Let’s talk money, and how much of it you can make when teaching in a Korean university. A quick hint: It’s not all about the base money in your contract because your average salary each month can actually be quite a bit more due to overtime opportunities. Keep on reading for all the details you need to know about uni jobs in Korea and money.
How Much Money Do You Make Teaching in Korea?
A common question I get from readers of this blog is what is the average monthly salary for teaching in a Korean university. The answer to this question is more complicated than it would appear at first glance.
Tax Office= Enlightening
This question is particularly relevant to me because in preparation for my move to Canada, I went to the tax office and got statements of my income and taxes for all the years I’ve lived in Korea. It eye opening because while most ESL teachers have seen their salaries stagnate over the past decade in Korea, mine has gone up by 10-15%, year after year, after year for almost 10 years.
I guess it pays to make the connections, get the qualifications, and hustle a bit. While my base salary has definitely increased (from around 2.4 for 15 hours/week at the start to about 2.8 for 9 hours/week now), the most important thing has been overtime opportunities.
My second university is FULL of them, and quite lucrative ones too. For example, 4 hour classes @ 50,000 Won an hour. 3 of these a week and that’s a cool 2.4 million a month, almost doubling my base bay.
Plus, there are summer and winter camps as well, which is a nice way to make about a million a week. What’s 3 weeks working during “vacation” when you have 10 weeks of it? Not really a big deal.
It’s Not About Base Pay. Here’s How You Make the Serious Money
Generally, the low-end university jobs in Korea pay about 2.0 million Korean Won/month, while the high-end ones can go up to about 3.0. Then, you’ll either get free housing or a housing allowance on top of that.
The housing allowance can range from about 300,000 to 600,000 per month. Sometimes you’ll get more money if you’re married or have a family.
Where the Real Money Can Be Made in Korea
However, where the real money to be made at Korean universities is in the overtime.
If a university has lots of it floating around, you have a low number of base hours and you can pick up 5-10 hour/week of OT, it can really add up. Or, maybe your university has camps during the breaks where you can work a steady 2 or 3 weeks at a time. Finally, they may give you permission to work at outside places like a company or hagwon, which can be the most lucrative part-time gig.
It’s honestly not such a stretch to double your base pay by doing this. This ended up happening probably 6 out of the 12 months of the year for most of the years working in Korea.
One Example of OT Awesome
Just a quick example that’s happening for me at the time of writing this post. I’m working the last 2 weeks of my summer vacation for this internship preparation program. The pay is 45,000/50 minutes. This week I’m working 22 hours and next week is 14.
Some quick math shows that I just made 1.6 million won for that program, plus my regular monthly pay of about 3.0. Almost 5 million won for only 36 hours of work for the month.
Not too shabby! It should be noted that there are definitely better months than others for English teachers in Korean universities. Sometimes overtime has been scarce and I’ve just made my base pay (last month!), while other times I’ve made something wild like 7 or 8 million.
It’s often a case of feast or famine. During the feasts, sock away a lot of them money and don’t be tempted to spend widely. It’ll see you through those leaner months. This is particularly true if you’re paying off students loans or something like that.
What about Private Teaching and your Average Salary?
If you teach in Korea, you probably already know that private English teaching in illegal, according to the Korean government. That said, many teachers certainly do it, including myself!
If you don’t get a lot of overtime at your university, make your own opportunities. The only thing I would caution is to not sell yourself too short. NEVER charge less than 30,000 Won an hour. If you have to travel, do lesson prep, etc. it just becomes a colossal waste of time.
If you’re highly skilled at things like TOEIC, TOEFL, or interview preparation, it’s quite reasonable to charge 50,000 Won an hour.
It’s a nice way to increase your income. Of course, NEVER talk about it to anyone, even good friends. Keep it on the down-low at all times to avoid getting caught.
Learn More about the Best University Jobs in Korea, Including Salary
How Can I Find Overtime Opportunities When Teaching in a Korean University?
Okay, so there’s some lucrative overtime opportunities going around your university, and you’ve been passed over. What gives, right?
Find out some of the most common reasons why you didn’t get chosen for the special opportunity to make a ton of money. And don’t make the same mistakes again, okay?
Why Didn’t I get Picked???
At my Korean university, there are a variety of programs that the foreigners teach in for extra money. Some of them are volunteer and will accept just about anybody, while others are an ask a certain few people thing and you’ll get a phone call or email of some kind.
