Hi! I’m Steve. Thanks for swinging by our site.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably trying to figure out how to make more money by teaching abroad.
In this article, I’m going to tell you about one of the most popular methods I know. This is really useful if your currently a public school or academy teacher in South Korea. But it’s also a great tool if you’re in your home country and considering an ESL career.
That’s how much money I earned on the side from teaching small private classes.
Yeah, that might sound a bit crazy. Considering that the going salary for an ESL teacher in South Korea lies between $25,000 and $30,000 per year, my tale of doubling that income with part time work might sound downright untrue.
But it’s not.
How I Became An English Teacher in Korea
I came to South Korea 4 years ago. I had just graduated college in the United States and couldn’t land a big-boy job. The only place that would accept my application was a kind young Italian man by the name of Papa John’s, and I wasn’t too keen about returning to the minimum wage lifestyle.
So, 6 months after graduating, I hopped on a plane bound for Incheon Airport. I had accepted a 1 year contract teaching in the Paju countryside, at a little town called Oyu-Jiri.
As far as scenic Asian villages go, I don’t think many can top this place.. The modestly sized brick school would be familiar to any ESL veteran in Korea. It was fully equipped with a dirt soccer field, a communal garden where teachers could tend to small batches of crops, and rows of ginkgo nut trees that lined walking paths. Ms. Moon, my co-teacher, was my guardian for that entire year. She showed me the ropes of Korean life, both at work and at home. And I have to admit, I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but it was some of the best life experience I’ve ever had.
And they paid me! Which was the most important part, as jaded as that is to say. As a broke, recent college graduate, the “paying” aspect of the gig was curcial. For each month of work, I was rewarded with 2.1 million KRW (Korean won). That equates to about $2,000. Which is not a lot of money, when you consider it. For the same amount of hours, I could work in the United States at my good friend Papa John’s pizzeria, and make about $3,000 each month.
But… my income didn’t stop at $2,000. My co-workers asked me to privately tutor them. And once one of them was brave enough to ask, then the rest did as well! Eventually, these types of interactions became the launch pad for earning an extra $32,450 each year.
But at the very beginning, as a newbie here, I didn’t exactly respond to their inquiries the right way.
Let me quickly clarify something…. As a Native English Teacher in Korea, every new co-worker or friend you make will likely want your expert help improving their English skills. They’ll often offer to treat you to dinner in exchange for some simple conversation practice. Or they’ll invite you on a family trip so you can spend time with them and their family (in other words, you’ll end up teaching them and their kids for free). Whatever the case may be, they’ll often offer some type of non-monetary type of compensation in exchange for your English skills. All of that might seem well enough. You’re a foreigner here, you want native friends, and you want to experience the native culture, so giving away English classes or tutoring for free might not seem like a big deal.
But there’s a catch. Everyone will ask you for your help. Well, not everyone, but most people in your new host country would love to improve their English ability. Since paying for a private tutor or a Korean English academy is pretty damn expensive, they’ll see you, their “new friend” as their saving grace.
So, when my co-workers first asked me to teach them, I happily consented. Little did I know that this type of favor would balloon into a free service for dozens of friends over the years. But it began with just two: my vice-principal and the Korean language instructor. During one of my breaks at school, I would sit them down for some English conversation practice. It was bumpy at first, since I was a new teacher and lacked experience. But the classes soon found their rhythm.
I’ll never be sure if I was a “good teacher” in that first year. I don’t actually think I was. But… my co-workers were so eager to find a Native English teacher outside of Korea’s hagwon system, that they turned to me for help.
That’s a pretty big pain point, to use sales jargon. Korean people want a direct line to the Native English Teachers. They don’t want to visit Hagwons (Korean language academies) and enroll in a mass-produced class. For some reason, we’re held in higher esteem.
So I thought, “Hey, they want my time… I should try to sell that”.
