The standard of education and schools in Hong Kong is high. While public schools are well-regarded academically, the curriculum is mostly taught in Cantonese. This can be a dealbreaker for some families, especially those only staying in the city-state for a short time or those whose children aren't young enough to be able to pick the language up quickly.

Another concern parents may have about public schooling in Hong Kong is the city-state's reputation for rote learning. However, significant reforms to the curriculum have taken place in recent years, resulting in a more modern and well-rounded revamped curriculum.

Still, to ease the transition in Hong Kong, most expat families opt to enrol their children in private international schools. Fortunately, Hong Kong's diverse nature ensures that there are many international teachers and school options for expat children.

Public schools in Hong Kong 

Kids in class

The government fully funds public schools in Hong Kong and offers free education to all children. The government has implemented language- and cultural-support programmes for non-Chinese-speaking children, which can be a great help to those young enough to pick up the language quickly. However, for older children, this can still be a difficult path.

Education in Hong Kong is compulsory from primary school to junior secondary school, but most students complete high school. The education system in Hong Kong is divided into three phases: 

  • Kindergarten (ages 3 to 6)
  • Primary (ages 6 to 12)
  • Junior Secondary (ages 12 to 15)
  • Secondary (ages 15 to 18)

Families in Hong Kong for the long haul may benefit from the cultural integration local schools offer – however, most expats opt for international schools instead, particularly those on a limited-term assignment.

International schools in Hong Kong

Many international schools in Hong Kong teach the curriculum of their founding country or other internationally recognised programmes such as the International Baccalaureate. The American and British curricula are taught by many international schools, but other countries are also represented, such as Canada, France, and Germany.

Fees for international schools are typically high, and families with an expat package that does not include a school subsidy may find the cost of international schools in Hong Kong to be expensive. In addition, demand is high and securing a spot is tricky.

English Schools Foundation

Some expat families enrol in schools run by the English Schools Foundation (ESF), which is subsidised by the government. The organisation runs more than 20 international schools across the city-state, all teaching the International Baccalaureate programme. 

Fees are cheaper at ESF schools than at non-ESF international schools. In addition, ESF schools are not academically selective, making it easier to gain entry, although waiting lists can still be long.

One caveat to bear in mind is that student admission to primary and secondary EFS schools is bound by zoning, so parents looking to go this route should take this into consideration when looking for accommodation

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Homeschooling in Hong Kong

The laws around homeschooling in Hong Kong are vague, but it is generally agreed that families intending to homeschool should inform the Hong Kong Education Bureau of their intention to do so. There are several local homeschooling organisations in Hong Kong that expats can seek guidance from.

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Special-needs education in Hong Kong

Special needs education

Most international schools in Hong Kong offer special-needs facilities, but the extent of support available varies widely from school to school. Some schools offer assistance with only mild learning difficulties, while others will have more extensive support systems designed to deal with various needs. Some endeavour to keep special needs children in mainstream classes as far as possible, while other schools admit only those with special educational needs.

For this reason, expat parents looking for good-quality special needs education should conduct thorough research. The ideal is to find the best fit between the school and the child – one that can meet their particular needs and that has the right experience and resources. Local special-needs associations are a good place to find recommendations and learn more about the system.

Some specialist providers include the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School, which offers special needs education for children of all ages with severe learning difficulties, and the Child Development Centre, a charity offering a full range of early educational programmes, assessments and therapies for children with special needs. 

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Tutors in Hong Kong

Due to the competitive nature of schooling in Hong Kong, hiring a tutor is common practice. For expats, tutors can be especially useful in smoothing the transition of an expat child into a new environment. Tutors can be hired for anything from general assistance with school subjects to help maintain a child's mother tongue or tutor them on Mandarin. Differences in education systems may result in expat children being behind in some areas of their new curriculum, and tutors are an excellent way to catch up.

Tutoring in Hong Kong is big business, so expats will have plenty of choices. It's always best to thoroughly research all options before deciding on any particular tutor. Schools can often recommend a tutor. Some of the larger tutoring groups include the i-Seven Education Center and British Tutors. 

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Expat Health Insurance

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