ExpatFinder International School Fees Survey 2018

ExpatFinder’s third annual International School Fees Survey (see our 2016 and 2017 surveys) presents a valuable snapshot of education costs for families relocating internationally through an in-depth study of the pricing and availability of 688 schools in 27 countries around the world. View our full infographic here.

After a 2% increase in international education costs across the globe presented in last year’s survey results, the 2018 survey reflects a startling 19% rise in prices compared to 2017, with some countries seeing even more substantial hikes in fees. For example, Singapore and Luxembourg have seen international education fee increases of 20% and 31%, respectively. Although tuition fees are expected to climb due to changes in global workforces and costs of living, and Forbes expecting the exponential growth of the international schools market to be worth US$89 billion by 2026, these large increases do not tell the full story. 

“International schools were originally created to ensure that expatriates could access presumably higher quality ‘Western’ education for their children while on international assignments. With more companies expanding into developing markets in far-flung countries, international schools have struggled to meet the demand from expat talents. While it is challenging enough for international schools to cater to growing expat demand, we find that the demand for places is now coming from the exploding middle classes of host countries as international schools offer international English curriculums. These are perceived by wealthy locals, particularly in Asia, as a stepping stone for their children to compete for spots in prestigious Western universities, and eventually positions at multinational companies. 

“The issue boils down to the perennial issue of low supply and high demand plaguing the international education industry in the past two decades with more companies expanding into developing markets in far-flung countries, international schools have struggled to meet the demand of expat talents. While it is challenging enough for international schools to cater to growing expat demand, we now see that the demand for places is coming from the exploding middle classes of host countries as local parents regard international schools as a stepping stone for their children to compete for spots in prestigious Western universities and eventually, positions at multinational companies. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect prices to continue to increase.”

Sebastien Deschamps – CEO and co-founder of ExpatFinder.com


Five Most Expensive Countries for International Education

  1. China – US$33,591 per annum
  2. Switzerland – US$32,453 per annum
  3. Belgium – US$29,613 per annum
  4. United Kingdom – US$26,627 per annum
  5. Singapore – US$25,758 per annum


China Takes to the Top

From the 688 international schools studied for this year’s survey, the total cost of a single child’s 12-year education from ages 4 to 18 varied hugely, between US$1,106,883 for Surval Montreux School in Switzerland and just US$6,542 for Global English School in Nonthaburi, Thailand. Once again, the enormous differences observed between the most and least expensive school we found acutely demonstrates the variation in schooling costs across the globe.

The meteoric rise of China (US$33,591 per annum) to the top of this year’s table is supported by findings in this year’s China Report for Education Suppliers by ISC Research. They report that the aspirations of Chinese families for an English-medium, internationally oriented education continue to fuel the demand for a new segment of international schools, including those that involve partnerships between a Chinese owner and a foreign school, and bilingual schools with an international focus on teaching and learning. Richard Gaskell, Schools Director at ISC Research, reported that while China outnumbered the rest of the world for international schools (5,344), it was still seeing a high demand for schools, particularly private Chinese bilingual schools.


"Our corporate clients are well aware of the increasingly high cost of education. They are carefully following the market dynamics and are beginning to consider alternative education options – that is to say, private bilingual schools are attracting growing interest."


"An increasing number of our corporate clients are beginning to offer education packages that are more in line with the cost of a private bilingual school, either from the outset or after an “adjustment” period of a year or two. While some expats would prefer a curriculum that is nearly the equivalent of what would be offered back home, others are more open to a more global, Chinese-focussed educational experience. In any case, the Beijing and Shanghai’s top bilingual private schools offer Western-style IB/A-Levels/AP programs for high school students."

Mike Chang – Marketing Director of Maxview Group

Supply and Demand Drives the East

As prices rise across the world, so do those in the East, up to an average of US$16,403 per annum in 2018, with Thailand (US$16,619 per annum) and Japan (US$16,044 per annum) proving to be the most representative countries for the continent. The increasing fees in this part of the world should be particularly taken note of, as when combined with the lower cost of living in this region, school payments can become even more of a burden for those on lower incomes.

As the demand for better quality and availability of international education increases across China, so do the yearly fees for students. An increase of 16% this year brings the per-annum charges to US$33,591 catapulting China to the top of the 2018 survey’s chart for most expensive international education. Singapore’s significant increase in fees to US$25,758 per annum secures its spot as the fifth most expensive country for international education.

Asia has long been a hotbed for expat relocations, as the varied environments, opportunities for travel and favourable business regulations draw organisations and expats alike. As such, it is unsurprising that new international schools are continually popping up to provide for the demand. Thankfully, as there are many schools to choose from in the East which will satisfy smaller budgets. In fact, the five most affordable schools we found in our survey were located in Thailand (median cost of US$16,619 per annum) and India (median cost of US$4,893 per annum).

“We continue to see a steady growth and demand for top-quality international education providers in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam due to an increase in the number expats and affluent locals attending international schools, with these countries planning to build more schools while enlarging existing ones. However, we also see that some markets like South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have made local state education policy reforms to limit the access to international education by locals, which may temporarily ease the situation for expats, but ultimately there appears to be no end in sight to rising fees.”
Sebastien Deschamps – CEO and Co-Founder of ExpatFinder.com

Western Schools Stay Expensive

With the West being home to some of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the world, it is unsurprising that it hosts five most expensive schools in this year’s report, along with three of the top five countries; Switzerland, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. The generally higher cost of living does contribute to this but traditionally, Switzerland, USA, UK and France are ranked highly as they are home to qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate, International High School Diploma, the General Certificate of Secondary Education, and the French Baccalaureate respectively.

