In order to work legally in Korea, you must first obtain the appropriate employment visa. The Korean government tightly controls visa issuance for employment, and sometimes teachers have been unable to obtain visas. A person who wishes to work in Korea must obtain the visa outside Korea. You can, however, come to Korea on a tourist visa, obtain sponsorship documents, and apply for the visa in a nearby country. Depending on the job and other factors, it can take anywhere from one week to two months to obtain the appropriate visa. A teacher arriving in Korea with a teaching visa must register with Korean Immigration and obtain a residence certificate and re-entry permit within 90 days of entry.
Employers, on behalf of Korean government agencies processing your case, may briefly need your passport for visa or permit purposes. Despite what some employers may tell you, you are not required to hand over your passport to your employer for the duration of your stay. It is your passport – hang onto it.
Korean Immigration offices require the same documentation that was used to obtain the visa, so you should make plenty of copies. The Embassy has a complete listing of the various visa categories and fees, as well as contact information for Korean Immigration offices and for Korean consulates in the United States. Visa categories and fees may change from time to time, so they should always be confirmed with Immigration or a consulate.
Most English instructors are granted either an E-2 visa (conversation instructor), E-1 visa (professor at educational institution higher than a junior college), or E-5 visa (professional employment with a public relations firm or corporation). Dependents of diplomats stationed in Seoul can work as English teachers by obtaining a work permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This can be done through the Embassy personnel office. An individual who is married to a Korean citizen can also acquire permanent residency and the right to work under the F-2 category.
In order to obtain both the visa and the residence permit (which must be obtained within 90 days of entry), the following documents must be submitted to either a Korean consulate or the Korean Immigration office:
- Notarized sponsorship guarantee form (shin won pojunso);
- Contract, no less than one year and no more than two years (ko young kyeyakso); and
- certificate of employment (chaejik junmyungso).
These documents are supplied by the employer and should be obtained at least one month in advance to allow for mistakes and other mishaps. In addition, the authorities will probably require the following:
- Statement of purpose;
- Passport-size photos;
- Original college diploma plus notarized copies;
- Transcripts; and
- References or substantiating documents from the foundation, institute, or organization you are working for.
The Ministry of Education, which must also approve the visa and the residence permit, requires English teachers to submit Embassy-notarized copies of their résumés with their applications for residence permits. This can be accomplished quickly. Please see our website for the current notarization fees.
Korean Immigration must approve changes in employment. This is accomplished by leaving Korea and entering under a new visa with a new sponsor. Changing your employer while in Korea is quite difficult and requires written consent from the original sponsor. Even with such consent, many teachers have found it nearly impossible to affect such a change while in Korea. Some have even been arrested and deported for overstaying their original visas while still involved in trying to change employers within the country. Questions on this procedure should be directed to the nearest Immigration office or Korean consulate.
Some Americans have run into serious legal problems with Korean Immigration because they either work as English teachers while in Korea on tourist visas or they accept part-time employment or private classes without obtaining the proper permission. Violation of Korean immigration laws can result in severe penalties including imprisonment, fines of up to 100,000 won (US $100) for each day of overstay, or deportation with a ban on re-entry for up to two years. It is your responsibility to understand local laws and obey them.
If you violate Korean visa laws, the Embassy cannot assist you other than to provide you with a list of attorneys.