You Need To Think About Legal Requirements
Now, before I get too much further into this, I should give an obligatory legal caveat. If you’re a Native English Speaker living in Korea, you’re likely employed as a teacher somewhere. Either at a hagwon, public school, or university. That means you have some type of workers’ visa, typically an E-2, that is sponsored by your primary employer. Now, that primary employer has likely written into your contract that you cannot get a part-time job anywhere. That includes everything from moonlighting at other schools to tutoring your neighbor’s English-eager nephew. And even if your employer hasn’t explicitly written those terms into your contract, they can still demand that you abstain from teaching anywhere else besides their school. The laws in Korea favor their citizens, and those same lawas are often interpreted in favor of the more credible (and more important) party, which is most definitely not you.
So… be wary about that.
In other legal regards, in order to be a tutor, you might need to acquire a special license. Each county in Korea has their own education laws, so if you’re serious about teaching outside of the hagwon system as a solo-trpreneur, then you’ve got to check that out. The bad news for E-2 visa holders is… it’s flat out illegal for you to private tutor. F series visa holders (typically permanent residents and spouses) are perfectly fit for private tutoring. But I would guess the vast majority of you reading this are E-2 holders. Which leads me to say this…
Are you going to take the risk?
That’s all there is to it. Private tutoring is technically illegal for you, but hundreds of people are doing it. I’ve yet to meet an ESL teacher in Korea who hasn’t at least dabbled in teaching/tutoring outside of their main job. Whether they’re just practicing phonics with Principal Lee’s 8 year old children, or running 10 classes out of their apartment at night.
Best believe, these E-2 visa holders are making insane amounts of money.
And if you want to, too, I can tell you what I know…
Getting your First Students
Getting your first student is easier than you’d think. I’m sure your co-workers, neighbors, and local friends would want to learn English from you. Or, at the very least, they know someone who does.
Like I’ve already told you, my co-workers were the first ones to approach me about teaching them English. If you're an E-2 visa holder, you might want to be a little bit cautious in that situation. If it seems like those potential clients won’t be troublesome (and they have some amount of discretion) then you should go ahead and lock them into a schedule of monthly classes.
But you’ve got to let it be known that you're tutoring folks. People aren’t mind readers, as trite as it is to say. They probably have no idea that you want to actively tutor private students and build your own classes. You’ve got to let it be known.
Now, since you’re likely to be on an E-2 visa, it’s all about how bold you wanna be. Do you want to make business cards? A website? Flyers? The latter are sure to get you in trouble once competing Academies in the area catch wind of it, but websites and business cards are great resources.
I wasn’t the boldest marketer in the world, but I also wasn’t meek. I was somewhere between the fanatical T-Shirt hustler at music festivals and an armchair business man. I can’t tell you which approach will work best for you, but I can tell you about some fundamental tactics that you’ll want to use to get word out.
First, social media. You’ll want to hop on all the major social media channels and let people know that you’re interested in teaching outside of your job.
Let’s talk about Facebook first. You should post it as your status “Hey, I’m now offering 1 on 1 or group classes for English conversation”. Then you should move on to active facebook groups for foreigners. For example, there are the “Part time jobs in Seoul” and “Hanging out in Uijenbou” facebook groups. These are active facebook groups for different purposes, but all of them can help introduce you to new people who can land you private clients. Just post a post in there about yourself, your goals, and let comments come in “Hey, I’m a teacher in the area and I’m starting to teach private classes. IF you or anyone you know would be interested, just comment here and I’ll make sure to tell you more”.
If you have Korean friends on facebook, make sure you reach out to them with private messages. ESL is such a huge market here, and either they themselves or someone they know want to brush up on their English skills.
Apply these same tactics to your other social media channels. Make sure you don’t exhaust yourself with all of these tactics. Instagram is the second most important platform for you to use in Korea. It attracts English-friendly Korean folks, and you can likely find your ideal customers there. You can even find great pieces of software, like Instagress, that will automatically follow and like people in your area.
