Redefining Relocation - Creating a Family TImeline - Education and the expat child

Redefining Relocation 3: Creating a Family Timeline – Education and the Expat Child

Redefining Relocation - Creating a Family TImeline - Education and the expat childThe issue of schooling is, for most expat families, one of the most important parts of the relocation plan. There is, however, a problem.

It is fairly easy to manage the education needs of younger children, especially for what we believe to be a short term transfer. What we don’t foresee is that many assignments are extended or new postings offered, and what was originally meant to be an interim plan is stretching out for far longer than is ideal. So while you may be only planning on a two year temporary assignment, we’re adopting a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach, and looking into the future.

Critical areas of your education timeline will vary according to the age and needs of your children. The ideal strategy is to discuss them directly with the school Principal, Headteacher or counselor, to clarify which requirements are mandatory, and where there is flexibility.


4 – 11


For ages 4-11, the school calendar dates and entry requirements are critical to planning a smooth transition. They vary by country, state and district, and can involve everything from waiting lists, three day enrolments and considerable amount of documentation, to simply arriving at the school on the start date.

Usually, state schools will require proof of citizenship and local residence, a health record (including health and vaccination records in some areas), and an education history or school transcript from previous schools. Private schools are less focused on residence, but some have other entry criteria, including religion or spoken language.

Private schools are often a popular choice amongst expats for their entry flexibility, familiarity with international and expat children, and the use of internationally recognized assessment strategies, however you need to consider whether you can afford the fees long term, especially if the assignment policy moves to local payroll.

State schools have a greater variance in standards, curricula and assessment practices, but at the younger age, exploring a range of education strategies is not only possible, but often one of the cited benefits of expat life.


11- 17


At the middle / high school stage, the education becomes more focused on college entry, career progression and graduation assessments. There is still a great deal of variety in terms of curriculum, examination strategies and college admission requirements, but it becomes increasingly more difficult to move between them without losing ground.

In addition to the previous points about entry requirements, you need to consider:

  • Enrolment start date restrictions. At higher levels – usually involving continual or end point assessment –  students often are not admitted beyond a particular date or point in the course.
  • High School exit requirements. Depending on the curriculum your child follows, there may be specific academic courses, attainment levels, or additional extra-curricular requirements for graduation. A typical transcript might require evidence of study of maths, English, science and art, community service to be awarded the High School diploma. These vary between districts, states, countries and curricula, and will require clarification with the awarding body.
  • College entry. For the TCK, the academic pathway is often a mix of approaches and assessment strategies. After the age of 12, you need to start considering college location (whether home or host nation, or a third location) and the entry requirements. While many colleges accept a range of evidence of attainment / achievement, you need to know what is both accepted and expected before selecting subjects for study.The International Baccalaureate program is the recognized global study program for college, but UK and US curriculum are also widely accepted worldwide.
  • Methods, schedules and dates of assessment, grading and examination. Internationally,  the grade level at which assessment begins and ends, the combination of subject requirements and types of assessments for college entry, the dates of course selection and the importance of standardized national tests are very different. Most importantly for your timeline, you need to clarify in advance the dates or timeframes that they all occur. Getting it wrong can potentially mean your child repeating an academic year, having to take additional classes during the summer, or retaking tests at a later date.

It’s incredibly bewildering for anyone who hasn’t experienced the system firsthand. The most effective way of getting accurate information and a clear understanding is to contact the school, college or an international school advisory service directly. While many school district websites publish exam dates, they don’t necessarily include dates for course selection, exam fee due dates, and college application deadlines, so it’s worth explaining your situation to the school principal, college admissions, or student counselor especially when they are unfamiliar with the challenges of managing expatriate education.




You may be fooled into thinking that once your child is in college, you have nothing more to worry about, but there are potential residency issues that need to be considered.
The length of the assignment. How will the length of the assignment affect your residency rights in your home and host location?

Most home locations have rules of parental residence for a specific period prior to college admission to qualify for resident fees – falling outside these could mean you have to pay international student rates even in your home nations.

Similarly, if your assignment ends before your child finishes college in your host location, they will need to apply for an independent sudent visa, and again, international fees may apply.

Lastly, if your child reaches the legal adult age, they may no longer be considered a dependent, and again may need to apply for a student visa, and potentially incur different fees.

The other issue is that of employment authorization if your child does not want to attend college. There is no guarantee that they will be allowed to work, and may have to return to your home country to seek employment.

Shepherding children through school, college and beyond is a challenge at the best of times  (especially when they need help with their trigonometry homework), and there are always going to be obstacles to navigate. These are ones that I know of from my own experience, and those of people I know – all within the mainstream education system.

How do you all manage to meet the education needs of your children? What about the areas we haven’t discussed, like specialized learning needs, religious schools or boarding schools? What are your experiences?



4 thoughts on “Redefining Relocation 3: Creating a Family Timeline – Education and the Expat Child”

  1. I am in the fortunate position that my parter’s company fund my daughter’s schooling at a British system school. She’s 4 years old, which is the school starting age in England, but were we not in a position where the company would pay for her education she would not start school in Germany until she’s 6. While we think she’s a bit young to be at school, we know at some point we will be returning to the UK and she will need to slot back into the system.

    Even though she’s of a young age, her education is a major factor in our decision-making process. We have friends whose young children have gone from the German school system to the UK one and it has taken them approx. one unhappy year to catch up with their peers. A lot of my daughter’s school friends are TCK’s whose parents have to move every few years. Most people we have spoken to tend to chose a school system, whether British, American, or whatever, and locate a school in the country they move to that can offer the same curriculum. Not always easy though!

    1. Thanks for reminding me! We had a similar issues moving from Wales (3 1/2 yr old start) to Kenya, where the International School didn’t start until 5. We’re now in the US, where both of the children are a year ahead, simply because of how the school curriculum has followed on. It meant that we had to decide between the kids permanently being the youngest in their year, vs repeating a considerable amount of lesson content to stay with their age group. We opted for the former, and it has worked pretty well, but it hasn’t been without it’s headaches.

  2. Anyone UK expats who have children in the US public school system but wanting them to go to University in the UK, be aware that many UK universities will not recognise US high school qualifications. This is largely because children in the US system only ever fill in bubbles in exams. They DO NOT SIT ANY WRITTEN EXAMS and therefore do not have to prove that they can have an original thought! (Sorry about the rant – can you tell this is a real bugbear of mine!) Cambridge International Exams and the IB are internationally recognised, so try to find a school that offers these, although that is likely to mean going privately. The US education system is gradually becoming aware of this problem but unless your child is still in nappies, don’t expect things to have changed in time for them to take any meaningful secondary school exams.

    1. As a parent of a High Schooler who can’t decide which country to go to college in, it’s something that concerns me too – although I will say that we have had correspondence from both UK and US colleges based on his recent PSAT (Practice Standardized Academic Test) results, indicating that they are more widely accepted than we realized.
      I’ll try and get some more definitive answers at FIGT12 for all of us!

      You’re right to suggest that many of the assessments are multiple choice, but having seen the course content and homework requirements of the AP and Honors courses here, I can reassure you that there is plenty of essay based assessment too.. Ugh.

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