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Just like adults, children often face a mix of emotions about moving to a different country – often excitement combined with anxiety and sadness at leaving a familiar environment and their friends and other relatives. Although you’ll be busy preparing for the move, take the time to discuss any concerns that your children might have about moving to an unfamiliar environment, and do whatever you can to ease the move for them.

Consider involving your children as much as possible in the actual planning and preparation. You could ask them to make lists of things to do, research their new home and pack their own possessions so that they feel more in control of the situation. If possible, let them take special possessions or pets that they will find comforting. Encourage them to keep in touch with their own friends back home, and help them to make friends in the new country when you arrive.

Research has shown that there are tremendous benefits for children who grow up in different countries and cultures so there is no need to be overly concerned about taking your children to live overseas, even if you are likely to move regularly. Studies have found that so-called “Third Culture Kids” of expatriate parents generally achieve high educational attainment levels and a valuable understanding of different cultural assumptions and values. Although they may have difficulty in establishing long-term friendships with children in similar situations due to the mobility of expatriate families, the overall benefits of expatriate life for children are believed by many to outweigh the disadvantages.

Standards, licensing and certification procedures for childcare professionals may be very different to those you are used to. Take some time to investigate not only how the system works in the country you are moving to but also how effective it is in practice.

When looking for a nanny, nursery or daycare centre always ask around for recommendations from other expats (if possible) and ask for testimonials from service providers.

Education Systems

Be aware that the age from which education becomes compulsory varies quite a lot between countries, being 6 years of age in many European countries but as early as 4 in other parts of the world.

At secondary school level there are big differences between the educational systems of different countries so this may be a consideration if you are planning to return home or move elsewhere while your children are at this stage of their schooling. For example, in many European countries such as Germany and Denmark, students are separated into three different types of schools at secondary level depending on academic ability, teacher recommendation and parental preference. One type of school usually focuses on academic study and preparation for university, another on vocational training leading to higher qualifications and a third, also vocational, prepares students for early entry to the workforce. In contrast, the secondary school systems in the UK and USA are more comprehensive in style.

The education system in countries abroad may also offer separate schools for children on the basis of religion or language. Private schools may not make the same distinctions, unless they are located in a country where it is deemed culturally necessary to segregate, and this is something to investigate if you are moving to an area that has a strong mix of languages and religions.

Types of Schools

In deciding where to send your children to school, you will need to weigh up a range of factors including language, cost, location, the age of your children, places available and programmes of study offered. Although there are alternatives such as home schooling and overseas boarding schools, for most expatriates the main choice will be between an international or local school.

International Schools

Many countries have international schools based in their capital cities (or other popular areas) where the education system is designed for the children of expats who want them to follow a curriculum that is accepted internationally or similar to that found in their country of origin.

Classes in international schools are usually taught in English and academic results are generally very good. The curriculum is most often British or American in style with the use of International GCSEs or high school grades and SAT scores at age 15/16 and A Levels or the International Baccalaureate at 17/18, the latter being recognised by universities worldwide. Subjects taught are also similar to those taught in the UK or US.

Some schools provide boarding facilities, while others operate only as day-schools. Many have pre-school educational programmes or nursery facilities attached to the school.

International schools are a popular option for many expatriate families, particularly those on short-term assignments. Almost all international schools are fee paying (grants and scholarships may be available) and fees can be considerable, although some expatriates on overseas postings are fortunate to have these paid as part of their employment contract. Average fees for a day school are around EUR 10,000 per year but it should be borne in mind that fees generally increase as the pupil grows older. For example, the average fees for children aged 12 or over may be around EUR 20,000 per year. Furthermore, fees for boarding (as opposed to day) schools are much higher. In addition to yearly fees it may also be wise to consider the other expenses which are likely to be incurred when sending a child to an international school. These expenses might include a registration fee, purchase of a uniform, insurance, activity fees and transport.

Given the prohibitive cost, why do some expats choose international schools for their children’s education? Sometimes they are the only choice if foreigners are not permitted to attend local state schools or if the state schools are full. Many parents are also concerned about the effect learning a new language and adapting to a new culture are likely to have on both their child’s education and happiness (typically young children take these challenges in their stride but older children may struggle or feel alienated). International schools usually offer smaller classes and much better facilities than a local school which does not charge fees. Typically international schools offer better libraries, computer facilities and some will have better sports facilities such as swimming pools and gymnasiums. The fees will reflect this as well as the higher teacher salaries as teachers are often recruited from abroad. Another benefit of attending an international school is that it gives the parents a chance to meet other expats!

International schools offer many advantages for expatriate children, including minimising the disruption to their education, providing a relatively familiar educational environment with overseas-recruited teachers, having low student-staff ratios and providing them with the opportunity to mix with students from many different countries and cultures. Generally speaking, international schools provide a high standard of education but it is important to investigate all the options in your chosen destination, especially if there are a number of international schools to choose from. Talk to the parents of existing students and find out what they see as the best and worst things about a school. Ask the school about their examination record, and find out what extra-curricular activities are on offer. Keep in mind that many international schools actually have a high percentage of local students enrolled and usually employ a number of local teachers and teaching assistants so you might also want to enquire about the student profile, as well as the background and experience of teaching staff. Most international schools are privately run, and are often administered either by an appointed individual or by a board of management elected from the parent body. You might wish to investigate the arrangements for management of the school, how the views of parents are represented, and how any grievances are dealt with.