Business Cards. These are crucial in Korea. They’re a much more official and symbolic medium than they are in the rest of the world. By exhcanging business cards, you’re conducting a professional mini-ceremony that Korean people don’t expect from “foreigners”. That adds an eir of professionalism to your value as a private teacher. You should try to aim for an eye catching design. Something moder, chic, and even cute if you want. The more bold and unusal, the better. IF you’re not sure how to design it, then you can always go to Canva.com to make an awesome design. Make sure you include your name, phone number, kakao id, facebook page, and phone number. Credit yourself as an “English Conversation”, which in Korean would be “영어회화”
Using Canva, I just made you a really simple back and front for your business card. Feel free to download these and edit them. If you want to make something similar, just hop over to Canva.com.
If you really want to push the boundaries of what you can do without getting caught, you can create flyers. Personally, I don’t recommend this method. It’s far too easy to be villified if someone (an opposing educational facility or jealous neighbor) find out. If they approach you or report you to the local Korean authorities, since you’re not a Korean native, you’ll be at their mercy. That can range from jail time, to fines, to outright expulsion from the country. If I were you, I’d play it safe.
You’re customers will come. Because you’re in a precaerious situation, you can’t use all the familiar marketing techniques at you’re disposal. But that’s no problem. Maximize what’s least conspicuous and allow that momentum to drive more and more students to you.
What To Teach Them
Every customer has different needs. They have different English goals. But you should never allow their English goals to entirely dictate your classes, meeting times, or fee.
Now that you know that, let’s talk about the details. Before you launch into private tutoring, you need to have a developed idea of your curriculum. Even if your potential students want 1 on 1 classes for very specific English goals, your personal brand should be associated with some sort of actual English curriculum.
Hal & I focus on English conversation, so we’ve created our own books to for that particular goal. But maybe you’d like to focus on listening, writing, or reading. Those are all great skills for Korean students, but as a Native English teacher in Korea, your strength is at teaching conversation.
I highly recommend that you sell yourself as a conversation expert!
If you focus on conversation, then you can easily access our lessons, which are based on 5 different levels of English speaking ability. We cover fun, lifestyle topics which are very much different than typical “chapter by chapter” types of books. You can check them all out here….
While you teach these materials, I also think you should consider some supplementary resources. I’ve found that Grammar in Use and (Vocabulary Book) are great for learners. Don’t force this material down your students’s throats. But at least provide them access or recommendations to these materials so that they can fully explore all the aspects of their personal development.
And for you folks who really want to teach other aspects of English education… Although I recommend you focus on conversation (because we’re the Native English Speakers and that’s why they usually pay us), you can easily find some great resources around the web. My favorite Reading, Writing, and Listening series are on Amazon.
Check them out here...
Where to teach Them
Don’t stress out finding a place to teach! There are a ton of great options. Let me break down which ones are the best.
While this really isn’t the ideal solution for teachers in a studio apartment (typically termed one-rooms in Konglish), teaching at home is a reliable option for many folks. If you have at least two rooms in your house, and can keep it tidy, then bring your clients over!
You’ll want to set an expectation that it’s a professional English environment, so when I mean tidy, I mean TIDY!!! You can also make some small alterations to your facility to make it appear much more professional. Just visit your local Daiso or shop online. You should have a laptop, mini white board, notebooks, and stationary equipment at your ready. Look out for my other article in the future where I explain how to completely transform your apartment into a study space.
Cafes are the great equalizer in Korea. Every block. Every alley. Koreans are caffeine addicted and they are more than happy to visit their favorite bean breweries.
Although, some English learners are absolutely frightened to speak in public, with their peers surrounding them. You might be able to ease them into this new environment. But for many other students, they might not like it. You might be surprised to find some of your students unenrolling from your class due to this. They might not directly reference the cafes or publis spaces as their main reason, but it’s definitely a possible factor.
At Study Rooms
This is the go to standard for freelance tutors and English teachers around Korea. Study rooms are just as they sound. You go to a facility, rent a small room, and teach a handful of students inside of your rented space. The hourly fee is usually 10,000 krw. Many of the “not quite so legal” teachers work in these facilities, but many other legal tutors do as well.
