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The Ultimate Guide to Making Money in Korea

Want to teach English abroad? Cool. Japan, Thailand, and Spain all jump to the top of a very exciting list of places to turn into your working life playground. World class places to teach while simultaneously swelling your bank account into Daddy Warbucks sized proportions however becomes a much shorter list.

Admittedly, the South Korea does not have near the same earning power as the Middle East. While earning a substantial salary in Saudi Arabia or the UAE might be possible, they often require an appropriate work experience. Korea probably doesn’t have the same glitz as a teaching position in Southern Thailand or Prague as well. So, what are your options? Like anything it’s all about that hustle and South Korea offers a convincing balance of work and play that can translate into some serious saving potential. And I promise, there’s more to the country than kimchi or that weird girl in high school’s obsession with k-pop. There are plenty of resources online for how to get started.

**Oh, uhhhh, one big asterisk** Many teaching contracts forbid employees to take on extracurricular teaching work. It’s one rule that never made a whole lot of sense to me, “No! Stop making our kids smarter” but it’s just the way it works. Any teacher looking to take on extra side work should, err, do so, err, shall we say, quietly. But if you’re willing to bend the rules you hard working delinquent, please read on.

Here are some fast numbers. In my final year of teaching I saved approximately $20,000 working fairly longish hours but nothing most people couldn’t handle. With all of my weekends were off. And for you neigh sayers out there, no, I’m not sitting here in my ivory tower handing down patronizing life lessons watching you squabble for the scraps. It’s only a helpful tip to those who are interested. If you don’t like it then feel free to hit the back button and get back to your grad school application. Or share this post of Facebook. Preferably the latter. M’kay thanks.

1. Work a position with flexible hours

Okay so it’s a no brainer, but I’ll state the obvious. More free time equals more time for extra work. But the hours during the day you have available is substantially more important then how much time you actually have. Ideally you want a solid block of time in your mornings or evenings which you can dedicate to a second income.

Academies, or hagwons as they’re called in k-town, often start in the afternoon and finish sometime late evening/early night. With that primary position lined up, your mornings are free to look for English work with kindergartens and young learners. Public schools finish late afternoon, and now your evenings are free to tutor families, business clients and younger students. Keeping your schedule consistent helps you zero in on your target demographic of potential clients.

Vacation times are another great time to pick up some extra work. Summer and Winter English camps happen every year and often occur over popular vacation periods. Ask around your local universities and high schools. Search message boards like Dave’s ESL or Facebook groups for your local city. Spending a week off from your ‘day job’ to work a camp position doubles, if not triples, your salary for that time.

In the same vein, one of your greatest assets is time. Understand it and understand how to exploit it.

2. Become friendly with kindergartens

I know, I know, the idea of spending your free time with booger flinging banshees running circles around you isn’t the most exciting career move you’ll ever make. But as a lucrative side job, kindergartens rock. I had offers from several schools looking for teachers for an hour or two each morning For those with a flexible schedule, ask around, find a few schools and show your friendly foreigner face. If one director isn’t hiring, there’s an excellent chance they know another director who probably is. Koreans go gaga for native teachers willing to teach their young children ABC’s and the weather.

Ask around long enough and there’s a good chance you can land a more permanent role with consistent hours. An extra 6-8 hours of teaching in the mornings every week easily increases your monthly salary 30-40 percent. Boom.

If you’re only looking for temporary work, there’s plenty of holidays, camps and day activities where native English speakers are needed. An extra $100 for one Saturday morning is well worth your time.

3. Network. A lot.

So much of what applied in your home country still applies in your new country. Networking is no different.

From an employee perspective, one great thing about Korea is the teacher turnover. Despite how good, great, or ugly it is, Korea is simply not your home and most teachers leave after a few years. And you want to be there to replace their role. When one of your friends decides not to renew their contract and make the move back to their home country, you want to be first on that mental list of “who do I know that’s a solid replacement?”

Secondary to personal relationships are social networks. Facebook probably has a dedicated page for the foreigners in your town. Make it a habit to comb through it daily for leads. Especially during the summer months and Christmas.

Above all, be proactive in your search. Assuming you’re not paying off student loans or gambling debts to loan sharks, your salary in Korea is more than enough to live on. In fact, most people are able to save half of their base amount alone. And with that level of comfort comes complacency. And while that topic is a whole different post altogether, it’s important to set savings goals.

4. Budget

Hi, yeah, me again, Captain obvious. Know exactly how much you expect to make each month and determine exactly how much of that you’ll save.

You don’t need fancy phone applications or be an excel wizard to lay down a basic budget of income and expenditures. A general number in the back of your head will do. For me personally, a general idea of what I’m spending each month for food/travel/clothes/entertainment/alcohol puts your savings habits in perspective. When you meet your goal, awesome, simply wash and repeat. If you’re off by a bit, adjust accordingly.

As a personal example, I have a definite soft spot for alcohol. I’m not the guy that can sit around sober while my friends are out having a night. Simply being conscious of what I’m spending is a powerful tool towards gaining and sustaining my financial stability.

As an ESL destination South Korea should definitely rank high on the lists of those looking to save money. For those will advanced teaching qualifications, the middle east is a much surer bet, but for the layperson with a college degree looking for an adventure abroad, Korea is an attractive package. It is loads cheaper than Japan, higher salary than much of Asia, and a potential to walk away with some serious coin.

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