What I Know Now About Teaching English in Korea and Taiwan

National Concert Hall at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei Taiwan, as seen by the author while teaching English in Korea

Teaching English in South Korea and other Asian markets continues to increase in popularity, especially for Americans due to Europe’s strict visa regulations. Before contemplating the different aspects of teaching English in Taiwan and South Korea, first consider the not-so-romantic facets of what this decision means by asking yourself what you hope to gain by teaching English in Asia.

Many people mistake teaching English abroad for a vacation or gap year before “entering the real world.” Disappointingly, travel influencers and YouTubers continue to perpetuate this narrative with glamorous social media posts. Sufficient opportunities to travel and explore exist, just remember playtime comes second, and moving to the opposite side of the world to rent a motorbike in Thailand during the Lunar New Year cannot provide escapism from general life stressors.

Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) sounds easier than it is. Handling a classroom of kids who speak a language you can’t understand, and who may not speak enough English to communicate effectively when problems arise, adds complexities. Most countries require a bachelor’s degree in any field plus a TEFL certification, neither of which adequately prepares prospective teachers. Parents devote hundreds of dollars per kid per month to English instruction, and they expect to see a return on that investment. That responsibility falls on you, the English teacher. 

I taught English in South Korea for one year and in Taiwan for two years. My gratitude knows no end. I traveled to nine countries, learned valuable professional skills through supervising classrooms, and permitted new perspectives to enter my world through the people I met. Teaching English abroad can offer you tremendous personal and professional growth, but only by going in with the right motivation. Here, I’m sharing what I know now after teaching English in South Korea and Taiwan.

Throne Hall at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea, as seen by the author while teaching English in Korea

1. Don’t Let Hesitant Parents Dissuade You 

A common struggle for young people thinking about moving abroad to teach English is how to convince their parents. I allowed my parents to dissuade me from spending a summer in Istanbul teaching English at a camp for school kids and still regret it. Watching my friends live what looked like the best two months of their lives through Instagram left me feeling envious.

I don’t fault my parents for their concerns as they felt uneasy and uneducated about the decision, but I wish I ignored their worries sooner. Reassure your parents that you will have full access to communication services (WhatsApp is popular) and compile some of your research to give them copies. Save your money, make the move, and don’t forget to send some postcards! 

Danielle Faviano poses in front of a lake and temples on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul South Korea while teaching English in Korea

2. Practice Safe Solo Travel (Especially as a Woman)

Violent and petty crime rates remain low in Taiwan and South Korea, and I felt safer as a woman there than I do in America. However, be prepared for stares on the subway or getting denied a taxicab ride. While annoying to deal with, these occurrences can happen to foreigners anywhere in the world, usually resulting in a bit of an initial shock to someone who isn’t used to being an outsider. 

Well-established expatriate communities exist in most major cities globally. Everybody inevitably runs into crises and veteran expatriates commonly extend their generosity and expertise to newbies. Ask considerately and take the advice given to you, especially if dealing with authorities. 

I recommend the “Taipei Ladies” and “Expat Women in Korea” Facebook groups to all who identify as female. In my opinion, they offer more assistance than co-ed groups and more support for LGBT+ folks. Although these groups don’t allow posts for English teaching jobs in South Korea or Taiwan, you can find plenty of groups dedicated to English teachers hunting for jobs by utilizing the search functions within these groups.

Photo by ⓒKorea Tourism Organization-Woo ChangminPeople Walk Through the Danyang Gugyeong Market - Teaching English in Korea

3. Check a Variety of Places to Find English Teaching Jobs

Locating job opportunities for teaching English in Taiwan or South Korea depends on whether you want to teach in public schools or private businesses. Government programs that place teachers in public schools include EPIK, GEPIK, and SOME in South Korea and TFETP in Taiwan. Global prospects can be found online at Dave’s ESL Café.

I found my first ESL job through my university’s alumni network. An instructor put me in touch with a recent program graduate already working in South Korea. After preparing for an extensive interview process, I met with the program director via Skype and received a “we need you here in February” after about five minutes of verifying qualifications. Acquiring an E-2 visa for teaching English in South Korea took approximately two months as an American. Your employer should handle the visa application, you just need to arrange the specified documents.

