to have problems with processing your visa. A Statutory Declaration of Identity can be sworn which has been accepted by Immigration Officials in the past.
Language – if the parchment is in a language other than English, it will not be accepted as proof of your qualifications for the purpose of processing a visa.
University – if the body which awarded your degree does not have the word “university” in its title, you may have difficulties with processing the visa application. You should contact the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. This applies where there has been any change in name or status of the body which awarded the degree during the time you studied there.
Tips for the Correct Use of the Irish Passport
An Irish citizen should never give to a third party his or her Irish passport either to secure a loan, or a lease or to his or her employers. By all means give photocopies but never give the original passport booklet. The only exceptions to this rule are:
- when you are dealing directly with the local office of the Korea Immigration Service to get the appropriate visa stamped on the passport booklet;
- when you are dealing directly with an Embassy of a country to obtain a visa to emigrate / visit;
- when the passport is required as a condition of bail in a court case;
- when the passport is required by the Embassy of Ireland, Seoul to get a new passport or
- when the passport is required by the local police to identify yourself.