Quitting Your Job In Korea

By in Asia, immigration, Seoul, South Korea, Travel Tips, visa issues, visas, working abroad
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A few months ago I talked about how excited I was to be moving to South Korea. I was looking for a positive life change, going to a place where I could be creative and save money and travel. You may also remember I mentioned that I was kinda wary of it. I tried convincing myself it was just nerves and that it was okay to be afraid. I really should have just listened to my gut. Always listen to your gut.

14 hour work day. Cool.

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Long story short… I hated the job. I felt I couldn’t keep up, I was told I didn’t have the right personality, I broke down a few times, I was given more responsibilities than I could possibly handle during my working hours… the list could go on and on. It wasn’t just one thing, but a series of little and big things that began to pile onto one another until I decided I just couldn’t do it.

I'm def not leaving this school because of the kids. 💙 #curlyinkorea #esl

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Breaking a contract in Korea can be difficult and incredibly scary. Your visa is tied to whomever you work for, so by putting in my 60 days notice (as per the contract), I was essentially severing myself from my current visa in 60 days time.  Two months may seem like a healthy chunk of time, especially in comparison to the standard 2 weeks notice of home, but it goes by extremely quickly. However, it’s plenty of time to find another job, there’s a plethora here in Seoul… right? Well, a week later I was told I’d actually be leaving in 30 days. A bit more of a time crunch.

My boss was perfectly in the right in cutting that time. I agreed to it because I even stated in my resignation letter that a mutually agreed upon date of an earlier dismissal would be okay. 30 days is the legal requirement an employer must give you in Korea. At first I was like, hey, freedom! And then reality sunk in. I had a month to find not only a new job, but a new place to live. In a country where I spoke a handful of sentences of the language and I’d only been a resident of for four months.

When you are to end your visa in Korea, especially an E2 (for foreign language teachers), you have three options:

  1. Get another job that requires an E2 visa and just do an E2-E2 visa transfer.
  2. Pack your bags and skedaddle, if you want to come back to work you need to go through the full process again.
  3. Switch to a D10 visa, which is a job seeker’s visa and allows you six months in the country to find work.

An E2-E2 and E2-D10 transfer have different sets of documents you need and fees. However, you won’t need to get a new CRC and apostille or anything. That’s the plus. When you find a job again you can just easily transfer from a D10 to an E2 (or E7 if you’re lucky).

In order to do option 1 or 3, you need this magical piece of paper called a Letter of Release. This paper is your key to getting another job in Korea because it means your employer releases you from your visa with them and will allow you to get a new one. Without this letter you cannot do that. Some Immigration Officers will let you get a D10 without a LOR (because employers are infamous for not granting them because they’re angry you’re leaving, and they’re under no legal obligation to do so), but it honestly depends on who you get.

The best way to get a Letter of Release is to be as professional, kind, and suck-upish as possible. It depends on your school really, some will outright say they will give you one (like mine did), others you’ll have to sweet talk. Some will never mention it and you’ll have to squeeze the mere thought of it from their angry angry brains. Provided they agree, you will get your letter on your final day of work. Make sure you find your supervisor and have them give it to you. Stick around until they relinquish it if necessary. Thankfully mine was fine and dandy, I was wished luck and I was sent on my way. Not everyone is so lucky, but if you want to stay in Korea, the LOR is your golden ticket. Make sure you get it.

Forever interviewing.

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If you are planning to break contract, here are some important things to consider and remember:

