PT.1: PICKING A PLACE & PAPERWORK
Want to teach English abroad? In some cases, all you need is a college degree, fluency in English, and a desire to travel and teach.
The first thing you must do is pick a country, of course! My wife, Gabrielle, and I chose South Korea because 1) it’s one of the top-paying nations right now for English teachers, 2) it offers many benefits such as paid airfare, a furnished apartment, severance pay, and cheap airfare if we want to travel elsewhere in Asia during our breaks, and 3) because we have an interest in Asian culture and felt Korea would be a good mixture of Asian and Western culture (don’t wanna jump in too fast!).
When deciding on a country, try to talk to people who have been there. If you don’t have friends who have been where you want to go, find some people and information online. There are multiple expat (short for “expatriate:” someone living in a country in which they were not born) websites such as Anglo Info that provide information on the economy, demographics, history, cultural norms, education, healthcare, cost of living, et al. for the country in which you are interested.
It would be helpful to sit down (with your spouse if applicable) and research cities in the country in which you wish to work before you do anything else. Find a city that is the right size, location, climate, and culture for your personality. We chose Changwon, South Korea, due to its size (around 1 million people), its climate (a few cold months, but mostly mild: between 45-70°F), its geographical location (near mountains — which means mountain biking and hiking, near the ocean — because we love the beach, and near Busan — which means close to a major airport for traveling in our spare time), and the demand for jobs in that city.
(I cannot outline the process for obtaining a visa to teach for every country; so from here on out, I will be describing only the process for an American moving to South Korea to teach English, as that is our experience.)
After you decide on a city in South Korea (congratulations!) in which you would like to teach, you have a few options.
Some Americans opt for teaching in an English village: an English immersion compound (for lack of a better word). Korean students are sent to English villages in nearby cities in order to immerse themselves in English without having to leave the country. It’s the poor man’s foreign exchange program, and it keeps money inside Korean borders. This is a semi-recent development and seems to be growing. We did not decide to go this route, but friends who have chosen to work in an English village have done so either through an American college which is connected to a village, or by contacting the village directly. I do not have direct experience with this, but my suggestion would be to pick a city with an English village, then do online research regarding any American affiliates that English village may have.
Another option is to teach in a “hagwon,” or a private school which usually meets after public school lets out. Pay seems to be competitive at hagwons, but the hours are from the afternoon until the evening, rather than morning until afternoon. This may be preferable to some.
The last option of which I am aware (for new teachers) is teaching at a public school. Both hagwons and public schools have listings online (Dave’s ESL Cafe, TeachAway, Morgan Recruiting, or just Google search). Contact a recruiter once you have done the necessary paperwork.
That brings me to the meat of this post: the paperwork. (I would like to add a disclaimer here: what I am sharing is what I have learned so far. I have not yet been overseas and I’m not an expert in anything I have talked about so far. I am sharing what I know at this point and will continue to update with more posts as I learn more.) To teach English in South Korea, you need a specific visa: an E-2 visa. I would do most of the paperwork to obtain an E-2 visa before contacting a recruiter. There are 8 things you need to get an E-2 visa (those things will be listed below, as “items to send to Korean school”, along with instructions on how to obtain them). You can do 7 of them without having a job offer. After completing those 7 things, contact a recruiter and once you are offered the position, you’ll sign a contract — that 8th item you need for an E-2 visa.[Your recruiter and/or employer will give you specific instructions from that point on, but it will likely involve you mailing those documents to your future employer (via a courier service, not USPS, and be sure to get a tracking number!) and that school taking the documents to Korean Immigration to get you a Visa Issuance Number. You fill out this form (E-2 Visa Application) and put the Visa Issuance Number at the top in the appropriate box. You’ll take this filled-out application, along with the items listed below under “items to bring to Korean consulate,” to the closest Korean consulate to you. It’s preferable to go in person, but obviously everyone cannot do that, so you may also mail it in. Once it’s processed, you’ll receive your visa. Consult with your recruiter/employer regarding your next step.]
