Who can attend international schools?

In Hong Kong, any child with a valid visa can attend an international school. Many international schools, including the ESF, do require children to be tested in English before admittance; this is to ensure that language standards are of a sufficient standard to be educated in the English medium. The level of English required varies between schools. A small number of international schools accept pupils who are not native English speakers and provide ESL (English as a Second Language) support. Leading international schools often select students according to their performance in entrance tests. However, the ESF operates a comprehensive system, accepting students of mixed abilities on a first-come-first-served basis.

In China, the Government allows only children holding foreign passports to be admitted into international schools.

How far in advance do I need to register my child for international school?

The policy varies between schools as to how far in advance you may apply. Some schools accept applications from the date of birth of your child. Some only accept applications two years prior to admissions. The space availability in most Hong Kong international schools remains very low resulting in long wait lists for admissions. Having access to debentures can facilitate entry by allowing your child to jump the queue. However, these debentures are not available at every school and the schools that do offer them, have long wait lists to purchase them. It is advisable to apply as soon as you know of your transfer to Hong Kong.


Can I apply for a place for my child before we transfer to Hong Kong?

You can apply to most international schools prior to arrival.

What provision do international schools have for students for whom English is a second language?

Some international schools in Hong Kong do provide support for children with English as a second language. The level of support does vary between schools. The schools which cater in particular for expatriate children from English-speaking backgrounds accept fewer ESL pupils than other schools. It is important to check the level of ESL support and ensure that this is sufficient to meet your child’s needs.

Why do some schools insist on debentures or capital levies?

Debentures are lump sums payable on entry to the school, which are normally refundable when the child leaves, or can be sold on the open market. Corporate debentures are transferable to other children sponsored by the company that owns them. As debentures usually require an extensive capital outlay of at least HK$250,000 to up to over HK$1,000,000, some schools offer the alternative of an annual non-refundable capital levy payable in addition to school fees. The schools that offer debentures or annual capital levies use the interest from the deposits to fund the building of new schools or for the maintenance of the existing facilities.

Do I need to visit a school before selecting it?

It is strongly recommended that you do visit the school before choosing it, if this is possible.

Only by visiting the school can you gain an impression of the school culture, the attitude of the teachers and the happiness of the pupils. Such a visit will help you decide if your child will fit in the environment and if the school shares your educational values. If possible, visit the school with your child and listen to their impressions too.

International schools offer a variety of curricula and qualifications. How can I decide which is best for my child?

Consider your own background and your ultimate goals in sending your child to an international school. You are likely to be interested in a school matching your own background. For example, if you are Canadian you will tend to look at the Canadian schools first, given that it is possible you will return to your home country. This will ensure that your child has no trouble adapting to your native education system.

Secondly, consider where you would like your child to go to university and choose schools that lead most directly to the best universities in your preferred country. If you intend your child to study in Britain, opt first for a school that offers the British curriculum, for example, even from primary level, or one that will enable your child to transfer easily to a British system at secondary level. Thirdly, consider the individual school. Language is one consideration. If you want your child to develop proficiency in Putonghua, choose schools with the most extensive Putonghua programs, such as the Chinese International School, the Canadian International School, the Kiangsu and Chekiang Kindergarten, and Primary School, The Independent Schools Foundation Academy and Yew Chung International School.

International schools prepare students for a variety of final examinations, such as the British General Certificate of Education (GCSE, taken at age 16 plus), British A Levels (18 plus) and the International Baccalaureate, as well as various North American graduation diplomas. North American schools are also most likely to prepare students for the SAT university entrance exam.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma program is highly respected and recognized in Europe, North America and Australia as a reliable measure of a student’s achievements. The Diploma program is demanding academically and it recognizes the importance of non-academic activities. If you are not sure where your child will complete their education, schools offering the IB program are recommended. Following the IB will not restrict their choice of university destination.

Bear in mind that there are only a limited number of university places in Hong Kong for students from international schools, if you expect your child to remain in Hong Kong for tertiary education.

If I have a debenture; does that mean there won’t be a problem getting my child into school?

Having a debenture does not guarantee a placement, but it will put your child high on the priority list. Your child must pass the Admissions test before the debenture can be considered.

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What can I do to improve my child’s chances of being accepted into a school in Hong Kong?

