The Ultimate Guide to Jobs in Korea [2020]

by Richard
Last updated on May 10, 2020

This article covers everything you need to know about jobs in Korea for foreigners.

I worked in Seoul and Gyeonggi-do for 10 years and started a business in 2013.

The information I’m about to share will help you get a job in Korea.

Let’s dive right in!

guide to jobs in korea

Table of Contents

My experience working in South Korea

working in korea
Working as an extra in a Korean movie

I only applied for 1 job in Korea while living there for 10 years (I’ve spent more time helping others find work). The rest were found through networking. 

The first and last job I applied for was on monster.com in 2006, before leaving the states. Even though I didn’t have much work experience, there were many options. 

While living in Korea, I found work as an actor, model, marketer, salesperson, lecturer, and interviewer. I gave private English lessons to celebrities, CEOs, and high-ranking government officials. I even worked at a Stewardess Academy, a concept that doesn’t exist in other countries.

Working in Korea provided me with a wealth of experience and a new perspective. It even helped me start a business, which I wouldn’t have done back home.

I highly recommend it for recent college graduates or anyone looking to make a change in their life.

Why work in Korea?

benefits to working in Korea
There’s something for everyone in Korea

There are many benefits to working in Korea. 

With its natural beauty, ultra-modern cities and vibrant expat community, Korea is a great place to relocate. 

There are many opportunities for English-speakers that you won’t find at home.

It’s fun to live in Korea, especially in your twenties. There are enough neighborhoods with fun bars, clubs and restaurants to keep you busy for a decade. 

In Fact:

You can have a high-standard of living in South Korea. For native English speakers, the base salary is around 2 million KRW ($1,800) along with housing and insurance. This is enough to live comfortably and enjoy a variety of activities.

Korea has a rich and unique culture that’s fascinating to learn about.

The country has something for everyone. Whether you’re into nature, history, food, or K-dramas and K-pop, you’ll never get bored.

Korea has a relatively low crime rate for a developed country. It’s not uncommon for people to forget their laptops or wallets at a cafe and come back to find them untouched.

Violent crime is also very low, even in a densely-packed city like Seoul.

How many expats work and study in Korea?

The foreign population in Korea is 1.8 million. Around 1.4 million of them have registered jobs.

In 2019, there were 60,700 foreign students enrolled in undergraduate programs. 

45,000 non-Koreans were enrolled in language programs. 

There are an estimated 24,000 English teachers. Many people are also employed as office and factory workers, although accurate numbers are hard to come by.

Where can I find jobs in Korea?

LinkedInYou probably have heard of this one. They have an army of recruiters and endless job opportunities. It’s a great place to network, especially given the global situation.

Worknplay – A very active site with tons of English teaching jobs. They also have travel and study sections.

Dave’s ESL Cafe – An old standby that mainly consists of ESL jobs. The forums also contain a wealth of info on living in Korea. 

Robert WaltersA great place for corporate jobs in Korea. 

IndeedThe newish kid on the block that’s growing rapidly. You can find all kinds of jobs here.

Glassdoor– A great place to find corporate jobs as well as info on what it’s like to work at each company. You can even research companies and compare salaries.

Seoul Global CenterA government organization created to help foreigners get jobs or start a business. They offer many free services in over 10 languages. Their help was instrumental in the success of my first business. 

Craigslist – While not the most reliable place to find a job, there are many English teacher and server positions of varying quality. 

Seoul ProfessionalsHas mostly English teaching job opportunities. 

Englishspectrum – As you can imagine, this site specializes in jobs for English speakers in Korea. In addition to English teacher positions, there are also jobs in hostels where accommodation is included. 

Chambers of Commerce – Check the Chamber of Commerce of your country in Korea for job opportunities not found anywhere else. They’re often looking for highly qualified applicants. 

Which visa do I need to work in Korea?

work visa types in korea

Most visitors to Korea receive a 90-day tourist visa. It doesn’t allow you to work legally, but this doesn’t stop some people from doing so under the table and going on visa runs every 3 months. I’ve met people who’ve done this, but it’s only a matter of time before immigration starts to notice and might even ban you from entering the country.

