Should you be looking at international schools in Hong Kong, or are local schools accessible?
One of the first questions you’ll have when thinking about moving your family to Hong Kong is about the schools. What are the options for schools in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has developed its international school offering in the last few years, so there are lots to choose from.
Having been there, here at Savvy in HK, we’ve put together a guide to help you choose the right school in Hong Kong for your kids. With the help and guidance of Ruth Benny from Top Schools Asia, we’re going to go through:
- Local and international schools in Hong Kong
- Different factors to consider when looking for an international school in Hong Kong
- How important the languages taught at a school is to your choice
- Some of the best affordable options for schools in Hong Kong
- Where to look for more information about education in the city
Arming you with everything you need to make the right choice for your kids’ education.
First, let’s look at local schools, private independent schools, and international schools.
The number and quality of international schools in Hong Kong have increased in the last few years. They’re not the only option, though – local, government schools and private independent schools are available to all students in the city.
Let’s dive into an overview of government schools.
Overview of government schools in Hong Kong
You might not want to dismiss government schools in Hong Kong too quickly. The education system in the city is renowned for being rigorous and is well regarded internationally.
It won’t cost you anything to send your kids to a government school, and given how expensive international schools are in Hong Kong – this could be a game-changer. From the ages of 6-18, your kids can receive 12 years of free education in Hong Kong.
Free or not, it’s still a big decision to send your children to a government school. The teaching is done primarily in Cantonese, which will be a huge shift if your kids have been educated in their mother tongue.
Pros of sending your kids to Hong Kong government schools
- Free tuition
- Protestant and Catholic schools are available.
- Well-regarded system internationally
- Likely to have one in your neighborhood
- Receive a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) upon graduation
Cons of sending your kids to Hong Kong government schools
- Until secondary level, all lessons will be taught in Cantonese.
- It can be seen as a rigorous regime with lots of pressure.
- You can’t be sure that your kids will be sent to the exact school you want
- Not likely to have a diverse range of ethnicities in the student body
Overall, if your kids are used to an international curriculum, they may struggle to adapt to Hong Kong government schools. On the other hand, if your kids are young or haven’t yet been in formal education, they shouldn’t struggle too much with language issues.
Overview of private independent schools in Hong Kong
Occupying the middle ground between government schools and international schools in Hong Kong are the local “private independent schools” or PISs. These are generally aimed at students from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland so use Cantonese or Mandarin as their teaching medium.
We’ll be going through the importance of teaching language for your school choice a little further down, but for now, it’s worth noting that you need to check how strong the languages are at any schools you look at.
Places at PISs are limited – the government has mandated that at least 70 percent of students be Hong Kongers.
Pros of private independent schools in Hong Kong
- Most offer a non-local curriculum (this could be a pro or con depending on which way you look at it)
- Likely to teach at least some of the classes in English
- Lower fees than international schools
- Less intense than government schools
Cons of private independent schools in Hong Kong
- Most offer a non-local curriculum (this could be a pro or con depending on which way you look at it)
- Only 30 percent of students can be from outside Hong Kong.
- No standard curriculum or language across schools; requires lots of research.
- Selection based on academic excellence
For a list of Private Independent Schools in Hong Kong that don’t follow the local curriculum, click here.
Overview of international schools in Hong Kong
Another schooling option in Hong Kong is international schools. There are independent institutions and ones that belong to brands that you may recognize.
The fees can be high with international schools, as you’d expect. Many extras can be required, with uniforms, extra-curricular activities, and other fees that go along with attendance.
Your kids will be able to mix with students from across the world and be educated in the language you choose. Some schools teach in English, French, Japanese, and Korean, to name just a few.
As well as being good for your kids, there are expat communities that thrive around international schools. If you’re keen to develop your social circle along with your kids, investigate how active the Parent Teacher Association is, for example.
Pros of international schools in Hong Kong
- Choose the language/s your kids will study in
- Pick what qualifications they’ll get, such as International Baccalaureate, A-Levels, etc.
