In this article we talk about jobs in south korea for foreigners. The majority of Germans, Austrians and Swiss work as delegates from a company from their home country or as language teachers in Korea. They come either from a thirst for adventure and a professional perspective or because of love. Only those who get along very well with language and culture can take a further step and, for example, dare to become self-employed. I know two people for whom this worked very well – once as a management consultant and once as a life coach.
Similar to Japan, Korea is currently tending to isolate itself somewhat. At the beginning of 2018, a school reform was passed that provides for English teaching only from the third grade (instead of from kindergarten). That cost hundreds of native English teachers the job. Entry as a teacher is therefore more difficult overall, but is still more realistic than in Japan or Taiwan.
Residence and Work Permits
A bit of Sisiphus work is required for a regular work visa. First of all, it is important to find a job. Then the future employer will send you the employment contract to be signed. You sign and return the contract (keep a copy) together with university certificates and an extract from the criminal record – both in the original and with an apostille. After receiving the documents, your chosen employer goes to the Immigration Office Korea and applies for a “Certificate of Visa Issuance”. The processing time there is about two weeks. After processing, the Immigration Office gives all the necessary information to the employer, who in turn forwards everything to you (this part is purely electronic). After receiving the visa certificate, you can go to the Korean representation in your country and apply for the visa. The waiting time is another one to two weeks. The cost of issuing a visa (not the same in every country) is between 30 and 60 euros and would have to besometimes paid in cash .
Warning: Korean authorities apparently assume that the original documents for the apostille will be duplicated, i.e. that the apostille will be on an official duplicate and not on the only original. At least in Austria, a duplicate is only made if a document is lost, i.e. an apostille is placed on the original document. There might be problems if you want these originals back after entering Korea. Some officials at the Korean Immigration Office would like to keep these documents until the visa expires! It is best to inform the future employer straight away that he or she should point out when applying for the “Certificate of Visa Issuance” that the original documents should be returned.
Foreign language teachers require an E-2 visa. However, there is hardly any information about this at the embassies, because most of it happens on site in Korea.
Attention again: the excitement is not over after a successful entry. For this application you need the visa, the employment contract, a signed rental agreement, a telephone number, and the sealed results of a “medical check”. The latter is actually not worth mentioning, it is a normal preventive medical check-up. However, it must be done in a government-approved clinic. Your employer should be able to recommend something here. It is only important that you DO NOT open the envelope with the result. The findings must remain sealed.
During the medical check, blood and urine samples are taken. That means you have to appear sober and, if possible, with a full bladder. You must also take your passport and a separate passport photo with you. The cost is around 100,000 won (around 80 euros). Official English-language website of the Korean government.
South Korea offers a special medical treatment visa. This shows a certain trust in one’s own health system and this is also justified. In my six months in Korea I had to go to a hospital once (for the medical check, see above) and to the dentist several times for a root canal treatment. I never had to wait long (a maximum of twenty minutes), they always worked carefully (almost overcautious) and made sure that I knew what was happening to me. The English skills of the older doctors are mostly poor, but the younger ones almost always speak passable English. Now it’s up to you to learn English well enough to be able to communicate with doctors :-).
If you go to one of these doctors but you happen to live across town, you have maybe two times ninety minutes of walking time. That sucks when you need five or six appointments. For this reason, I decided to go to the dentist in the neighborhood and only had a Korean friend ask if he could speak English. The treatment is currently underway, so I cannot draw a conclusion yet. They were very nice to me, the communication worked well, but we are now at the seventh appointment – for a root canal treatment with a crown (the first crown did not fit) that is already excessive.
For information: The medical check at a university clinic in Itaewon cost around 80 euros. A complete root canal treatment with a white tooth crown cost around 500 euros in my case, but that includes just under 300 euros for the crown. The Korean social security normally pays 50-70 percent of the treatment costs. However, dental crowns are purely private services.
Unlike in Austria, oral hygiene in Korea is a health insurance service. For private patients it would cost around 46.93 US Dollars.
One difference to Europe is the lack of privacy. At the dentist, there is no separate treatment room, and even in the hospital, the individual sections of the preventive examination are housed next to each other in a large room.