Work-related Visas or E Visas

Fortunately, there’s a visa for practically everyone who wants to work in Korea. Here’s a list of the most common work visas. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you can go to The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website to see the complete list. 

All of E visas are sponsored by The Korean Department of Immigration and the Korean Department of Consular Affairs (Korean Consulates)

E-1 Professor Visa 

This visa is for expats interested in lecturing or conducting research in their field at universities.  It’s a multi-entry visa that’s valid for one year. 

E-2 Foreign Language Instructor Visa

This is one of the most popular visas in Korea. Coincidentally, it’s also one of the easiest to get since you only need a Bachelor’s degree, criminal background check and a company willing to sponsor you. 

It allows you to teach languages at private academies, public schools and other similar institutions. This multiple-entry visa is granted for 13 months and can be renewed in one-year intervals.

I would highly recommend checking out the company you might work for on Dave’s ESL Cafe before signing a contract. Otherwise your experience will be left up to chance.

E-3 Research Visa

A special visa for those invited by public or private institutions to conduct natural science and advanced technology research. It’s also a one-year multi-entry visa that can be renewed.

E-4 Technological Guidance Visa

Expats who are invited by public or private organizations to share their expertise in natural science or high technology can get this visa.

E-5 Special Profession Visa

Lawyers, CPAs, physicians and others with similar professions who want to practice in Korea qualify for this visa. 

E-6 Culture and Art Visa

This visa covers a lot of ground and is used by everyone from musicians, athletes, models, and even members of adult entertainment workers.

E-7 Specially Designed Activities Visa

A special visa that targets individuals who participate in activities designated by the Korean Ministry of Justice through a public or private organization. We’re not entirely sure what that means, so consult an immigration lawyer if you’re interested. 

H-1 Visa

A visa for tourists seeking short-term employment in order to pay for living expenses. The applicant’s country must have an MOU or official agreement with Korea regarding working holidays.

D-5 Long-Term News Coverage Visa

A 3-month visa for reporters working for foreign media that can be extended. This covers those employed by broadcasting companies, newspapers, magazines, etc.

F-4 Overseas Korean Visa

The perfect visa for those lucky enough to be born Korean in another country. It allows you to work anywhere without a sponsor. It’s also good for 3 years and allows for multi-entry. You just have to prove that you’re Korean by showing your birth certificate and your family tree.

F-6 Marriage Visa

A great way to stay in Korea indefinitely. The only catch is you have to marry someone from there. Like the F-4 visa, it allows you to work freely anywhere in the country.

D-81 Investment Visa 

For those of us who have $100,000 laying around, you can simply invest your troubles away into a company you plan on starting in Korea. You’ll then be blessed with a long-term visa and be the envy of expats everywhere.

What are the most popular jobs in South Korea?

popular jobs in south korea

English teacher at a private academy (학원 or hagwon) is the most popular job for non-Koreans who don’t want to work at a factory. All you need is a Bachelor’s Degree and a criminal background check. 

There’s a strong love hate relationship with this kind of job in the expat community.

Pros:

  • They’re pretty easy to get
  • There are plenty of them
  • They pay relatively well

Cons:

  • They can be stressful
  • They’re usually dead end since there’s not many future prospects besides managing other teachers
  • They leave you at the mercy of the owner (원장, wonjang). This is because your visa is sponsored by them, and you’re unable to change jobs mid-contract unless they release you. 

So if you’re unlucky and land a job at a less than reputable place, you’ll be stuck there for a year or forced to go back home until your contract expires. Then you can apply for another job.

Always make sure to screen potential academies on Dave’s ESL Cafe.

What other types of English teaching jobs are there besides hagwons?

After-school programs

There are after school programs that run from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. These are sponsored by the government and generally have better working conditions than hagwons.

Phone English

You can also teach phone English now, although the hourly rate can be relatively low. The pay ranges from $10 to $40 per hour depending on whether you’re willing to do video calls and your level of experience. But what you give up in income, you gain in the ability to work in your pajamas.

University jobs

The Holy Grail of teaching jobs in Korea. Anyone who teaches English secretly wishes they could get one. It has probably the lowest number of teaching hours per week and the highest number of vacation days, up to four months. In most cases, you don’t actually need a Master’s or Ph.D, although it can help.

