Working in South Korea
Language teaching is a popular choice for native English-speaking graduates in South Korea, and there are also opportunities in sectors such as technology and IT. Some multinational companies with head offices in South Korea may recruit UK graduates. It's not essential to be fluent in Korean but learning some before you travel will help you to communicate with local people and will show recruiters that you are dedicated to working in the country.
Where could you work in South Korea?
There is a lot of demand for English language teaching in South Korea, as well as opportunities to work in the growing manufacturing and technology industries.
South Korea's largest industries include:
- vehicle manufacturing
- mobile telecommunications
Some examples of South Korea's major employers are:
- Samsung (semiconductors)
- Hyundai (vehicle manufacturing)
- LG electronics (electronics)
- KPMG (professional services)
- ExxonMobil (chemicals)
Skills in demand
There is a particular demand for English language teaching and those who have IT and technology skills.
South Korea's main language is Korean, which has its own alphabet known as Hangeul. English is widely spoken, especially in the main cities, but it's a good idea to take a Korean language course before you travel.
English teaching doesn't require you to speak Korean but you will find it useful for managing a class of children and understanding what they are talking about with each other. For other sectors it is harder to find work without some knowledge of Korean, although fluency isn't essential.
If you know some Korean you can choose to sit the Korean Language Proficiency Test (KLPT), which assesses the practical communication skills you need to live and work in South Korea. It helps you to demonstrate your level of language ability when applying for jobs.
Are UK qualifications recognised?
A university degree is the basic requirement for many job opportunities for foreigners in South Korea. You will need to have your UK degree documentation stamped by the Legalisation Office (a process known as having it 'apostilled') for it to be recognised in South Korea. You can find out more about this process from the GOV.UK guidance on living in South Korea and the GOV.UK information about getting documents legalised.
Teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea
English teachers are constantly in demand in South Korea. There are opportunities for teaching English to children of all ages (from kindergarten to university-level) at either government-run schools or private language schools known as hagwons. The school may provide benefits such as free accommodation and reimbursing your airfare.
To get a visa to teach English in South Korea, you must be a native English speaker and have an undergraduate degree in any subject. Some opportunities also require a TEFL qualification; this is worth having even if not requested as it will help you stand out from other applicants. You can apply directly to a language school or through government programmes and various organisations, such as the British Council.
There are also opportunities for English-speaking roles that don't involve teaching, such as developing course content or editing textbooks.
What's it like to work in South Korea?
Working hours: Traditionally there is a culture of working very long hours in South Korea, although changes to the law have reduced the maximum working hours from 68 per week to 52 (40 normal hours and 12 hours' overtime).
Holidays: The number of public holidays ranges from 10 to 16 depending on the year. Paid annual leave increases each year you work for your employer.
Income tax: Workers in South Korea have to pay tax, health insurance and pension insurance. The rate of income tax ranges from 8% to 35%.
Where to find jobs
You will need to secure a job before you travel to South Korea in order to obtain a visa that allows you to work (UK nationals can travel to South Korea for up to 90 days without a visa but you must have a return ticket).
Here are some websites that you may find useful when searching for vacancies:
- TEFL UK – advice and job vacancies if you're interested in teaching English in South Korea
- Gone 2 Korea – includes information and advice about teaching English in South Korea
- National Job Centre – site and vacancies in Korean
- British Chamber of Commerce Korea – contains links to member companies
- HigherEd Jobs – allows you to search for PhD, postdoctoral, research and lecturing vacancies at South Korean universities
- Job Korea – site and vacancies are in Korean
- Saramin – site and vacancies are in Korean
- Seoul Global Center – vacancies are in English
- Work-Net – the Korea Employment Information Service's public recruitment portal (site is in Korean)
Take a look at the TARGETjobs international vacancies page.
Newspapers with vacancies
In addition, you can find job vacancies in the following English-language newspapers:
CV, application and interview tips
It's best to find work before travelling to South Korea, to ensure that you'll get a suitable visa. Similarly to the UK, some companies require a CV and covering letter (known as a self-introduction letter) while others have an application form. South Korean CVs tend to be quite concise, made up of key words rather than sentences. You'll typically be expected to attach a photo of yourself. Application forms for multinational companies may be in English, but don't assume this is always the case. Networking and making contacts are also useful for job hunting in South Korea.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
It's difficult for graduates to find work experience or short-term opportunities in South Korea, other than teaching English or voluntary work. You might find internship vacancies with multinational companies operating in South Korea.
IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) provides summer placements in various countries, including South Korea, for science and engineering students.
AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales) provides an international exchange programme for students and recent graduates in a range of countries, including South Korea. It offers voluntary and paid work placements in professional organisations, schools and charities.
UK nationals can enter South Korea for up to 90 days without a visa. This arrangement does not allow you to do paid work but could be a good option if you'd like to experience life in South Korea through volunteering. You can volunteer at orphanages, organic farms, animal shelters and guesthouses, or feeding homeless people. If you'd like to teach English without being paid, there are opportunities to work with North Korean refugees or underprivileged children who can't afford to attend a hagwon. Alternatively you could take part in a language café or homestay.
You may be able to find opportunities through organisations such as the International Voluntary service.
Do you need a visa to work in South Korea?
To work in South Korea or stay there for longer than 90 days, you must get a visa before leaving your home country. There are different types of work visas depending on the type of job. Some of the options that would best suit recent graduates include:
- foreign language instructor (you'll need this to teach English in South Korea)
- professional employment (for those with an internationally recognised professional qualification in an area such as law or medicine)
- short-term employment (if you will be in South Korea for less than 90 days but want to work while there)
Living in South Korea
Cost of living: varies from place to place but generally lower than in the UK, especially the cost of public transport. Electronic items made in South Korea (such as LG and Sony) are relatively affordable, while imported goods will be more expensive. South Korean food is much cheaper than Western food, and markets or smaller shops are cheaper than department stores.
Healthcare: Medical care is of good quality but hospital staff may not speak English and medical bills can be expensive. There is no reciprocal healthcare agreement between the UK and South Korea, so it is essential to have health insurance. You will usually need to pay any medical fees in advance and claim these back from the insurance company later, so make sure you have access to enough money to cover any treatment.
Laws and customs to be aware of: Possessing, using or supplying illegal drugs (which are classified in a different way to in the UK) can result in heavy fines and long jail sentences. Same-sex relationships are legal and there is increasing support for LGBT rights organisations. You need a South Korean driving licence in order to drive in South Korea.
Major religion(s): Buddhism and Christianity
Type of government: Presidential republic