My cousin, Nate, is moving to Korea soon. He will be teaching at a hagwon, an after school academy. Since I am the only other family member teaching in Korea, as far as I know, his family had some questions about moving to South Korea. I wrote up a few emails in response and put Nate in touch with some of his co-workers that I knew. I realized that my answers for his family might also benefit other potential teachers, so I’ll answer them below as well.
Remember, these answers are based on my experience and will vary for you. Be sure to read your contract.
I’m moving to South Korea, what should I bring?
Despite having the word “South” in the title, South Korea gets cold, really cold. Even in the southern parts of South Korea it snows in Winter. Skiing and snowboarding are common recreational activities in the Winter here. If you’re coming from a warmer climate such as the Southern United States, you may not be prepared for the cold. Winter clothes are important items to bring, especially since outdoor clothing and active wear tend to be more expensive here. Work clothes, like dress shirts and slacks, are also important to pack, although they can be found here. But why pay for something you already own?
A laptop or tablet to keep in touch with family back home is a great item to pack. Deodorant and western brands of toothpaste are tough to find here, so a year supply of those two things will help. Maybe pack your favorite sauce or spices. I had my mom send some buffalo wing sauce. However, general spices (salt, pepper, etc.) are easy to find here.
If you forget something or didn’t realize you needed it, don’t fret. There are big box stores here like Walmart and Target back home where you can get just about anything.
When is the best time to visit my cousin/brother/friend?
If you’re cousin/brother/friend is working at a Hagwon, I would recommend visiting during Chuseok or Seoullal. Chuseok is towards the end of September and four days. However, some of those days may fall on a weekend. Seollal is Lunar New Year. It happens in February and its 3 days. If you’re unavailable during those months, May and October also have several long weekends. If you want more information, here’s a list of Korea holidays in 2015. http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/south-korea/2015.
Do they actually celebrate 25 holidays and take off work for them?
Not all of the holidays in the link above are observed. Look for “national holidays”. Those days will have no work. Some of the other days may be observed, some may not be. Check with your school. Most hagwons give two weeks, or ten days, of vacation. It’s standard for the Hagwon to choose five of those days, usually holidays, and for the employee to choose the other 5 days. Most hagwons won’t let employees take vacation, aside from holidays, during their first six months. This may vary based on your hagwon.
Be sure to check your contract.
What is Korean Summer break like?
There is no official Summer break for Hagwons. My hagwon last year gave me Wednesday to Sunday at the end of July. My girlfriend’s vacation was the same length but at a slightly different time. If you want a longer Summer vacation, try to start your contract during the Summer or at the end of Spring. That way, when your contract ends you can take the Summer off before starting a new contract. If you really like your hagwon and they have several foreign teacher positions open, try to arrange to take some time off over the Summer and then replace a different foreign teacher when they leave.
Should I set up a bank account and credit card in Korea?
Yes, definitely a bank account. Most likely your salary will be paid by direct deposit into your Korean bank account. One of your Korean co-teachers will help you set up a bank account the third or fourth week of work. My job made me open an account at KB for direct deposit. If you have a choice use KEB (not KB). KEB is more foreign friendly and makes it easier to send money back home from Korea. Sending money back is a pain the first time, you’ll want to bring a Korean teacher with you to help setup the transfer. However, after that you can send money home right from your bank’s ATM.
You probably won’t be able to get a Korean credit card. I just use a US card with no foreign transaction fees. Check creditkharma.com or nerdwallet.com. I recommend the Chase Sapphire or Chase British Airways card. I have both and I’ve never had a problem.
Will I need a local driver’s license?
No, most foreigners in South Korea don’t have cars. Nicole and I don’t drive. Cabs here are absurdly cheap. Minimum cab fare is $2.80 and most 5-10 minute cab rides are rarely more than $4-5. Also most big Korean cities have a pretty good bus system and some also have a subway system. Going anywhere in town with friends will likely be only a few dollars a person if you split a cab. If you’re traveling to another city, take a cab/bus/subway to the bus terminal then take an intercity bus. Buses can cost as little as $3 and as much as $25 but that’s only for a 4 hour bus ride all the way across the country of Korea. I wrote about it a bit on my blog. Here’s a pic of the bus interior.
Do I need any immunizations?
What kind of medical card do I need or does the school provide coverage?
Your job will get you insurance. About $20 will be deducted monthly from your paycheck. Then insurance works like this, atleast it did for me last year, I would go to the hospital and get something done, then bring my bill to work and they would file a claim. I would then get half the money back so basically insurance covers half of everything. Medical expenses here are really cheap though. If I went to the doctor it might cost me $20 and a prescription would be $10 then I would bring that to work and it would end up being only $15 since school covered half.
One time last year I went to the emergency room in the middle of the night and got a chest x-ray, CT scan, IV drip, and some medicine. Total after insurance I believe it was $250. I’ve also gotten two cavities filled here. One was a metal filling on my molar for $10 and another was a white natural looking filling for $60. Also most places will have the costs written out on a paper or sign, just like a menu. If you’re sick, go to the hospital, not a doctor. Doctor’s are more expensive, hospitals are cheap. Everyone goes to the hospital here. People will even go if they are really hungover to get an IV drip. I even know one foreign couple that did that in Seoul.
Hopefully this was helpful. If you have any more questions, ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.