How to teach English in Korea.

I am a danger to all around me.

My last day at my previous job was on Feb 22. Within several days I had a stack of job offers for my wife and I to go to Korea to teach English. Here are a few things about my experience job hunting in Korea and a little bit of why we ended up going to Japan to teach English instead.

First things first. The internet is filled with information that is partially true, slightly inaccurate and not always up to date. Most directions for applying for jobs in Korea lack the nuance of whole process. Here I am going to describe what I went through in detail so its kind of a long read. If you are reading this as research to go teach English overseas my experience with job searching in Korea went on for February and March of 2013.

A clean FBI background check

A clean FBI background check

Korea requires a significant amount of paper work that takes very long time to get done and once you have that paper work it can “expire” if it is not used quickly enough. Here is the paperwork required to get in to Korea on an E-2 Work Visa.

1)   FBI Criminal Background Check

2)   University Diploma

3)   Passport Photos

4)   Health Verification Form

5)   Passport

6)   Transcripts from your University

Lets start with the FBI background check. This can take 8 to 10 weeks to get back from the FBI. You start by going to a local police or sheriff’s station and get all of your fingerprints and a partial palm print done professionally on a “10 card.” After that is finished, mail off the 10 card, and a form that you get from the F.B.I. website for them to run your background check. This will run you about $30 dollars and you can pay by credit card. On this form it is very important to mark the box that says, “Apostille Required.” If you don’t mark that box the background check is useless for visa purposes in Korea. Also if the background check is more than 6 months old you may run in to an issue where they say that it needs to be rechecked. You may have committed a felony in those 6 months!

If you get something back from the F.B.I. that looks a short form letter with a signature from the Director of the F.B.I. then you are good to go to the next step. If you get back an actual report that has an incident recorded on it: look at a different country. Korean immigration will not distinguish between innocence and guilt on the background check. If there is anything on the background check your chances of being issued an E-2 Visa are slim to none.

Shana's headshot

Shana’s headshot

Take me as an example. I was denied an E-2 Visa because of an arrest on my record that was thrown out of court. It says right on it that it was dismissed for lack of evidence. I pleaded with the school to explain to immigration on my behalf that I never actually did anything wrong and the arrest was so egregious that I never even went to trial. Take my word on this and save yourself a ton of money on getting the remaining documents for Korea. If you do not have a perfectly clean background check look in to other countries like Taiwan, Japan or Thailand. It will save you a lot of time, headaches and stress.

If your CBC is clean the next step is to mail it off to Washington D.C. to the Secretary of State of the United States to have your background check apostillized. This is a type of verification from another government agency confirming the background check is indeed from the F.B.I. (It starts to get Kafka-esque right about here). There are services that can get this done quickly. I paid around $150US to get our paper work back in about five business days. If you have time to wait for regular post the cost is around $45.

While you are waiting to get your CBC back from the Secretary of State of the US you can do the next step in the process which is get a copy of your diploma notarized and apostillized. This involves making a high quality copy of the diploma and taking it to any notary public. You will fill out a form that says that basically says, “Yes, this is my diploma…It’s even got my name on it!” You pay the $10 for the notary service and then march on over to the Secretary of State for your state. In my case this was California. The Secretary of State for California will then apostillize the notary documentation of your diploma. This costs $45 dollars in California. This is easily done at the counter in Sacramento in about 25 – 30 min. By mail it can take several weeks.

Quick recap – You have your FBI CBC, Apostillized by the US Secretary of State. While you are waiting for that you got copies of your diploma notarized and apostillized. Now you are sitting on about $100US to $150US worth of government stamps.

Next up are passport photos. It is really important to have a good head shot when applying to teach in South Korea. While in the US this would frowned upon it is a very important part of the Korean interview process. Every school will ask you for a recent picture so you might as well kill two birds with one stone. If you are offered a job you will need to send 6 copies of a passport photo. Put on a nice shirt and a tie if you’re a dude, go down to FedexKinkos and crack a big smile. Ask the Fedex guy to give you a digital copy of your passport photo while you are waiting for the 6 photos to print. This should run you in the neighborhood of $40 dollars.

Andrew's headshot

Andrew’s headshot

Now you can really start applying for jobs. Technically you could be applying the entire time you are waiting for all these documents but here are the basics for getting a contract offer. Schools basically rehire in large amounts in February and March and then again in August and September. If it is mid February and you are just now mailing off your FBI background checks you will not be able to get a job on time because there is no way to expedite the FBI CBC process. There may still be jobs available in April, May, and June but the options will not be as diverse. However if you have all of your paper work ready to go when you submit an application then you are a much more attractive candidate.

Where do you find jobs? They are everywhere. Literally. Google things like ESL Korea, ESL boards, ESL Job’s (Pick a city in Korea) blah blah blah. Dave’s ESL Café is a great resource. I also used Korean Jobs 77 and TTI ESL Boards. Post your resume in a bunch of places and a lot of schools will reach out to you. Keep in mind not all schools in Korea are created equal. Every inquiry you get from a school should be followed up by a Google search for bad experiences at that school, whether or not that school has been black listed or white listed by other ESL teachers. Always try and talk to another English speaker at the school. See how long they have been there and what their experience has been like.

You’ve got a job offer in a city that you like with a school that seems to be on the up and up. Now you’ve got a couple more hoops to jump through. First is the E-2 health form. You should get this from the school that makes you an offer that you decide to accept. Once you get to Korea you will have to get a physical and take a drug test. Second is your actual contract. You will be sending the original back to the school in Korea so make sure you save a copy. Do not hesitate to ask for more money than what they offer you and anything the school promises make sure it is in writing. If it’s not in the contract it is unlikely you will get it.

Take your signed contract, your apostillized documents, your six passport photos, copies of your resume, cover letter and E-2 health form and put it in a Fedex, UPS, DHL, or certified mail envelope and send it off to the school in Korea. If you use Fedex from California and send it two day express this will cost you about $80 dollars.

Now the school will get your paper work and take it to immigration on your behalf. This is where I got tripped up. I had an arrest on my record and was denied outright by the immigration officer to be even considered for a visa. If your background check was completely clean then you should have nothing to worry about.

Once your E-2 Visa is cleared (this takes approximately 20 days) you will have to travel to the closest Korean consulate to pick up your Visa in person. This maybe easier to do in Japan on your way to Korea if there is no consulate anywhere near you. If you’re in California the options are San Francisco and Los Angeles. At this point you maybe asked for sealed transcripts from the university. Or you may not. The answer is not very clear and I didn’t actually get this far in visa experience with Korea. However I did have a friend who asked for them, he said, “I wasn’t told I needed transcripts…” and then the Korean consulate officer said, “ok, never mind.”

Presumably once you get your visa you can enter the country legally and not have to worry about anything. I wouldn’t know because I am danger to all those around me. I have a permanent record. If you get denied the first time and you don’t mind spending a ton of money having your documents shipped around a Korea then you can try a different city or a bigger city you may get different results with different immigration officers. I gave up and decided I would rather work someplace else.

FBI Background Check Link:
US Secretary of State Apostille Services:
Expedited Document Services:
ESL Café Job Search:
Korean Global Connections:
Korea Jobs 77:
Korean Consulate Locations:

One comment on “How to teach English in Korea.

  1. […] you go back read my “How to teach English in Korea” post you will know that as an American there are a lot of hoops to jump through but they may be […]

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