Teaching in Korea: Guide to the Visa Application Process

It’s not the most exciting topic, but if you’re looking for a guide on how to apply to teach in South Korea then look no further!

Just lately every time I go to the bathroom and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I catch a glisten shimmering from my head in the light. It is a glisten belonging to… my resident grey hairs! I’ve heard that if you pluck the damn things then six more will come to their funeral (Thanks Sam Jones – Sex & The City!) I’m trying to reassure myself that becoming a young Silver Fox would suit me but I’m still not convinced.
I’ve had to sort visas for moving overseas before when I moved to the US and spent a year in Australia but the process for moving to Korea has been…. testing, to say the least.

This article focuses on the application process for British Nationals wishing to teach in Korea to try and give you some support on the process so that you don’t pull out all of your hair with stress and rage. It also works on the assumption that you have a position lined up (If you don’t, don’t fear! I’ll help you with that part next 😉 )

The Requirements

1. At minimum you must have a Bachelor’s Degree in any discipline in order to teach in Korea.

2. Teaching qualifications at a minimum of 120 hours of study are often preferred (TESOL/TEFL/CELTA). Personally, I have a 140 hour TEFL comprised of 120 hours online, and 20 hours in a classroom. If you do not have this at the time of applying, you can complete it in parallel to the application process and work at your own pace.

3. Previous teaching experience will also be an advantage although not strictly required.
At the time of my application, I had only one month’s experience of volunteering at an Orphanage in Thailand four years’ prior and still managed to receive four offers for teaching positions in Seoul.

Overview of Documents Required

Copy of Degree Certificate notarised and legalised
Basic Disclosure Criminal Background Check notarised
2 x Copies of Degree Transcripts
2 x Passport Photos
Photocopy of Passport Information Page
Health Certificate Form
Copy of Signed Contract

Preparing the Paperwork & Supporting Documentation

This is the lengthiest part of the process and you really ought to set about getting everything together before you receive a job offer rather than be rushing about frantically when a school is expecting you to be in Korea on a certain date (as I foolishly did).

Copy of Degree Transcripts
The school you will work for will require a sealed copy of your degree transcripts and sometimes the Korean consulate in London will also so it is prudent to get two copies.
You can simply call up your University’s Academic Registry to order these. The transcripts must be sealed when they meet the hands of the School or Consulate with the envelope stamped by the issuing University.
I presume that the cost of this could vary from University to University but mine was £15 for the first set of transcripts, and £2 for each additional set.

Criminal Background Check

Apply via Basic Disclosure Scotland. You can scan and submit all supporting documentation online and pay the £25 application fee. The advised lead time for receiving this back is fourteen days but mine came back in about ten.
The criminal background check must be no older than six months old at the time of visa application.

Copy of Degree Certificate Must be Notarised

I get shudders and throw up a little in my mouth now every time I hear the word “Notarised” since this part of the process was such a ball ache (pardon my French).

The Degree Certificate must be notarised by a Solicitor or a Notary Public. Though the University that issued it can technically notarise a document, this is not sufficient in this process or for the next stage (sending documents to be legalised by the Foreign Office) and your application will be rejected if you have not had the document notarised by the correct parties.

Quotations for document notarisation vary wildly from place to place so speak with a few Solicitors and Notaries in your area to ensure that you are not being ripped off. The quotes that I received varied from £40 all the way up to £150… Clearly I am in the wrong job!

Some Solicitors do not offer this service so to find a Notary in your area, take a look at the Notaries Society website.

Please also note that Korean Immigration no longer accept original Degree Certificates, so it must be a copy. Once you have made an appointment with a Notary Public that can assist you, you need to take:

1. The original document
2. The copy to be notarised
3. A form of photo ID (Passport or Driving Licence)
4. A proof of address (Bill/Bank Statement)

The Notary will check both documents and sign to certify that the document is a true copy of the original, before adding a stamp and a fancy little red seal to the copy.

