Schooling In China: A Complete Guide For Expats

Managing your children's education is one of the most important tasks as a parent. But when relocating to a new country, it can be hard to make the right choice.

Especially when you do not know the local system, or the options available, and if you do not have the opportunity to go on-site check the facilities.

That is the reason why ASI Movers has decided to provide you with a handy guide to help you choose the right education system for your kids. More precisely, since our main office is based in Shanghai, enabling us to deliver you a firsthand source of information based on our experience and network, we prepared a comprehensive summary of the options you have on hand in China.

With Summer already being here, it's time for newcomers to investigate their options, and for those already established to learn more about the upcoming back-to-school period!

Which School System to Choose For Your Child In China?

Four options are available for you:

  • Public School (also called State School or Government School);
  • Private School;
  • International School;
  • Homeschooling.

Public Schools

Public Schools are the ones major part of the local population attends.

ASI Movers would advise you to choose this system if you are considering staying long-term in China, as it will enable your child to grasp the local language quickly, become instantly and naturally familiar with the host culture, and merge into the country.


How Does the Chinese School System Work?

The Secondary School content can be divided into two parts:

  • Subject courses such as math, science, foreign languages, etc.;
  • Activities

If your child wants to pursue an Undergraduate or Graduate Program in China, within the traditional Chinese framework, they will be required to have at least HSK 6 level. Otherwise, English-taught programs for non-Mandarin speakers exist.


Features, Pros, and Cons

The Chinese educational system is oriented toward preparing for the高考(Gaokao), the local curriculum. Unlike the International Schools, your child will not prepare and pass the International Baccalaureate or your home country’s curriculum.

The courses will only be taught in Chinese, if your child is not familiar with Mandarin, he/she might be held back a few grades to be able to catch up.

The priority and philosophy are different from the ones in the West: the Chinese system relies on rote memorizing, is exam-driven, emphasizes results and discipline, and primarily focuses on math and science.

Classes are held 5 to 6 days a week from 7-8 am to 4-5 pm.

Chinese children usually enroll in extra-courses after class and on weekends, and a tutoring-like system with extracurricular activities (art, sport) is widely spread.

International students will be required (unlike Chinese citizens) to pay a tuition fee of approximately ¥28,000 (~$4,415), which is significantly less than the other options.

As stated before it will enable your child to grasp the local language and customs more easily and to merge into the local culture.

Nevertheless, being the only foreign child in the school can be psychologically challenging (beware of bullying or feeling excluded).



State Schools are obligated to accept foreign applicants.

The requirements depend on the school, nevertheless, you will be asked to provide:

  • Formal application;
  • Passport and visa;
  • Health records;
  • Previous school(s) records;
  • Work and residence permit;
  • (Recommendation letter);
  • (Assessments);
  • (On-site interviews and language examination can be held).

Private Schools

Features, Pros, and Cons

Private Schools, like Public Schools, prepare for高考(Gaokao).

They sometimes integrate aspects of international programs or offer courses in English.

Private schools are generally known for their students performing better at the exams.

Most of them provide a boarding option, which can be interesting for expats having heavy loads of work or having to live/work in rural areas with no suitable schools available.

The infrastructures are usually better than those of Public Schools.

They charge tuition fees both for locals and foreigners.

The students are from diverse backgrounds but you usually find foreigners and wealthy Chinese.



Private schools decide autonomously who they accept.

The process of admission:

  • Examination;
  • Upfront payment of the tuition fees;
  • (Reports from previous school(s));
  • (Formal interview).

International Schools

ASI Movers would advise you to choose this system if you want to make the transition the smoothest possible for your child, will not stay for an extensive period in the host country, or if you want your child to easily reintegrate into your home country’s school system.

Features, Pros, and Cons

Some International Schools adopt the curriculum of the country they depend on, others are fully international and follow the IB (International Baccalaureate).

International Schools organizations and accreditations:

Teachers are qualified, the schools are often inspected (relevant reports are available on the Internet), and accreditations or school partnership enrollment account for International Schools’ academic level. All in all, the latter is generally high.

Courses are taught in English or the home country tongue.

They usually provide the host country’s language and culture classes.

Tuition fees are pretty high, ranging from $10,000 (~¥63,500) to $33,000 (~¥209,500).

Nb: Your company can offer to bear the costs of your child’s education.

International Schools are used to receiving new students every year from all over the world and will thus easily handle your situation.

These children are from a similar background thus the integration is facilitated.

There are very few (if any) Chinese natives in International Schools.



China counts 340 international schools in total, major part being located in big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.

Nevertheless, due to the increasing number of expats coming to China, the demand for these schools is high and there often are waiting lists. Be sure to contact them way ahead of your arrival.

Documents and formalities required:

  • Passport and visa;
  • Previous school(s) records;
  • Health records;
  • Recommendation letter;
  • (Interview);
  • (Entrance Exam).


Even though gaining popularity among expats, homeschooling is still unlawful in China (since every child should complete at least 9 years of compulsory public education) thus, one should carefully investigate the consequences of such a choice on the child’s future academic life.

To make your final decision, your moving partner ASI Movers would advise you to go to your embassy or consulate web page to gather information about the school options in your area, as well as hang out on expat forums to collect firsthand testimonies.

For choosing a school as for moving your belongings ASI Movers is here to provide you with clear information, expertise, and advice!

We have been helping expat families move abroad for more than 10 years, and understand your concerns as well as the specific challenges coming with moving with children.