Local vs. International School: Choosing the Best Option for Your Family

Are you looking for a school for your children? Are you feeling overwhelmed by the choices? Eline Hausel has some tips for navigating the Amsterdam educational scene. 

When moving to The Netherlands with children, your first plan might be to send them to an international school. International schools offer curricula that are recognized around the world and the language of instruction is usually English. If you are planning to move out of the Netherlands again shortly, this might be the best choice for you. Learning Dutch may not make much sense for a short-term stay (unless you will be moving to Belgium next).

If you are planning on staying for a longer period of time in the Netherlands, then a Dutch public school may be a good choice for your family. The public schools are of good quality, your children will learn a new language and, furthermore, it makes it easier for them – and you – to integrate into local society.

A Quick Overview of the Dutch School System

A unique feature of the Dutch school system is the choice in types of education. Among the state-funded schools, there are religious schools, schools that follow philosophical or pedagogical principles such as Dalton or Montessori, bilingual schools, and more. They all follow the Dutch curriculum.

Local Dutch basisscholen (primary schools) are for children aged 4-12. After the age of 12, children go to a middelbare school (secondary school), which has different levels: VMBO, HAVO, and VWO. For a summary, watch a video produced by Nuffic, titled School System in the Netherlands

There are many advantages to a local Dutch school. Your children will learn Dutch and this will help you, as a parent, learn too. Your children will get to know Dutch kids in the neighborhood and make friends with them. Additionally, most schools are monitored by the government for quality and most of them are free except for a small parental contribution (between 40-80 euros per year) to cover extracurricular activities. This is far cheaper than an international school.

Most children in the Netherlands go to a public school close to their home. Walking or biking to your primary school is normal. This will allow you to integrate into local life by dropping your children off at school by bicycle!

Bridging Classes While Your Child Learns Dutch

It can feel scary to leave your child in a Dutch school if they don't yet speak the language. The Dutch government has made some provisions for this.

In most cities, children age four and five attend a normal Dutch school. At this age, children learn a lot through play and they absorb a new language quite easily. From the age of six, when children start reading and writing, children follow a Dutch immersion program (language class or Nieuwkomers class) for about a year. After this year they will continue at the local Dutch school. There are immersion classes for primary and secondary schools. The younger the child, the easier it is for them to pick up a new language. Secondary immersion classes take about 1.5 years to complete and sometimes foreign children start at secondary school in group of children of a younger age than them. In language classes, your child is not the only one who doesn’t speak Dutch. Students from all around the world are together learning their new school language!

View a map of all newcomers’ classes and international classes in the Amsterdam area and learn more about their individual enrolment procedures and policies.

Subsidized and Unsubsidized International Schools

Some international schools are partly funded by the government and others are private. For subsidized international schools, the annual fees are between 3,600 and 8,500 euros, depending on the school and grade level. Subsidized schools generally offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.  This is easily transferable to other IB schools in other countries and classes are mostly taught in English. Fully private schools have fees upward of 12,000-26,000 euros. Some of these schools offer the specialized curricula of other countries (i.e. French, Japanese, American, or British), while others follow the IB curriculum. 

Celebrate Your Choice

If your child speaks English, an international school may give you a safer feeling. Some teens may do best doing high school level work in English. Nevertheless, it has been proven that learning another language has many positive effects on the brain. If you are planning on staying in the Netherlands for a longer period of time, going “local” is certainly a great possibility.  In either case, you will be there to cheer your children on as they overcome new challenges and celebrate successes.


Eline Hausel is founder and owner of Young Expat Services, an education support company providing local & international school/pre-school and daycare searches for internationals. She also offers tailor-made Dutch lessons for children in the Amsterdam and Haarlem area and likes to help families integrate more fully into Dutch society.  

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