Teaching English in Korea
Teaching English in Korea can be a positive experience, and the majority of those who come here as English teachers find this to be so. Complaints have however been received from Australian 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.
Some preparatory research before coming to Korea to take up employment is essential. The Australian Embassy is unable to investigate, certify or vouch for prospective employers. Ask the institute for details of present and past teachers and seek references from them. Ask where the institute is located and where you will be based, how long the institute has operated, and how many foreign teachers it employs. Ask about class sizes and expected working hours. Ask about 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.
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.
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 and that it covers repatriation costs in the event of illness, accident or death.
The Australian 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.
An appropriate employment visa is required to work legally in Korea. As visa regulations and required documentation change frequently, you should contact the nearest Korean Embassy or Consulate if you are outside Korea or an immigration office if you are in Korea, to obtain information on the latest regulations and fees.
If you wish to work in Korea, you must obtain a visa outside the country. However, you can enter Korea on a tourist visa, obtain letters of sponsorship and apply for a visa in a nearby country. It can take between one week and two months to obtain the appropriate visa.
On arrival in Korea you must register at a Korean immigration office and obtain a residence permit and re-entry permit within 90 days of entry. Most English instructors are granted an E-1 visa (professor at an educational institution higher than a junior college), an E-2 visa (conversation instructor) or an E-5 visa (professional employee with a public relations firm or corporation).
Changing employers is quite difficult and requires release consent from your original employer for the remaining period of the contract. Permission from the Korean immigration authorities is required and you must leave Korea and return with a new visa with your new sponsor. You should direct any questions on this procedure to the nearest immigration office.
Some foreign nationals have encountered serious legal problems with Korean immigration authorities because they have been employed as English teachers whilst on a tourist visa; they have undertaken part-time employment; or have taught private classes without obtaining the proper permission. Violation of Korean immigration laws can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines or deportation with a ban on re-entry for up to two years. The Embassy is unable to provide assistance if you violate Korean laws, other than to provide a list of English speaking lawyers.
Your employer has no legal right to hold your passport, and is not required to do so by the Korean authorities. Please contact the Consular Section of the Australian Embassy if your employer insists on keeping your passport.