Join now
Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Educating Expat Kids

Finland, Singapore, and the Netherlands do well in multiple aspects regarding education, while expat parents elsewhere struggle to balance cost and quality.
  • Finland is top of the class for all things education.
  • Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and Greece fall behind.
  • Nordic countries offer the best value education.
  • Finland and Singapore are top in terms of quality.
  • The most popular education option is a local state school.


In 2017, 26% of expats who took the Expat Insider survey have dependent children living abroad. These respondents were asked about the availability, cost, and quality of education, as well as the general education options available in their country of residence.

Top of the Class

Famed for short school days, little homework, and no exams, Finland scores top marks once again, ranking first for all but cost, where it comes a close second. One of the few non-Asian nations to get into the top 5 PISA rankings, Finland makes expat parents happy with the quality of education: 91% are satisfied with this factor. Other countries that appear in the top 5 for multiple factors are Singapore and the Netherlands.

The biggest changes from the 2016 survey were in terms of the availability of education. While Finland retains the top spot, the rest of the top 5 (Singapore, Canada, Spain, and Mexico) are new. Mexico jumped from the middle of the 2016 single factor ranking for availability (27th place) to join the top 5 in 2017.

Not much has changed in terms of general education options since the 2016 survey; however, overall strong performer Singapore has improved on its ninth-place ranking to join the top 5 in 2017 (fifth place). Austria (ranking 4th in 2016) and Luxembourg (ranking 5th), however, had a tough year, falling to 10th and 17th place respectively.

Must Try Harder

In last place for three of the four single factor rankings — except cost — is Greece. Ranking 41st for reading and 43rd for science and math out of the 70 countries in the PISA tests, 43% of Expat Insider 2017 survey respondents raising kids in Greece are not satisfied with the quality of education, with 11% even saying it’s very bad. 

In terms of general education options, Greece doesn’t impress either: it ranks 45th out of 45 countries for the second year in a row, while the rest of the bottom 3 are new in 2017: Saudi Arabia and Uganda have slipped down the rankings, with the latter falling from 28th place in 2016 to third from bottom (43rd place) in 2017. Almost a third of expat parents in Uganda (31%) are not happy with the education options in general, and over half (54%) aren’t satisfied with the affordability.

Balancing Quality and Cost

In terms of cost, the Nordic states are star students, making up four of the top 5 (Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, followed by France). This is a significant improvement for Denmark that didn’t make the top 10 in 2016 (11th out of 45), and is now fourth, pushing the Czech Republic down to seventh place.

Expat parents in Hong Kong, China, and Qatar are particularly unhappy with the cost of education. Interestingly, in all three of these countries expat parents are far more likely to send their children to an international school than the global average. Though cost and availability are challenges for expat parents in Hong Kong, over three-quarters are happy with the quality of the education (76%), and Hong Kong is among the top 10 for every subject in the PISA ranking.

Finland and Singapore remain the two best countries in terms of quality of education for the second year running, and Switzerland also keeps its spot in the top 5, taking fourth place. There have been some significant shifts since 2016: Japan climbed the ranks from 17th place to take 5th place in 2017. In contrast, despite being in the top 5 in 2016, South Korea has now fallen to 21st place and Hong Kong to 15th.

Greece, Brazil, and Indonesia are the bottom 3 in terms of quality of education. While Brazil and Greece are no strangers to the bottom of the education rankings, Indonesia slipped from 40th place in 2016 to 43rd in 2017; a third of expat parents in Indonesia (33%) are not happy with the quality of the education and over half (52%) do not think education is affordable.

The Most Popular Types of School

The most popular option among expats is to send their children to a local state school: a third of expat parents with dependent children (33%) choose this type of school for their kids, particularly in Greece, Ireland, and the UK. International school is another popular choice: 32% of expat parents send their children to one, and it’s particularly common in Asia (Hong Kong and Thailand) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar).

The third most common type of institution among expat parents is a local private school, with just over two in ten (21%) choosing this option. Almost half of expat parents in Brazil (49%) prefer this option, and it’s also popular in Costa Rica, South Africa, Mexico, and the Philippines.

Their reason for moving abroad may affect the education option an expat parent picks for their children. Expats who moved abroad for their or their partner’s career (Foreign Assignees, Career Expats, Foreign Recruitees, and Traveling Spouses) are more likely to send their kids to an international school.

Further Reading