- A diverse community for students and parents
- A more international attitude towards exams and homework
Cons of international schools in Hong Kong
- It can be costly with lots of extra costs.
- You’ll be restricted where you live – you probably don’t want long commutes for your kids.
- Friendships can be transient because lots of families move each year.
Key points to consider when choosing an international school in Hong Kong
So many factors go into selecting the right school in Hong Kong for your kids. Ideally, you’ll be able to get on the ground and visit a shortlist before committing.
There are some objective facts that you can look at when it comes to choosing an international school in Hong Kong or anywhere else. These include:
- Annual fees
- Exam results
- Curriculum taught
- Activities available
- Class sizes
But these don’t give you the whole picture of a school.
You need to think about your child’s personality and how they will fit into a particular school. A child who loves to explore and question will probably be happy at a different school to one that’s a bookworm.
To figure out which school will work for your precious ones, reach out to parents with kids already there.
Other important factors (that can get overlooked) to consider when selecting a school
- Look at the application processes and criteria. Can you wait to get into the school you want? Are there academic requirements that you’ll need to work on with your kids?
- The curriculum is important, such as the main teaching language, other languages on offer, and the certificates your children will leave school with.
- Logistics such as opening hours, after-school clubs to fit with your work schedule, and whether there is transport available to the area you want to live in.
- The culture at a school is important – will your kid make friends, feel nurtured, come home happy? This is often an element that is overlooked. Each school will have a different culture.
Ruth Benny’s top tip: You may be given the option to buy a debenture; these are generally not necessary, so don’t worry about it.
Why is learning Mandarin important at Hong Kong schools?
In our interconnected world that’s getting ever smaller, languages are more important than ever. Giving your child the chance to learn languages opens up whole worlds of possibilities to them – it’s important to choose the right language for your kids to learn when going to school in Hong Kong.
While the main language spoken in Hong Kong is Cantonese. Mainland China speaks Mandarin. If you want to open up a whole world of possibilities to your kids, you may want them to learn Mandarin.
Many consider Mandarin to be the future language of business and technology, with tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei becoming ever more prominent globally.
Yes, you can get your kids extra classes in Mandarin, but finding a school that offers a strong Mandarin tuition can be significant. Consider the future you want for you and your family when looking at Mandarin learning for your kids.
The best affordable international schools in Hong Kong
Having been in Hong Kong for a while and having Ruth Benny’s help over at Top Schools Asia, we’ve put together a list of different schools for you to investigate. Remember, it’s all about what will make your kids, and therefore you, happy in their education.
1. Good affordable school: English Schools Foundation
English Schools Foundation has more than 20 schools across Hong Kong. The school offers IB and IGCSE education, uses English as its main teaching language, and introduces Mandarin through bilingual hubs in the schools.
2. Affordable school: Discovery Mind
For children from Kindergarten up to primary ages, Discovery Mind teaches the UK national curriculum for literacy and numeracy and also offers a strong Mandarin program. Although they don’t offer education after 11 years old, they have relationships with other international schools to recommend.
Discovery Mind Locations: Discovery Bay and Tung Chung
3. Affordable school: Invictus
Founded by a South African in Singapore, Invictus school now operates across two campuses in Hong Kong. The school follows the Cambridge curriculum.
- The annual school fee for Kindergarten 1 to Year 6 in the Tseung Kwan O campus is HK$100,000 with 10 installments of HK$10,000 each.
- The annual school fee for Year 7 to Year 13 at their Chai Wan campus is HK$120,000 with 10 installments of HK$12,000 each.
- For more details on their fees, click here.
Invictus Locations: Tseung Kwan O and Chai Wan
3. Affordable school: Japanese International School
The Japanese International School is a primary-only school with 170 pupils. The main language for teaching is English, with Mandarin and Japanese also offered. The curriculum is based on preparing students for the IB.
- The fees for the 2020 /2021 academic year are $111,620 ($11, 162 x10 months)
- Capital levy of $15,200
- Details on fees
Japanese International School Location: Tai Po
4. Affordable school: Korean International School
Offering schooling from kindergarten to high school, the Korean International School runs two different streams. Students can follow the Korean government curriculum taught in Korean or the Cambridge syllabus to achieve IGCSEs.