ITEMS TO SEND TO KOREAN SCHOOL TO RECEIVE VISA ISSUANCE NUMBER FROM KOREAN IMMIGRATION:
1. Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Background Check
get started on this one early an FBI Background Check (also known as an “Identity History Summary”) can take anywhere from a few weeks up to 4 months. You never know, so get a head start. For instance, right now the FBI website says they installed a new IT system and are experiencing delays processing Identity History Summaries. The message says they may take 11-13 weeks. Get started early, but not too early: these background checks will only be accepted by Korean Immigration and the Korean Consulate for up to 6 months after they are processed, so make sure you time it out right.
To obtain this background check, you will need 3 things: a fingerprint card, an FBI background check request form, and a cashier’s check or filled-out credit card payment form for $18. Go to a local law enforcement office and ask for a fingerprint technician or law enforcement officer to take your prints (make sure you use the fingerprint card on the FBI website, the first link in this paragraph). Fill out the background check request form. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: when you send the money, fingerprints, and request form in the mail be sure to include a note in the envelope which says, “The requested Identity History Summary will be for use overseas and will be apostillized. Please provide appropriate certification.” The request form has a box which indicates that the background check will be used for overseas work, but include the note to be absolutely positive that the FBI knows that. They will seal and sign the background check they give you, so that the State Department can apostillize it. The State Department will not apostillize your background check without that certification from the FBI. [Apostillization is an extra step of security created in the Hague Convention. Participating nations apostillize documents to certify them; it’s basically one government guaranteeing authenticity to another government.]
Send payment, prints, and form to
FBI CJIS Division – Summary Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
When you receive your background check/identity history (same thing) back in the mail, fill out this State Department form and mail it along with the sealed and signed FBI background check to
Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
44132 Mercure CIR PO BOX 1206,
Sterling, VA 20166-1206
to receive an apostille on your FBI background check.
If you’re near Washington DC, you can also bring them in person to the US Department of State Office of Authentications.
after you get your background check apostilled, make a few photocopies of it. The Korean Consulate may require it, and it’s just a good idea to have photocopies of important documents filed away.
2. notarized and apostillized copies of your university/college diploma
this must be from accredited 3 or 4 year university or college. Original diplomas are not accepted — they must be copies. You must first have a notary notarize that your copies are authentic copies of your original diploma (you can find a notary near you here or go to your bank, there’s usually notaries available for free there). Get two of these notarized copies (both of which must also be apostillized), because you’ll be sending one to your employer and some Korean consulates also require them. Then, bring those notarized copies to your local courthouse or click here to find the place closest to you that will apostillize documents. The notary and apostille certification must come from the same state.
3. copies of sealed, stamped and signed university/college transcripts
this may or may not be necessary. contact your recruiter for specific details. some recruiters may require a copy for immigration and a copy for the consulate, or just one transcript for the consulate. It depends on which consulate you go to and the current immigration laws in Korea, so consult with your employer or recruiter. If you do need transcripts, ask your university or college registrar’s office for your transcripts to be sealed and signed:
It is a good idea to order a copy or two of your transcripts (untampered, sealed, and signed!) from your college ASAP, just so you have them when/if you need them. They do not expire.
4. a passport
this seems like a no-brainer. However, there are a few things you should check to make sure your passport is valid. The passport should have an expiration date at least 6 months out from your intended travel date. In other words, if you visit Korea in January, your passport must be valid at least through the end of July. It’s a good idea to, if your passport is going to expire within the next year or so, go ahead and renew it while you’re here in the States. It’s easier than trying to get a new passport while out of the country. This can take a while, depending on the backlog. It took me over six months to get a passport in 2007. If you absolutely need it ASAP, you can pay to expedite the process, but it’s best to avoid that situation. Also, make sure your passport has two blank pages for your E-2 visa. Unless you’re already a world traveler (if so, you probably don’t need my advice!), this shouldn’t be an issue. When the time comes, you will send a photocopy of the information pages (the ones with your photo and information) to your employer, not your actual passport.