They are extremely professional. It's really not uncommon to find tutors and study groups inside of these spaces. However, one of the downsides is that you'll be conducting class right next door to competitors.
Rent a Hagwon
Now this is probably the most unlikely scenario for many of you out there, but I’ve heard a tale or two of Native English Speakers forming friendships with hagwon owners, and being allowed to teach inside of their friend’s school.
These relationships need to be cemented in contracts and terms. Even if it’s an unofficial form, that simply lists out expectations for each party (you and your friend who owns the hagwon) you need to do this. If you don’t, not only will the typically problems of doing business with friends find themselves lobbed on your feet… but you’ll also be in a weird cross-cultural mixup, where rarely the foreigner wins.
Visit Their Work
Maybe you’ve landed a corporate client who will allow you to instruct at his office. Whilethis imight sound like a great solution to your broke-freelancer-self, it’s not very cost effective. Imagine all the time on the subway, buses, and taxis. You’ll be commuting hours every week, standing next to shouting halmanis and frantic businessmenon the subway. Not only is that an uncomfortable affair, it costs time. During that same time, you could be teaching at home, back to back lessons, and find that your hourly rate is much better than it would be commuting to private gigs.
If you include the cost of your commuting time, transportation fees, and a little bit extra on top for it being a general pain int he ass, and you’re client still agrees to pay... Well that’s awesome. But that will rarely ever be the case.
Visit Their Home
I hate this. More than anything. I’ve found that visiting a learner’s home completely destroys any professional perception they might have. It might start with something subtle. They’ll wear a blanket in the classroom. Or something a little more flagrant, like using the first few minutes of class to clean up the mess left by their children. Those small indescretions might not seem like much, but they set a precedent that your time and your class aren’t meant to be taken as seriously as some other teachers. So when they have any problems, complaints, or dissatisfaction with your class, they’ll consider other English teachers who are in more professional environments as superior.
I’ve actually lost private studetns this way. Only to have them enroll at my hagwon where I actually teach full time.
How much to charge
That might sound crazy, but it’s true. You ned to charge a lot of money for your time. More than what the Korean tutors charge. More than what the other English teachers in your area. I’ve heard of people charging as much as 500,000 krw per month, for a class that meets twice a week. If you have at least 4 people in each class, and 4 courses available per week, you could hypothetically earn $8,000/month.
Now, that’s unlikely to happen to you. For a variety of reasons. Classes will never stay at full capacity for more than a few months. Students’ lives change. There are other priorities for them, and your English class goes on the back burner. And to be fair, 300,000 krw is one o fthe highest prices I’ve heard for small classes,
I’ll tell you how I made my money.
I charged 200,000 krw per month for class. I set my class maximum at 4 students. I divided my courses into two different groups that will meet either Monday & Wednesday, or Tuesday & Thursday. Everyday I teach hour long classes, after I finished my public school job. From 6-8 pm.
That’s 2 classes everyday. And since they come twice a week, that means that I have 4 different actual courses. So, 4 courses (my Mon. & Wed block, and Tues. & Thurs. block) multiplied by a class maximum enrollment of 4 students, multiplied by 200,000 krw…
That’s $3,200 per month.
Not so bad, right?
Now… I never had maximum enrollment, like I said. And once I hit my stride, my actual revenue numbers were about $2,000-$3,000, but that took 8 months at the minimum.
In any case, you can easily see how you can easily make more money than you would at your full time hagwon job by teaching on the side.
Any more than that, and I start seeing attendance drop, and eventually they quit. They’re dissatisfied at that many students for the type of conversation classes i provide.
That's it. This is how ESL teachers are making great money on the side. And this is how you should too. It doesn't take much. Just a bit of networking skills and getting your name out there. If you need any more help, make sure you check out our other posts, where I go in depth on how to develop all of these strategies.
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