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How Do I Choose an International School as an Expat? 6 Things to Consider.

If you’re moving to another country with kids, finding a school that meets your children’s educational, social, and extracurricular needs will be at the top of your list. Many families won’t even consider a move to a new country until they identify a short-list of schools that could work for their kids.

But how can you find a school that fits your child’s needs? How can you assess schools that have different types of accreditations, different customs, and where materials may be in a different language?

We’ve made a check-list —- six things you need to check – in order to find a school for your expat kids:

1. Check the Accreditation

If you’re an expat family, chances are that you want to give your child the option to attend school or university in the future back in your home country. In order to leave that door open, you’ll want to look for a school that has accreditation in your home country, or an internationally accepted and respected accreditation.

For the United States, there are a number of accreditations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. These include:

  • MSCHE - Middle States Commission on Higher Education

  • WSUSC - WASC Senior College and University Commission

  • SACSCOC - Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

  • NWCCU - Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

  • NECHE - New England Commission of Higher Education

  • Higher Learning Commission

There are also several respected accreditation bodies that are European or international in scope:

To check for accreditation legitimacy, you can also check out the membership organizations National Association of Independent Schools and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. These associations require all member schools to be accredited by a recognized agency.

2. Check the Language

The term ‘bilingual school’ can mean many different things. Be sure to check the language of instruction of any school you consider. You may prefer English as the language of instruction. Some international schools will exclusively teach in English, and will offer the national language as a separate subject.

Other schools will teach in both English and the national language. The language of instruction may depend on the class or your child’s grade. Still other schools will use the national language as the primary language of instruction, with English included as a course or otherwise as an important part of the curriculum.

Be sure to ask how your chosen school incorporates English, and what their language of instruction is! If you prefer English as the language of instruction, you may also want to ask what proportion of teachers are native English speakers.

3. Check the Learning Philosophy

If you are living in a place with multiple international school options, you are sure to have many learning philosophy options as well. Some schools follow well-known pedagogies, like Montessori or Waldorf. Others will incorporate religion into the curriculum. Still more will focus on activities outside the classroom - perhaps part of the learning philosophy is spending time in nature, experiencing local culture, or working on developing practical skills.

Learning philosophy can vary widely, and every school has its own approach. Ask any school to describe their approach to learning, to be sure it aligns with your expectations for your child.

4. Check the Budget

International and private school costs abroad typically vary widely. The most prestigious international schools can easily cost over $10,000 per year (if not $50,000 in some countries), while others will only charge a few hundred USD per month.

Be sure to plan for costs above just tuition. Many schools will also charge books, uniform, or matriculation fees.

In Costa Rica, the oldest and most established private schools in the San Jose area typically cost between $7000 and $15000 USD annually, with many smaller schools charging $3000 to $5000 USD per year. In Portugal, annual international school costs will range from €6,000 to €25,000 Euro per year.

5. Check the Student Body

Do you want your child to be surrounded by classmates from all over the world? Would you like them to spend plenty of time getting to know kids from your new country? What about spending more time with kids and families from your home country? If you’re considering multiple international schools, odds are that you will have options in this category as well.

Ask about the student body composition - where are most students from? How many countries are represented?

6. Check the Activities

In many countries, extracurricular activities are not given the same importance as they are in the United States and Canada. So you may be surprised to learn after moving that your child doesn’t have easy access to a dance class, a robotics club, or a debate team. If your kid has hobbies that they care about, be sure to ask about these at any international school.

Of course, if they like to play soccer, you’ll be able to find a place to play just about anywhere in the world!

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