Applying for an ESL job in Korea as a South African

Many people ask me for advice and help on how to get an ESL job in South Korea. I have been putting this post off long enough, so I’m going to give you on what to prepare and know before embarking on this adventure.

Anyone can read this post, but as a South African, I will focus on finding and working in ESL in South Korea specifically. I’ve tried to put it down in 5 steps, but there are processes along the way and in between. This is as concise as I can make it.

What you need to know before applying:

Degree or no degree


I’ll be honest Korean language schools look for applicants with certified degree form a university. The best thing is that it can be a degree or major in ANYTHING. You simply just need an undergraduate degree. The only time you need a masters or more is if its for a university language job, and that a totally different visa (I’ll get into visas later on).

If you don’t have a degree, you can still apply for an ESL position in South Korea. However, you will go most likely have to go through a recruiting agency who can find a placement. Note, that those without a degree will earn less and will not have much say in where they are allocated.



In my opinion a TESOL is a much better option. It’s a one up from the TEFL, which has somewhat become outdated. There are numerous language schools around Cape Town which offer the TESOL and TEFL courses. TESOL will offer more practical hours to theory and help you prepare lesson if you need to do that at the Korean school. Whether you go to a school or language centre, they always look for this qualification. In most cases, it could also mean you get slightly higher pay.

Private language academy or government school?

Hmmm…. This will depend on what you personally want. I have never worked in an actual school. In my 4 years, I have only worked for private language centres (hagwon). They don’t require as much paperwork. So in this post, I will write what you need to for the private academies only.

Read more about my experiences living in KoreaRead more about my experiences living in Korea

What documents do I need to prepare?

The documentation tend to change over time, but this is what I know as the important ones for now:

  • Copy of degree/diploma (need to be apostilled and notarised)
  • Police clearance certificate  (need to be apostilled and notarised)
  • Contract from Korean company/employer
  • Application for E2 Visa (obtained from Korean embassy website)
  • Valid South African Passport
  • 2 current ID photos

(For those wanting to apply to an actual school via the government will need much more papers such as both high school and primary school certificates.)

The Process

Step 1: How to get a police clearance in South Africa

When I first applied I could get the application at the local police station, and then print it out on the day. That doesn’t exist anymore. Here’s what you now need to do:

  • Visit your nearest police station and tell them you need an application for a police clearance.
  • You will pay a fee for this document. Public service does not exist anymore.
  • The office will take your fingerprints, which you will press onto the application form.
  • Fill out the rest of the form

Now that you have you application form, you will need to send it all the way to Pretoria.

You must pay the fee first and you can send the deposit with the form in the envelope to the Pretoria. I use the regular mail at the post office, as the processing time will take about 2 months in any case. Once issued it will take 2 weeks to get back to you with regular post.

Step 2: Getting your documents notarised

This is a fairly simple procedure. You only need to get the copy of your degree (with original) and police clearance notarised by a public notary. You can go to certified and registered law firm. They usually charge a fee.

Step 3: Getting your documents apostilled

What is an apostille? It’s a big red sticker you get from the court to confirm you documents are authentic. They used to do it at the Cape High court here in Cape Town, but that service is no more. For those living outside Johannesburg or Pretoria, you will have to send:

  • Original degree/diploma certificate
  • A copy of your degree and certificate which you need to first get notarised at a certified law firm to confirm it is an official copy.
  • You can get as much copies stamped for the fee, and you can keep it for later use.

When you have your police clearance and copy of degree notarised, you will have to resend them back to Pretoria to get the apostilled.

Now seeing as your actual hard earned degree is in this package I recommend you go private courier. I use the ever resourceful Docs for Expats, which have been around for some years. Great service and totally reliable. You send your document to them and for a reasonable fee they take you papers to the centre and fetch it when it’s done and they deliver it back to you. They will send it back via a local private courier for a much less rate than regular private couriers. This service is amazing.

If you don’t trust anyone one with your papers, then you can send it by yourself but be sure to include the return costs in the package. This will cost you more.

After you have your police clearance and degree copy apostilled, you can now start looking for an ESL job in Korea!

Step 4: How to find an ESL job in Korea

There are two ways: You either apply through a certified recruiter or you go job hunting yourself with no middle man. I personally apply by myself. I search job boards and websites and apply directly to the academies. This allows me to choose who I want to work for, what I’m prepared to put up with and, more importantly, where I want to work in Korea.

If you are going to apply for a government school, you need to apply via their website directly, or go through a recruiter in South Africa or Korea. They have lots of ads online to contact them and they’ll guide you through the process.

I don’t ever use recruiters, I’ve had bad experiences with them and they lie a lot. For first timers they tend to take advantage of the fact that you know NOTHING about the country. At the end of the day, they just need to make their targets and won’t care if they place you in the middle of nowhere. After the contracts signed and you are there you are now on your own and your employer’s problem. They tend to also lie about not having vacancies in various locations to fill up the least popular locations. I warned you.

Here are my job preferred sites:

Once you find a job

Here’s standard procedure if you finally get a Korean employer interested:

  • Email reply asking you if you have all your docs ready and when you can do a phone interview.
  • Sound cheerful and happy during the phone interview and polite. And speak clearly so they can hear your pronunciation is understandable. Korean language schools tend to prefer the North American accent, so as a South African you need to make you accent easy to understand.
  • After the interview and you are successful, you will receive an email with the contract
  • Print out the contract and sign it.


Step 5: Applying for an E2 visa

If you are not an actual qualified teacher with zero teaching experience, like me, then this is the work visa you will be applying for in Korea.

The E2 visa allows foreigners from English speaking countries such as South Africa, UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to work as ESL teachers in South Korea.

An E2 visa requires the school or company to pay for your flights, pay for your accommodation, entitles you to year-end bonuses and specific work hours as a foreigner in Korea.

You are not an actual teacher, but will be referred to one regardless, and will focus on speaking lessons to students. You only focus on speaking and interaction in the English language.

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Ok, ready to do this? Here’s the last step’s process:

Go on the Korean embassy in South Africa website and find the E2 visa application form, print it out and fill it in. In your package send:

  • Passport
  • Copy of passport
  • Two ID pictures
  • Copy of signed contract
  • Apostilled and notarised degree copy
  • Apostilled and notarised police clearance certificate


Then you wait for you visa to be processed. Once that is complete, you should receive your flight from your employer to Korea to start your new adventure.

So what’s it actually like to work in Korea? Read my next post to find out!