Typical Salaries and Benefits

Teaching in Korea

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Salary and benefits offered do not vary widely from school to school. There are laws in place in South Korea that limit the amount of tuition Hakwons can charge. This has resulted in compensation packages that are not flexible enough to recognize experience or qualifications with more than a 10-20% premium on the usual salaries. Be cautious with any contract that promises an unusually high salary (anything above 2.5 million won per month) as they often entail considerably more contact teaching time than is usual.

Salaries

Salaries at most Korean language institutes (hakwons) for children range from 1.9 million won per month to 2.3 million won per month. Some institutes that hire only very well qualified and experienced native speakers of English may pay more. Most of the jobs that APC is currently handling are within the above range. Higher salaries for those with good qualifications and lots of experience are, unfortunately, not often forthcoming. The Korean hakwon industry is very competitive and salaries reflect this. Sadly, a hakwon owner will make more money by hiring a pretty, blonde woman in her 20s than by hiring someone with qualifications and experience and less "physical appeal."  I had been teaching ESL at the high school level for four years before I went to Korea and I made the same salary as those with no credentials or experience. From a more positive perspective, I found it quite easy to do my job well, while those without experience had to work harder to maintain acceptable standards.

Most of the schools we hire for pay 2.0 or 2.1 million won per month for those who have no experience and no qualifications (one-week TESOL courses don't usually count). For those with a year of teaching experience, an education degree, or a recognized TESOL certificate, our schools tend to offer 2.1 to 2.3 million won per month.

Newly opened schools sometimes offer higher than usual salaries. This is usually because they have to. Those with experience in Korea know that teaching at a brand new school can be a nightmare. You will be very lucky if the new school opens on time and may be left staying with friends or family in North America waiting to start work (after you've quit your job and given up your apartment). Also, newly opened schools are usually disorganized and require a lot more administrative work from teachers. Inexperienced Korean school owners may also make the mistake of hiring nothing but inexperienced teachers, none of whom have been to Korea before. This is always bad news as the primary source of reassurance and teaching ideas when one first arrives in Korea is Western co-workers who have been there for a while.

A reliable school with low staff turnover will probably offer a lower salary than a school that loses teachers regularly. If the people who are working at your school were hired nine months ago at 1.9 million won, the school director (if he has any common sense) is not going to offer you more unless you have qualifications or experience that the others don't. Schools with high staff turnover sometimes try to address teacher unhappiness by raising salaries, and usually ignore the underlying reasons for employee dissatisfaction.

Salaries are almost always paid monthly. This is true everywhere in Asia. Paydays range from the last day of the month worked to the 15th day of the following month. Your payday will be clearly stated in your contract.

Overtime

Overtime conditions vary from school to school, depending on the season, the reliability of your co-workers, and the intensity of the school owner's desire to make money. August and January are the two months when Korean public schools are closed and are always the busiest months for hakwons in Korea. Most schools schedule extra classes or special programs. Overtime is almost inevitable during these two months.

Over the course of a year at any medium-large language school there is likely to be someone (or worse, a couple) who leaves suddenly. Even the best-managed schools experience sudden departures of those who return to North America for personal reasons. When this happens, there is nobody sitting at home waiting to be called in to substitute. The former teacher's classes are quickly divided up among other teachers until a replacement can be hired (usually within 30 days).

The usual overtime rate is generally around (monthly salary / 100-120) per hour. Under Korean law, employers do not have to pay a premium on regular pay rates until an employee has worked 48 hours in a week. On the bright side, though the hourly rate of pay for overtime is nothing special, teaching somebody else's class usually requires little preparation.

Severance Pay

When you finish a full one-year contract, you receive an extra month's regular salary. This is not a "bonus," nor is it at management's discretion, as is sometimes claimed. Korean labor laws clearly make provision for one-twelfth (8⅓%) of a year's salary, per year employed, to be paid to an employee at the time that the employee ceases to be employed. Periods beyond one year of employment, are pro-rated. Eighteen months employment means a bonus of 1.5 x monthly salary. No severance payment is required for periods of employment less than one year.

Teachers are often worried about not receiving severance pay. In fact, relatively few schools try to avoid paying. If they do, it's a sure sign that the school is in big financial trouble and will be closing before long. The desperation of a school-owner who does not pay severance is underscored by this simple fact: If you finish your contract and don't receive severance, then of course you are going to tell those still teaching at the school about it, which could result in a school owner losing his entire teaching staff.

Medical Insurance

Korea has a national health plan that you and your employer both contribute to. Contributions are based on your salary (2.385% per June 2008) and medical services are then offered almost free (small user fees apply). This insurance is quite comprehensive and includes hospitalization and pharmaceuticals. This is more-or-less similar to the kind of national health plans in place in Canada and Western Europe.

Some schools have opted out of the national plan and they may offer private health insurance. When this is offered, schools pay for it directly, and there is no cost to the teacher. This saves the teacher about 500,000 won in insurance premiums over one year; however, deductibles are higher than in the public system. This kind of insurance is not dissimilar to that provided by many employers in the U.S.

