Options for Expatriate Families

A decade ago it was simple. Moving abroad with children? If you’re American, you chose the American School. If you’re British, there were likely a handful of British schools to choose from. In any common expatriate destination there may have been a German school, a French school, a Canadian school and several others.

In today’s climate, relocation packages don’t resemble those of a decade ago when costly international school tuition was a given. Lump sums, localization and other policy changes have drastically reduced the number of relocating employees who can count on their employers to foot the bill for international school. Global economic changes have caused companies to move into less expensive – and more business friendly—locations where traditional schooling options for expatriates may be limited. Schools don’t tend to be as nimble as businesses, so expats arrive, sometimes in significant numbers, before new schools are established, built or licensed.

In some locations, Hong Kong for example, demand for schooling has outstripped supply so dramatically that a thriving black market arose governing sale of “debentures” or reserved seats that were established to fund capital expenditures. Astronomical fees on the black market (as high as $500,000 USD per child) don’t even promise admission, but simply preferred places on school wait lists at Hong Kong International School.

Relocating with children has always brought challenges, from curriculum differences to transitional dif culties to availability of services for children with special needs; but current economic factors, in combination, require today’s relocating family to navigate ever more complex waters. Some factors are:

  • When available, international schools, are accompanied by high fees that may not be supported by the sending company;
  • Even when companies fund school fees, long waitlists at international schools make admissions uncertain;
  • Relocation to new locations where school options are few requires courage.

What Can Companies Do?

Accurate and up-to-date information about the educational landscape including appropriate international and local schools – both fee paying and non-fee paying, is crucial. Look for information on:

  • School calendar, particularly if moving families between Northern and Southern hemispheres;
  • Availability of places/length of waitlists;
  • Tuition rates and ancillary fees that may not be included in tuition (busing, uniforms, lunch, trips);
  • Curriculum – what curriculum is taught and how are children who have come froma different curriculum accommodated?
  • Special education services;
  • Age and grade considerations – on assignment and repatriation;
  • School culture, particularly in non-academic areas like parental involvement;
  • Experience with expatriate children.

Know what your peer companies offer in terms of packages and exceptions. Until now, there has not been a detailed survey exploring the practices of global employees regarding education-related assistance for assignees with school-age children.

If you don’t provide tuition assistance, consider offering families expert help as families in transition struggle with choices. Parents need ready answers to their questions and school- nding assistance, particularly where international schools aren’t the only option. This is particularly important when the company does not offer tuition assistance or when assignees are on local or local plus packages.

Parents benefit from knowing their options and from help analyzing alternatives. An education expert can develop educational solutions including, but are not limited to, brick and mortar schools. Foreign language assistance, distance learning, tutors, and special educators can all become part of packages that provides families with support.

In addition to its consultant services, School Choice International offers comprehensive information through Global Education Explorer, the only web based tool that compares and contrasts education worldwide.

Remember, parents are as happy as their unhappiest child. As companies conserve costs, families are thrown into increasingly unfamiliar territory. Therefore, more creative solutions are required to protect your investment in talent.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Perelstein, Chair of School Search Solutions and School Choice International, is a highly credentialed educator who founded the companies in London 15 years ago. The firm is now the leading global educational consultancy with 140 consultants in 75 locations worldwide. School Choice International has been named each year to INC’s 500/5000 list of fastest growing companies from 2011–2013.