“International schools that offer prestigious qualifications can charge higher prices because they are internationally recognised and easily transferable between countries. For talents moving to these markets, one point to note is even if you do manage to negotiate your children’s school fees as a part of your salary package, your employers will probably expect you to opt for a public school or a much less expensive private school. In fact, this has become such a problem in recent years that expats with average incomes in these markets can no longer afford to send their children to international schools. They are instead choosing to return home or have their children return home, sometimes to live with relatives”
Sebastien Deschamps – CEO and Co-Founder of ExpatFinder.com

“Our clients are aware that British schools are regarded as being of very high quality and having a strong global reputation which will boost their children’s CV when the time comes to apply for universities and jobs. British schools also offer education in the worldwide language of English, is so this is a safe investment for parents. To mitigate rising costs for parents, we see boarding schools increasingly offer part-time boarding to international students and we also see many families, particularly those with several school-going children, opting for outstanding state schools, at little or no fees, instead of private schools.”

Sylvie Froger – Founder and Director of Simply London Relocation

The cost of international education in the West significantly higher than in the East (US$22,730 per annum compared to US$16,403 per annum), but this difference is primarily offset by the higher wages on offer. There are large variations in cost however across the region, with significant savings to be found for those who are willing to shop around for their education. Likewise, individual countries can provide substantial discounts over their neighbours for expats who are more flexible, such as Belgium (US$29,613 per annum) and the Netherlands (US$8,859 per annum).

Luxembourg is certainly a compelling case and sets itself up as one of the more welcoming central European destinations for expatriates with families, as it has one of the lowest international education costs found in our survey (US$4,408 per annum). This is in stark contrast to the relatively high cost of living in the small state, especially as the education there is world class.

“International Schools have been able to keep lower fees due to state subsidies for each student that can be in some cases cover up to 40% of the tuition fee. Most parents sending their children to these schools have their company paying for it, so they are not really concerned by the cost.


“The main problem in Luxembourg is that there are not enough spaces in these schools, which means that some people might not accept their assignments. The waiting lists are long and some grades are already fully booked in February. The government is investing in public international schools with curriculums in English. Most expats want to put their kids in the two main private schools (St George & International School of Luxembourg) or the European School if their company has an agreement with them, which causes more problems with the number of available places.”

Stephane Compain – Business Advisor at LuxRelo

Search School Systems for Savings

Last year we reported that to ensure the best education possible for your children (and your wallet) during your time as an expat, you should consider the full array of international education options available. Cultural factors can have a significant role to play, so this is an area that should be given care. For those where the option is available, choosing a school following the French (US$9,489 per annum) or Dutch (US$7,329 per annum) system can bring significant savings of around 50% when compared to the cost of General International schools (US$19,907 per annum).

“We wanted our kids to continue their education in French (we are from Montreal). I think the cost are high, but our kids are exposed to multiple cultures, languages, and they are building contacts for the future that will be very beneficial.”

Etienne Beauregard – Canadian expat living in Brazil

At the other end of the spectrum, being too fixed on the type of schooling you want for your children may require you to pay for the privilege. American schools, for example, have an average yearly cost of US$26,866 per annum, making them almost US$10,000 more expensive per year than the ordinary General International School.  Whatever your preference, ensuring that you take full stock of the options before making a final decision on your child’s future is essential, with quality, culture, prestige, location and cost all vital factors to be juggled.

Home Schools, or Virtual Schools?

In last year’s report, we explored the increasing trend of corporate schools being created across the globe for the children of expatriates. Although these schools provide excellent education opportunities for expatriates in often underserved areas of the world, they still require the students to settle in before they can begin learning, just like they would at other schools, and much in the same way as adults have to settle into their new roles. 

For those out there with a stay-at-home partner, home-schooling is always an option, although this is quite often, and understandably, looked down upon when compared to receiving a more traditional education. Within the last few years, however, new options for home-schooling have popped up with advances in online technology, and there are now virtual schools that offer the same, quality, expert-taught education that you would find in an international school for around US$8,000 per year, making them extremely cost-effective when compared to the other options.

“Currently, The Virtual High School (VHS) works with nearly 700-member schools, including more than 50 international schools located in 33 countries. Annually, VHS has approximately 20,000 enrolments in more than 200 unique online instructor-led courses. VHS provides high school courses that supplement what students take at their local high schools; however, VHS also provides courses to home-school students who wish to take some or all of their high school courses online, including a full-time, online high school diploma option.”

Xuan You – Director of Global Programs and Services at The Virtual High School

There are, of course, downsides which should be thought about with this type of home education. Social skills are essential in the workplace and ensuring that your child has an active real-life social network is an important consideration. Also, schools offer a real opportunity for integrating the entire family in their new home, an essential part of becoming a successful expat. 

Regardless of what you decide is best for your children while living abroad, the considerations to be taken when it comes to education are serious and should be made early in the relocation process. What is the correct balance for quality and cost for you? Do you care how prestigious a school is? Are you willing or able to commit to home or virtual schooling? Asking these questions early on is essential and coming up with a workable and affordable solution will be vital for success while living as an expat with your family.

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All school fees data was taken from the relevant schools’ websites.
All yearly school fee costs were calculated as the median yearly cost, including tuition fees; application, admission and enrolment; registration and re-enrolment; building and capital development; one meal a day; school uniforms; and exams.
All prices are displayed in USD.