Neither kind of insurance is effective until after your residency in Korea has been processed, usually 2-4 weeks after arrival. I advise that all teachers buy travel insurance with medical coverage for 30-45 days following arrival in Korea. Common travel insurance that includes medical coverage will probably be fine.

Sick Days

Since your co-workers are automatically the often-unwilling recipients of your classes if you call in sick, it's not a good idea to do so unless you really are sick. Hangovers, or just having a bad day, won't be acceptable excuses for missing teaching, to either coworkers or management. The first time I called in sick in Korea, my school director came round in his big black car to take me to see a doctor, which was thoughtful, but ultimately an unwelcome inconvenience that was almost as bad as going in to work would have been. I didn't call in sick again.

Legally, for any sick day taken, your employer can deduct a day's salary unless you present an official note from a doctor. In practice, most employers don't ask for this note unless someone has been absent for more than one day or has a history of one-day illnesses.

Emergency Leave

Some contracts make provisions for one week of emergency leave in the event of the death, or life-threatening illness or injury, of a family member. Even if this is not in a contract, any Korean employer will give you a week off if he is even somewhat satisfied with you; it's a better option than losing an employee. This leave is unpaid and may require some sort of proof of the situation.

Air Transportation

Almost all schools offer air transport to and from Korea as part of their standard contracts. Through APC, the air to Korea is provided in advance unless you are leaving from outside North America. Most of the time air tickets are one way. Round-tip tickets are only valid for one year so if a teacher extends his/her contract, the school has to buy another ticket. I deal with a travel agent in Vancouver for Canadian departures and another agent in Los Angeles for U.S. departures. Tickets are either electronic or are sent by Fedex around a week before departure. Your itinerary will be provided as far in advance as possible. Many contracts stipulate that you must leave from an international airport. Departure from anywhere that is not significantly more expensive than from a major hub is usually fine. If you collect points, please let me know at the time you accept a job; I can book you on the airline of your choice, providing there are seats available and you are willing to pay the costs beyond those of the cheapest available flight.

Housing

All the jobs we offer include rent-free housing. Utilities are the teachers' responsibility. They range from $30 per month up to $100 per month, depending on how many people share the apartment and the season. Sometimes there is an apartment management fee, which is used to pay cleaners for the building stairways and common areas. If you are paying a housing management fee then you're probably in a nicer-than-average apartment. This fee ranges from $30 to $60 per month.

Many employers collect a housing deposit of 400,000 - 750,000 won. It's usually collected in two, three, or four monthly instalments, which are deducted from salary. This is supposed to cover unpaid bills at the end of your contract; however it may be used by your employer for any expenses s/he incurs as a direct result of a teacher's violation of the contract, or clear negligence.

It is relatively difficult to get your own housing in Korea. Usually, at least two years' rent is required up front. Most people feel justifiably nervous about handing over ten or fifteen thousand dollars to someone they don't know in a foreign country. Some employers may imply (or even directly promise) that they will lend you the deposit and then allow you to find your own housing. In practice, this doesn't happen very often.

Holidays

All schools close for Korean national holidays and most schools close for a week in summer and a week at the end of the calendar year. This results in two full one-week breaks and 10-13 other days off throughout the year. The distribution of the national holidays results in at least two 4-5 consecutive-day breaks, two or three long weekends, and a handful of less useful, but not unwelcome, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. No deduction from salary is made for holidays and/or school breaks. Days that are not actually spent at work are normally not, however, counted in the calculation of overtime.

Taxes and Deductions

Most employers will withhold income tax (4-5% of salary), resident tax (10% of the income tax, i.e. - a couple of bucks), national pension-plan contributions (4.5% of salary) and national health insurance premiums (2.1% of salary) from monthly pay. The Korean National Pension Corporation has an agreement with both Canada and the U.S. (and most other English-speaking countries, with the notable exception of South Africa) whereby your pension contributions, and those of your employer, are refunded to you when you leave Korea permanently. This can amount to a considerable sum over a couple of years.

Dismissal or Resignation

Of course, you can leave Korea any time you wish if you are unhappy with your job or feel that you made the wrong decision in going abroad to teach. Generally, voluntary resignation results in loss of the severance payment and the loss of air transportation home. It can also involve repayment of your air to Korea and the loss of your housing deposit. Some schools may also try to withhold some of your wages. School management will, in the vast majority of cases, follow the contract in this area if you follow it by giving the required amount of notice (30 or 60 days) and if you are cooperative in the interim.

The early and/or sudden departure of a teacher costs a school director anywhere from US$2000 - US$5000 in lost business, hiring costs, and any lost transportation costs. Bear this in mind if you find yourself thinking about breaking your contract, and don't be surprised if your school-owner attempts to recover some of the loss.

If you leave early and/or leave on bad terms with your boss, you may find it very difficult to get a job in Korea the following year, or even two or three years later. The more reputable and desirable a language school is to work for, the more likely it is that they'll want to call your previous Korean employer for a reference. I regularly receive applications from those who have left contracts early and it is always difficult to place them. This alone is reason enough to be cautious about whom you deal with and what kind of job you accept in the first place.

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