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Education for Expat Children in Zurich

Zurich is a great place to start or continue your expat experience! With a population made up of many nationalities, the city has an international flair. Our guide to Zurich briefly introduces you to leisure, transportation, healthcare, and education in the city by the River Limmat.

Step One: Preschool and Primary School

In Switzerland, all 26 different cantons are, to a certain extent, autonomous when it comes to organizing their education system. In the canton of Zurich, obligatory schooling begins at the age of four. Children attend two years of kindergarten before they start primary school. Daycare facilities for younger kids and nurseries for the little ones are available, but these are not in any way mandatory.

After the first two years of preschool education in kindergarten, children in Zurich go on to primary school. The so-called Primarstufe (primary education) is divided into two levels, years one to three (Unterstufe) and years four to six (Mittelstufe). The curriculum includes subjects such as German, English, and French, math, basic lessons in geography, history, and the sciences, as well as arts, music, and physical education.

Step Two: Secondary Education

After grade six, students attend a secondary school for three years. At this type of school, pupils are taught in two or three different sections, according to their grades and academic skills. After two or three years, students can sit the entrance exam for a Gymnasium — an upper secondary supposed to prepare them for university.

Those who can’t or don’t want to attend a Gymnasium can opt for vocational training in a company or add yet another few years of secondary school at a Fachmittelschule (specialized upper-secondary school, e.g. for music or educational science), Handelsmittelschule (business school), or an Informatikmittelschule (computer-science school). These schools have a more vocational, practical, and specialized focus than a Gymnasium.

For more information on Switzerland’s education system, please refer to our in-depth article on education in Switzerland.

Going to University in Zurich

As far as tertiary education is concerned, the Greater Zurich Area boasts several renowned universities. The University of Zurich (UZH) offers what is probably the widest range of degree courses in Switzerland, including several English-language master’s programs. The ETH Zurich also has a number of English master’s degrees, mostly in the natural sciences: after all, the ETH’s most famous lecturer was none other than Albert Einstein! There are also a number of universities of applied sciences, the Zürcher Fachhochschulen (ZFH).

About 90 km east of Zurich, there’s also the University of St.Gallen, a popular law and business school, which attracts many foreign students.

There are quite a few universities to choose from in Switzerland. Make sure to read our in-depth article on higher education in Switzerland for more information.

Not Mastering the Language? Join an International School

Public education in the canton of Zurich has the distinct advantage that it’s mostly free. However, many public schools in Zurich aren’t day schools and end in the early to mid-afternoon.

There is also the potential language barrier. The official language in the classroom in Zurich is Standard German, and younger kids may also receive instructions in the local version of Schwyzerdütsch (Swiss German). In some schools, children who are not fluent in German will receive extra lessons to help improve their German, and several secondary schools of the Gymnasium type have bilingual sections (German-English, German-French, or German-Italian) for older students. However, even in these schools, there is a strong focus on the German language.

Fortunately, there are several international schools in the Zurich area. While they often demand high tuition fees, many of them also offer after-school hours for older kids and even foreign-language daycare for toddlers. To learn more about individual schools, please check out the websites listed below.

Selected International Schools in Zurich


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Andrey Vasilyev

"I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides."

Elin Gustavson

"At the first InterNations event that I attended, I met my wonderful partner. We now live together in a flat next to the Limmat."

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