5. passport sized photos
contact your recruiter or employer for how many (probably 4). Your employer will take these passport photos to Korean Immigration. Not sure what they need them for. These photos need to be less than 6 months old, so you will need a time stamp on the back of the photos.
again, don’t ask me why Immigration needs this, but you’ll need to send your employer a signed copy of your resume, with all your contact information.
7. health statement
download two copies of the Korean government’s health assessment here. One goes to immigration and one goes to the consulate. Your answers on the two copies should be identical and honest. You will be required to get a physical within a few months after arriving in Korea. Drugs are not as accepted in Korea as they are in the States, so make sure you’re clean and under no circumstance bring recreational drugs of any kind with you to Korea. Even medical marijuana is outlawed in South Korea. You do not have to be in possession: police can test your hair and urine on the spot and arrest you. Penalties are severe. If you have a medical condition, I would suggest asking your doctor for advice on what to do when in Korea for medication. Traveling may not be appropriate for everyone. Consult with your doctor and your employer if you have any questions or concerns.
8. signed employment contract
this, obviously, must be done once an offer of employment has been extended. send all of these 8 items to your employer and they will take them to Korean Immigration. You will then receive a Visa Issuance Number.
ITEMS TO BRING (OR SEND IF YOU MUST) TO KOREAN CONSULATE TO RECEIVE E-2 VISA
1. Korean E-2 Visa Application Form
here. Be sure to fill out the “Visa Issuance Number” box at the top. if you have any questions about what to fill out for “classification,” “occupation,” “address in Korea,” or anything like that, ask your recruiter for the specific answer.
your actual passport this time, not a photocopy. the visa needs to be stamped on it, so make sure there’s two pages (as in, two blank pages facing each other, like pages 2 and 3 of a book) available for the visa.
3. passport photo
you should have extras from earlier. the Korean Consulate requires one to obtain an E-2 visa, but just to be safe, bring two.
you may or may not need this, depending on the particular consulate. thankfully, you’re prepared and already ordered two from your registrar’s office, so if you do need it, you have it!
again, you might not need this, but you’re not taking any risks, so you have an extra copy, notarized and apostillized, and you’re bringing it with you just in case.
6. FBI background check
notarized and apostillized photocopy of the FBI background check (the original was sent to your employer, which they took to immigration, but you made a photocopy in case the consulate also requested it!)
7. health assessment
identical to the one you sent to your school in the first step, which they took to immigration.
cash or money order. Fee is $45, but call your consulate before going to make sure the fee hasn’t changed and that you have all the documents which they require. (Find the Korean Consulate closest to you here.) Be sure you are getting a multi-entry visa so you can visit other countries while living in Korea. They will probably do this by default, but be sure.
The Korean Consulate will provide you with an E-2 stamp if everything checks out! Congratulations! Now contact your employer/recruiter for the next step (which will likely be establishing travel plans if you haven’t already). Have fun!
A few notes:
- a special thanks to Chelsea and Jeremy Diamond (Lost in Travels), Trae and Christi Childs (t&c), Dave’s ESL Cafe, Morgan Recruiting, Footprints Recruiting, and many other friends and resources for the information and the encouragement to begin our adventure!
- my wife and I are in the process of filling out paperwork to move to South Korea. We have not been extended a formal job offer yet, but are doing what we can in preparation. Information provided is exhaustive to my knowledge at this point, but surely is not objectively exhaustive (comments which clarify or contribute are welcome!). I will continue to provide updates re: what we learn along the way.
- the featured photo, of Seoul, South Korea, is not mine; it is a stock photo. I do intend to take some quality photos in Korea, however, so be on the lookout!