How to be unemployed in Korea

Being not on a payroll may be a blessing and a curse at the same time.

Either way it’s a time of opportunities but also of anxieties. The big unknown of the future on top of no revenue stream can make even the toughest beefcake crumble.

Yes, I’m currently unemployed. And while I figure out the rest of my life, I have managed to make some of the anxieties go away by being granted unemployment benefits.

And if you are unemployed and meet some requirements, you can get them too!

Unemployment benefits?

I’m not sue the word ‘benefit’ is the correct term, because it’s really YOUR money you’re getting. If you were on a contract (doesn’t matter if temporary or permanent, part-time or full time), as long as your employer enrolled for the 4 Main Insurances (4대보험), you both have been paying 0.65% (employee) or 0.9~1.5% (employer) of your salary to Employment Insurance (more here). So that money is sitting there waiting to kick in when you need it. You just have to be consecutively employed (and covered by Employment Insurance) for over 3 months.

Visa?

Ah… As far as my intelligence has unraveled F2, F5, C4, E1, E2, E3, E4, E5, E6, E7, E8, E9, E10, H2, F4, D7, D8, or D9 are eligible for unemployment insurance. That being said, all the non-F visas may be getting deductions making the amount they get lower than their Korean counterparts. This information is unconfirmed and will need consultation with the Labor Office representative.

I quit my job. Can I apply?

No. Only those who have been let go of the company due to restructuring (that’s also work contracts ending and not being renewed!). If you left on your accord or were fired on your own fault, you cannot have the unemployment benefits. That being said a) there is a support system at the Labor Office for those who have been unjustly fired and believe that their employers should have reported their leaving as a restructuring decision b) if you are on good terms with your employer, you may want to ask them to report your leaving of the job (they have to do it within 14 days!) as a restructuring decision – it does not cost him/her a penny. I’m not going to go into details – with a capable accountant, your employer will figure it out easily.

Labor Welfare Center

So now what?

With all the above in place, you first have to go and get yourself registered as unemployed. You can do that online through Labor Office’s Employment Insurance website or, if you don’t have a Windows computer with Internet Explorer, you can go to one of your local Labor Welfare Centers (you can look them up on any map service and/or give a call to 1350). You need to bring your Alien Registration Card (ID) and that’s about it: go to 실업급여센터 (Unemployment Benefit Center – names may vary per location). The officer in the center will check in the system if your ex-employer did all the necessary formalities with 4 Major Insurance and the submission of the reason for letting you go. Then we will tell you to come, usually on the same day, for the 1st Unemployment Lecture. During 1.5h you will be told all the details about the process and what you are expected to do. It may seem very dull and matter-of-fact and a bit kindergarten-like. But the reason will be easily to see: most of the people in the room with you will be in their 50s and above and most of them have no idea how to screen capture, let alone use a computer. The reason for this quite a long dispute: the youth unemployment is huge, but most of them are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Once you’re done with the lecture, you are registered as unemployed and the Labor Office will begin the process of reviewing your eligibility for the benefits and how much. In the meantime, you will be told to return to the Labor Office in 2 weeks.

How much do I get?

With about a week from your initial visit to the Labour Office, you will get informed about the decision of whether you will be getting unemployment benefits (through email, text message). That’s when the system will start counting the sum, based on the time you were covered by the employment insurance and your age. These two factors also contribute to how long you will be getting said benefits.

Good news is that with 2019 the benefits’ daily fee went up in 2019 and you will be getting anywhere between KRW60,120 and KRW66,000 (it’s supposed to be 50% of average wage)

Here’s a table of how long your unemployment benefit period can be:

Insurance period ->
Age:<1 year1 – 3 years3 – 5 years5 – 10 years>10 years
<30 years90 days90 days120 days150 days180 days
30~50 years90 days120 days150 days180 days210 days
>50 years and disabled90 days150 days180 days210 days240 days

In the first installment, 2 weeks after your first visit to the Labor Office, you will get an equivalent of 8 days wage (so from the moment your unemployment benefit application was confirmed and accepted), and the day after your second visit (and another lecture, this time about job searching), you will find about KRW 500,000 in your bank account. The next installments will be 27~29 days, hence significantly higher.

On your second visit you will also get an Employment Hope Card (취업희망카드), where you will have all the installment schedules, requirements, and basic information about the employment benefit system.

All the schedules of your installments and what you need to prepare for them.

So what now?

Really the main point of the whole system is to have you ACTIVELY seeking work. For that, you or the representative at the Labor Office have to register you not only on the Employment Insurance website but also at Work Net, which is a government job searching service platform. A side note: make sure they register you with your full name on Alien Registration Card – I had a bit of a bubble due to the fact that I was signed up with my name in Korean.

For the next installments you will have either to show proof of job searching (by uploading or physically showing emails/online applications/confirmations of interviews etc.) or attend 2 hour seminar on job searching on the day of your installment day. The job searching proofs you CAN upload all online, but again, you need a Window computer with Internet Explorer. Uploads can be only done on the day of your installments between midnight and 5pm.

On your fourth an onwards visits (if you are still eligible), you have to show up for an obligatory seminar on job searching. For all these events you HAVE to show up in person, cannot delegate anybody else and have to come on given days (you can postpone once with very good, justified reason). Otherwise you won’t be getting any money.

Day at the labor office

Can I do part-time gigs while on unemployment benefits?

Sure! But you are required to report to the Labor Office and whatever you have earned will be deducted accordingly. I do not advise hiding side incomes from the government.

What if I do get a job?

You are required to report it ASAP (7 days) to the Labor Office, either online or in person. You will be eligible for unemployment benefits up to that day. Same applies if you set up your own business – but with that the Labor Office can refer you to government support programs (also financial) that will help you get on your two feet.

There is much much more to the whole unemployment benefits program, but I don’t want to go on quoting the Labor Law. However, I am more than happy to answer any questions.

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