The cost of living in South Korea is low in-line with average wages, and you’ll easily be able to live comfortably. In fact, most teachers in South Korea report being able to save half of their salary even when paying off a student loan at home.
Accommodation is almost always included in your TEFL contract and will be a studio or 1 bedroom apartment in close proximity to your school. Bills are also cheap and combined (water, gas, electric) will usually total around £70/$100 – leaving you with lots of money to enjoy spending!
The cost of food in South Korea is reasonable and if you’re not eating lots of imported foods your grocery bill will be less than £20/$35 a week. Even though standard groceries are cheap, eating out in South Korea is even cheaper with the average takeaway lunch of Kimbap (Korean Sushi) or Bokkembap (Fried Rice) only £1.50/$2.50.
If you’d rather eat out in the evening, a meal in a restaurant only costs around £4/$6 per person, so you can afford to wash it down with a beer at £1.50/$2! Wine in South Korea is the expensive, imported kind and though available at the supermarket will rarely be served at a restaurant.
Korean food is very healthy, with lots of seafood and vegetables – perfect if you want to watch your weight! Kimchi (fermented cabbage) comes as a side order with almost everything; similar to spicy Sauerkraut, some teachers love it and some teachers really hate it!
South Koreans drink twice as much alcohol as the Russians a year, at an average of 13.7 shots per person per week, making them the highest consumers of alcohol in the world! To make like a South Korean, try Soju – made from fermented rice. The most popular brand is Chamisul, and costing a mere 50p/$1 per bottle in supermarkets, on a teacher’s salary, you can definitely afford to give it a go!
If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic beverage, then you must start drinking green tea (nok cha) – the South Korean’s have four types, with different leaves for each one; and they love it so much, you can even get green tea-flavoured ice cream!
South Korea has three distinct seasons, the summers are hot at around 23 degrees Celsius on average, but the winter is bitter cold due to the icy Siberian winds travelling down, with sub-zero temperatures most days. Once a year, South Korea also endures a typhoon with lots of heavy rain, so be sure to pack an umbrella.
Your employers will generally provide your accommodation free of charge as part of your teaching contract, and it’s likely that you’ll be in the same apartment block with other teachers, close to your place of work. Accommodation in both the large cities and small towns are modern with a few Asian nuances such as heated floors and cubicle-free showers!
The most popular places for teaching English in South Korea are Seoul, Busan, Daegu and Incheon. However, even the smallest town in South Korea will have a private language academy; such is the desire and necessity to learn English. Some of the biggest language school employers in Korea are YBM, Avalon English and CDI, although as these are franchised schools it’s worth looking into the individual school’s reputation before signing a TEFL contract. Moonkkang English school are also a medium sized chain school with a great reputation among the expat teacher community.
If you’re looking to teach English in a public school then the two government schemes ‘EPIK’ and ‘SMOE’ are the way to go. Both require you to have at least 120 hours of accredited TEFL training and the i-to-i Professional TEFL course is of the standard required. SMOE exclusively hire teachers for the wider Seoul area.
If you do find yourself in a teaching job in Seoul you’ll be pleased to know there’s always going on. Love shopping? You’re in the right place! Additionally, the nightlife is great and very varied: avoid the tourist-favourite area of Itaewon in favour of Apgujeong for upmarket bars; or Gangnam, with affordable Korean restaurants and chilled-out bars.
South Korean public transport is great across all of the major cities – Daegu, Ulsan, Busan, Daejon, Incheon and Seoul. In fact, Seoul’s subway is known as one of the best (and biggest) in the world, with 18 lines. The signs are in both Korean and English, so you shouldn’t find the subway too difficult to use.
South Korea is served by KTX trains, offering fast services to many towns and cities; and with a ticket from Seoul to Busan less than £30/$50, you’ll be able to afford to see the sights of your new country!
For journeys further afield to nearby countries, Korean Air and Eastar offer a range of low-cost flights – a flight from Seoul to Tokyo costs less than £150/$250.
Teachers are so revered in South Korea that there’s even a special holiday dedicated to them. On ‘Teacher’s Day’ you can expect to receive small gifts of candy, pens and stickers from your students.
Be sure to visit the demilitarised zone, which divides North and South Korea, acting as a buffer to stop any potential conflict. You’ll need to book on a guided tour as no one is allowed to visit by themselves, and you’ll need ID to enter, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Make sure to never write your student’s names in red pen. In Korea, writing someone’s name in red is akin to saying they are going to die and will elicit gasps of horror from your students.
Find out more about teaching in South Korea. Check out the i-to-i TEFL free guide. It's got loads of useful information on finding your first job, where you can teach and how to negotiate the best salary package.
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