Hyeonseo Lee, a Korean writer and activist, has a special appreciation for her home country.
She said, “…Even though the life here is not easy, [it] makes me so happy. I feel that sitting in a coffee shop, having a cup of tea and looking out of the window at the blue sky—this is happiness.”
How can you experience the happiness Lee describes? By settling down in South Korea. Live and work in the country instead of taking a whirlwind trip to see the best sights.
South Korea is becoming a hotspot for expats. There are job opportunities in education, tourism, technology and entrepreneurship.
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Koreans are a welcoming bunch. Thousands of expats have already discovered that South Korea is the ideal place to live and work.
You can join them by following this ultimate guide to working and traveling in South Korea.
Different Visas for Work and Travel in South Korea
Once upon a time, the best way to see South Korea was with a regular visitor visa or work visa.
This has changed in the last few years. Korea now has working holiday agreements with several other countries. The result is the H-1 Working Holiday Visa for those who are combining work with travel.
The H-1 visa isn’t available to everyone. Only those between the ages of 18 to 30 from certain countries are eligible, and you have to arrive with a confirmed date of departure. You need to have a clean criminal record, and any dependents have to stay at home.
The H-1 visa has several restrictions and focuses on travel and short term employment as opposed to extended stays.
If you’re from a country that has a visa waiver or a visa-free agreement with South Korea, you can stay in the country as a tourist for 30 to 90 days. You’re permitted to look for work, but if you do find a job, you’ll have to change your official status.
If you want to stay in Korea for more than a year, you need a different visa depending on your nation of origin and the type of work you’re doing.
For example, the standard visa for English teachers is the E-1 Visa, which is specifically for educators. There are other visas for investors, researchers, scientists and their dependent family members.
Kick It in Korea! 4 Jobs to Work and Travel in Korea
Do you want to find the best job possible? Do you want to experience that happiness in South Korea that Hyeonseo Lee talks about?
Then it’s best to become as proficient in Korean as you possibly can.
If you’re looking for a method to familiarize yourself with Korean as well as deepen your knowledge of the culture, FluentU is the best way to go!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Videos are conveniently organized into lessons, so you can easily work towards a particular objective, topic or skill.
FluentU also offers progress-tracking tools and video suggestions based on what you’ve already watched.
Access the full video library for free with a FluentU trial! You can learn on your web browser or, better yet, download the app at the iTunes store or Google Play store to take FluentU all around South Korea with you.
1. Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL)
The most common way to live and work in South Korea to work as an English teacher.
Those planning a whirlwind trip or thinking about gap year activities need to remember that this job usually requires a commitment of at least one year. There are a few exceptions for holiday lessons and summer camps.
As far as qualifications go, you typically need a four-year degree and TESL certification. That shows you’re committed enough to deserve that paid vacation, flight reimbursement and free accommodation that’s included with virtually every teaching contract.
Teaching English is such a lucrative career here that you can choose to live practically anywhere. Work is by no means limited to big cities or transportation hubs. Find a job in a small, historic town in the middle of a forest just as easily as in a chain private school in Seoul or Busan.
The most popular program for teaching abroad is EPIK (English Program in Korea), the official program set up by the Korean government.
There are also plenty of private agencies that will set you up with jobs, such as Adventure Teaching. Check out job boards, such as Dave’s ESL Cafe and Gone2Korea.
2. Other Long-term Employment Opportunities
The foreign job market may be dominated by English teachers, but don’t let that discourage you if ESL isn’t your thing.
There’s a myriad of employment options in Korea with big companies and marketing firms. Samsung and Hyundai are two well-known examples.
These companies are always looking for talented, energetic new graduates. However, these jobs often require fluency in Korean and are concentrated in Seoul. They might include accommodation and travel expenses, but these perks aren’t as common as they are with TESOL contracts.
If you’re already in Korea, you can visit the annual Seoul Job Fair for Foreigners to see what’s available in the current market. The event takes place every September.
Aspiring entrepreneurs who don’t have the language skills but are keen to learn and want to get their foot in the door can come to Korea as volunteers or interns instead.
3. Volunteer Work
Volunteer work in South Korea can include anything from teaching English to underprivileged children, to helping resettle North Korean defectors through art and drama, to working in a feline rescue shelter. These activities often include a language exchange of some kind, although it’s not an official requirement.
Volunteers are responsible for their own travel expenses, but room and board is usually provided.
If you volunteer by teaching English, you don’t need a degree or a birth certificate from a country where English is the first language as you would if you taught in a school. You don’t need to commit for a whole year or sign a contract.
Rural volunteer opportunities revolve around traditional farming and ecosystem recovery. Farming in South Korea takes on several forms. You can work on a small family farm, at a Montessori school or even at a Buddhist temple. Korea’s the perfect place to WWOOF for the first time!
Sometimes volunteer positions in South Korea don’t involve work at all! Instead, you focus on cultural and language exchange. All you have to do is live with a host family who provides you with room and board. Your best bet for finding such a position is through Workaway.
You can use your free time as you please—explore historic sights, study the language or hang with your host family.
4. Internships in Various Fields
There are numerous types of internships in Korea, but internships are plentiful in a few select fields: environment, hospitality and politics.
Looking for an environmental internship? Check out the Asia Internship Program to find jobs in places like Jeju Island, Bukhansan National Park and Manjanggul Cave. You get professional experience while seeing the most beautiful spots in Korea!
Plenty of internship opportunities are available in the hospitality and the service industry, some on a seasonal basis. The Asia Internship Program can set you up with jobs in restaurants, hotels and more.
Some of this work is only offered at certain times of the year and is more popular in the summer. This is an ideal choice for a working holiday or gap year activity.
Political organizations are always in need of interns to help with marketing, public relations, web development and more. Interested in human rights? Apply for an internship in one of several fields at PSCORE. This is a great way to get involved at a global level.
You may come to Korea for the work opportunities.
But you’ll stay for the scenery, technology and friendliness.
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.