Gap Year in South Korea: 7 Jobs to Make the Most of It
So you’re considering taking a gap year abroad. Where should you go?
Finding a country that fits your personality, has reasonable cost of living and has job opportunities for foreigners is a head-scratcher.
Well, a gap year in South Korea could solve all your problems.
Are you a foodie? Spend your days eating kimchi and bulgogi. Are you a partier? Spend your nights clubbing in the Gangnam District.
Or maybe you’re a history buff, sports fanatic, outdoorsman or gamer. Regardless of your interests, South Korea has you covered.
South Korea is also an affordable option for a young person who isn’t exactly rolling around in hundred dollar bills yet. That makes it perfect for a gap year after high school or college.
But the best part about this country as a gap year option? There are numerous types of jobs for foreigners.
Here’s your ultimate guide to preparing for and finding a job in South Korea. Let your amazing year begin!
How to Prepare for Your Gap Year in South Korea
Obtain Your Visa
You can legally work in Korea with either a tourism or work visa. Your choices will vary depending on what job you want and what country you’re from.
Rules for working in Korea differ depending on what country is shown on your passport. There’s a strong and obvious bias toward English-speaking nations.
It’s common to enter the country using a tourist visa if you prefer to negotiate a job after you arrive. Consult your nearest South Korean Embassy or Consulate for specific details.
If you decide to take a steady teaching job after you’ve already spent time in the country on a tourist visa, there’s a simple fix.
It’s easy to do a “visa run” if you want to change to an official work or student visa. During a visa run, you go to another country, then return to Korea to apply for a different visa. Sometimes your employer will even cover the travel costs!
Chill out in Japan, China or Thailand for the weekend. Then head back to upgrade your tourist visa to a work visa upon your return.
If you’re an English teacher with plans to sign a contract, you can arrange for an E2 work visa with the help of your employer before your arrival in Korea.
This process starts before you leave your home country. It requires you to produce your teaching credentials, an educational teaching diploma and a criminal record check.
Earn a Teaching Certificate
Certification is important if you’re looking for a regular teaching job in a private or public school. That means both a bachelor’s degree and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) certification.
Use caution when choosing a school for your TESL certification. These credentials are in high demand and not all the schools advertising them are reputable. Check with websites like GoAbroad to confirm these schools are legitimate before you enroll.
TESL certification can go by other names. Depending on where you’re from, you might see this diploma listed as one of the following:
- TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
- TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
- CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults)
Learn the Language
Sure, you can survive by speaking only English for a week or two. But an entire gap year in South Korea without speaking the language? Yikes!
Learning the local language will help you get the most out of your job and the culture. Plus, when you spend your time gaming, clubbing or ordering at restaurants, you’ll have a much easier go of it if you can communicate in Korean.
Gap Year in South Korea: 7 Jobs to Make the Most of It
Jobs Teaching English
Teaching English is the ideal job for travelers looking for gap year programs, because most contracts at both public and private schools last for one year.
Six-month teaching contracts do exist, but they usually have to be negotiated if you’re already on the ground.
Signing a contract with a school includes advantages like a rent-free apartment and E2 visa sponsorship.
A 학원 (hagwon — cram school) is a Korean term referring to any private school, not just ones that offer ESL programs.
You can choose from literally thousands of hagwons across Korea. Most specialize in teaching children after their regular school days. But there are hagwons for adults where they can study Business English, take conversation classes or earn their TESL certification.
If you’d rather work nights, early mornings or holidays, you can find a hagwon with these hours. The time commitment in private schools vary widely and often include split shifts and weekends to accommodate clients and teachers with different needs.
You can negotiate a contract directly with a hagwon owner or connect with one through a recruiter.
2. English Program in Korea (EPIK)
EPIK is a popular program sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Education. The program places foreign English teachers in public schools, where they teach alongside Korean teachers.
Hagwons’ flexibility appeals to a lot of English teachers. But working in a public school though EPIK provides more traditional hours and a strong support system. You’re partnered with a Korean teacher, and classes are taught in tandem.
When you teach through EPIK, details such as housing, transportation, health insurance and even your daily commute are included as part of your contract.
The EPIK placement program is designed to accommodate a typical gap year time frame. It also gives you a chance to extend your experience into a long-term teaching career. If you think you might want to extend your gap year into a career in Korea, EPIK is probably the best of the gap year programs on this list.
3. Private Recruiters
The EPIK program is essentially a large-scale recruitment strategy for public schools. But you can also go to Korea through a private recruiter. These companies are usually based in Western countries.
Private recruiters typically match applicants with hagwons, but they can also work with public schools.
Use an online community like Go Overseas to find the right recruiter for you. Or go directly to the source! Recruitment agencies like Adventure Teaching and Teach ESL Korea already have strong reputations.
Tourist visa holders who have found cheap accommodation with friends, at hostels or in a comfortable 찜질방 (jimjilbang — sauna room) can take advantage of private recruitment services just as easily after they’ve arrived in South Korea.
It’s a nice way for someone else to find you a job while you enjoy the scenery, provided that you can pay for the initial plane ticket.
4. Summer Camps
If you’re still trying to decide if Korea is the right place to spend your gap year, start by teaching at a summer camp! If it’s a good fit, look into extending your stay by teaching at a public or private school.
Many schools include summer camps in their regular yearly schedule, so it’ll be a good way for you to make connections for the future year. Either EPIK or a private recruiter can connect you to a camp opportunity.
Camps last from two to six weeks during the summer break and don’t include any regular classes.
All you have to do is be a camp counselor and speak English. Some camps do have a theme or focus, like computers, soccer or music.
Jobs Outside the Classroom
If you take a closer look at the E2 visa, you’ll notice it covers much more than just teaching English.
Outside of TESL, there are other opportunities in the service and entertainment industry. They also require some degree of English fluency and the use of some basic Korean phrases, but not an official TESL certification or even English fluency.
Beware of low paying jobs unless you have other sources of income to fall back on. And avoid employers who don’t want to take the time or trouble to sponsor a proper E2 work visa.
5. Visual and Audio
You can work as an actor in front of the camera. Or as a musician or DJ!
Or are you more of a writer or director?
South Korea is home to many high-tech audio and visual companies that produce videos, TVs shows, video games and more. Korean television dramas are popular worldwide. Countries like Korea need people who can speak and perform in other languages, most notably English.
Browse the numerous ads on Craigslist. Even smaller cities have some creative options.
More ambitious or established artists can simply contact the big media companies directly with your mixtape, portfolio or headshots.
6. Theatrical Drama
Theater productions are popular in South Korea, and the expat community is no exception.
These production companies don’t only put on shows in English. They also include bilingual shows and presentations in other languages.
Bigger cities have established companies that regularly put on musicals, classical Shakespeare, Ibsen, original creations, improv and just about everything else.
These are often volunteer positions that don’t require you have a special visa or sign a contract.
7. Editing and Proofreading
International schools, banks, law firms and other businesses often need their official documents translated.
Once again, Craigslist to the rescue! The choices on Seoul’s Craigslist page are a great resource. You can also contact a recruiter about these kinds of jobs.
Hopefully, your stress about where to spend your gap year has died down.
Once you choose your perfect job and buy a ticket, you only have one mission: Have an amazing year.
Oh, and eat as much kimchi as possible! Otherwise, why even spend your gap year in South Korea?
Kristy Ambrose has been writing professionally since 2010. She dabbles in various genres, including everything from short blog posts to serialized novels. Her inspiration comes from gamers, beachcombers, foodies and of course her fellow travelers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Victoria.