  1.  Don’t feel bad. A LOT of people do it for a LOT of reasons. You have your own.
  2.  Record EVERY meeting you have with your supervisors. It’s legal to audio record people here without their knowledge and it will help you should you need to make a case against your employer for whatever reason. But be sure that you ALSO speak during the recording. You need to be part of the recorded conversation.
  3. In your resignation letter include the date 60 days from the day you give them the letter, this is the final day you will work. Make sure it’s there and have a copy of the letter at home. Again, just in case. And make sure your supervisor TAKES the letter.
  4. Do not sign ANYTHING until you understand every part of it. Have questions? LOFT (Legal Office for Foreign Teachers) is a great resource for foreign teachers.
  5. It is ILLEGAL for your employer to demand money back because you quit. This includes airline tickets (unless you quit before 6 months AND it is stipulated in the contract that you have to pay it back under those specific conditions), future recruiting fee to get a replacement, etc. I didn’t know this until after I agreed to pay back my plane ticket, and it didn’t say in my contract that I’d have to. It’s not allowed. At all. It’s against immigration law.  Article 20 (Prohibition of Predetermination of Nonobservance) No employer shall enter into a contract by which a penalty or indemnity for possible damages incurred from breach of a labor contract is predetermined. However, remember that Letter of Release? You have to pick and choose your battles. I could have made a fuss, told them it was illegal and I wouldn’t do it, but then I could have kissed my LOR goodbye. Maybe not, maybe they would have backed down with a threat to report them to the Labor Board (Open 09:00-18:00 M-F, Dial 1350). I’ll never know, and I was too afraid to try, especially after the fact (I would have had little-to-no case because I agreed to pay it. Womp womp).

I hadn’t landed quite in a “Hagwon horror story,” but I wasn’t in a place where people were happy to work (I was the 9th staff member to leave since March if that gives you any indication). So I made the choice to leave. With that has brought both relief and a new set of stresses, but ultimately I am proud of myself for being brave enough to break contract.

That's enough interior decorating for one night. 😴😴😴 #CurlyInKorea

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Thankfully I was able to find a cheap and clean place to live in a nice area and after working on my budget, I will be good to be on a D10 for awhile to think about what my next step will be. I did have another job lined up but… let’s just say that was an actual horror story and will have to wait for another post.

For now I am going to concentrate on writing and seeing if my immediate future will be in Korea or if it’s time to move on and call this a bust. I honestly have no idea, we’ll see which way the wind blows.

Please note that I won’t talk about which school I was at in this or any future post because Korea has pretty hardcore defamation laws, however if you have questions, I am happy to answer. You can comment below or contact me at NERDVENTURISTS(at)GMAIL(dot)COM.

  1. Reply

    Thank you for all the information! This was great to read!

    1. Reply

      I’m glad you found it useful!

  2. Reply

    I’m glad you got out of a bad situation. Do what’s best for you, my dear.

    1. Reply

      Thank you darling <3

  3. Reply

    Good for you! Nothing is worth sticking if it makes you unhappy. Good luck on your job hunt!

    1. Reply

      Thanks so much doll! <3

  4. Reply

    Although I’m not a teacher, I found this incredibly informative! I’ve heard horror stories about teaching here but I’m glad your experience wasn’t too traumatic. Can’t wait for the post about the d-10!

    1. Reply

      I always wondered what it was that you did, haha. Yeah the more I delve into making sure I’m doing everything okay leading up to this, the more horror stories I read. Such a shame :/, ugh. Appointment is on Friday! Hopefully all goes well, haha. Thanks for reading, beautiful! <3

      1. Reply

        ohhh,; I work on the US military base, it’s not very exciting as English teaching but its a job lol ^_^

    • Bam
    • October 7, 2016
    Reply

    Great post. This is my first time on your blog. Sorry to hear your time in Korea wasn’t great. I taught English in the Middle East for 2 years and while there were A LOT of problems with the employers, the students were great and the money really made it worth it. I loved your post about moving to Korea because Japan sounded awesome too. Was it ages ago that you taught there?

    1. Reply

      Well, welcome! Haha. I have heard the money is amazing in the Middle East, but it’s a toss up because of big cultural differences, especially if you’re a woman. Happy overall you did it?

      I taught in Japan a good six years ago, so quite awhile ago. It was a very different experience to my time here in Korea, but I was also a public school teacher then, which is an entirely different ballgame.

        • Bam
        • October 8, 2016
        Reply

        Definitely happy that I did it. Yeah, there’s a big cultural difference in places like KSA but not as much as people expect. There’s always going to be a cultural difference in other places and I really enjoyed myself. Made lots of friends, travelled around and saved a LOT lol

        1. Reply

          Awww that’s great to hear 🙂

  5. This is great information for people considering teaching in SK. Like me! I have read A LOT of blogs about moving to, living, and teaching in SK. This is the first time breaking contract and visa transfers has been mentioned with some advice to back it up. Thank you, thank you!

