Expat Advice for Choosing an International School


When you are preparing to move abroad, the list of decisions and things to consider seems endless!  And when children are involved, understanding what the best option is for their education is top on the list.  

In this featured podcast with The Expat Cast, I loved sharing my advice for choosing an international school for our two older children and a local trilingual school for our youngest.

Check out more of the podcast on Choosing an International School here and my high-level tips below for making this big decision as an expat family.

*Listen on the website, on an iPhone with the Apple Podcast App, or by downloading any other podcast app such as PodBean.

My Expat Advice for Choosing an International School 

Determine Your Budget

This is the most sensible first step to any expat schooling plan.  Your options for schooling are only as vast as your budget.  Many expats can negotiate into their relocation packages an allowance for child education, which will surely open up loads of choices.  

However if this isn’t part of your expat benefits, you may want to consider more affordable international schools (yes they do exist!) or even the public system, which in many cities is quite good.  

Understand the Options in Your City

You’ll likely find a wide variety of international schools in any foreign city.  Here in Barcelona there are more than a dozen including the German School, American School, British School, French School… You get the point! 

But since these private educations aren’t cheap, you may also want to consider looking outside the international bubble.  Be sure to check with Facebook expat and parenting groups in your city, local government resources and websites to further understand their education system before diving in too deep.

For example, here in Barcelona you actually have three options – international private schools, trilingual semi-private schools (also known as concertadas in Spanish) and local public schools. We actually choose both for our three kids, as I’ll explain below!

Decide What Your Priorities Are 

Once you determine what your budget will allow, the next best step is to identify your priorities.  Maybe its for your children to grow their language skills.  Perhaps it’s for them to be immersed into the culture and surrounded by locals.  Or still, it may be strictly academics you’re after. 

Figuring out what you want your children to gain from their educational experience abroad will help highlight some of the best options for you.

Personally, we wanted a school for our older two kids that challenged them academically, allowed them to establish friendships with lots of international students, taught them a new language (even multiple languages!) and wasn’t massive in size.  It had to feel like a family, which would help our kids adjust as quickly as possible.

For our third child, the baby of the family, we didn’t send her to school until two years after moving to Spain.  So we felt comfortable enough at that point to take a risk and enrolled her into a semi-private trilingual school. 

Yup, I was nervous as HELL stepping outside the comfort zone but as it turns out, it was the right move!  We couldn’t be happier.

Remember Each Child is Different 

Just as every child’s personality is different, so is their learning style.  Some kids benefit from a more project driven curriculum similar to the Montessori system.  Others may need unique structure or room for loads of creative arts and physical time.

Does your child have special learning needs?  Make sure each school on your list has the kind of support your child required. 

For a child that is shy by nature, they may find a large school overwhelming.  Or if your child is an avid basketball player, you’ll want to consider the type of sports culture/after school activities offered for he or she. 

In order for your child to thrive in their new academic environment, their likes and needs should be top priority!

Have Faith in Your Decision

Parents, myself in particular, are really good at second guessing themselves.  Don’t do it!  If you follow my advice here and ultimately come to the very best choice for your child, try not to play the “what if” game.  Have faith in your decision.

Nothing about the expat transition will be flawless and choosing a school is no exception.  Sure, there may be aspects you’ll find yourself comparing to schools back home or perhaps other schools in your expat city. 

But rest assured, as long as your child is happy and growing both socially and academically, you’ve done well!