As of February, I am no longer a prospective graduate. Instead, I will finally receive my degree. Two weeks after my graduation date, my student visa will be revoked. Thus, I am faced with the question of what to do after university in Korea. I have so many questions yet so many possible answers. My actions now will affect my life path for years to come. I guess everyone who has been in my situation would understand. I am so young, so ambitious – yet completely ignorant about the world. It feels like my entire future is riding on this one decision – do I stay, or leave Korea for good?
Stay After University in Korea
You want to stay in Korea after graduation? Well, it’s not easy. There are a few things you need to do:
- Take the Topik exam and get at least Topik 4. This will help you in changing visa status from a D-2 student visa, to a D-10 job-searching visa smoothly. With a Topik 4, you can extend your D-10 visa without a bank statement. If you don’t have a Topik 4, you will be asked to provide a bank statement with 5.4 to 10 million won depending on the span of the visa.
- Be ready to move to Seoul or any other city once you have a job offer.
- Reserve a slot in advance (normally 1 month) with the immigration office within 2 weeks of receiving your diploma.
- Prepare money in advance: Once you are unemployed and not attending school, you still have to pay monthly rent, food, and electricity. Plus, Korean law requires that you pay at least 200,000 per month for health insurance. If you do not register for national health insurance on your own, you will need to backpay all of the money at once before you can change or renew your visa.
Things to Consider if You Choose to Stay
There are a lot of things to do once you step into adulthood and be independent financially. To be honest, just thinking about preparing those things, I already get mild depression. However, all of those preparations do not guarantee you a successful job search. I learned a thing or two from the story of my friends who already graduated, some of them are struggling to find a job. When they (with their little to no Korean) finally found a job, they soon left because of underpayment or unfair working conditions.
The education industry may paint a picture of a bachelor’s degree/master’s degree as a path to better employment. In most cases, it is not true. Better education means a better theoretical understanding of a certain field, but it does not mean that you have experience working in the real cooperate world. Additionally, as a foreigner, things will always be harder. Especially as a new grad, the reality is that Korean companies don’t care about your education. They only care about your language abilities, your cultural knowledge, and relatively cheap labor.
But do not be sad or all negative about working in Korea. Once you have those first employment experiences on your resume, you can get your dream job here with amazing co-workers. Especially in the engineering or data analysis field, Korea is leading with the development of its tech field. Besides better living conditions and better quality of life, there are many reasons why working in Korea can be anyone’s dream come true.
I have said this many times, but I will say it again, learning Korean and understanding Korean culture is a must if you want to stay here long term.
Leave After University in Korea
Some people may choose to leave Korea. However, for others, it may be an inevitable scenario. Some have their visa extension declined, and others never find a job here. You have to remember that you can only get jobs here in Korea that are directly related to your field of study. Plus, businesses need to be able to provide a reason as to why they would hire you (a foreigner) over a Korean for any given position. As a result, not all foreigners will face the same obstacles in trying to find work here in Korea.
So, what do you have to trade when you go back home?
- Saying goodbye to your friends and/or your second family here in Korea. Every goodbye is sad.
- Going home does not guarantee a better job, but it will be easier to find a job.
- In case you are from a third-world country like me, then saying goodbye to Korea may mean that you will have to go through the agony of preparing visa documents again if you want to revisit Korea.
- A fun legal fact, you can stay in Korea till the end of your alien card expiration date without having to change to a D10 visa.
Leaving is obviously the easier option. So, you need to weigh your options.
Is what is waiting for you back in your country of origin what you want? Or, are you willing to work hard and take a risk for the opportunity to change your life’s path? And, is it really possible, given your language abilities and university major to find a job here in Korea?
A Case Study
For insight, let’s look into the group of university friends pictured above. All 5 were international students who received a master’s degree from a SKY university in South Korea, majoring in international commerce. Overall, all had a good enough TOPIK score and visa points to be able to stay….but let’s take a look at how life turned out 3 years after graduation.
Megan left Korea as she was unable to find a position offering a fair salary in South Korea. She was offered a much higher salary to work for Hyundai in China. Although the work-life balance could be better, she is satisfied with the pay.
Although her Korean test scores were good enough, her Korean speaking and listening skills were not at a level needed to get through job interviews. With low job prospects, she returned to China and found a job there. The work environment wasn’t great and she left after a few months. Three years after graduating, she has finally found a decent job but is still looking for a good work-life balance.
Rose began interning at a Swedish company’s Asia headquarters here in Korea while she was a student. She found the position by DMing them on Instagram and asking them if they had any opportunities. Once she graduated, they gave her a full-time job and helped her get an F-2 (residency) visa. Her role is marketing to buyers in China. She enjoys a very good work-life balance, yearly free trips to Sweden, and gets paid decently.
After graduating, Kizzy found a job at a gaming company that was preparing for its North American launch. Kizzy encountered workplace bullying, often worked several days without being able to return home, and had her wages withheld. Despite violating labor laws, she found that she had to stay until the end of her contract because of the terms of her visa. Once the contract term ended, she left and found her dream job here in Korea. At her new company, she was promoted to the rank of manager and has a very good work-life balance.
Sabastian got married to a Korean woman at the end of his studies. Together, they returned to the Netherlands. They decided to go there rather than stay here because of living standards. They felt that the Netherlands has better-living wages, positive work environments, and much more time off than Korea. Together, they seem to be living a happy, lovely life in his home country.
Overall, all 5 have achieved their own versions of success and are living a good life. However, only 2 out of the group of 5 are still in Korea, 3 years after graduating. One had a smooth transition from student to worker here in Korea. The other had a horrible first experience, but was later able to find a great opportunity and is now living a good life here.
I am an indecisive girl. I don’t know what I will do yet. However, if I can, I will choose to stay here on a D-10 and hopefully transition to an E-7 when I get a job offer. My reason is simply that I am not ready to leave this beautiful country. I have grown a love for Korea during 4 years period here. The people, the food, the nature, beautiful cherry blossom in Spring, beautiful roses in Summer, and autumn with a veil of yellow/orange trees.
And what about you? What would you do after university in Korea?