Teach English in Korea | EPIK vs Hagwons

Last Updated on May 12, 2018 by Christine Kaaloa

teach in korea, teach esl in korea
Teaching English in Korea? EPIK vs Hagwons… which program is best for you

Continued from Teach English in Korea? (Part I: Q & A)

If you ask most people why they were drawn to Korea, the very first answer you’d commonly hear is– the benefits.

Korea has by far, the best ESL work-pay package out there–both, public and private schools alike. By public, I mean EPIK/SMOE and by private, I mean Korean hagwons.

So I thought I’d do a full breakdown sharing the benefits of teaching in Korea and the differences between EPIK vs hagwons.

Should you Teach English in Korea?

Incentive Package for teaching in a Korean public school:

• Roundtrip airfare to South Korea
• Free apartment housing
• Signing bonus
• Paid vacations
• 50% medical insurance

EPIK vs Hagwons: Which program is best for you?

Whether you’re with a government run program or independent one, there is no guarantee that your situation will be perfect and not meet with disappointment on some level. Both public and private employment have led to  hit or miss situations for many- anywhere from bad apartment situations, problems with getting paid, bad co-teachers, etc…  The forums are littered with unhappy results and while you’d like to think it’s just a bunch of disgruntled folk, the numbers ten to be so outstanding that you know there’s a level to truth.

This is a video tour my apartment with EPIK and a look inside my apartment

Getting a job with EPIK (the public school system in Korea)

Your choices are either EPIK, SMOE & GEPIK. Is it competitive? It’s becoming that way.

Seoul placements are highly competitive, usually asking for at least a year of experience. The further out of the epicenter you’re willing to work, you’ll find more opportunity.

Mitch Gordon of Go!Overseas has a great article about the differences between the EPIK, SMOE & GEPIK.

I work with EPIK, the largest entity of English teacher placement around Korea. I chose a government program because its contract is for a year, I value vacation time (for traveling abroad), it’s a reputable job and  stable. Working in the public schools makes me feel like I make a meaningful impact on students, who can’t afford a private hagwon and collaborating with Korean co-teachers, teaches me how to teach like a normal teacher would.

A typical EPIK working day:

Hours:  My hours are 8:30AM – 4:30PM   Monday- Friday; and I work 40 hours a week, but only 22 hours are spent teaching in the classroom. The remainder is spent lesson planning, either collaborating with Korean co-teachers or on my own. My classes are 40 minutes and I have roughly four classes each day by grade level, teaching from 3rd-6th grade.  One class you will definitely teach on your own is some form of an adult class (either parents or teachers).

Here’s my EPIK class schedule

Class Size: I  teach a class of up to 30 students per class.  The classes come to me by grade (I teach one grade per day) and they are of mixed levels, in terms of their English. Some have been to English hagwons, while for others, it is their first time learning English. This is where I feel most valuable, teaching in the public schools, as I know I’m offering English to students, who can’t afford a hagwon.

Co-teachers: I teach with a co-teacher and help with coming up with creative lesson plans to motivate the students. Negotiating talk time is where you need to plan together. I work with three Korean teachers, each in charge of different grades.

Salary: 2.0-2.4 million, depending upon experience and degree.

Overtime pay : It is given for additional hours or programs designed by the school. For instance, I teach a Teacher and Parent English class per semester.

Vacation Time: I have 21 days of vacation time plus, most school holidays. The exceptions are winter and summer vacations, where I might need to teach Summer or Winter Camps. Either way, my 21 days are guaranteed and I’m free to take a chunk of it during both seasons.  That’s a sizable chunk of vacation time though.  Confusion arises with many teachers about the specifics of winter and summer breaks. Although the students and teachers are out of school, EPIK teachers must “desk warm” and sit in their classroom/office during school hours. Thus, you don’t the same vacation time as Korean teachers and students.  You just have your 21 days.

Community: With EPIK, you go through an orientation where you meet other EPIK applications, so there’s a sense of community and you’re likely to meet the ones in your city when you’re told which city you’ll be in. It’s an invaluable network and will be a great resource during your time in Korea. Occasionally, the district office of the city you’re in, also runs free programs, such as  language classes, a toast master’s club and cultural tours. They help mediate should you have any problems with your school and that you can’t handle on your own.  You have a main co-teacher, who helps with setting up important things like our bank account, utilities, etc..

Student Levels: Mixed levels, but can have a tendency to be lower than a hagwon. I even get special needs students in my classes. Students require more incentive to learn and are less motivated to learn English than hagwon students.

Extras:  EPIK teachers are required to teach Summer and Winter camps. It sounds like work but it’s generally fun. You’ll do anywhere from 2-3 camps per session break and you’ll get to do them at other schools (outside of your own). This is a chance to see what type of working environments other EPIK teachers have.  You are paid extra for camps and for your travel time.

It’s not to say everything is sunshine and roses working in the public school system. There are occasional issues native Teachers can experience, such as bad housing, dealing with reluctant co-teachers, a school not wanting to pay overtime and the DMOE, doesn’t always help. But what job is perfect. To me, if it has a firm foundation, it’s workable.


