teach english in china

Should You Teach English In China Or South Korea?


Teaching English as a foreign language in Asia

Between 2016 and 2017 I spent a year teaching English in South Korea.  I had considered teaching ESL for years. Despite a clear lack of training and experience, as is probably shared by 90% of all ESL teachers.  After South Korea I was almost positive I would never teach again.


As amazing and truly life changing of an experience as it was, I had pretty much concluded teaching wasn’t for me.  Ironically as I write this I’m standing on a metro train in Shenzhen, China.


And yes, I’m here teaching English.. Again.

For a variety of reasons I’m here to teach English in China.  Motivations aside, this particular post is meant to address the contrasts between teaching in either country; South Korea and China.


Since I’ve spent so much time in Asia, I’m not really culture rocked or shocked at all.  There’s reminders of how difficult the simplest of tasks like buying soya sauce can be.  But otherwise there’s not too much of a difference between South Korea and China.  At least in my city, Shenzhen.  Big buildings everywhere, lots of people, and signs I can’t read.  I do find China a little less compressed than South Korea.  I feel I have more room to move and breath here in China.


There seems to be less English in China, though.


Now since I’m here teaching English, let’s talk about the differences of work requirements, responsibilities and perks.  Because there are stark differences.


Let’s start with South Korea.


Teaching ESL in South Korea

The nitty gritty.  I worked for a private academy so I can’t speak for public, but the culture it seems for hagwons (private academies) is to exploit foreign teachers.  Their preference is for young female teachers fresh out of University. Naive and easily manipulated in their minds. Contracts are more guidelines in their eyes and unless you stand strong on what was offered and promised to you, you may find yourself in some different roles, or with some different rules than you had expected.


I was fairly lucky with my school, I’ve heard horror stories, but they definitely tried to wrangle me into more than what was in my contract. I had to get firm with them a few times.   Pay always came on time though and they were flexible with my surgery. Which isn’t true for other teachers I’ve heard


Pay for new teachers is about 2.1 million KRW, or $2,400 CAD as of writing this.  With experience, longer than normal hours, rural areas or Seoul, you may find your salaries upwards of 2.9 million KRW.  You are also provided a free apartment.


How much do you work teaching ESL in South Korea?

I personally taught 25 hours per week, which was on the lower end of the scale compared to other friends I had.  The average was about 30 hours of teaching per week. I also had office hours which is completely standard across the country.


Again I can only speak to the Hagwon I worked at, I found the children to be more misbehaved than I expected of Asian children, and very entitled.  Obviously only wealthier families can afford private English institutes so they very well were more spoiled than others.


In regards to preparing lessons, I was required to prep mostly all of my lessons, many other teachers I spoke to had all of their materials provided, but less ability to craft lessons as they like.  Depending how serious of a teacher you want to be, you may want the freedom with a bit more work.


Where Korea takes the cake is with the bonuses, you put into a pension which your employer matches and it equals to a months extra pay at the end of the year.   There is also a severance pay which equals another months pays. Most schools will provide a flight home upon finishing your contract.


For private school, you’re look at about 12-8 days paid holidays. Pretty weak.  Public school English teachers have upwards of a month of vacation time in South Korea.

The South Korean government is very strict about not working side gigs or teaching private lessons.


The requirements for teaching ESL in South Korea are:


  1. University degree – any type or discipline or study
  2. Clean criminal record
  3. Native English speaker


South Korea is a beautiful country to live in, and I have some amazing memories from it, which include from teaching.  My opinion is, if you want to teach ESL here you must be willing to work a bit more.



Teach English in China.

China seems to be more open for ESL teachers from all over the world.  South Korea was very firm on hiring only native English speakers from a few countries.  And nearly all of the teachers being of caucasian ancestry.


In China, at my company alone, there are teachers from all over the world.  Some of which English isn’t even their first language. Though teachers must have an education degree and also be teaching a music or sports class though.


I am teaching at a public school this time around.  All of the Chinese colleagues have been extremely helpful and friendly.  The principle of my school seemed very relaxed and caring also.


Nothing has been in the grey area with them at all.  


In China, to work at public schools it seems you must go through an agency.  There were a few obstacles in getting my Visa and upon first arrival with this agency, but nothing out of the ordinary for how flexible and sometimes last minute Asian cultures can be.  There is also ongoing training through them with is irksome in my opinion but can be beneficial and is imposed by the government and not the agency.


I currently teach 12 hours per week.  I have more lesson planning to do in China and the Great Firewall makes planning a touch difficult using the internet and downloading videos from YouTube but overall I enjoy the smaller workload.. Obviously.


I teach 3 different grades each week and 6 different classes in each grade.  So I just make 3 powerpoints and teach each 6 times. Not too bad!


Benefits of teaching ESL in China

I do have office hours, but there is a 2.5 hour lunch break each day which includes a cheap lunch from the cafeteria, an hour nap time – they literally have cots, pillows and blankets and the school shuts down completely for an hour to sleep.


And my personal favorite, my school has it’s own gym for the staff.  Which is pretty decent, so the last hour of my day during office hours, I work out.  And no membership costs!


Pay in China for public schools ranges from 8,000-12,000 RMB (12,000 RMB currently translates to $2,400 CAD) in Shenzhen.  Plus free apartment or living allowance. In rural areas or beijing it can be upwards of 15,000-20,000 RMB which may include living allowance or be extra on top.


For public schools in china, you have a 2 month semi-paid summer holiday.  Travel anyone? And there is usually a few weeks in December and February off as well.


In my opinion China instantly wins as the country to teach ESL.


China is much more relaxed about working side jobs as well.


Requirements for teaching ESL in China are:


  1. University degree – any type of faculty or area of study
  2. Clean criminal record
  3. 120 hour TEFL certification – Education degree and a few years experience
  4. Native English speaking – unless you have a education degree and have found a job to teach sport, science or music partly.

Teaching ESL abroad

There are ups and downs in either Country.  Working life wins out in China, but recreational time and living may be better in South Korea.  I plan to write another piece of a comparison on what it’s like to live in either country.  Stay tuned for that!

If you are interested in learning more about teaching ESL in either of these countries or teaching online from anywhere in the world please EMAIL ME at info@thatcharleslife.com

There are always positions for new teachers.. there’s hella lot of Asian kiddies out there that need to improve their English.

Thanks again for reading!  Cheers.

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  • Currently located in China, teaching English and working towards Financial Freedom. I write about money, travel, personal development and more!

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One Comment

  • Ben

    Hi Charles,

    Nice post.

    All the best in your new endeavor in China.


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