To find work in Taiwan, I arrived in the country on a 90-day tourist stamp with documents already prepared. I found a job within three weeks using Tealit, a Taiwan-specific job board for ESL teachers. Processing my work permit took several weeks, but our world looks different in 2023 than it did in 2019. Check with your employer regarding proper documents. 

Before accepting a visa, vet the school through Facebook groups, online message boards, or word of mouth. I worked with fantastic employers while teaching English in South Korea and Taiwan, but not everyone shares the same sentiment. The South Korean government requires foreign employees to obtain a letter of release from their current employer to change jobs, but employers are not under any legal obligation to release you from your work visa. This results in teachers pulling a “midnight run” by departing the country to break a terrible contract. The Taiwanese system offers more flexibility.

Photo by ⓒKorea Tourism Organization-Park Seonggeun, A Leafy Corner of the University of Seoul - Teaching English in Korea

4. There are Big Differences Between Teaching in South Korea and Taiwan

After-school English academies are known as hagwons in South Korea and buxibans or “cram schools” in Taiwan. Kids attend regular school during the day followed by English lessons in the afternoon and evenings. These businesses establish their own curriculum and can be independently owned or be part of a larger chain of schools. Either way, business comes first. Keeping parents happy will always take precedence to keep the money coming in. 

Teaching in South Korea 

My working hours as an English teacher in South Korea fell between 3:00 PM and 10:00 PM with classes beginning at 5:00 PM. Most of my friends worked similar hours. I received a monthly salary of 2.5M Korean won, which was around USD 2,250 in 2017 (USD 1,850 in today’s dollars). In addition to a generous salary, you can expect employer contributions to a pension, a contract completion bonus of one month’s pay, housing, health insurance, paid vacation, and reimbursed airfare to and from South Korea. I saved upwards of USD 1,000 every month teaching in a small township 45 minutes from Seoul. 

Teaching in Taiwan 

As an English teacher in Taiwan, I taught between 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM with small breaks. As an hourly employee, I was paid only for teaching hours. Other than health insurance, buxibans don’t usually offer benefits. Living in the bustling capital city of Taipei, my income of 650 New Taiwan Dollars (USD 33) an hour granted me a comfortable lifestyle and the ability to save a couple hundred bucks each month.

You can find housing on Facebook groups or through Taiwanese websites such as Tealit and 591. I secured my first place, a room in a shared apartment with international students, in two weeks through Facebook and my studio through 591. Some landlords speak great English and gladly rent to foreigners while others decline. 

Pavilion in the lush green Taipei Botanical Gardens, as seen by the author while teaching English in Korea and Taiwan

5. Navigating English Barriers is Easier Than You Might Think

As they’re from industrialized countries with major international hubs, South Korean and Taiwanese folks value English education to advance their careers. Never presume anyone speaks English fluently, but cities such as Seoul or Busan in South Korea and Taipei in Taiwan offer more robust English services than less globalized cities or smaller towns. Additionally, many doctors study medicine in English-speaking countries and work at large hospitals even in less connected cities. 

Google Translate works well enough to help navigate websites or in-person dilemmas. While the stress of banking, immigration, healthcare, renting, cab rides, or phone services can feel burdensome at times, remember that mutual patience and empathy lead to a resolution quicker. If you feel frustrated by someone’s lack of ability to address your concern in English, then try switching to their language… if you can. 

Leading with “Do you speak English?” spoken in the local language yields better results than demanding English. My friends and I inadvertently turned ourselves into community celebrities in our host township of Dongtan, South Korea, for simply attempting to speak Korean. As only about two dozen English teachers resided in the town, we regularly got recognized. I can recall a few occurrences where overjoyed restaurant owners brought little freebies to our table as a “thank you” for our frequent visits and appreciation for our friendliness and enthusiasm. A server even expressed their gratitude for our encouragement of their kids who enjoyed practicing English by delivering a free round of beers! 

Now, don’t expect free stuff just because you happen to exist, but certainly don’t undervalue just how much power lies within studying the basics of the local language and exuding warmth to your host community.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Taipei, Taiwan, Traveling while teaching English in Korea and Taiwan

Tidbits about South Korea and Taiwan

You won’t find a lack of history or culture in either nation! 

Nothing tastes better than Korean barbeque.

I found learning the basics of Korean much easier than Mandarin, which seemed nearly impossible. 

Air pollution continues to be an issue in both countries, particularly for those with sensitive respiratory systems. 