- Reception: HK$83,000
- Primary (Years 1~6): HK$105,000
- Secondary (Years 7~13): HK$117,000
- Details on fees
KIS Location: Sai Wan Ho
5. Affordable school: Discovery Bay International School
IGCSEs and International A Levels are the final exams at Discovery Bay International School. Students attend from Kindergarten to the age of 18 with a strong community across the school’s single campus. Price is roughly $97,000 per year for tuition.
- Nursery and Reception: HK$11,330 per months (10 monthly payments in total)
- EY1 to Year 6: HK$12,280 per month (10 monthly payments in total)
- Year 7 to Year 11: HK$16,310 per month (10 monthly payments in total)
- Year 12 and Year 13: HK$18,550 per month (10 monthly payments in total)
Discovery Bay International School Location: Discovery Bay
6. Affordable school: KCS – Kiangsu and Chekiang Primary School
KCS has a solid reputation and deserves mention. What sets this school apart from other Chinese-aimed private schools is that it uses Mandarin as its teaching medium and offers some English too. If you really want your kids to excel at Mandarin, this is a strong contender for their education.
KCS Location: North Point
How much are fees for international schools in Hong Kong?
Fees can vary widely, with the average for one year of high school being HK$163,100. There are cheaper options – every school is different, and the fees they charge offer different things.
On top of the annual fees, there is also what is known as a “capital levy.” A capital levy fee is charged by some schools and is usually used for investment in sports facilities or computer labs.
Be sure to check if this fee applies when looking at the cost of potential schools.
For the most accurate and up-to-date information about fees, payments, and other costs, be sure to contact the schools you’re interested in.
How can I find the best international school in Hong Kong for my children?
We’ve given you all our knowledge and tips here to help you understand Hong Kong’s education system a little more and let you know where to start.
But sometimes, you need someone with insider knowledge to help you.
For deeper knowledge and even more insight, you can contact Top Schools Asia. They offer personal consulting that will take into account what you and your kids are looking for in a school and find something within your remit and budget.
Advice when you are applying for schools in Hong Kong
- Each school will have its own admission procedures; contact the admission office of each school and ask for details. You can expect to have to pay an application fee.
- Before COVID-19, school tours were readily available; now, you’ll have to ask. Online tours are available but definitely not as good.
- Most international schools start their school year in August. Generally, schools prefer to receive applications well in advance. But subject to availability, you might be able to get your kids accepted all year-round. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions. Ask how many kids are currently on the waiting list for the particular school year you are interested in.
- Many schools will give favorable treatment to their nationals, children of alumni, siblings of existing students, or children of the staff. Check and see if there is an angle that might help.
How many international schools are there in Hong Kong?
There are approximately 70 international schools in Hong Kong. The majority of Hong Kong international schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program; around one-third follow the British curriculum.
How much is an international school in Hong Kong?
The cost varies depending on the school, but you can expect to pay at least $100,000 a year for tuition, with more expensive international schools costing closer to (all-in-costs) approximately $250,000 per year.
What is the best international school in Hong Kong?
The answer will depend very much on your individual child and what is important to you regarding facilities, languages, and culture. But some of the most highly-sought after international schools in Hong Kong are:
– Canadian International School (CDNIS)
– Chinese International School (CIS)
– French International School (FIS)
– Harrow International School
– Hong Kong International School (HKIS)
– German Swiss International School (GSIS)
– Victoria Shanghai Academy
Moving your family to a new city is full of challenges. Relocating can help build your kids’ resilience and help prepare them for the international nature of employment; it’ll also broaden their horizons and allow them to make a whole new set of friends.
We hope you are one step closer to choosing the right school in Hong Kong for your child.
Once you’ve investigated international schools in Hong Kong – you’ll need to make a shortlist. It’s worth noting down why each school is on your shortlist, too. This will help you make a good decision.
If we have missed any tips on international schools in Hong Kong, please let us know in the comments below.
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