Some of my coworkers spend a lot of time and effort worrying and wondering about why there weren’t picked for a certain thing. To me, it’s just futile because what matters to a Westerner doesn’t necessarily matter to a Korean. Here are a few examples.
(Don’t have a uni job in Korea, but want one? How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams).
And I know that it hurts you in the pocketbook because you can double your salary by doing OT. Or even triple in some cases if you’re doing a camp or something.
Appearance is Everything for Getting OT Opportunities
Westerners have a minimum standard of appropriate dress that they would wear in a professional environment and as long as you meet that minimum standard, you’re in the clear.
However, appearance is much more important in Korea and the best dressed=the best teacher in many cases. And of course, every Korean has an opinion about what skin or eye or hair color the “best” teacher has as well as how old they are.
So, dress for success at all times. Yes, even if you boss works at the other campus, they will hear about your jeans or cargo shorts.
And of course, any time you actually will see your boss like at a dinner, or work meeting, put on your best suit and look the part of professional teacher.
A Westerner would think that the person with the best qualification to teach a certain class should get that job. However, Koreans seem to consider a wider array of factors. Some of them include if they know you and have a personal relationship already, your reputation among the students, if you speak slowly and they can understand you, etc.
In general, it won’t really matter to the people you work for what kind of and what level of degree that you have when they consider you for overtime work at a university.
So don’t wave that stick around in front of you like people owe you that OT opportunity just because you have an MA in TESOL and your co-worker has an MA in Sociology. It just doesn’t matter in most cases except for something like teacher training classes.
Korea is a top-down kind of society. This is in contract to the the Western world we like to be all warm and fuzzy and pretend that organizations can be run by consensus. So any appearance of being a complainer, demanding extra things, or just being plain difficult to work with will lead to being taken off the list of people they ask to do the extra things.
The person in charge is the person in charge in Korea. They usually don’t like to be approached by you, thinking you are their equal whereas in the Western world, having a little heart to heart with your boss about an issue at work might be kind of acceptable and/or encouraged.
The only acceptable answer to a request from your boss is, “Sure, no problem.” Then smile and go do it.
The Take-Away on Overtime Teaching in South Korean Universities
So realize these things and try to stay in the clear by dressing well, realizing there is more to you as a teacher than your degree and ALWAYS having a positive attitude when around the university admin (and coworkers too…since it will usually get around who likes their job and who doesn’t).
It’s important to consider these things because your average salary per month when teaching in South Korea can increase in a big way by keeping these things in mind.
Are Salaries Going Up for Teachers in South Korea?
A common question that teachers love to has over in expat bars is whether or not the Korean ESL industry is in decline. My experience? It certainly is.
Salaries at all levels of teaching (hagwons, public schools and universities) are much the same as they were 10 years ago. The entry-level base pay is still around 2 million Won. Where it’s less bad it at universities where they have cost of living increases that sometimes happen across the board, foreign teachers included.
The problem is that the cost of living just keeps going up. The result? Korea isn’t really the prime place it was to sock away 10, 20, or even 30,000 USD a year like it once was. $10,000 USD a year would be a struggle for most people.
The glory days of teaching English in Korea are certainly over.
Need some Help With the Money Thing?
Want to know how to set yourself up for financial awesome while you’re teaching abroad? Of course. Who doesn’t, right? The book you need is: The Wealthy English Teacher.
It’s the first and only book written specifically for English teachers abroad. You’ll learn about living frugally to pay off debts and build an emergency fund. Then, you’ll learn how to increase your salary, invest in the stock market, and get your side-gig going on.
Finally…financial freedom and you can escape the 9-5. Sounds awesome, right? It is. Once you get started down the road to financial freedom, you’ll never look back.
The book is available in both digital and print formats. Keep a copy on the bookshelf in your office for a dose of financial inspiration. Or, get a copy on your phone or tablet and read it on your 2-hour commute to work and dream of better things.
You can learn more about The Wealthy English Teachers on Amazon. Check it out now, but only if you want to get yourself some serious ESL teaching awesome in your life:
Have your Say about Salaries When Teaching in Korean University
What’s your experience with salaries when teaching in a university in South Korea? Do you generally make your base amount of pay each month and that’s it, or do you have lots of overtime opportunities at your school? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
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