Many international schools have waiting lists so it is always a good idea to enrol as soon as possible, a process which may involve entrance exams (most commonly in English and Maths). If possible try to choose a school affiliated with a respected international school association as they are more likely to meet minimum requirements as far as teaching or facilities are concerned.

It is interesting to note that several well-known British public schools (note: “public’ schools in the UK are often referred to as “private” schools elsewhere) are opening branches in different locations across the world to cater for the expat market. They offer boarding and day school options and are ideal for those families who would normally continue to educate their children at a boarding school in their country of origin. Harrow, for example, has announced that they are opening a branch in Hong Kong and already has schools in Bangkok and Beijing. The Sherbourne School has a branch in Qatar, Dulwich College has several schools already established in China and several others have branches in the Middle East and Far East.

In some countries where there are large numbers of expatriates of different nationalities, there are also foreign-curriculum schools catering to the educational and language requirements of different groups. These may include French, German, Italian and Indian schools, for example.

Not all expats choose international schools and the state school option may in fact be preferable in some cases. Apart from the obvious cost savings a local state school is a superb place for a child to learn the new language and many expats find that their children are often fluent in the local lingo within a very short period of time. Speaking the language and adapting to a new culture are not only of immediate benefit but may also be useful in the longer term if the family decides to stay in the new country.

Local Schools

For those making a permanent or long-term move to a new country, it may be better to enrol children in a local school if there are no restrictions on doing so (some countries have strict regulations about expat children attending local schools which do not charge fees, so you may have no other option than a private school). Even if they do not speak the local language to start with, this ‘immersion’ method will be an excellent way to learn the language and they will be well-placed to make long-term friends. You will also probably find that it is a very effective way of getting the family involved in the local community. However, be prepared for a difficult time at first as your children adjust to what may be a very different educational environment, learning a new language, and being regarded as “foreigners”. It may also be the case that religious education in the predominant local religion or denomination may be a compulsory part of the curriculum and you will need to consider whether this is acceptable for your children.

Another advantage of placing your children in local schools is that they are likely to be free of charge, if state run, and even if privately run they may be cheaper than international schools. In most countries the children of foreign nationals are allowed to attend state schools if their parents are living and working in the country, although there may be entrance requirements, including a language test, so some initial language tuition may be needed. In some countries, there are bilingual schools which are either state or privately run and offer instruction in English as well as the local language. These can be a useful option if your children have no knowledge of the language to start off with but you want them to learn the language and be immersed in the local culture.

It is essential, however, to look into the standard of education offered by local schools, as in some developing countries local schools will offer only a basic standard of education. Much will depend upon the area you are based in as in some countries the education available in larger towns and cities is much better than that in rural areas.

Boarding Schools and Home Schooling

Before finalising plans for your move, you may need to consider whether you would be prepared to send your children to a boarding school back home if there were no suitable schools available locally, either at the time of the move or when they reach secondary school age.

If you decide to send your children to boarding school, you must check whether they offer seven-day boarding, as some schools expect their students to go home or be cared for elsewhere at the weekends. You might prefer to find a school that has a large number of foreign students, or students whose parents work abroad, which may offer better welfare and social facilities for your children.

Parents should take into account the additional travelling expenses involved and the fact that school fees in their home country may be substantial.

Finally, you may also wish to consider whether home-schooling would be a suitable - and legal - option for your children.

Financial Planning for Education

It is difficult to make financial plans in advance without a firm idea of which school your child will be attending. Tuition fees vary in different regions of the world, though most private schools will charge the equivalent of several thousand British pounds each year. Occasionally this will also include the cost of travelling to and from school and meals. Fees will also be higher if the child is a boarder rather than a day pupil.

Parents should also take into consideration the usual costs for items such as books and school uniform. If a child requires extra support for special needs then this may also incur additional charges.

Expats who move abroad for work may be able to obtain help for educating children from their employer, especially if they are being asked to move to a developing country or one in which expat children are unable to attend local schools. If this applies to you and your employer is prepared to contribute then you should ensure that this is appears in writing in your contract of employment before you move.

Some private schools (both at home and abroad) make a small number of bursaries and scholarships available but these are typically reserved for children who achieve excellent grades or who excel in one particular subject area. The child will have to take examinations to apply and parents should be aware that not all of the costs of tuition and extra items may be covered.

The school may also have funds to help those who would otherwise find it difficult to meet the fees, although parents may find that these funds only cover part of the fees and the bulk of the money still has to be provided.

Negotiation of reduced fees may be possible when more than one child from the same family attends the same school although this is not always the case.

Lastly, keep in mind that obtaining a university degree in some countries can be extremely expensive. and in some areas where higher education establishments are not adequate, attending university in another country becomes the only option. In this case you will also need to take into account a different cost of living and travel costs for your child as well as the university fees.


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