How much money can TEFL teachers really save in South Korea
South Korea aims to improve its English proficiency through government initiatives, so the demand for qualified teachers is higher than ever. English is not widely spoken in the Land of Morning Calm, but South Korean politicians want to change that. While hospitality workers can mainly recite some English, South Korea has a mediocre ranking for proficiency worldwide, according to the English Proficiency Index.
South Korea’s natural beauty and modern metropolises appeal in their own right, thanks to a high-performance economy and a thriving tourism sector. However, the country is appealing in another way: it pays very well for English teachers, especially compared to other Asian countries. South Korean educators are picky; you’ll need impressive credentials to get a work visa. However, with a relatively low cost of living and excellent wages, it is entirely possible to save money while studying verbal and written English in South Korea. Let’s explore!
What do you need to teach English in South Korea?
So, before we get into saving money by teaching English in South Korea, let’s first talk about how you get there.
South Korea, like its neighbour Japan, has a strict immigration policy. This is true for TEFL teachers just as much as it is for anyone else, so it’s essential to understand what steps you’ll need to take to get a teaching job in South Korea.
First, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. But that’s only the beginning; you’ll also need TEFL certification from an accredited course provider. The industry standard is 120 hours, so it’s essential to ensure you choose a course with at least those hours. You’ll also need to be a citizen of an English-speaking country. These nations include the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Finally, you must pass a background check and a health and drug test and have a clean criminal record with no charges or convictions.
Sure, there’s a lot of paperwork to complete, but the pay and experience on offer in South Korea make it all worthwhile.
How much do TEFL teachers earn in South Korea?
Now for the most critical part: how much money can you make teaching English in South Korea? To begin, the won is South Korea’s currency. When writing, 1 won is worth £0.00064, or $0.00076, so you can genuinely call yourself a millionaire after your first pay slip! Full-time English teachers on a permanent contract can expect to earn between 2 million and 2.5 million won per month (£1,280 – £1,600 / $1,670 – $2,000).
The more extensive range is from 1.6 million to 3.7 million ($1,350 to $3,100) per month, depending on the institution and your experience level. For example, hagwons (private language schools) typically offer the highest starting salaries (around 2.3 million or $2,000 monthly). In contrast, public schools usually offer more modest starting salaries (about 1.6 million or $1,350 to 2.3 million or $2,000).
Considering the numerous advantages of teaching in South Korea is worthwhile. Many institutions will offer a signing bonus of $300,000, approximately $230, or £192. More excitingly, accessible housing for teachers is widespread, as is a “severance” payment at the end of the school year, roughly equivalent to a month’s salary.
The average outgoings for a TEFL teacher
Let’s look at what you’ll spend your won on while teaching English in South Korea. Though the wages aren’t huge, the relatively low cost of living in South Korea allows plenty of opportunities to save. With excellent incentives for English teachers, there are huge savings you can make and put into a pension, travel fund, or for anything else!
What is the primary benefit of working as an English teacher in South Korea? Your lodging is complimentary! Institutions will generally find you housing, whether close to the school/university or in the city. This is a fantastic incentive, with South Korean educational institutions clamouring for high-quality candidates.
The income tax rate in South Korea is highly flexible based on your earnings. It ranges from 6% at the low end to 45% at the high end. This is extremely low compared to other countries income taxes (20% in the UK between £12,571 and £50,270, 12%-22% in the US for equivalent salaries).
That translates to more money in your pocket at each month’s end. Regarding pensions, KPMG claims that “9% of an employee’s gross salary (4.5 per cent contributed by the employer and 4.5 per cent contributed by the employee)” is contributed to a national pension fund.
Furthermore, depending on your origin country, you may be eligible to receive a full refund of your pension contributions before leaving South Korea. The National Pension Service of South Korea has all the information you’ll need to determine whether you can withdraw your pension after you’ve left.
Though accommodation is generally provided for English teachers in South Korea, you will still have to spend money on keeping your flat heated, air-conditioned, and so on. Let’s look at the cost of utilities in South Korea and how it compares to US dollars and British pounds. The average outgoing for utilities such as electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage (for a regular apartment) is 174,540. This equates to $144.87, or £110.67 in British currency. Meanwhile, a standard prepaid mobile tariff (per minute, local, no discounts) costs 165, or $0.14/£0.10.
Meanwhile, internet costs are low compared to the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. A standard internet connection (60 Mbps, unlimited data, cable/ADSL) costs approximately $26,914 (US $22.34, £16.93 in sterling).
South Korean cuisine is among the most delectable on the planet. Whether you’re looking for street food or fine dining, South Korea offers plenty. You may have tried Kimchi, Bibimbap, or Japchae! Fortunately, it’s also surprisingly inexpensive. A reasonably priced meal costs the equivalent of $6.64, or just under £5 in Pound Sterling. A litre of milk costs $2.05, or £1.54, daily. Is that a loaf of bread? Thank you for inquiring: the price is £1.86 (approximately $2.87). A dozen eggs will cost less than $3-£3.
Okay, it’s cheaper than in Vietnam or Thailand, but a weekly grocery trip is still relatively inexpensive. If you want to go out for a beer, expect to pay around £2.50 – Hite is the most popular brand.
What about transportation? Whether taking a city bus or a cross-country train is excellent news. If you take public transportation in the city one way, you’ll get change from the equivalent of £1. A monthly transport pass could cost as little as £33, or $45 in American dollars. What’s the catch? South Korean transportation is exceptionally inexpensive. In your spare time from teaching, you can travel the length and breadth of the Korean peninsula while still saving money at the end of the month.
If you want to pursue a life of leisure outside of the classroom, South Korea has it all at a low cost. Noraebang, their equivalent of Karaoke, is one of the most popular evening activities. Renting a “singing room” for an hour costs between 7,000 and 30,000 won – just under £20 at the high end. South Korean cafe culture is massive. Fortunately, the average cappuccino costs around $3.75. Pubs and clubs are wildly popular, too, with a pint of beer costing even less than a cappuccino!
South Koreans also enjoy cycling and renting scooters to speed through the beautiful scenery. Bike rental is typically around 3,000 won per hour, or just under £2.
There’s plenty else to do – as we’ve already mentioned, street food is inexpensive, as is travelling around the country. Sport is also an essential part of life in South Korea, whether you enjoy martial arts, football, baseball, or any other sport. Gym memberships are affordable and generally come in 3, 6, or 9-month packages, ranging from 120,000won for three months to 850,000won for nine months at top-tier gyms.
How much money can TEFL teachers in South Korea save?
With all of this in mind, how much money can a TEFL teacher in South Korea save?
It is impossible to overstate how fantastic the accommodation situation is. You can save a lot of money if you don’t have to pay rent. If your budget is tight, put whatever you would have spent on rent at home into a savings account and watch your money grow.
Not only that but going to work is cheap. Even if you drive, gasoline costs are much lower than in the UK or the US. But why would you when public transportation is dependable and costs a pittance? If you make the equivalent of $2,000 monthly, you could save half of that. A teacher’s salary will provide more than enough for a comfortable financial situation with a low cost of living, no rent to pay, and inexpensive food and travel. If you are frugal with your money, you can still live an extraordinary life in South Korea while saving at least £10,000/£11,200 over a year.
More information can be found in our guide to teaching English in South Korea.