AsiaXPAT’s Guide to Educating Expat Children in Hong Kong

Posted by Ed 11 mths ago

Of Hong Kong’s over 1,100 schools, approximately 90% are local government schools, and the remainder are either subsidized or private international schools. Hong Kong’s education system is supervised by its education board, which prescribes primary and secondary education for all residents of the autonomous territory. The government provides funding for its public schools, which are free for all minors.

By undergoing a brief process, students can also choose which of the top schools they wish to attend. Assigning students to their respective schools is carried out according to residency zones with children required to attend the school(s) nearest to their home. While teachers in government schools can conduct lessons in Cantonese and English, they have the prerogative as to how much they use each language as a means for teaching.



For non-Chinese speaking students, the Hong Kong government finances The English Schools Foundation (ESF) providing students with an education using the English language. The ESF previously used the British curriculum in teaching students but shifted to the International Baccalaureate system in 2001. In 2010, a total student population of 12,000 was attending 20 ESF schools, which reflected a significant increase in the number of English-speaking students pursuing their education in Hong Kong.

Students are only allowed to go to ESF schools that are located within the geographical zones of their residency and entail an admission procedure that tests their aptitude via interviews and examinations. The ESF primarily caters to students whose first language is not Chinese, as well as prioritizing children of ESF alumni, and those whose siblings are currently enrolled students.

In terms of costs, ESF schools range from HK$58,100 per annum for primary schools, with a deposit of as much as HK$10,000; to HK$89,250 per annum for secondary schools with a deposit of HK$16,000.



Getting accepted into Hong Kong’s private international schools requires some preparation as students must submit their applications one year before being admitted. For private international schools, teaching methods may differ but the priority remains the same - to prepare students for universities. This makes private international schools more challenging yet more rewarding for students as it provides a much higher level of learning than what government schools can offer.

There are significant waitlists at most International with an average of up to 70 students per grade queued for a spot. This situation persists despite high tuition fees which approach HK$200,000 per year for grade 12 students.

The best time to send applications is during the fall. Depending on the school, some institutions may also require a refundable reservation fee of up to 50% of yearly tuition fees in addition to non-refundable admission fees.

Some international schools in Hong Kong may place merit on academic potential, some on a child’s family background, and some on more range of ‘other criteria’. School officials will conduct one-on-one interviews with students, to determine if they will be admitted.

Some schools offer monetary debentures to companies so that the children of expats can have the chance to attend a competitive ESF or private international school in Hong Kong. Due to high demand, these debentures can run into the millions of Hong Kong dollars. For example, a corporate debenture sold for an international school recently sold at nearly HKD5,000,000!

The revenue realized from selling school debentures is usually used by school administrators to shoulder costs for the school’s maintenance. These debenture costs are usually refunded without interest if the child opts to leave the school. Expats should note the most competitive schools limit the debentures they issue per year so obtaining a debenture, even if you are willing to pay a high price, is not guaranteed.

Here are some useful tips for expats who are planning to apply to enroll a child in an international school in Hong Kong:

1. Don’t apply to just one school. Send your applications to as multiple ESF or private international schools. The goal is to at least get onto the schools’ waitlists and hope that a spot becomes available.

2. Apply early. Take the time to get to know several Hong Kong schools’ programs and choose those that are appropriate to your child’s intellect and social skills. Then get your applications in as soon as possible to increase your chances of getting a position.

3. Conduct research. Some international private schools in Hong Kong cater to a select group of students in terms of nationality, religion, and/or culture. Make sure you choose a school that will elicit your child’s full potential. Your child may be experiencing culture-shock from the relocation to Hong Kong, or homesick, and being introduced to a school where he doesn’t fit in may further exacerbate these stressful feelings.

4. Attend school activities. As a parent, you should get involved with your child’s education as much as possible. Schools value a parent’s regard for its activities and a child’s academic progress, so try to get acquainted with school officials and attend important events as much as possible.

5. Visit and inspect the schools. Start your involvement in your child’s education from the first admission interviews and take the opportunity to inspect of each school’s facilities while you are there. Also make it a point to ask to speak to some of the teachers. You might also search for the name of the school online to see if there is any feedback (both negative and positive)

6. Be open-minded. There are other alternatives to educating your child than the typical classroom environment. Homeschooling is very popular in Hong Kong and offers numerous benefits for your child.

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