Packing up and moving to another country can be a big decision and quite the experience! You took the leap and moved to South Korea to try your hand at teaching, but for whatever reason decided you want to pack up and leave early. So what’s next? If you are not sure how to go about the process of leaving your teaching job, hopefully, this article can give you some insight into how to get the process started!
A quick note about breaking contracts: you have obviously made a commitment in coming here and made an agreement with your school that you will work with them for a set period of time under certain terms. The decision to break your contract should not be taken lightly and should not be for frivolous reasons such as you simply do not like working full time. You should try your best to honour your word and your agreement! That said, you should not put up with any abuse or unfair work treatments in the workplace and if you feel that you are being taken advantage of or mistreated, it is more than fair for you to want to terminate your contract and leave Korea!
Breaking your contract in Korea can be difficult and incredibly scary, especially if your employers are not so great. Being in South Korea as an ESL teacher, your E2 visa is tied to whoever you work for, needless to say, if your contract is broken you will lose your visa.
The standard amount of time to give notice of leaving your current workplace is one month (30 days), this is expected at any workplace in Korea, not just for teachers! You can give more advanced notice if you wish but you are not legally required to. 30 days is also the legal requirement that an employer must give an employee in Korea if the employer wishes to terminate the contract (provided you are not being fired for something you did wrong).
You will have 14 days from the last day of your contract to leave Korea unless you go to immigration and ask for a visa extension – which to be honest, is not likely to happen given the circumstances. Since your school is also responsible for paying for your apartment, you will also need to consider the fact that you will need to move out rather quickly after your last day of work. You may re-enter Korea on a tourist visa or a D10 visa to look for another job, but you are not allowed to work with those visas.
If you have decided to break your contract, there are some important things to remember:
Don’t feel bad. A lot of people break their contracts for a variety of reasons. If you have decided to take this route, you have your own reasons.
Record every meeting that you have with your supervisors. In South Korea, it is legal to audio record people without them knowing. Should you find yourself in a situation where you need to make a case against your employer this will help you if it comes to your word against theirs. Make sure that you speak as well during the recording as you need to be part of the conversation.
In the resignation letter you hand in, include the date 30 days from the day that you hand in the letter. You should hand in your letter on the final day of work. Make sure to also have a copy of the letter at home. It is a good idea to also hand this to your boss in person to make sure they receive it.
Do not sign anything that you do not fully understand. It’s better to take it home and have someone help you before signing.
It is illegal for your employer to ask you for money back because you quit. This includes money for airline tickets that they paid for you to come here (unless you quit before 6 months and it is stated in your contract that you have to pay it back under specific conditions), future recruiting fee for a replacement, housing fees, etc. Always check your contract and reference what is stated there before making agreements with your employer.
Your employer is still required to pay your salary up until your last day of work. If you have given 30 days notice that equals one month of pay that you are entitled to receive after you have given your notice.
Standard teaching contracts in South Korea should include the following: salary, housing terms, roundtrip airfare ticket, working hours, severance pay, taxes, and medical insurance.
Legally, when your 12-month teaching contract is over you are entitled to a pension refund, 1 month of severance pay equals to your monthly salary, and a paid plane ticket back home.
If you decide to break your contract after 6 months, you are not entitled to everything that was stated in your original 12-month contract. Return airfare is dependent on the completion of your 12-month contract. This is often stated in the contract which means your employer will not be responsible for paying your flight ticket home. They should not, however, ask for reimbursement from you for the cost of your flight ticket to Korea.
Your contract may also state that you will receive severance pay (a payment of one month's worth wages at the end of the 12 months). You will not be given severance pay when you break your contract since you did not work the agreed-upon 12 months. Most employees will also have pension contributions automatically deducted from their salary that they are refunded once they leave the country. You ARE still entitled to receive this money back that you contributed to the national pension fund during the months you spent working.
If you break your contract before 6 months, you might face additional penalties and your employer could ask you to repay the cost of your flight ticket to Korea. Again, make sure to check your contract to see what you are legally entitled to before making any agreements.
If by chance you have decided that you want to quit your teaching job – and give up your E2 (foreign language teachers), visa – but stay in Korea, you have three options:
Find another job that requires an E2 visa and do an E2 to E2 visa transfer. Click here for resources to find other teaching jobs.
Leave Korea and go through the full re-application process for a visa if you want to come back to work.
Switch to a D10 visa, which is classified as a job seeking visa and allows you to stay in Korea for six months while you look for work. Click here to read up on how to apply for a D10.
If you are applying for an E2 to E2 or E2 to D10 visa transfer, there will be different sets of documents that you need and different associated fees. You will not need a new criminal background check or apostille. When you find a new job you can simply transfer from a D10 to an E2 visa! However, if you are interested in options 1 or 2, you will need a letter of release from your previous employer.
If you want to end your contract early for any reason, you must give at least 30 days notice in writing to your school. If you wish to stay in Korea to work after giving notice of terminating your contact, you need to get a letter of release from your employer and bring it to Korean Immigration so your E2 working visa can be properly canceled. Remember – your visa is what allows you to legally be in Korea. So if you stay past the 14 days you are allowed after you quit your job and do not change your visa status, it is illegal and you will be subject to punishment.
A letter of release is a letter written by your school director stating that the teacher (you) is being released from their teaching contract. The letter needs to be written in Korean, have the school name and the name of the teacher, the reason for contract termination, and needs to be dated and have the “dojang” (도장) or official school seal. You cannot receive a new working visa until your old one is properly canceled or expired. Schools are not legally required to give you a letter of release. If this is something you are interested in, try to remain on good terms with your boss regardless of the circumstances! If your bosses agree to give you this letter, you will get it on your final day of work when you hand in your resignation letter.
If you have more questions or concerns, LOFT (Legal Office for Foreign Teachers) is a valuable resource for foreign teachers. And if you wish to make a report about your school, you can contact the Labor Board by calling 1350 (Open 09:00-18:00 Monday ~ Friday).