The Financials of Working in Korea

I feel there are a few reasons why people come to teach in Asia. The two main reasons are to travel (and be paid for it) and to pay off loans back home. The latter of the two is what I see more often and it isn’t a bad thing since the economic situation in most of the world is pretty bad right now. Even in Korea, you see the job market shifting a bit and cut backs happening, but not like I feel back home. With that being said, if you are one of the many who come because you are concerned with money or you are just curious, I thought I would write a post on the financial situation of a lot of English teachers here. 

I have outlined what kinds of teaching jobs that are most common in a prior post, but with each different job is a different set of things to deal with. Things to be aware of is that foreigners pay a 3.3% tax on their income and have to carry the national medical insurance as well as pay into the national pension plan. A couple of things about the national pension plan, usually you are the pay half of it monthly and your school matches what you pay into it (I believe there is a set amount, but don’t quote me on it). In addition to that, when you leave the country you can cash out and collect the pension that was paid into your name just by showing the pension office your plane ticket out of the country. This last part really depends on which country you are from because certain aspects of working in Korea can be made easier with reciprocity agreements between the Korean government and your own. The national health insurance should also be a 50% deal with your employer. You will want this because you will probably get sick and don’t want to pay a lot when it really isn’t necessary. Most of my trips to the doctor cost me between 5-10,000 원 per visit (between 5-10 USD) and medicine was just as much. That is WAY better than back home in the States, so I wouldn’t be too unhappy about that. *Be aware that working a part time gig may not offer these kinds of benefits!*

Your housing situation will also depend on your school as well as your choice. Since I am married, I always chose to take Housing Allowance over a free, single room studio apartment.  Housing allowance can be anywhere from 300,000원 a month upwards to 5-600,000원 a month. This isn’t so bad until you start looking for your own accommodations (like my  husband and I are doing at the moment). Key money is a deposit that you have to pay, but whereas back home your deposit is usually around one month’s rent, here it is easily 10,000,000 to 30,000,000원 (10,000-30,000 USD) just for smaller places. Sounds intense (and it can be if you are just starting to work, but your monthly rent can be normally 300-600,000원 a month and this can include your monthly bills depending on where you live and what sort of accommodations you picked out.

Transportation is something that was different for me. I had a car back home and paid a bit over 30 a week in gas even with a pretty gas efficient car.  In Korea, getting around is NOT a problem at all. There is an extensive train system all over the country, the subway in Seoul is amazing, and there are taxis everywhere. Most schools put you in an apartment within ten minutes of the school so if you choose that route, you will not have to pay much for monthly transportation. I personally only take buses and subways and spend about 50-60,000원 a month going to work everyday and trips into Seoul on the weekend and living close to work. The further you work and play, the higher this can go to about 100,000원 a month. But this is still better than paying for gas in the States! 

Food is also very dependent on how you live. If you eat out at foreign food places often which runs between 10-20,000원 a plate, it can be quite costly. I buy groceries at about 500,000 a month for two people but I only buy meats, vegetables, and the occasional fruit depending on the season. Korean restaurants can get you about 5,000-8,000 a meal on average and be pretty good for you. 

Now the good stuff, pay. Depending on what sector you went into is what you can expect to be paid. Public schools start the lowest at around 2,000,000원 a month but hagwons will start around 2.2 million a month and keep going up depending on how much they expect you to work. I have seen some places offer 2.4/2.5 million a month but I hope you like to work and save money because you won’t have much choice otherwise! If you have an F-series visa you can do privates and make even more money a month, but if you are on something other than F-series and a select few E-series (sorry E-2s, this discludes you) it is illegal to take privates and you should be aware that doing so can result in you being deported. 

So to give you some pure numerical things to look at, I will show you a geustimation of my first job (a big chain hagwon)’s general breakdown. 

+2,300,000  (salary)

+ 300,000 (housing)

– 125,000 (pension)

– 90,000 (medical)

– 10,000 (residence tax)

– 65,000 (income tax)

– 60,000 (transportation) 

You guys can do the math but that in tandem with what I wrote above can give you an idea about how much you save a month. If you do it right, you can easily send home or save about a grand a month or more. Not so bad, if I do say so! If you have any questions feel free to leave questions or comments below!


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