Think teaching English in Korea part time is impossible? Think again.
Like many others looking for opportunities to travel and make money, I set my sights on teaching English in Korea in 2010. My first two years were typical working experiences at private English academies.
I got the basic package:
- Free, or up to 1 million won, airfare to and from the country.
- Free accommodation or housing stipend.
- Bonus of 1 month’s salary upon completion of 1 year contract.
- 50% of health insurance covered by employer.
- Monthly salary of 2.1 million won.
- Maximum 120 hours per month working time.
Having all of these basic needs cared for by my school was extremely comforting to me as I paid off student loans and traveled a little bit in Asia. But at the end of my second contracted year, I began to feel a bit burned out. I had no real control over my schedule and I felt at the mercy of an employer who could hold my paycheck and my home over my head. I dreamed of creating a working environment for myself in which I was in total control.
So, I did. I worked part time and freelanced my labor. I ended up making way more than I would if I signed another contract for a private school. And the thing is, you can too. I truly feel that any person needing an E2 visa to work in Korea can follow the steps I took to make my dream schedule and apply it for themselves.
- You need a little bit of bravery and some start up capital. The best part of moving to Korea with the promise of a job is that you need very little money to begin with. When I started looking for a part time job, I first got my own apartment. You can find an apartment for about 500,000 won per month with key money (deposit) of 5 million won. To learn more about renting in Korea, read our article on how to find an apartment in Seoul. Once I was set up with a residence, I began my job search. I mention bravery because it took me 2 months to find a position. I was patient and knew I wasn’t going to settle but the anxiety of being jobless did stress me out a bit. I reserved about 2 million won as a cushion while I was job hunting.
- Search for part time work with visa sponsorship on Craigslist. Yes, it’s totally possible to work part time for a private school and receive visa sponsorship from them. Just don’t expect any other perks. My visa sponsor required I work 12 hours a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The pay was 1.6 million won. They sponsored my E2 visa. I was given 6 days off. That’s it.
- Freelance your labor. With my part time job locked down, I began to look for smaller jobs that could fill my hours. Again, I highly recommend Craigslist in Seoul to find jobs. This was the ONLY website I used. Once you start looking, you’ll see a variety of smaller part time jobs. These are mostly listings by recruiting companies who hire workers to teach businesses classes. Sometimes, you’ll meet a recruiter offering a kindergarten class. After awhile you’re tutoring LG executives at 8am, a class of team members for a financial company at lunch time and working for a nursery school twice a week. The possibilities are endless.
- Make yourself a legal worker. If you are already a teacher in South Korea, you might wonder how I was working part time, freelancing my labor and doing it all legally. When it comes to immigration, actually all E2 visa holders can work other jobs as long as the school who is sponsoring them allows it. With job permission from my sponsor, I simply reported any new job to immigration. For more information on how to become a legal worker holding multiple jobs, please check out this awesome article.
- Network and be patient. My steady flow of income did not happen right away. It took a few months to really fill my schedule with odd jobs. But I noticed that once I started working with a recruiting company, I couldn’t get them to STOP offering me jobs. Even now as I prepare to leave the country for good I get messages about potential business classes they want me to teach.
Now that you know the basics of how I created my own working schedule in Korea, I want to give a break down of the true pro and cons of this schedule.
- Renting an apartment myself meant that I didn’t have to deal with an employer who might randomly come into my home or force me to move. I chose my location and ended up living in a wonderful traditional neighborhood near a bustling part of the city.
- I didn’t worry about losing work. If a job wasn’t suiting my needs or it had to end, it just wasn’t a big deal the way it would be if my private school closed. When the school sponsoring your visa closes you’re left wondering, where will I live, how can I get home, do I have enough money to make this transition? These are very stressful questions that I never had to consider.
- I had an ample amount of free time. My schedule afforded me long breaks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I took the time to work on this blog, go to doctors appointments, go grocery shopping, workout. Whatever I wanted.
- Money. By the end of my year, I was making a full million more than did at my previous private school. I also: traveled to Japan, got eye surgery and paid off my students loans.
- I made great contacts. I learned a ton about Korean culture. Both of things were made possible because I was teaching English in Korea to adults. I was very happy to not devote myself to the student management needed to control a classroom of elementary school kids. It’s draining. Teaching adults gave me a sense of purpose and I was actually able to have interesting, thought provoking conversations during work. If I ever come back to Korea, I know I will easily be able to start this lifestyle again simply based on the relationships I built with my business students.
- I had to commute, a lot. Because I wasn’t living in housing provided by my school, all of my jobs were a bus or subway ride away. Sometimes it was 8 minutes, sometimes it was an hour.
- I paid rent and utilities all on my own. Despite this, it didn’t make a huge dent in my budget, I just mention it as a negative factor of this lifestyle because, well, who doesn’t enjoy free housing?
- My income fluctuated from month to month. I always had a good idea of what I’d be receiving but for saving purposes, I was often recalculating my budget. A salaried income might have enabled me freedom from checking and checking my spending.
- One thing that surprisingly turned out to be difficult for me was dress code. I taught businessmen, babies and elementary school kids. And I had to run all around the city to do it. My dress was business casual but I would have been more comfortable in sneakers and jeans.
- Teaching business classes meant holding classes before the 9-5 workday begins. My earliest class started at 730am. I became very acquainted with sunrise. (Though, watching the sun come up over the Han River with a coffee and bagel was quite pleasant.)
If you look at this list, in numbers it looks like the cons out way the pros. But negative things were often very small. I wouldn’t have changed my lifestyle this year, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. Here are a few tips to consider before getting into it.
- I had a lot of bosses. In order to keep track of the multiple payments I was getting per month, I had to establish online and mobile banking. I highly, HIGHLY recommend KEB banking for this reason. They are committed to supporting their foreign clients and I even went on a free temple stay sponsored by them! Here’s their Facebook page: Korea Exchange Back for Expats.
- Keep track of all your earnings. When you’re working in a foreign country, you are still required (by the USA, anyway) to file taxes back at home. You won’t be required to pay taxes on the money you made abroad, so it sort seems pointless to file. HOWEVER, your bank at home will probably receive large sums of money when you send your earnings home and the IRS notices that. If they don’t have an explanation of where that money came from, you might get into trouble. Keep track of all your earnings so you can report it during tax season.
- Get into the habit of packing your own lunches. I didn’t have to work a lot on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Monday, Wednesday and Fridays my schedule was chock-full. It would have been very easy to buy lunch everyday, but I didn’t want the extra expense and I wanted to stay healthy. So, I packed my lunch.
- Keep your business relationships professional and positive. I had some run ins with messy managers and, occasionally, difficult students. Even though it did bother me, and I’d vent to Constance, I showed only my best side to those I worked with. Every hiccup eventually evens out if you play it cool.
- This lifestyle might be more accessible with a partner or a roommate. If you want to lower your housing costs, I recommend Craigslist (AGAIN! The best.) to look for shared housing. A great place would be in Itaewon in the HBC or Noksapyeong district.
Expatriates do not have to be at the mercy of Korean employers. You take control of your own financial destiny and working situation in Seoul.
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