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Moving to Hong Kong: Your Essential Checklist for Choosing a School

Whether you’re still considering a move to Hong Kong and haven’t yet begun a school search or you’ve recently arrived and need to fully understand the school options here, this checklist contains everything you need to consider before starting the application process. 

Good luck settling in, and if you need any advice, we’re happy to help!

1.   Consider schools in various locations

There’s a plethora of excellent schools in Hong Kong (we are truly spoilt for choice) and many curricula are offered from Australian, American, UK National Curriculum, IB, and more. Don’t just focus on schools on Hong Kong Island. Also, consider schools in Kowloon and the New Territories. (bonus: more reasonable apartment rentals)

Remember the best school is to one that suits your child the best. Don’t just settle for school recommendations from your friends/colleagues – there are many hidden gems out there. It’s also a good idea to look for a school before you decide where to live because it’s easier to find a home than to receive a school placement. Many schools are oversubscribed so wanting to live on Hong Kong Island might mean any school closest to your home are fully subscribed.

We have provided detailed information on international schools and their admissions processes in our Unique Asia Schools Guide Book:

2.  Prepare your school wish list

Once you have reviewed as many schools as you feel are the right fit, you will need to create a more concrete picture of what is most important to you and your child. We suggest a list of ‘school ingredients’ (for example: space availability, sports facilities, bus service, music and drama opportunities, exam results, curriculum, class size, fees and teacher retention).

In general, international schools are welcoming but you need to know that your child will be valued for his or her own individuality, skills and abilities. Once you have established your wish list, it’s time to start booking school tours and making enquiries. It’s a good idea to compile a spreadsheet on the schools which you like the most.

3.  Review your short list & consider the school fees

  • Tuition at an international school can be quite high, reaching HK$200,000 a year for Primary Level.
  • Before you even get to the interview stage, you will need to pay an application fee - this can range from USD65 to USD470.
  • Once you receive an offer, you are expected (in most cases) to pay an enrolment fee/debenture fee. 

However, it is worth noting that while some costs may seem high, other things are often included within the tuition fees, such as books and art supplies. It is important to check with your prospective schools to find out more about the potential fees and all the extra, hidden costs.

Once you know the likely cost of your child’s schooling, you then need to consider how you will arrange for sufficient funds to be available at the right time. Upon acceptance of a place, some schools require a debenture fee (refundable).  This can be anything from USD 12,000 to USD 64,000.

4.  Check the admissions policies

So once you have completed Steps 2 and 3, you are now closer to applying to your preferred schools. But before you do this, check on the application dates and admissions policies. Some schools only accept applications over a specific period of time and applying after the deadline means your child’s name is placed on the ‘late application list’.

For instance, English Schools Foundation (ESF) only accepts applications for Year 1, every year, from September 1 -30. If you apply after this date, there is a very low chance of your child being offered an interview (and from August 2020(and onwards), ESF will only offer Year 1 places to their existing kindergarten students).

Many other schools, such as Canadian International School, Hong Kong International School, and Harrow International School have very strict application deadlines. It’s pointless wasting your valuable time working on an application and wasting money if your child will be placed on a long waitlist. But do keep in mind that international schools do save a specific number of places for relocating families (ask schools about this).

5.  Visit schools

No matter how much information you read on social media, school websites, and guide books, there is no substitute for visiting a school and experiencing the environment for yourself. Some main points to consider on a school visit are:

  • Do you feel welcome at the school?
  • Are students engaged and happy?
  • Is the school well-resourced and is the equipment up-to-date?
  • Are there good safety measures in place?
  • Are the staff friendly and knowledgeable about their school?
  • Will your child have an orientation visit or be given a buddy to help her settle in?
  • Does the school provide options for prospective parents to talk to current families?

After your school visit, it’s important to remember, you are choosing a school for the whole family. How the parent community integrates with each other and the school is especially important for expat families, as there is going to be a big adjustment to a new place, culture, language and people. Some international schools, like Australian International School, Nord Anglia International School, Hong Kong Academy and Hong Lok Yuen International School, offer an amazing parent support network to help make the transition period less stressful.

6.  Start Applying

Trust your gut feeling! Apply to schools that are the best choice for your child and your family and where your child will at least be given a chance of an interview. It’s a good idea to have a Plan A and a Plan B, just in case your child does not meet the entry requirements or there is no place offered due to specific priority systems (ranking system).

Other tips:

  • Don’t rush your applications
  • Never leave any space blank
  • Answer all parent statements
  • Send all supporting documents
  • Follow up closely with Admissions Managers

Obviously, there is no “one size fits all” approach to selecting a school. It's all about what works with your core values, educational goals, and lifestyle.

It’s important to plan ahead and to be armed with as much valuable information as possible. Once you follow some careful steps, you’ll be able to make the most sensible decision about your child’s education.

You will find some interesting information about schools from parents on our website:

School reviews, updates on education, school trends, can be found on these websites:

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