Both countries boast excellent transportation locally and on high-speed rails as an efficient and cost-effective means of travel. 

Taiwan’s central location puts the island in close proximity to most major hubs, making travel all around Asia easier, cheaper, and quicker than traveling from South Korea. 

Earthquakes and typhoons are quite common in Taiwan. We got hit with both in my second week there. The Floridian in me couldn’t care less about the typhoon, but I never experienced an earthquake jolting me out of my slumber until I moved to Taiwan. I never grew to tolerate earthquakes, even though they’re usually nothing more than a mild inconvenience. 

Gate at Chiang Kai Shek, as seen by the author while teaching English in Korea

Making the “Right” Decision

Teaching English in South Korea remains popular for English teachers wanting a high salary and more benefits whereas teaching English in Taiwan remains popular for those prioritizing a more relaxed lifestyle. I find it difficult to compare the two experiences as I view my time in both places as positive, but I preferred my city life in Taipei over the small-town life in Dongtan, even with the lower income. 

All in all, achieving your goals requires two things: doing the scary thing and adapting! As long as you have enough due diligence, arrive prepared with the right expectations, and curate a positive mindset, teaching English in South Korea or Taiwan can grant you the abundance of passion, wisdom, and humility your soul yearns for. Happy teaching!

Interested in learning more about teaching abroad? Check out this article about teaching English in Japan.

27 thoughts on “What I Know Now About Teaching English in Korea and Taiwan

  1. Hi Danielle. I know several who have taught English in Korea but none who have taught in Taiwan. I’ve been lucky enough to visit both destinations.

  2. It sounds like there’s a lot to consider, but what an amazing opportunity to be able to visit the countries and immerse yourself in the culture there.

  3. What a wonderful experience this must have been. There is so much more involved with teaching English in another country than I would have expected.

  4. Safe solo travel is the most important tip you could give anyone. You never know who or what is out there. You have to be vigilant.

  5. I love how you mentioned about safe solo travels, with the way the world is today that is extremely important. I bet this experience was awesome and the memories you have about teaching English in Korea will forever be close to your heart.

  6. It is very interesting what you said about the differences between South Korea and Taiwan, I had no idea…I can’t wait to explore Taiwan, it is such a beautiful country.

  7. Interesting you say it sounds easier than it is! I can’t imagine the skills one must have to teach English when you don’t speak the language of the students.

  8. Ooohhhh…alright then. Thank you for these tips! If I ever get an opportunity to TEFL there, I will refer to your guide.

  9. Very interesting post! I never thought to teach English abroad but it would have been a great opportunity. My friend taught in the Ukraine for a bit and she had a brilliant time!

  10. My husband and I explored teachingvEnglish in Taiwan because he had a friend doing that there. But we found out we would have little time to travel.

  11. I love how honest your post is and that you are sharing your knowledge. Posts like this can really help with other people who are trying to make the decision.

  12. What an amazing experience, my cousins wife taught english in Uganda and became headmistress of the school. Their time there was amazing and so many stories

  13. Thank you for all the informative information you shared with us! Seems like it’s easy to go for solo travel.

  14. There are many things to consider when teaching English in Asia and I totally agree that it comes with lot of perks. From learning the culture of the country to getting personal and professional development, the opportunities are endless. Thanks for putting this awesome resource together.

  15. That sounds amazing! I’ve heard the online teaching is popular too in China and Korea. But what you have shared is awesome because of salary and benefits than online teaching.

  16. This sounds amazing. I know online teaching English is very popular, a few of my friends do this. Thank you for sharing this.

  17. This is a very informative and detailed post. Teaching English abroad must be great as you help others whilst seeing the world.

  18. I have many friends who taught English in Korea and Taiwan. And, they had similar feedback to what you wrote. Thank you for sharing this.

  19. What an amazing experience! It’s great to have the opportunity to travel abroad and teach. You’ll always end up teaching yourself some valuable life lessons.

  20. What an interesting look into your perspective when it comes to traveling and teaching! Being safe as a solo (women) traveler is something I have always found really daunting.

  21. A very detailed and informative post highlighting all the important aspects of taking this decision, the pros and cons.

  22. It’s really interesting to me to see the currency differences between the two countries. I want to visit Korea again one day since it’s my place of birth…very interesting hearing about what life was like there for you!

  23. This is interesting, I know there are some friends teaching English in there. Being safe is very important there especially as a woman.

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