5 Steps to Obtaining Your Visa to Teach in Korea
What Will You Need for Your Visa?
If you decide to teach in Korea and you meet the 5 requirements to teach there, you’ll be a legal resident with an E2 visa. This means you’ll have to register through the Korean government. The hagwon, or private academy, you choose along with your recruiter will handle the bulk of this, but it is up to you to gather the proper documents to complete this. At first, the process can seem daunting. It’s not. I’ll break it down to a simple checklist along with links and how to go about obtaining each. You may be surprised how easy it is to become a legal resident of Korea if you're an ESL instructor. This is one of the easiest ways to move to another country.
You will have to obtain the following:
- A passport and extra passport photos
- An apostilled copy of your diploma
- Your FBI criminal background check
- An apostille for your criminal background check
- An E2 Health Statement and Visa Application
These are the documents required by the Korean Government if you’re a U.S. citizen. These documents are all that will technically be required to obtain your visa and start working. Once you start applying for jobs, you’ll need other, less official documents, like your resume and personal photos. For now, let’s discuss the official documents. They are the most important and time-consuming to gather.
Step 1: Passport
If you don’t have one yet, start here. If you do, skip to the next step. I’m sure most already have this, but if you don’t, it will be the most time-consuming item. If you go the standard route, it can take several months to complete.
A word about express services in the U.S.: You may have heard about services such as rushmypassport.com who claim to process your passport in under 24 hours. Be aware that this only works in special cases, usually in emergencies: passport renewal for travelers, or an urgent need for a visa. Your E2 visa may not qualify. However, you can pay an extra $60 to the acceptance facility (more on these soon) and have it back in under six weeks.
For United States citizens, you’ll start here: pptform.state.gov. This is a “wizard” form that will walk you through the application. It is NOT an online application. After you complete it, you will print it and take the printed form to an Acceptance Facility, an official location that can accept passport applications. Usually, these locations are U.S. Post Offices or County Clerk Offices. Visit iafdb.travel.state.gov to find the one nearest to you. Some places require an appointment, so check with your nearest location.
When you go to the Acceptance Facility, you will also take:
- An official passport photo, which can be made at UPS stores, FedEx stores, most photo studios, and some U.S. Post Office
- Your birth certificate
- A secondary ID such as a driver’s license or state ID card
- $110 for the application, plus an additional $60 if you want it expedited.
You send the application off and wait for your passport to show up in the mail.
Step 2: An Apostilled Copy of Your Diploma
Don’t assume you have this one in the bag because you’re staring at your diploma hanging on the wall. You have to get it “apostilled.” Apostilled? Most ESL instructors in Korea didn’t know this term until they started this process. Basically, it means it the government approves your document. They attach a paper with an official seal that says your document is real. You’ll be dealing with two levels of apostilled documents; State and Federal. Your diploma only requires the State level.
This process can be broken down into three parts.
1. Get a Copy of Your Diploma
You’ll be submitting your diploma to the Korean Government, never to be seen again. You can get an official copy of your diploma from your university. This takes extra time and money. If you want to go this route, then fine. You can also get a black-and-white photocopy. It will have to be black-and-white because it has an official state seal on it. No one in the later steps will accept it if it is a color copy. When taking this route, carry your original for verification in the next two steps.
2. Get It Notarized
Notarization can be done at any notary public, easily found at your bank or county clerk. This step will be free or cost a few dollars. If you have the black-and-white copy, you’ll have to sign a statement on the copy stating it is a copy of a real diploma. Have your original so the notary public can verify it. Once it is notarized, you’re almost done.
3. Get it Apostilled
The actual apostilling process takes place through the Secretary of State at the State level (Federal level will be used for your background check). You can mail your notarized diploma to the office in either your state of residence or your state of graduation. Here is a list of the offices. If you are relatively close to the office, taking the trip is worth it. If not, you can mail it, but be warned that the turnover time is entirely up to the office. If you go in person, it will be done that day. If you mail, be sure to include all the required fees, a letter explaining what you need, and a return envelope. Also, contact the office for clear instructions specific for them.
Once you have the apostiled diploma, you’ve taken a nice chuck out of the necessary documents. Now on to the biggest one.
Step 3: FBI Criminal Background Check
This can be the most time-consuming, expensive, and confusing document in the process. It really only has two parts, but accuracy is required the whole way. Also, be aware that your CBC (criminal background check) is only valid for six months. If the job search takes longer, you’ll have to redo it. The two parts are fingerprints and FBI submission.
The fingerprinting process isn’t difficult. The most common option is to go to a local police station. Ask for two fingerprint cards. Make sure it is the FD-258 card. Ask for two: in case there is a problem with one, there is a backup that can be checked. Otherwise, it will be rejected and you’ll have to get another anyways. An extra card is usually no more than a few dollars. The process should be quick.
The other option is to get a Live Scan. This is a digital fingerprint taken by an approved location. These aren't as common, but they are processed faster. Find the nearest location here. Most locations will require an appointment. You will also need your FBI CBC application when you go. The application is here. Please note, if you are using a channeler to speed up the process, check with the company you’re using for their Live Scan process. You may need a separate application from them to submit your Live Scan fingerprints.
After you’ve obtained your fingerprints, you’ll need to get the FBI to perform a Criminal Background Check. This can be done directly through the FBI. This is a slow process. Although it is only $18, it can take up to four months. That doesn’t include the separate apostilled process you have to go through with the CBC. This can add a few more weeks.
If you go through the FBI, print the application, and mail it with your fingerprint cards and a money order if $18 to:
FBI CJIS Division – Summary Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
Then you wait.
You could use an approved channeler. This process is much quicker. Visit this FBI page to find a list of approved channelers accepted by the FBI. Most companies are the same and mainly vary only in price and location. Accurate Biometrics and National Background Check, INC are two of the most popular choices.
Once you select a company, follow the directions on the website. Most are straight forward. Complete a printable application with payment options (these accept credit cards) and mail it along with the fingerprint cards. They can send you extra background checks for a small, extra charge. I recommend this incase something unforeseen happens during the visa process.
Using an Official Channeler can be very fast. For around $100, you can have it in your hands in under a week.
Step 4: Apostilled FBI Background Check
Once you receive your FBI background check, the last major step is to have it apostilled. This must be done on the national level. In the United States, it will be done by the U.S. Department of the Secretary of State.
If you’re not on a short schedule and want to save some money, you can send the appropriate forms obtainable in the links above directly to the respective services. The turnover rate can be several weeks.
Most people choose to use a courier service. Like with the actual background check, someone will hand deliver your document to the office and wait for it to be completed. Then express mail it back to you. Depending on the company you choose and how much you’re willing to pay, the turnover can be as short as three business days. You can find services like apostillefbi.com or any other service by searching for an FBI CBC apostilled courier.
Step 5: Health Statement and Visa Application
This step can be ignored until after you’ve accepted a job. Once a job offer is made and you’ve received a contract, the company will want to start the visa process. Most will send these two documents along with the contract. They can quickly be filled out and submitted along with the rest of the documents to Korea for processing.
A Word About Speed
Many people are concerned with how quickly all the documents can be gathered. How fast it is done mainly depends on how fast you are and how much you're willing to pay. f you opt for overnighting all the documents and paying for express services, everything can be done very quickly; if you want, you can have your documents completed and submitted to the Korean Embassy for processing in under two weeks and have your visa processed in under three weeks if you wanted.
With that said, please focus on finding the right place to work rather than getting there quickly.