These days, typical hagwon salaries are higher than what Margaret was paid (and they ought to be). Depending on where you work, the range is about 18 to 30 million won per year (roughly US$16,000 to US$27,000). Most jobs are in the center of that range (22 to 25 million won). This is pretty respectable money if you're used to US McBurger salaries. It might not seem as generous if you've had more years of work experience, or managed to get a job related to your degree.

The bad news is that hagwon salaries haven't kept pace with native Koreans'. In 2006, Korean per capita income (GNI, Atlas method, in US dollars) was just under $20,000. In 2013 it was almost $26,000. That's a 30 percent bump. Hagwon salaries have increased only around 15% in that time. It looks like hagwons are indexing their salaries to the US GDI, which rose 13 percent between 2006 and 2013. But Korea's consumer price index increased 23 percent from 2006 to 2013. So hagwon salaries are trailing inflation there.

Still, if you watch your expenses, you can sock away some decent savings. If you insist on eating like you were at home, it'll drain your wallet fast. However, Korean food is affordable, especially at the traditional markets and street vendors. Learn to like it and cook it. Your wallet will thank you.

Fish especially is cheap. Fruit often isn't, when it's out of season. Local seasonal fruits and vegetables are usually reasonable. Warning: what's "local" and "seasonal" in Korea may not be what you're used to at home. The cheapest vegetable year round is usually ... drum roll ... kimchi. May I suggest that you learn to like it?

Even if you don't cook, every block of every town seems to have an endless supply of Korean chain restaurants and street vendors where you can get a respectable meal for less than US$5. Forget the expensive US fast food chains. They're not worth the price unless you're suffering a major homesickness attack.

Clothes are very good (and pricey) at the department stores. Bazaars, traditional markets, and street vendors sell pretty much the same stuff you'd get at a Target store in the States, for prices at least as low as Target's. In recent years these prices have started moving into the big box stores such as E-Mart, too. Appliances and electronics used to be expensive; but here again, big box mass marketing, competition, and cheap Chinese manufacturing have driven prices down a lot.

You'll probably have to pay your own utilities for your apartment, but they're generally less than what you'd pay in most parts of the US, partly because the apartments are small. The actual rent most likely won't matter to you, even if you live in Seoul. The hagwon will put you up or cover your costs. If the one you're looking at doesn't, look elsewhere.

Although the IMF pushed market "reforms" onto Korea as conditions of the 1997-1998 bailout, eating into their social safety net, the government still keeps a lot of life's basics relatively affordable for the sake of low-income Koreans. There are government price controls and management schemes on many of life's essentials, from medicine to petroleum (which will include the oil you might burn to stay warm in the winter).

Public transportation is subsidized and pretty much on a par with Europe. It's WAY better than in most US cities. The base price for a Seoul bus or subway ride is 1150 won - about US$1 - for 10km. If you're going farther than 10km, you pay extra. The formula is a little complex and depends on the total distance you're going, but at worst it's another 100 won for each extra 5km.

Not much comes out of your pay envelope, either. Korean income taxes for foreigners run about 3 - 7 percent. You also pay 4.5 percent into the national pension fund, and that's matched by your employer. Korea has universal single-payer public health insurance and this takes another 3 percent of your salary, with your hagwon matching what you pay. You can waive the health insurance if you have your own private insurance from home. Don't do this until you've checked your insurer's policies on overseas coverage.

Think about that: you'll typically get to keep about 85 - 90 percent of your salary. In the US a good one-quarter to one-third of your paycheck goes for taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and insurance. In Europe it's usually more than that.

In most cases you won't have to pay any tax on your Korean earnings in your home country. For US citizens, the IRS says that if you're physically living outside the US for at least 330 days of the tax year, anything you earn there, up to US$100,800 (as of 2015) is yours, tax-free. Even if you came to Korea in, say, July, you may still be able to claim this exemption by tinkering with the dates of your tax year. In that case you'll most likely want to get some help from a good tax accountant.

So, while the salary itself may not sound sensational, it goes a long way. Unless you're a real spendthrift, it's not at all hard to bank a nice percentage of your salary while you're in Korea.

You may have read that hagwons will give you a bonus of one month's salary when you go home. Note, this is not a yearly bonus, it's a severance bonus. It doesn't kick in until you've worked in the same job for a full year, and it doesn't pay off until you leave the job for good. After the first year, though, your bonus keeps building month by month. So if you leave after 18 months, your bonus amounts to a month and a half's worth of salary.

There is in fact a Korean law that requires a severance bonus for all full time employees. There's also a catch, or rather three catches.

First, if you don't work a full year, no bonus, period. Watch out for a sneaky contract termination that's a day or a week short of a full year.

Also, the Korean courts have ruled that if you aren't actually in the classroom for at least 40 hours a week, you're not really full-time, and thus you're not eligible for a severance bonus. As it turns out, most foreign hagwon teachers are in the classroom around 30-35 hours a week. Funny how that works, eh? Hagwon directors apparently think that preparing lesson plans and grading papers isn't real work, and I guess the Korean legal system agrees.

Finally, even if you teach an actual 40 hours per week, you can still miss out if your hagwon is very small. The law doesn't require businesses with fewer than six employees (including Koreans) to pay the bonus.

Some hagwons pay it. Some don't. Ask the hagwon director about this before you sign on, but I don't think you should let it be a deal-breaker. Don't count on it, and if you get a severance bonus, consider it "found money."

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