Korean Language & Society
Korea is a society where you have to save face. This means, for example, that someone does not answer a question asked in English because they do not want to say anything wrong (grammatically). Occasionally you can also see salespeople who more or less skilfully hide themselves from foreign customers in order not to conjure up such a situation. At least in Seoul this is rather an exception. But the fact is: this country is not blessed with gifted English speakers. This applies in particular to services from dry cleaning to the hospitality industry. And, unfortunately, this also applies to the Seoul Immigration Office. For the (necessary) visit there, you should bring a Korean-speaking support with you.
On the other hand, Koreans recognize when foreigners speak a few words of Korean. My students sometimes burst into spontaneous applause when I say half a sentence in Korean (maybe they just want to keep from laughing). I had a particularly nice experience a few weeks after man arrival. I had only attended three or four Korean classes, but at least I was able to utter the phrase “One piece, please” without an accident. When I said this to a market woman while shopping, she was thrilled and directed an endless but heartfelt flood of Korean in my direction. Unfortunately I could only answer it with a confused nod.
Korean is not particularly difficult to learn. Of course it has its quirks and pitfalls, but as an agglutinating language. A big problem with learning vocabulary, however, is that there are hardly any references to European languages. The fact that milk is now called Uju, for example, simply has to be hammered into your skull: instead of “I would like a piece x please.”, It now says “X would like a piece please.”
It is always difficult to learn a language from scratch in addition to full-time employment and hobbies. It may even be impossible. All of the fluently Korean-speaking foreigners I have met here have already created a good basis for further learning while they were still at school or studying, or with a “language holiday”. If you can only go to a course once a week (or less often) and only speak English or at work, the problems increase. Koreans, who you might meet in bars, would rather practice their English than decipher broken Korean for minutes. There is really no compulsion to learn Korean beyond supermarket and restaurant vocabulary. Even if the effort would certainly be recognized by the locals.
All universities offer language courses of varying intensity (and quality), but these cannot be created for working people in terms of time. Some institutions (such as the Global Center, Sookmyung’s Women’s University, and Gal Wol Community Center) offer free Korean classes once a week.
Cleanliness is an important issue in Korea. Shoes must be removed in all apartments and in some restaurants. In all fitness centers and swimming pools you have to shower BEFORE swimming / exercising. The trick popular in Austria and Germany with the short shower in swimming costume is not an option in Korea. The cloakroom and shower are normally naked areas. Just watch what the Koreans do.
Don’t ponder too much whether you’re doing everything right. Koreans can get a little stormy at times when you make nonsense, but that doesn’t mean you won’t even be able to drink a soju later. They are not resentful :-).
Korea has one of the most complex (and expensive) rental systems in the world. You pay a monthly rent but also a one-time deposit (which you get back). The latter can go up to astronomical heights and in a medium-sized apartment in a good location can amount to 100 million won (approx. 80,000 euros). The positive thing is: the higher the deposit, the lower the monthly rent.
For normal mortals, who can afford a maximum of five to ten million won bail (4,693-9,386 US Dollars), there are three options: poor quality, little space or off to the periphery. I live very centrally in Seoul, but only on twenty square meters. That costs just under 500 euros rent plus 10 million deposit (contract for one year). At least I live in them alone, but not that many mini-apartments are inhabited by couples or even function as two-person shared apartments. The expensive apartments are also a reason why so many younger Koreans still live with their parents.
The good side: you can get an apartment VERY quickly. If you’re lucky with the agent, even within a day. However, you should definitely bring someone with you who speaks Korean well to visit the real estate agent. The Seoul City Government has an official list of English-speaking brokers, but the word English-speaking does not automatically mean fluency. The complete list is available on the city government’s website .
The most important property categories are Oneroom (studio in a normal residential building), Officetel (studio in a high-rise building), Villa (family apartment in a residential building) and Appartment (family apartment in a high-rise building).
Those who absolutely cannot afford bail have to stick to a goshiwon. These are dormitory-like accommodations with microscopic rooms and thin walls. There are some nice videos about Goshiwon rooms on YouTube.