Anyone wanting to teach English in South Korea, or anywhere else in the world, will need a working visa. I will briefly outline some of the different visa types which are needed to to work as an ESL teacher in South Korea, as well as provide some insight as to what they really mean.
Firstly, there are several different types of visas that South Korea issues. They have an E2 visa (the most common visa for foreign teachers) an F3 visa (a visa allocated to the spouse of an E2 visa holder – please note that you can not teach if you hold an F3 visa), and an F5 visa (an F5 visa is a F3 visa with the added condition that the visa holder may teach English).
A tourist, or visitors visa, is also issued to those who are only in the country for non-work purposes. Several people have been able to travel to South Korea, enter the country on a visitors visa, look for and secure a job as an ESL teacher and then get their E2 visa application started while they are still in Korea. It must however be noted that these visitors visas are for either 30 days, or 60 days long (depending on your country of nationality). One can not actually get an E2 visa in South Korea, and will have to travel to another country to get the visa. I got my E2 visa while in South Africa, but some visa applicants travel from South Korea to Japan to finalize the visa process.
Currently, I hold an E2 visa, and my wife has an F5 visa. Both visas are valid for one year from the date of issue, unless they are lengthened by Korean Immigration. Once the visa expires you are given a period of one month to leave the country, and many teachers use this time to tour Korea for a last time. Regarding my wife’s visa, she had an F3 visa (also known as a spouse visa) and when she got a position as an English teacher in Gyeongju her school director assisted in amending her visa to an F5.
Please note that you are not allowed to teach English without the correct visa. It is illegal and if you are found to be in violation of the law you will be fined at the least, or possibly deported. The immigration officials in South Korea are rather tough, and should not be taken lightly. Fines often range from 500,000 Korean Won to 1,000,000 Korean Won (for the teacher), and from 1,000,000 Korean Won to 2,000,000 Korean Won for the school. Even if your school director insists that it is okay for you to start teaching, please be aware that without the correct documentation in place you face the risk of deportation.
Once you have your E2 or F5 visa and you are in Korea, you will need to take a medical test in order to get your official identification card (or “alien registration card”). The medical test is quite a procedure and was definitely an experience for me. Your school director should be assisting you in every stage of the visa process, so you do not need to worry too much about how to actually go about all of this. After Korean immigration has all of your documentation, you should be able to collect your alien card. The alien card is very important as it is your primary form of identification in South Korea, and is used for opening bank accounts and getting any type of contract.
I have written more articles which go in to further detail on the medical test, the visa application process and the alien registration card. You can either go to my blog which has extra information about South Korea on it, or you could alternatively browse the other articles I have written.