How do I get a university job in Korea?

These jobs are very competitive as you can imagine. In Korea, having a good relationship can sometimes be more important than your qualifications. The best way to get one of these is to network and have a good reputation.

I recommend socializing in more reputable circles. Some places you can find a better quality expats are classes for hobbies such as cooking, dancing, and book clubs. InterNations also holds regular events where you can meet professionals.

TEFL jobs in South Korea

Some English teaching jobs require a TEFL certification. Getting certified is a good idea if you’re serious about teaching English as a second language.

International TEFL Academy is the most reputable program among the ones I’ve researched.

They provide:

  • Online courses and in-person training at 25 locations around the world
  • 100 hours of coursework
  • 6-20 hours of practicum (live practice teaching and observation with an actual non-native English speaker)
  • An accredited curriculum from a recognized, independent organization within the field
  • Training by a qualified instructor (who has an equivalent to a Master Degree in TESOL or related field)
  • Lifetime job search guidance

Getting certified will also make it easier to find positions in countries besides Korea.

Here are a few other TEFL organizations that are always hiring:

CELTA

If you’re very serious about a career as an English teacher abroad, you can always look into CELTA. It’s a more intensive course that provides:

  • 120 hours of contact time
  • Practical teaching skills and the theory behind them
  • Real-life teaching experience and time management
  • Assessment on written assignments and face-to-face teaching skills

Do I need to speak Korean to work in Korea?

Do-I-need-to-speak-Korean-to-work-in-Korea

Everyone in Korea studies English from elementary school to university. This doesn’t mean they can all speak the language, but they’re familiar with the grammar and vocabulary. 

Some jobs may require you to speak Korean, but there are plenty of others that don’t. You won’t need to speak Korean to teach English at a private academy. In fact, it’s often discouraged since students are there to converse with native English speakers.

It’s extremely helpful to be able to read and converse at a basic level if you plan to stay for a long period of time. I was able to get some of my best jobs by speaking Korean. Being fluent in Korean earns a lot of respect from locals, since you took the time and made the effort to learn it. Also, in the office environment, there will be some employees who are more comfortable speaking Korean. Being able to do so will make life a lot easier for everyone.

The fastest way I’ve found to get fluent in Korean is with guided conversation. Pimsleur took me 0 to conversational in 90 days. You can try the full Pimsleur Korean course free for 7-days here.  

For positions that require proficiency in the Korean language, a TOPIK score might be necessary. But even at these positions, many people will prefer to speak English since it’s free practice and private lessons are expensive in Korea.

What are some non-teaching jobs in Korea for foreigners?

When I first went to Korea in 2006, there weren’t many opportunities besides being an English teacher. Now there are more options than ever for non-Koreans. Here are a few of these opportunities:

  • Translator
  • Model 
  • Actor
  • Server  
  • Bartender 
  • Journalist
  • Musician
  • Writer 
  • Salesperson
  • Contractor
  • Programmer

You can work in pretty much any profession besides doctor or lawyer, which requires a Korean license.

Another avenue is internship programs. They’re always hiring, but be prepared to work long hours.

You can also join the Army, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be stationed in Korea.

How do I apply for an office job in Korea?

For a country with skyscrapers and ultra-modern apartments, Korea can be old-fashioned sometimes. They still prefer to do business face to face, so you’ll get better results being there in person. 

In your home country

If you’re in your home country, it’s still possible to get a job, it’s just harder. There are English teaching positions that you can find online to get your foot in the door. 

In Korea

Once you’re in Korea, you can network and apply for jobs in person. This will give you a much higher chance of getting the position you really want, since a lot of the good ones go to referrals. You also have more credibility, because you’ve already shown you can adapt to the local culture. 

One way to make getting a job in Korea easier is to graduate from a Korean university. This will give you priority with immigration and let you apply for a wider range of positions. I’ve had many friends who graduated from Yonsei with a Master’s Degree that were able to get jobs outside their field. 

Newspapers 

Newspapers can be a surprisingly good source for jobs in Korea. You can even find work as a freelance writer and journalist. Here are a few of the larger and more reputable newspapers:

Job fairs

Jobs are serious business in Korea and there’s a whole industry devoted to helping you find one. There are annual job fairs just for foreigners. Here are the two main types: 

These job fairs may be targeting foreigners, but they operate very much in the Korean way. Make sure to bring copies of your CV and cover letter in both English and Korean.

