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How To Decide Between An International School OR A Local School

How To Decide Between An International School OR A Local School

choosing the right school abroadIf you are moving abroad with your children then where they will go to school will be one of your main decisions and can be the determining factor on where exactly you will live in your new country.

NB: For schools abroad I will use the term international to mean fee-paying schools run on a British or American curriculum.

One of the main decisions to make is whether to send your child to a local school or to an international school.  Here is the easy way to make this decision:

Local Language School International School
Are we moving to this country for good? Yes No
Do we move from country to country often? No Yes

OK, so that is pretty simplistic, but it can be so.


If you are moving to a new country for a new life and you are planning on moving there permanently then the best thing for your child is for them to integrate as well as possible and for them to become bilingual.  A local language school is by far and away the best option in this case.

If you tend to move around from country to country then maintaining the same level of schooling for your child is very important and following a well-known international curriculum is the way forward.

There are a number of pros and cons with each decision:

Local Language Schools

The Pros: Your child will pick up the language very fast and make lots of friends who are native to the country.  When the times comes for them to either go to university or start a job they will have the choice of staying in your new country or going back.

Giving your child the gift of being bilingual gives them a huge headstart in life and opens the doors to many different options for them.  Local schools are also free to attend and tend to be close by.

The Cons: The major downside of sending your child to the local school is the initial shock and difficulty of being surrounded by people who speak a different language and potentially not understanding them or the lessons.

The initial shock of starting at a foreign school will go away and it can be made as painless as possible by making sure your child is as prepared as possible.  If you child is already at school age then make sure they learn as much of the new language before you go. Once they are there it is advisable to give them extra lessons and speak to your new school about any extra help they will need.

International Schools

The Pros: If you tend to move around, for example with work contracts, then and international school is probably the best choice.  Most countries will have schools that follow the British and American curriculae and so to give your child as stable an education as possible then this will be the way to go.

The Cons: International schools can be very expensive and just because you are paying for them it doesn’t mean that the standard of education is any better than the local schools. Depending on the area they can be also be few and far between which might mean you are moving to an area just for the schooling or you will need to be prepared for long journeys every day.  Your child will not be as integrated in local life as much as if they went to a local school and it is unlikely that their standard of the local language will be as high.

The Main Exception to the Rule – What happens if your child is already at secondary school?

If your child has already started secondary school (i.e. is 11/12 or over), then you will need to think very carefully about what is best for your child.  This decision-making will have to start at the beginning i.e. is it fair to even consider moving abroad with my children at this age?

The next decision depends on exactly how old your child is and capable they are at adapting.  In my experience this is a very difficult decision but if you are moving somewhere permanently it is still important to consider the local schools as a viable option.  The reason for this is if your child goes to an international school to do his/her exams then what will happen after?  Will their local language skills be good enough to go to a local university or to find a job or will they have to return back to your native country?

Other Options

There is another option that could also be considered depending on where you are moving to.  That is the local language fee-paying schools.  If you prefer to send your child to a private (fee-paying) school then you can still do so abroad.  The curriculum on offer and the level of support available may be worth looking into.  Often the fee-paying schools follow the International Baccalaureate curriculum which is widely recognised.

Whatever decision you make it will be one of the most important decisions in your child’s life.  Thinking and planning as early as possible and looking into all the options is the best way forward.  It might also be worthwhile to be speak to other expats and their children for their experiences and thoughts.

Have you moved abroad with your children?  What schooling did you choose for them?  Was it the right or wrong choice?  

Or are you a child that has been educated abroad?  How did it work out for you and do you wish your parents had made a different choice?  

Image: Grant Cochrane /


  1. Nikki

    Hi, I would agree with much of what you have said. However there is another option. We moved to France 7 years ago with 3 school aged children. Our eldest was 14 – a very difficult age to move as you say. We decided for him to board in the UK and travel home for holidays. This worked really well for us (he was already a day pupil at the school so it was no hardship for him). He’s now studying for a MSc in Chemistry at Bristol and taking an Erasmus year in Montpelier in Sept.
    Our second eldest son was 10 when we moved – he went into the last year at a local French primary school and had enough French by the end of the year to cope with the move into secondary school. I would say that 10 is just about the oldest age you can expect your children to cope with entering into the French system. I think it’s very difficult for them going into a secondary school with very little French as you rightly point out.
    The cost of private schools in the UK are often prohibitive – our son was lucky enough to have a scholarship, but had he not we would probably of sent him to an International school.

  2. Sarah

    Hi Nikki
    Thank you for your comments, it’s good to hear from people who have first hand experience. It sounds like you made the right choices for your children and I guess it certainly helped having that option for your eldest. It’s also great to see a UK student going abroad on the Erasmus scheme, it doesn’t seem to be that well known in the UK, but I think it’d be very worthwhile for anyone who has the opportunity.



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