The alternative to international education in the Netherlands

The alternative to international education in the Netherlands

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Altair Global has been providing personal relocation and immigration services for expats in the Netherlands for over 25 years, with a focus on quality, mobility and transparency.

An international assignment is an adventure! Whether you are relocating alone or with a family, from a nearby country or a distant one, or for a short or long period.

When it comes to comparing success rates of international assignments, one essential factor is children and, consequently, the availability of (international) education. According to major global mobility surveys and our own professional experience, a lack of international schooling possibilities is critical to a successful assignment.

A shortage of international schools in the Netherlands

We found that a lack of international and high-quality education does not only apply to countries such as China or Brazil but also to the Netherlands. Continued growth of the international community in the Netherlands, and especially in the Amsterdam region, is something international schools cannot keep up with.

By the time a new international school opens its doors, long waiting lists apply. An expat family that does not apply for a place in a school one year upfront, may be confronted with a rejection of the application.

Blindly relocating to the Netherlands whilst hoping to find a place won’t benefit your family’s situation and could turn out to be the critical factor to an assignment’s success.

International schools vs. Dutch schools

Before thinking of relocating, consider the following:

  1. Is this a one-off assignment or will you relocate to other countries again? International schools in the Netherlands often offer the same IB curriculum in English as other countries.
  2. How long will you stay in the Netherlands? Is this a short-term or a long-term assignment? International schools are used to children staying short term and having constant student turnover.
  3. How old is your child? Kindergarten age, primary school or secondary school age? The older the child, the more difficulties they will have in adapting to “local” schools and fulfilling the language requirements.
  4. Who will pay the school fees, you or your employer? They can go up to 20.000+ euros per year for private international schools and 7.000 euros for subsidized schools.
  5. Do you want to live nearby the school? If so, are you willing to spend more money on housing close to school, as this is usually more expensive?
  6. Do you mind a longer commute to work for the sake of a home nearby a better / other school?

Depending on the result of this self-reflection, you may want to consider local Dutch schools as an alternative to international schooling. But how does “Dutch education” work, and what are the pros and cons of a local system?

How does education work in the Netherlands?

In the Netherlands, education is compulsory. Home-schooling is not accepted by the Dutch government. Most schools accept children from the age of four, though officially, compulsory education starts at the age of five. Above the age of 16, there is partial compulsory education and once a diploma is obtained, schooling ends.

In general, children go to elementary school from age 4-12. In the last grade of elementary school, pupils take their final exams (CITO toets) and the outcome serves as a guide regarding which secondary school they may go.

Secondary schools, where children go to from age 12-16/18, offer different profiles, ranging from a vocational to a more academic focus on education. Some schools offer mixed profile classes where students have the possibility to make a decision later on.

In the end, the obtained secondary school diploma will give access to a vocational school, a university of applied sciences or a regular university. With a Dutch school diploma, graduates can enrol at any university worldwide, but specific enrolment conditions of the prevailing university may apply.

The pros and cons of local Dutch schools

There is much to say about the pros and cons of sending an expat child to a local Dutch school, but in general, these are the most common:


  • No school fees but a voluntary contribution for field trips, school supplies etc.
  • Social integration of both child and parents into the Dutch community (especially on long-term assignments or in the case of permanent stay)
  • “Easier” home search because there are many public schools available
  • Free choice of denominational schools (Catholic, Jewish) or schools with specific pedagogical orientation (Montessori, Waldorf)
  • Bilingual schooling is possible (Dutch/English)
  • Only a small language barrier for expat parents because English is spoken by many people in NL


  • Not every public school offers the same quality of education (CITO score)
  • Older children (secondary school age) might have to take Dutch language exams or even attend an international “bridge” class (called ISK) to prove that their Dutch is proficient enough to follow secondary schooling
  • Some primary schools have waiting lists (more popular areas)
  • The parent-teacher relations might differ from your country of origin
  • Parents’ strong participation in daily school life is highly appreciated (especially at primary schools)

Start your research early

When it comes to managing the international education of your child, it’s advisable to start researching and contacting schools as early as possible. Another good piece of advice is to get in contact with expat parents living in the Netherlands to share thoughts and ideas; online communities or Facebook groups are a good place to start.

Authors of this article, Alexandra Blank & Esmee Mos, both attended a local school as children (elementary and secondary schooling) and still benefit from being fluent in the language of their host countries.

Want to ensure a smooth transition to the Netherlands? Get advice tailored to your individual needs from Altair Global.

Esmee Mos-van der Straeten


Esmee Mos-van der Straeten

Since 2012, Esmee has been the Managing Director of NOVA Relocation Group, currently known as Altair Global BV, after the acquisition of Altair Global earlier this year. She joined the...

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