    1. Reply

      Oh wow, glad it was helpful! Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t write about it because they’re afraid of the defamation laws or don’t want to get in trouble maybe. But it’s info you gotta know! You’re very welcome 🙂

  6. This is a great, and really helpful post! I live in Daegu (hi neighbor!) and although I went the EPIK route, I have quite a few friends who teach at hagwons – one who recently broke contract. There are some good hagwons out there and definitely plenty of the other kind – I think this post will be super helpful for those who choose to leave. I wish you all the best, no matter what the future brings 🙂

    1. Reply

      Heyyy, haha. Yeah, I don’t know a ton of people in happy hagwon positions, I know they’re out there, but it’s a needle in a haystack it seems. Just gotta keep truckin’! Thanks for the well wishes 🙂

  7. Hopefully things work out for you there – I never knew it was so hard and complicated to leave a job in Korea but this guide will help others for sure!

    1. Reply

      Thanks so much!

  8. Good luck as to where the wind takes you! Pretty useful info for anyone considering teaching ESL

    1. Reply

      Cheers!!

  9. Reply

    Great tips! And you really did the right thing. Sorry you had to go through that though. Happy travels 🙂

    1. Reply

      Thank you ^^

  10. Reply

    It is always best to get out of a job if you are feeling stifled and miserable. There is no point in prolonging the agony. I think you took the right decision. Some useful and valuable information in your post too.

    1. Reply

      Thank you so much!

  11. Reply

    Good for you for leaving when you didn’t feel like it was what you wanted. I just came back to the U.S after a year of teaching in China. I, on the other hand, am looking to do it all over again in a different country 😀

    1. Reply

      Best of luck to you!

  12. Reply

    Awesome post. Very informative for other teachers stuck in crappy situations. I found myself in one of those horror stories in my first few weeks in Korea. Glad you decided to get the D10 and give it another go cause my second job here has been phenomenal!

    1. Reply

      Oh gosh, sorry to hear you were in a bad situation. So happy you’re in a great job now though! Any recommendations, haha?

      1. Reply

        Find a job through a friend is usually the safest bet. If you have a teaching licence email me at mike.j.still@gmail.com and I’ll try to get you an interview at my school! Otherwise look on FB groups like HBC/Itaewon forum and keep your ear to the ground. Good luck!

        1. Reply

          Aww that’s so sweet of you! Sadly no license, just a TEFL. But thank you so much for the offer!

  13. Reply

    This seems like very helpful information if you ever find yourself in this situation It all sounds quite daunting.

    1. Reply

      It definitely kept me up some nights, that’s for sure.

  14. Reply

    That actually sounds very complicated. But congratulations! You’ll have fab time!

    1. Reply

      Yeah, it took awhile to get my head around all the steps. I think I’ve succeeded… maybe haha. We’ll find out!

  15. Reply

    Oh man, we’re teachers here ourselves and it can be incredibly hard sometimes. We even consider ourselves to be lucky enough to be working at a fair hagwon, but the Korean work culture can be very draining! Glad you’ve been able to make something else work for you for now, though!

  16. Reply

    Good on you for leaving a situation that wasn’t working for you. Some people choose to stick things out, but normally they’re gut instinct is right from the beginning. Big respect to you & all the best for the rest of your time in Korea & beyond

    1. Reply

      I was so close to just sticking it out, but ultimately I was invested in not being miserable. Thank you so much 🙂

  17. Reply

    First of all, I am going to follow your Instagram if you only promise to make those faces at least 1x a day because you cant have a bad day when you see the blow fish face ever!
    2nd your experience makes me leery of teaching in SK. Do you think this is similar in other countries or was this a Korea thing?

    1. Reply

      Hahahaha, I routinely make dumb faces on my personal insta, so if you’re in the market for those, I can deliver xD.

      You know, it’s hard to say because I have only had experience in Japan and Korea, however, from reading a lot about teaching abroad, it does seemingly seem to be a big Korea thing. And not all work places are sketchy or difficult, but if you’re going to teach in Korea, go the public school route without a doubt. There’s more money in hagwons, but there’s also all of this mess that comes with it most of the time.

      1. Reply

        Depends on the hagwon. There’s more variety with hagwons.

        Public schools are more standardized. Teachers generally work the same hours, use the same materials and make the same amount given their qualifications.