Criminal Background Check must be signed

Frustratingly, Basic Disclosure send your criminal background check to you unsigned so your options are either:

1. Send the document back to Basic Disclosure Scotland explaining that you need the document for Korean immigration and requesting a signatory and a statement from them which explains that the document is official. (Cheapest option as they will sign this for free but perhaps not preferable if you are in a rush)


2. Get the document notarised by an official. This is as per the process above, however the Foreign Office and Korean Immigration are more lenient in who can sign a Criminal Background Check, with this also including Chartered Accountants and other respectable public figures. (Check the UK Government advice for more information on this)

Sending your documents to be Legalised

These Koreans are thorough! So, the notary confirms the documents to be a true copy of the original, and the Foreign Office’s legalisation or “apostille” validates the signature of the notary.

This process is unbelievably smooth. You may think that sending documents off to a huge government department is going to be a lengthy process but most legalisation requests are turned around in 48 hours from receipt of the documents.

This can be broken down into the following steps:

1. Visit the Government website and fill in the Application form for documents to be legalised.

2. Pay the Application fee for legalisation (£30 per document x 2 documents plus £5.50 for return courier service = £65)

3. Print the Application form, and your e-mail receipt that confirms you have made a payment for the service and send recorded or special delivery to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office along with the documents to be legalised.

My documents were back in three days – slightly longer than usual as I was organising this at a peak time (July), however the FCO helpline were extremely friendly and helpful.

4. FCO confirm documents dispatched via DX secure courier.

What arrives back with you is your document with a flimsy crappy bit of paper attached to the back of it. Don’t worry, that’s the right thing.

Send Documents to Korea

Wipe that sweat from your head, sit down and pour yourself a strong glass of Gin my friend because the hard part is over!

To confirm, you need to send the below documents to Korea:

  • Copy of Degree Certificate notarised and legalised
  • Basic Disclosure Criminal Background Check notarised and legalised
  • One copy of Degree Transcripts
  • 2 x Passport Photos
  • Photocopy of Passport Information Page
  • Health Certificate Form
  • Copy of Signed Contract

Send documents via a courier such as DHL. For your own sanity, it is worth paying a couple of quid extra for the tracking number. Imagine the horror if you were to lose any of the documents now and have to repeat the previous stages. I’d have killed myself.

Employer issues Visa Issuance Number

Once your employer receives your paperwork, they must take it to the Embassy in Seoul and request your Visa Issuance Number – a.k.a your golden ticket for getting the visa printed in your passport in the UK.
This process should typically take 7 – 10 days however keep in mind that it can be delayed during peak times (July/August) or due to “K Time”.

What is “K Time” you ask? Koreans often have a more blasé approach to timings and it is not surprising for things to be done frantically at the last minute (as you will also find to be the case when you arrive in Korea). As someone who likes to organise things as much in advance as is possible, this was a little stressful for me.

After eagerly waiting almost seven days for my VIN with my Employer assuring me it was coming “soon”, I was advised that my paperwork hadn’t been taken to the Embassy right away despite my flight date fast approaching. Why? It was holiday season and he wanted to go to the beach.

Visa Issuance Number Arrives

Armed with your Visa Issuance Number, you can visit the Korean Consulate in London and request your visa.
This isn’t a formal or interrogative procedure as you may expect of a visa interview. Quite frankly, it’s a pretty straightforward drop off and pick up process.

For this you will need:

  • The completed visa form with the visa issuance number. 
  • Your original passport with at least 6 months validity and 2 empty pages for processing
  • Visa application Fee 
  • 1 passport photo
  • Check list for E2 visa form 
  • Self addressed pre-paid special delivery envelope (if you wish for it to be sent back to you via courier rather than post) 
  • Sealed University Transcripts (I didn’t need these in the end, but I’ve heard different from other applicants so it’s better to be prudent)

You can download the relevant forms from the Korean Consulate website.
The process takes five days once your visa has been dropped off, or seven days (including delivery) if you wish for a courier service to deliver it back to you.

Fly to Korea! 

Visa in hand, you’re ready to go!
There is still an element of sorting to be done upon arrival – health check, bank account, etc, but you’re now making the first step on your exciting new adventure!

Hope that this post can be of some help to you and minimise number of grey hairs accrued during the process! If you have any questions on any of the paperwork or specific parts of the process, do feel free to get in touch.


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

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