All international schools in Hong Kong use English as their medium of instruction. As part of the application procedure, they will interview the prospective student. They are looking for a competent level of English. If your child is very young, you may consider role-playing prior to the interview to calm their nerves. Ask your child questions you would not ordinarily ask them. “How old are you?” “Do you like your new home?”. Remember, the interviewer is usually a teacher and will try to make the child feel at ease. They recognize that often the children are not at their best during the interview and if you can relax your child enough to talk with them it ticks an important box. If your child is not a native English speaker, it would be very wise to enroll him/her in an English language program prior to coming to Hong Kong. Older children may be required to sit an entrance exam and this varies from school to school.

How important is the application procedure?

It is very important to supply the prospective schools that you have applied to a complete application form with supporting documents. If the school is full, your application will be waitlisted. The date the school receives a complete application determines your seniority on the waitlist when a place becomes available at the school.

Can I apply to more than one school?

Yes, in fact the enrollment pressure on schools in Hong Kong is very high so it is best to apply to more than one school as a backup.

How many schools should I apply to in order to secure a place for my child?

We will recommend schools that you have a good chance of getting into as well as those you would like to see. Keep in mind that many of the more popular schools have long waitlists. You can apply to as many schools as you like but most schools charge a non-refundable application fee which varies from HK$500 to $2000+.


What if I cannot get my child into the school of my choice?

Our advice is to be open-minded. There are many world-class schools in Hong Kong. We can show you excellent schools that you may not have on your list.

Is taking your child to school in a bus in Hong Kong unusual?

On the contrary, it is rare to be able to walk to school with your children. There are schools in more traditional neighborhoods where the parents can walk their children to school and we certainly can show them to you. You may find that you need to look into the New Territories or Sai Kung regions of Hong Kong.

Does an adult, other than the driver, supervise the school bus?

For children in the primary years, an adult who is called the “Bus Mom” will supervise the buses. In the morning and afternoon when your child is collected, the Bus Mom will ensure their safety belt is on and is responsible for safety on the bus. At the end of the day, the school ensures all the bus children are sorted to their assigned buses for their journey home.

How long can I expect my child to be on a bus in the morning and afternoon?

It is not unusual for the children to be on the bus for 40 minutes or more. Remember, the children are with their friends and are supervised by a “Bus Mom.” It becomes very social with the children chatting merrily about their day’s events.

Do the buses have safety belts?

It is mandatory for all passengers in Hong Kong vehicles to wear safety belts.

Are there schools available for children with special needs?

Most schools can cater to mild and moderate special needs (i.e. ADHD etc.) in-house. There are a limited number of schools in Hong Kong that can cater to children with severe special needs. If your child requires this kind of special needs educational support, it is best to apply as soon as possible to these schools.

Special Needs Schools

The English Schools Foundation www.esf.edu.hk

The Jockey Club Sarah Roe School www.jcsrs.edu.hk

The Springboard Project www.springboardhk.org/about.php

The Rainbow Project www.rainbowproject.org

The Children's Institute of Hong Kong www.tcihk.org

Watchdog www.watchdog.org.hk

Child Development Centre At Matilda Hospital www.cdchk.org

My child has mild/moderate difficulties in school. Is it best for me to discuss this with the school prior to admissions?

It is absolutely essential that you be completely honest with the schools you have applied to. If the school feels you have kept a significant learning difficulty from them, they could possibly withdraw your child from their school. Most schools offer educational support and need to know how best to help your child with the information you provide.

Are there opportunities for me to volunteer in my child’s new school as a parent helper?

Most schools in Hong Kong have PTA's or Fundraising Committees that would love to have you on their team. There are usually opportunities to help out in the classroom as well. This needs to be discussed with the schools that you are applying to as each school has different protocols and needs.

Do the schools in Hong Kong offer varied sporting activities or after school activities?

There are active interschool athletic competitions in many sports with the most notable being soccer, rugby, swimming and field hockey. After school activities vary from school to school but anything is on offer from Brownies, Cubs, athletics, educational programs and interest courses. Hong Kong even has a flourishing ice hockey association for children and adults!

School Placement FAQ

My child is exceptionally bright. Will the schools in Hong Kong be able to cater for this?

Please relay this to the schools that you are applying to. All schools do their best to enrich the program for the gifted.

How can I help settle my child into school?

Play dates are a fun way to help your child to meet with their new friends in a more relaxed setting. It also helps you to meet new people and start the settling in process. Be patient. It is a big change in all of your lives. Volunteer at your child’s school. If your child feels you are a part of their school, it provides comfort and can ease the transition for them. It also establishes a fine support net of new like-minded adults for you.

Signing your child up for after school activities is also a great way to ease the transition to a new culture. It is important to remain positive. Of course you will miss home, but remember, this is a normal part of the settling in process. Get involved, keep positive and above all else, be patient. You will be surprised how fast Hong Kong will become home.