Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Private Tutoring in South Korea: Is it safe?

Here's the question:

I understand that teaching privates for E-2 holders is illegal and lucrative, yet many people do it anyway. I have quite a bit of debt and some financial obligations back home, and teaching privates or some other form of supplemental income would help me alot. How often do they do private tutoring crackdowns? What is the general safety of this practice?

I was wondering when I was going to get a question about privates.

Private tutoring is one of those things that nearly everyone seems to have done, speaks relatively openly about and is paid very well for. Sometimes people are approached on the streets, in subways or restaurants and other times, parents of students and adults in class ask for some extra help. Koreans are hungry for tutors in all subjects and many are willing to pay big bucks for it. Some might wonder if there is such a demand for it, then why has the government taken such a strong stance against it? Why not regulate it? They have. They're called hagwons.

I could opine if I wanted, but much has already been written about it. The gist is that the government has been working very hard recently and over the past decade to level the playing field so that all students and households have an equal shot at succeeding in school. There's also the growing concern that education costs are linked to the rapidly decreasing birthrate as well. Again, if you're interested in that, I'd suggest digging around Google and the K-blogosphere as nearly everyone has added their angle to the story.

As you know, it is illegal and there have been the occasional crackdowns and threats from the government, but in general it's pretty safe. I "officially" state that you should not do it since it is illegal and getting caught is always a possibility. If the police do catch up with you, then you can expect to be jailed, fined or deported. From time to time you'll also hear about small groups of citizens who band together in an effort to snuff out illegal teachers by propositioning them and then turning around and calling the police. (Think that's bad? Look at what the crazies over at Anti-English Spectrum do.) There's also the lame people who try to sell their privates (pun intended). I couldn't find any ads for them today, but just for the extreme levels of their douchiness for trying to squeeze cash out of other expats, we should all ignore these guys.

Bottom line is that many Koreans want tutors, they'll pay well (usually around 50,000/hr) and that's good for teachers (and them if you're effective), but if you are really set on tutoring privately, only accept gigs from people you know or from solid recommendations. Other than that, it's not worth searching. If they land in your lap, well, then there you go.

There are, however, legal routes to go if you want to make some solid extra cash. If you really love working all day, well, then get two jobs. It's possible. You can teach adults on the split shift and do an afternoon school gig in the middle. It's a lot of hours, but you'll be pulling over 5-6k a month, plus benefits and the potential for double housing cash. Or you can teach at a kindergarten place in the morning and early afternoon and then a hagwon till late into the night. There are plenty of ways to make solid LEGAL cash. Of course, if you're on the E2 then you'll need to get permission from the school who sponsors your visa. That can be tricky sometimes, but as long as the two mediums aren't vying for the same market, then you should have no problems.

You could also consider getting involved in some aspects of the entertainment industry, but that's for another question and another post.

In the end, teaching privately is a lucrative business and can make you some big bucks. However, it could also end in deportation. If you have the F2 visa, then you can teach privately, but you're supposed to register with the government and report all earnings so you can pay taxes on them.

Making and saving money is important and you will be tempted to privately tutor. If you do, then that's your business. Just know that it could lead to problems.

Has anybody been caught in the game?

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.


Chris in South Korea said...

The Expat is spot on as usual :) Officially, yes, teaching privates is currently illegal... but too many things are pronounced illegal whether they violate some actual moral guideline or not...

If you're here for money, then yes, privates are the way to go. I'll share a brief story of a teacher I knew - who worked from 7am to 10pm nonstop between work and traveling to and fro six days a week to make all her private lessons. If you really are hard up for the money, then so be it. Half the reason you probably came to Korea had something to do with things other than money, though. It's a wonderful life out there - traveling, seeing the sights, etc. etc. - don't use all your energy working.

The Expat said...

I think Chris makes an excellent point and I wanted to add onto to it a little. I fully understand ones need for money and, as a person who has worked 14 hour days for months at a time, it is certainly possible. But may I suggest that you budget well and perhaps plan for more than one year in Korea.

You really will miss a lot of this wonderful country.

Anonymous said...

I've been in Korea for almost two years and haven't succumbed to the allure of teaching privates yet. (Then again, I've only been asked about it once or twice, so it's not exactly a constant temptation.)

On the topic of making extra money, even with my 'standard' hagwon salary I still managed to send $10,000 back home in my first year. Between one's employer handling housing costs and the cheap price of many Korean dishes it's very easy to get by without doing private lessons. Or at least carefully screening who you do work with.

The Expat said...

It's all about what you make of it. If you want to come to Korea and live like you were still in college, then by all means, go right ahead. If you want to save, then control will be a must. Thanks for the comments.

cash gifting leads said...

Private tutoring is according to me is safe in presence of parents.

Anonymous said...

hey everyone. I'm Patrick, I'm in the Philippines right now but I'm British. I'm only 17 but I'm currently 3rd year college since there's no middle school here. Well, I'm planning on shifting to another course and I'm planning on going to Korea for college. Well my Korean girlfriend said I can get students to tutor easily and get well paid. My question is, how strict is the government when it comes to private tutoring? And what is required for me to become a legal tutor? Can I still be in college and be a legal tutor or do I need a degree for that?

Last thing, my girlfriend said I can choose between a two year course and a four year course in Korea, how much more will the four year course benefit me in terms of getting students to tutor or getting a job?

If you reply to this, please send the reply to:

Mangy said...
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Mangy said...
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HBIC said...

With an F4 Visa, would I be able to privately tutor legally?

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Kaela said...

What advice would you give for a student? All the information I find about tutoring is related to those who are English teachers. I'm very good at tutoring English, have experience and I'm TESL certified so I feel that i'm qualified and can be really helpful to students of all ages but it's a lot harder for students to make money in Korea because we're not supposed to work more than 20 hours a week. I'm self-financed and have to pay my living expenses and tuition on my own and many people told me to try tutoring...i know for Korean students it's totally OK, and I could tutor other subjects (if I were good at them) but English is the best that I've. I think if other students are legally allowed to tutor math and science or spanish or french i should be allowed to tutor English..why is it only illegal for English? What can you recommend so I can keep paying for school without spending all of my time working instead of studying like I came here to do?

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malachi said...

I'm curious, if you can legally tutor privately how would one make such advertisement? I have F4 visa and I may have access to social insurance number (it's obsolete but maybe it's still in the system) needed to sign up virtually any Korean websites.

I tutor in North America often, so I was curious how I might do the same in Korea.