Also, It’s a good idea to follow Korean business etiquette while you’re there.

Some of these sites won’t be available in your country. Access every Korean website with VPN here!

Requirements to work in South Korea

University degree

Having a bachelor’s degree isn’t necessary, but it’s a good idea. There are positions you can get with a high school education, but they’re generally sales or server jobs with less than ideal working conditions. I’ve met people who have done this and opened their own restaurants or other businesses. It’s just a much tougher road to travel. 

Professional look

Appearances are very important in Korea. This doesn’t mean you have to look like a model, but you should present yourself well. Dressing for success and proper grooming will make your job search a lot easier. Also, a professional profile picture won’t hurt since Korean job applications requires one. 

Korean language ability

This varies based on the position you’re after. For English teacher jobs, you don’t need to speak a word of Korean. But, these jobs are easy to get for a reason and are very hit or miss. 

I could barely read and say hello when I first arrived in Korea. As you can imagine, it was a challenging few months and I got serious about learning real quick. The more you know before you go, the easier it will be.

It may be hard to get motivated in your home country so try joining a language study group, enjoying Korean media or using Pimsleur.

CV

Koreans have their own way of doing things. This is especially evident in the way they format their resumes. Here’s an example:

입사지원서
Resume

기본사항
Basic Info

성명
Name
 생년월일
Date of Birth
 사진 (3*4)
Photo
전화번호
Phone Number
 핸드폰
Mobile Phone Number
 
주소
Address
   

학력사항
Education

입학
Admission
졸업
Graduation
학교명
School Name
학과명
Dept. Name
구분
Category
소재지
Location
성적
Grade
  고등학교
Highschool
 졸업
Graduated
 평점
GPA
석차
Rank
  대학교
University
 졸업, 편입
Graduated, Transferred
   
  대학교
University
 졸업, 편입
Graduated, Transferred
   
  대학원
Grad School
 졸업
Graduated
   

경력사항
Career

구분
Category
기간
Period
회사명
Company Name
부서
Department
직위
Position
직무
Duty
직장
Company
년 월~ 년 월 ( 년 개월)
YYMM – YYMM ( year months)
    
인턴/연수
사회봉사
Intern/Training Volunteer
년 월~ 년 월 ( 년 개월)
YYMM – YYMM ( year months)
(기관명 및 활동개요)
(Organization Name and Activity Summary)

기능사항
Other Skills

O‧A 활용가능 패키지
MS Office
외국어
Language
 영어
English
상중하
Advanced, Intermediate, Beginner
TOEIC    점/TOEFL    점
TOEIC   score/TOEFL  score
 일어
Japanese
상중하
Advanced, Intermediate, Beginner
TEST 명 :   점 /   만점
TEST Name:    Score
 중국어
Chinese
상중하
Advanced, Intermediate, Beginner
TEST 명 :   점 /   만점
TEST Name:    Score
 기타
Others
상중하
Advanced, Intermediate, Beginner
TEST 명 :   점 /   만점
TEST Name:    Score

Cover letter

Cover letters are also a bit different in Korea. They’re known as “self-introductions”. They focus mainly on where you’re from, your parents, and their occupations. I’ve spent many hours converting cover letters into self-introductions and vice versa for others. They’re gradually falling out of favor, but still be prepared to write one.

자기소개서
Self-introduction

성장과정
Growth Process / Family Background

제목:
Title:
       

성격 및 장단점
Personality & Strengths and Weaknesses

제목:
Title:
       

지원동기
Reason for Application / Motive

제목:
Title:
       

입사 후 포부
Aspirations after Joining the Company / Long-term Goal

제목:
Title:
       

Job application process in Korea

Getting a job in Korea can be a bit more standardized than in other countries. 

