Finding a school for your child overseas

Moving abroad with your young family may involve finding a new school or making decisions about home-schooling, depending on the age of your kids. 

There are four main options you will have for schooling:

  1. Send your child to a local school where they will learn to speak the local language (if it’s different to what you speak at home)
  2. Send your child to an international school where they will be comfortable speaking their own language
  3. Home-schooling, whether that be distance education through a government program or choosing your own curriculum
  4. Boarding School in some cases is a viable option

As both a qualified teacher and someone who has experienced several different schooling situations growing up, I have some comments to share on each option. 

Local school

Let’s start with local schools. This option has the unique advantage of helping both you and your child settle into the community. It means you will get to meet families who not only speak the local language, but who also live and work close by. There is the potential for making friends and joining in after-school activities and events. Attending the local school also means your child will be familiar with local customs and will be taught about the country’s history, geography, politics, etc.

A down-side to local school education is that your child will miss out on education from your country, such as not getting formal practise in reading and writing your language. For example, if you are from an English-speaking country, then they may miss out on learning English at school and everything that goes with that. 

You can always supplement your child’s learning by setting extra activities for them in the holidays, like celebrating your country’s national holidays as a family and reading books or watching videos about your history and culture or even watching the news from home.

You could also investigate whether the local school allows children to attend part time if you are doing a mixture of home school and local school.  

International school 

Most big cities throughout the world have international schools. You may have the option of selecting one that uses the curriculum and language of your home country. The benefits are obvious: your child will be comfortable speaking their own language and will be able to more easily settle back into school life in your country should you choose to go home. They will likely make friends from all different cultures.

Unfortunately, these institutions can be expensive and the wait lists can be long. Schools in Hong Kong typically charge over $18, 000 (USD) per year. Another downside to an international school is that your child may not get much practise using the local language. This could mean that it’s hard for them to make local friends or they may feel like they don’t belong or feel at home in your new community. There are things you can do to counteract this, however, like enrolling them in local sport or music groups or arranging catch ups with local families or neighbours.  

Older children may find it more difficult to learn language or fit in socially and for this reason many expats decide to send their teenagers to an international school. These schools have the added bonus of offering a curriculum that is recognised internationally, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE). 

They may also offer a national curriculum from the country of the school’s origin, such as a British International School.

Home schooling abroad

Home schooling may be the most comfortable option for your child, at least initially when moving countries. You get to experience the adventure of a new country together and can process what you learn with each other. Home schooling gives the flexibility to join in local events and even travel around the country during the school term, should you need to. 

Some families choose this option out of necessity. Others love it and would be home schoolers even if they lived in their home country. 

Home schooling falls into two main categories. Your government may offer a distance education program, and this means your child could be taught online by teachers from home and be part of a virtual class with classmates to interact with. Distance education will be pretty much identical to whatever country you’re from and will make it easy if you move back home. Your child will still need supervision with their lessons, especially in the early years before they can read, but for the most part they will be relying on their teachers online. 

Some parents, however, prefer to choose their own curriculum. It can be tailor made to suit your child and include both subjects related to your new country and home country- the best of both worlds! This option is the most time consuming for parents however, as they become responsible for the majority of their child’s education.

Children may find it more difficult to make friends or speak the local language if they are home schooled. Some parents combat this by enrolling them in local clubs and groups. Of course, schooling from home means you’ll need to be intentional about giving your child opportunities to learn the local language. It’s certainly possible for them to still become part of the community; it may just mean hiring a tutor to teach them the language.

Boarding school

Of course, boarding school is always an option for a family to receive top quality education. But this is something to be considered carefully as to whether your child’s personality and temperament suit this type of education, and how they will go being away from you and their family during the school term. 

What if my child is not in school yet?

If you have a toddler or pre-schooler, you have similar decisions to make. Will you enrol them in day care or preschool? If so, will you choose a local facility or one similar to back home? 

Thankfully, the decision is less pressing for younger children than for school aged children. Formal education isn’t necessary till they reach five or six, so you may not feel that it’s necessary to enrol your child in any program just yet. They will, after all, learn lots from observing you and by playing with other children and that may well be sufficient. 

The ages between 0-5 years old are ideal for picking up new sounds and accents. Young children excel at learning implicitly, by watching native speakers and imitating them.

Even if your child is yet to speak the local language, you don’t necessarily have to hire a tutor at this age, as they learn best through play. Just plan lots of play dates if you decide not to enrol them in local day care or preschool. Take them to parks and encourage them to be friendly with the children there. 

Enrolling your child in daycare abroad

It may feel like a big step to enrol your child in day care or preschool when you are first abroad. They are tiny and vulnerable and may not be able to express themselves or explain what they want. If this is the case, you could always ask to volunteer at the centre, and in doing so you will get an idea of what your child gets up to during the day so you can talk with them about what they did during the day. It’ll give you the added bonus of being able to explain what is happening in your own language and you can help them practise saying their teachers’ and friends’ names. 

To volunteer in a day care, most centres require that you complete some sort of “Working With Children Check” and you’ll probably have to undergo an interview with the day care director or manager. 

Whether you decide to volunteer or not, it is a good idea to visit the day care or preschool a few times with your child before leaving them there. Many centres have orientation sessions where new children can come and play for an hour or two and get to know the teachers and other children. If possible, it’s worth taking up this offer as it will allow both you and your child to be comfortable with the setting before needing to say goodbye to each other (and let’s face it, separating is often just as hard for the parent as for the child). 

It you want to wean your child to a new day care, you could always leave your child for just a few hours and slowly lengthen it to whole days as needed at first. You are the parent, so don’t be intimidated by what others are doing. Many children require extra time to settle into a new routine. Day cares have different procedures around the world, so it’s worth reminding the day care staff that they can feel free to contact you any time of the day if your child is nor coping or needs to be picked up early. 

Where do you start?

Education options can seem overwhelming and there are pros and cons with all of them. Perhaps the best way to start would be to ask for a tour of your local schools to see what they are like. You could also try teaching a home school subject from home. Then you’ll be able to make a more informed decision. 

Remember whatever decision you make, it’s not for life. If your current education solution isn’t working, children are resilient and will not be ruined if you change your mind and decide to try another option. As a parent you can only do your best for your child at the time and keep monitoring how things go as you stay tuned to their needs, which are always changing. So be flexible along with them!

Related Categories

Recent posts