How to apply for EPIK:

Grab a recruiting agency (I list a few here). These key programs work in partnership with a handful of reputable recruiting agencies. You can also find job listings and recruiters on Dave’s ESL Cafe.  Update: You can now apply directly through EPIK; however, going through a recruiting company still has benefits as they will guide you through the process.

Assistance in Korea:

The following is your chain of command- your co-teacher (*main), your school, the DMOE (the Dept of Education in your city)

 Getting a job at a Hagwon (private language schools and afterschool programs in Korea)

Getting a job at a hagwon or private language and afterschool program in Korea is  like going the independent job search route. Hagwons are attractive to those seeking quick placement, who want to be able to choose the city they’ll be in and who want to negotiate for higher salaries. Discretion must always be used, as hagwons are private business. You will find an increasing amount of complaints in ESL forums about schools breaking contract, closing down and not telling the teacher, failure of payment, bad housing, the list goes on… Hagwons can be a little on the risky side, as some are unethical with movable roots.

Being a private institution and after-school supplement to learning, hagwons run their curriculum like a business factory.

Hours: Generally it’s similar to EPIK in that you can expect 22-24 teaching hours a week, but it’s not necessary a standard 8-hour day. Some days it’s less, some it’s more.  Your schedule is not regulated and can change by week . You could get a scheduled break in between, where you can leave, but then be back to teach in a couple of hours and some teachers prefer this to having to have “office hours”. You’ll teach anywhere from 4-6 classes a day and you can work anywhere from 5-6 days a week. Most classes will follow one directly after the other for 40-50 minutes with a 5- 10 minute break in between. Basically, whenever the students are out of their normal school is when hagwons will be operating. Thus, your hours start  after “normal” school hours.

Class: Classes in hagwons are roughly a third of the size of public schools, so they’re small and cozy. You teach alone. Not much creativity is required in lesson planning as you’re teaching from a teaching manual and lessons focus on targeted learning, preparing for tests, etc… and you must stick to the textbook.

Salary: 2.0-2.4 million (but for higher hagwons, pay can range up to 2.7 million, making it a reason why some prefer teaching at hagwons.

Vacation Time: Vacation days allotted are about 10 days. Hagwons run on weekends and holidays, so they’re not always recognized as days off.  The employer decides which days you can take for your vacation.

Community:  There will probably be a few foreign English teachers like yourself. Your employer will help you set up main things like your phone and there are Korean teachers in the same office, who you can ask for help.

Student Levels: the levels  range from beginner to advanced. These are paid classes, so learning and study skills are accelerated. The students are more focused than the public schools. Many  can speak decent English.

How to find a good school/employer at a hagwon:

While you can’t see the inner workings of the school, the NET before you will and will be eager to lay into the pros and cons of their experience.  Ask the school if there’s a current (or previous ) English teacher, who worked there and whom, you can contact for personal reference.  Do an internet search on your school to see if there’s been any problems in the past.

How to apply for a hagwon job:

Applying for a hagwon job is easy. There’s a massive amount of job ads for hagwons, enough to go around.   Dave’s ESL Cafe is an excellent resource  for finding esl job opportunities and recruiting agencies looking to fill positions in private schools. There are also several independent recruiters out there, such as Jobs in Korea (or JIK). Warning, not all recruiters are credible nor are job postings always reputable, so you’ll have to do your own homework.  You should never pay money to a recruiter.

EPIK vs Hagwons : Read more here.

Do you need to be TEFL certified for teaching in Korea?

No, you do not need to be a TEFL certified to teach at a hagwon or public school. However, higher level teaching jobs request it and will take it over a person without a TEFL certification. EPIK’s Seoul jobs will choose teachers with this qualifications. For university jobs, many seek a TEFL certification or at least a Bachelor/Master’s in English.  I had a master’s degree, so that gained consideration for teaching at a Korean University as well as higher pay. Korea however, appreciates a TEFL.

Outside of Korea, a TEFL can be like a passport to jobs in other countries. Most countries will ask for this type of certification. If you’re planning to pursue a career in teaching English abroad, TEFL certification is something you’d want to invest in

Where can I get an inexpensive TEFL certification?

TEFL certification programs can be costly. If possible, I’d recommend getting certified through an online program or in a different country, where it might be cheaper.  Many expats I’ve known, have gone to Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines or India to get certified. Research your options.

Want to teach in Korea? Do you already teach in Korea- hagwon vs EPIK, which do you prefer ? 


For more information about teaching in Korea, click here:

Want to teach English in Korea, why teach in Korea

Related Posts

Should you teach in Korea?, Teaching English


  • Sylvia in USA
    May 31, 2016 5:09 pm

    Great post..have you hear anything about DYB recruitment? I have an interview with them soon. Im applying for epik but just in case I dont get accepted, besides epik is there another way of getting a public school position?

  • Do you need to know Korean to teach English.

    • I have a friend in Korea who is teaching in a private academy and she says that you do not need to know Korean in order to teach English.