Most job posts you encounter will look something like this: 

  1. 지원 자격
  2. 모집인원 : 0명
  3. 전형 방법 : 서류전형 – 인적성 검사 – 면접 전형 – 신체검사
  4. 지원서 접수
    가. 접수기간 : 00 ~ 00
    나. 접수방법 : 온라인 지원서 작성
  1. Qualifications
  2. Positions Available: 0 indicates less than 10 positions
  3. Recruitment Process: Document Screening – Aptitude Test – Interview – Physical Examination
  4. Resume Submission
    a. Submission Period:
    b. Submission Method: Online

As you can see, there are a few notable differences. Aptitude tests and physical examinations aren’t always a given outside of Korea. 

Aptitude test

Koreans love their tests, and you can expect to take one if you want a job. These tests vary by company, and usually consist of a math and personality test. Samsung usually sets the trend of which ones are administered. They take these tests seriously, and they can determine the department where you’ll be working, especially if you just graduated university.  If you want to increase your chances, there are even books you can practice with.

Interviews

Getting a job in Korea can be very competitive, so there are often multiple rounds of interviews. 

1st round

This will usually be a group affair. The format can vary from each person being asked the same or different questions to a group project. Make sure to be humble and modest while still being confident. This includes bowing to the interviewers when you enter the room. 

Korean office environments value loyalty and team players as much as individual ability. 

Never interrupt someone who’s speaking as this will be viewed as aggressive and undesirable. 

Be sure to show that you’re interested in the company, even when you’re not.  

As with every interview environment around the world, assume you’re being watched as soon as you enter the building. This means treating everyone from the front desk receptionist to cleaning staff with respect and deference. 

Also, make sure to relax. There’s a special category of supplements Korean take to lower anxiety called, 우황청심환.

2nd round

If you made it this far, your chances are pretty good. The interview will most likely be attended by one or two senior managers in addition to HR personnel. You’ll be more familiar with this format of interview as they ask you standard questions. One thing to note is you’ll most likely be asked to give your self-introduction, which by now should be second nature to you. 

3rd round

For larger companies or more important positions, you might have to come back for a third interview. This is often with high-level management or even the CEO. It’s most likely a formality and a chance for them to get to know who they’re hiring. You can expect similar questions along with some interesting personal ones as well. 

Physical

One needs a lot of fortitude to survive in a Korean office environment. The physical is designed to determine if you have what it takes. Most of the time, they check things like blood pressure and general health.

Where do Koreans find jobs?

JOBKOREA 

The top employment website in Korea.

It has been ranked 1st in number of visitors for 10 consecutive years.

Since its foundation in 1996, it provides employment information, including full-time, part-time jobs and headhunters.

Saramin 

A fast-growing website.

It contains employment information, including open recruitment at the top 1,000 corporations, SMEs, SOEs, etc.

It’s the largest platform for open recruitment in Korea.

With a well-organized interface, information can be viewed by job type, industry and region.

WORKNET 

A website operated by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and Korea Employment Information Service.

So, you know the info is reliable.

It offers customized employment information for young adults, women and middle-aged people.

You can also apply for unemployment benefits on this website.

Incruit 

Founded in 1996, it has recorded 2 million visitors, and operates a platform in Korea and overseas.

Incruit provides education on how to write resumes and prepare for an interview.

Since news is exchanged quickly here, you can find the latest information.

Wanted is another up-and-coming site where Koreans can find jobs.

Peoplenjob is a simple site with a variety of job opportunities.

How much is the average salary in Korea?

average salary in korea

As of 2020, the minimum wage is 8,590KRW per hour.

According to Statistics Korea, the average monthly income of wage workers in 2018 was 2.97 million KRW, and the median income was 2.2 million KRW.

The average monthly income by organization type was 3.26 million KRW for corporations, 3.28 million KRW for non-business corporations, 3.30 million KRW for government and non-corporate organizations, and 1.67 million KRW for individual companies.

The average monthly income of large corporations was 5.01 million KRW, that of SMEs was 2.31 million KRW, and for non-profit enterprises, it was 3.27 million KRW.

How much is the average salary in Korea for expats?

Data on average salaries for non-koreans are hard to come by. Salaries for office workers depend on skill level and negotiation.

The average English teacher salary at a private institute is 2 million KRW ($1,800) a month plus housing and insurance.

Did we miss anything?

Working in Korea can be a life-changing experience.

It’s not for everyone, but you won’t know until you try.

Let us know your experience in the comments!

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