        I taught in both and have to say I had a worse experience teaching in a public school.

    • Soraya @ Hello Raya
    • October 12, 2016
    Reply

    Wow what an interesting read! It sounds complicated to break your contract, but I would imagine that this is the case in most places. It’s great that you have shared your experience, because there are so many others who are looking at teaching in Korea… it’s good to know their options. The LOR sounds interesting – it’s amazing how some workplaces become so unprofessional and not give you the LOR because they are angry. But after having 9 employees leave since March, it’s should be a sign to them that something is not right.

    1. Reply

      You’d think. Two are leaving after me too. Actually, three! Yet no bells have gone off it seems, it’s kinda crazy. Thank you for reading 🙂

  18. Reply

    It is best to do what you love most. That way productivity is maximum and you are satisfied too.
    All the best to you in your new venture.

  19. Reply

    Sounds like a wonderful experience nonetheless. I experienced the same thing six months ago. I knew there wasn’t a problem with my performance, but my personality just wasn’t fit for the job. Long story short – I resigned before they can even file me a notice and pursued freelancing instead. Best decision I’ve made in my life.

    1. Reply

      Ahh always good ot hear I’m not the only one haha. Yeah I’m thinking about heading into the freelancing world for serious now. Congrats to you!

    • yogawinetravel
    • October 25, 2016
    Reply

    Wow – so glad you found a way to get out of it! Sounds like you made the best decision that you could for yourself. It really sucks that there are strings attached to getting the Letter of Release and that you felt that you had to repay your employer for fees. Anyhow, good luck with everything!

    • foreverfernweh1
    • October 25, 2016
    Reply

    Gosh, this whole situation sounds overwhelming. I can’t imagine it was an easy decision but I’m always impressed with people who take risks and when those don’t work, continue to take others. It takes such a strong person to continue pushing through. Good for you.
    This post shed some light on the complicated side of teaching abroad. Loved it.

    1. Reply

      It was pretty intense at the time. Thankfully things are more calm now as everything seems to be in order. Craziness though! Thanks for reading 🙂

    • Kally
    • November 10, 2016
    Reply

    Totally love this and very helpful information! May I share this on my website and backlink to your website? Thanks!

    1. Reply

      Of course!

        • Kally
        • November 11, 2016
        Reply

        Thank you!!!

  20. Reply

    You are not the first person I know this happened to. Sounds like it was mutual so best to just move on.

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  22. Reply

    Good on you for trusting your gut and leaving. Living and working in a new country is always hard and even harder when you don’t speak the language. By the sounds of it you are persevering and keeping on, and that’s the best you can do! As Gandalf said to Frodo as they sat in the dark mines of Moria “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”. I hope you find a better job and manage to do an E-2 to E-2 transfer!

    • Heather
    • December 11, 2016
    Reply

    This has been so helpful for me! I am currently in a similar situation that you were in. My hagwon isn’t terrible but it is stressful and I feel myself unhappy especially since this was supposed to be my “fun adventure year”. While I am extremely nervous about putting in my two month notice, ultimately I feel I need to do whats best for me! It’s so nice though to know that lots of people are going/have gone through the same thing as you.

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  24. Reply

    I remember a friend of mine who also found herself in a horror situation teaching English in Korea ended up ghosting out of the country with a couple of her coworkers one day cause they just couldn’t handle it anymore. Yikes! Have you considered teaching English in Japan?

    • Nadine Smith
    • December 22, 2016
    Reply

    I was once an English teacher for Korean students studying here in the Philippines, and sometimes I liked it, but most of the time, I hated it. It takes courage to quit something that doesn’t serve you anymore or make you happy, so you should be proud of yourself! I’m sure you did your best! 🙂

    • neha
    • December 23, 2016
    Reply

    I did have to switch my jobs multiple times in the last 2 years, after I had a baby, until I found a suitable one. Totally agree it happens to most of us. Wonderful writeup

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  26. Reply

    Sometimes it’s better to quit before you get fired. That’s what I was thinking then I got fired. But I didn’t get fired from a hagwon I actually got fired from a public school.

    That all started with a dodgy recruiter and a Christian freak co-teacher. There are lots of Christian freaks in Korea. The good news is you probably won’t have a co-teacher in a hagwon.

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