Education, Expat, school

Expat Parenting: Choosing an International School

Choosing and International School system is a confusing headache. Parents everywhere want the best education for their children.  However, when you move to a different country every few years, the decisions, trade-offs and problems multiply.


An Expat Dilemma

American School? British School? French School? German School? Local School? Home School? Boarding School? Anywhere-that-has-a-place-for-my-child-School? Which school is the right school?

This is a conundrum faced by many expat parents.

There are a whole host of factors to consider and I’m sure I’ll have more to share on this subject in future, but in the first instance I’m including a nifty little table I’ve put together to assist you in working out which grade/class/year equivalent your child may fit into moving from one system to another.  It’s something I would have found useful to have over the the last few years, so I figured it might help a few other people too.

Table showing how UK, US, South African, French and Swedish school systems compare.

UK US South Africa France  Sweden Age
Pre School/ Nursery   Grade 000 Maternelle Petite


Reception Pre-Kindergarten Grade 00 Maternelle Moyenne


Year 1 Kindergarten Grade R or O Maternelle Grande


Year 2 Grade 1 Grade 1 CP
Year 3 Grade 2 Grade 2 CE1  Grade 1 7-8
Year 4 Grade 3 Grade 3 CE2  Grade 2 8-9
Year 5 Grade 4 Grade 4 CM1  Grade 3 9-10
Year 6 Grade 5 Grade 5 CM2  Grade 4 10-11
Year 7 Grade 6 Grade 6 6ème  Grade 5 11-12
Year 8 Grade 7 Grade 7 5ème  Grade 6 12-13
Year 9 Grade 8 Grade 8 4ème  Grade 7 13-14
Year 10 Grade 9 Grade 9 3ème  Grade 8 14-15
Year 11 Grade 10 Grade 10 2ème Grade 9 15-16
Year 12 Grade 11 Grade 11 1ère  Grade 10 16-17
Year 13 Grade 12 Grade 12 Terminale  Grade 11


Grade 12




German, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish School Systems

Currently, it covers the UK, US, South African and French systems. There was a blank column, it was originally intended for zee German education system, but it’s not a system I’ve had any real life experience with and the information I found online wasn’t great, so rather than make a pigs ear of it and mislead anyone, I left it out.  That column has now been filled with the Swedish system courtesy of Lisa Ferland at Knocked up Abroad.  We believe that it also works for the Danish, Norwegian and Finnish schools, but if that’s incorrect, please let me know and I can make any necessary corrections.

If you have another school system you’d like to add, please get in touch.  The more complete this comparison table is, the more useful it will be to more parents navigating between different education systems.

Will my child be ahead or behind their home country school system?

Hold on, it’s not that straight forward. Depending where you’re from and where you’re moving to both your child age when the academic year starts and finishes and cut off dates.

Child’s Age

There is an added caveat regarding the age column.  If you are moving from Europe/America and your child moves to a Southern hemisphere school (including South Africa, Australia and New Zeeland), the grade your child will go into depends upon when your child’s birthday falls.

Academic Year Northern vs Southern Hemisphere

In Europe/US the academic year runs from August/September – to June/July.  In South Africa and other southern hemisphere countries, the academic year runs from January to December.  So, for example, if your child is 11 and turns 12 in October, they would currently be in Grade 5 in the US system, but will have already moved to Grade 6 in January in the SA system.

Alternatively.  If your child is 11, turning 12 in April they would be in Grade 6 in the US system and also in Grade 6 in the SA system.  Come August/September, they would move up to grade 7 in the US system, but remain in Grade 6 in the SA system until the following January when they would move to Grade 7.

Confused?  Essentially, when moving to from a Northern hemisphere school to a Southern hemisphere school your child will either be part of an academic year ahead of, or behind where they would be at home depending when their birthday falls.

Oh, and a final note regarding the age column on the right. In Europe and the west, a newborn baby is 0 years old at birth and after 12 months, they turn 1 – the age column works on this basis. If you’re from Asia, I know that some countries (for example South Korea) count their child’s ages differently with newborns already being counted as 1 year old from day one and after 12 months you will count them as 2, so please bear that in mind if you are looking at the age column.

Helpful?  Not helpful?  Any corrections?  Any additions?  Let me know.


8 thoughts on “Expat Parenting: Choosing an International School”

    1. Absolutely, our children are still quite young, but between them they’ve already dabbled with British, Turkish, American and South African schools – each system having its pros and cons. The fact that they’re still young is a good thing, once kids reach the critical pre-university years, the school choices have a much more wide reaching impact. Gulp!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. We are contemplating moving home. Either next year or a year later. Next year would be preferable for schooling reasons as my elder daughter will be going into Yr7. But for every other reason we want to stay 🙂 They are currently in the American International school so follow a different curriculum – time will tell whether this will matter when we do eventually return to the UK system….


  2. We move internationally every 2-3 years and daughter is 12. We simply give the prospective school her birthday and current reports for both school and any extra curricular things (ballet, community sport, drama club etc) and work with admissions to ensure she is placed appropriately

    She has gone up grades, down grades as we move countries (not always in international school) and told her ‘who cares what they call it, you’re where you need to be’ she may repeat work (yeah, an opportunity to be one of the leader kids) or need support (exciting to learn something new)

    With our current move we negotiated school as part of our package and have up other things as a consistent curriculum is now vital as she starts high school.

    Our criteria from now on is IB.


    1. Hi Ms-Havachat – I agree with you completely. This post really is just a starting point – first time expats don’t always realise how school systems differ and if the school their child is going to doesn’t operate in their native language, it can be a confusing and worrying time. I’m an ex-expat kid myself and went down a grade, up a grade etc – went to Dutch school, international school and boarding school and came out the other end just fine (I think?) – so I think we’re on the same page 🙂 . I also agree that for high school you ideally need to pick a system and stick with it, but I also know that sometimes this just isn’t possible. How things pan out and what decisions you the parent makes does also depend very much on the child though, some are far more able to cope with change and different systems than others – some blossom, others flounder. It sounds like your daughter is managing brilliantly. Good luck with IB.


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