    • Christine Kaaloa
      May 25, 2016 1:12 am

      Thanks for reminding me to post this video. In case you missed it: https://youtu.be/-PrSmKm8PAQ Teach English in Korea & Japan: Teaching and interview tips

      • Hi Christina! I really love your videos. I am planning to teach English in Seoul Korea with the help of my friend who is a English teacher there. I really love your videos 🙂

        • Christine Kaaloa
          May 28, 2016 12:02 am

          Thanks @Jolene ; I’m happy you find my videos helpful! And congrats on taking the leap! Seoul is a wonderful city.

          • You will have to teach me everything. My email is [email protected] and I do have facebook and Kakao Talk which is a very popular messenger for people in Korea.

  • What are the Requirements to teach English in South Korea in private academies? I have my high school but I do not have my Bachelor Degree nor my ESL but I have 2 friends who have and are teaching English in Seoul Korea and they tell me all I need is my high school diploma, Be a native speaker, passport, money and any certificate I may have and I do have some certificate that I earned in Career Collage but they are nothing to do with teaching.

  • Hi, can I work for part-time such as tour guiding while working at epik?

    • You will have to teach me everything. My email is and I do have facebook and Kakao Talk which is a very popular messenger for people in Korea.

  • Hi! Can I have a part time work while I’m employed at epik?

    • Christine Kaaloa
      February 7, 2016 1:36 pm

      @Kristine: You’re not supposed to as your job is sponsoring and paying for your work visa for their own purpose. But some foreigners attempt to risk it.

  • Sir/Ma’am,
    Is it necessary to do Masters in English. Like I read in some sort of articles they require -Masters in English as well as 3 years of Experience .

    • Christine Kaaloa
      July 15, 2015 9:53 am

      Depends on the country. Whatever the ad requires is what is required for that job. But not all require a masters in English– only that you come a country where English is your native language. Some countries will ask for TESOL degrees.

  • […] a result, many will attend a hagwon (aka a private afterschool learning program) to accelerate their learning. Hagwons are private […]

  • i want to experience to teach in korea

  • […] Cool fact separating Christine from the pack – she’s produced reality TV (seems like a great fit for a travel writer, huh?). You might go so far as to call her the triple-threat – she’s worked on Bollywood movies as producer, director and actress. Currently, Christine is teaching English in Daegu, South Korea. […]

  • While there are some shady hagwons out there, I think they’re a lot less common than a perusal of ESL Cafe’s forums would have you believe. The problem is that those who are unhappy with their jobs tend to be a lot more vocal. (And let’s face it, English teachers in Korea tend to find something to complain about no matter how cushy their job is 😉 ).

    It’s definitely worth doing your research beforehand, but I wouldn’t scare anyone off from taking a hagwon job. If it’s your first job in Korea, you could always go with one of the bigger chain / franchise hagwons, which are less likely to just fold overnight.

  • I worked at a few hogwans in Korea, including an ECC in Seodaemon-Gu and another hogwan in Gangnam-Ku. The last time i went back, I got scammed at an english camp. every single time I took a job in Korea I went through Dave’s ESL cafe.

    So one thing that you have to watch out for is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And don’t assume you’ll get paid. Do your google research before you go. And talk with the teachers who currently teach there before you go as well.

    • Dear M: Thank you for sharing and I appreciate your site’s information. It’s so unfortunate that you experienced that, but I’m glad you’re trying to educate others!

      I DEFINITELY agree about doing your research! If you check Dave’s ESL forums, you’ll find many disgruntled NETs who’ve experienced similar situations with their hagwons. This is ultimately why I took the EPIK/government system route. As hagwons and camps are private business and are run as such, so there’s a risk NETs take in applying for them. Not receiving payment is a big complaint. Having the hagwon fold overnight is another one. Email references from other NETs certainly help, but you really have to be smart in filtering things out. I’ve even known one NET in a horrible hagwon situation, where the hagwon also made it her job to respond to prospective teachers! She didn’t feel like she could tell the truth to prospects (as she was under the hagwon eye), so instead, she spoke on a factual end vs. personal one. She never disclosed the bad things, primarily because no one ever asked. You have to treat Dave’s ESL in the similar vein as craigslist. BE CAREFUL OF SCAMS.

  • Nadia Notarpippo
    September 1, 2011 1:58 pm

    There is also the TaLK program (http://talk.go.kr)

    • @Nadia: Thanks for sharing that. 🙂 I’m not very familiar with the program but their benefits are similar to EPIK but maybe a tad better. I heard it was kind of an exchange program for those still going to school?

  • Pegasus is a recruitment agency primarily for hogwans in Korea. My friend had such a positive experience that I decided to use them to find an ESL position too. The benefits are close to the public schools, though class sizes are smaller, and they are sure to place us at schools where we work with a co-teacher in the classroom.

    Of course, we’ll have to see how my experience pans out, but I’m looking forward to it. 🙂 It’s been great reading these posts!

  • Laura in Cancun
    January 4, 2011 3:31 am

    Wow, great benefits!! I can imagine parts of it are tough, but you can’t deny that they really give you a pretty good deal.

  • Great post. I would simply add that every experience is unique. Ask 100 people about their experiences and you’ll get 100 answers. These are good general expectations, but again, your experiences will differ based many different factors.

Comments are closed.