International versus local schools in Switzerland: what you need to know
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International versus local schools in Switzerland: what you need to know

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As parents, we want the best for our children. And this most often starts with the best possible education. Luckily, Switzerland offers excellent quality education options, ranging from local public schools to private international schools, either bilingual or monolingual. The choices you have to make may be daunting. Should you go for an international school or a local one? Bilingual or monolingual? What is the best choice when you and your children don’t speak the local language? 

The information below is provided by our schooling and education experts. It will help you make the best choice for your children. If you have questions, you can always reach out to one of our education experts.

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International versus local schools: basic facts

The first choice you have to make when you arrive in Switzerland with school-aged children is between public and private schools. Both of them offer state-of-the-art education. But, of course, there are a lot of variables and differentiating factors:

  • Public schools are free of charge, but with non-continuous school days (no instruction during lunch break), while private international schools offer full day schedule and tuition fees range from CHF 15,000 to CHF 30,000 per year. 

  • Bilingual education speeds integration in the local community, while monolingual education is best suited for families who are here on short assignments (one year or less).

  • Applications for private international schools should be submitted in March/ April. 

How to choose from the wide range of education options available

Education options in Switzerland vary in style, price and language of instruction. There are multiple options ranging from excellent public schools in the official language of the canton to an extensive variety of semi-private, private and international establishments.

Use these key factors to make a decision between public or private schools, bilingual or monolingual schools:

  • Do you have private school tuition support from your employer? School tuitions are expensive, so it’s important to know that you are covered for the upcoming years.

  • What is your child's age? The younger your kids are, the easier their transition. Children who move after the ages of nine to ten have more trouble adapting, as the've developed important friendships and support networks back home. Also, brain changes mean that their ability to speak a new language like a native is lessening. The older the children are, the more their values and beliefs have developed which determine how they see the world. 

  • Your children's prior school experience: is your child already used to international schools?

  • Your child's personality: how opened will he or she be in a new environment? 

  • How long you are planning to stay in Switzerland: international schools are usually the best option for short-term assignments, while local schools make more sense if you plan to stay here longer. The latter will give your children a better chance at adapting to the local culture.

  • Where do you believe or want your child's future to be centered? Depending on your child's higher education goals, studying at an international school (bilingual or monolingual) may better prepare them for university study in another language or back in your home country. 

  • Your work schedule and child-minding needs. Most private schools are day schools, which means they offer a full-day schedule, lunch included. This is not the case for public schools, where you will have to book an after-school for lunch and afternoon child minding. 

  • Where are you going next (if this is known): are entrance exams required? Take a look at the performance of the schools on your shortlist when it comes to exams.


Main advantages and things you should carefully consider 

When it comes to local public schools, most expats have some thinking to do. The language barrier may be daunting, but here are the main advantages of local public schools and the main things to carefully consider for this education option:

1. Main advantages of Swiss local public schools

  • 95% of Swiss people send their children to public schools, if you needed a sign of how much Swiss people trust their local school system

  • There are no costs for schooling - all is free

  • Your child and your family will integrate smoother into the local community

  • Almost all public schools have excellent facilities

  • Your assigned public school is usually in proximity to home or has easy access by public transport

  • Standardised education: Lehrplan 21 or Curriculum 21 is a joint work commissioned by 21 cantons of German- and multilingual Switzerland to replace the cantonal curricula. A common curriculum harmonizes the objectives of mandatory schools in German-speaking Switzerland.

  • Guaranteed admission for students of mandatory school age

  • Extra language assistance provided for foreign students. 

2. Main things to consider when it comes to Swiss local public schools

  • Instruction is in the local Swiss language of the canton (High German for German cantons, not Swiss German). Even with language support, it may take tome until your child is fluent in the local language and you should take this adjustment period into account.

  • Consider your child's age and personality - how adaptable is he or she, how independent and self - motivated? Integration 

  • Non-continuous school days can pose a challenge to working parents: students usually return home during the lunch break or apply for after care options. Fees for after care options are calculated based on family income. There are, however, options to help you mitigate this: Tagesmutter, day-care, or Mittagstisch programs can help you streamline your children’s schedule.

  • Future education/career options are focused on the Swiss system: advanced studies/university path (Matura high school qualification), business or apprenticeship options are determined by academic performance at an early age (12-15). Competitive university streams are limited to only 20-30% of student body.


Main advantages and things you should carefully consider 

1. Main advantages of international and private schools in Switzerland

  • Compatibility of the school program to home country. Consider how long you intend to spend in Switzerland. If you intend to relocate to your home country, then an international school is the best option, as it will ease reintegration.

  • Varied choice of language of instruction – English, German, French, etc. or bilingual

  • Almost all private schools have a continual day programme with lunch at school and option of after-school care.

  • International environment offers a multi-cultural background and programs oriented to continued higher education via the International Baccalaureate (European/worldwide) or Advance Placement (USA) programmes.

  • Value given to differences: among the student body of international schools, multiple languages at home and different cultural backgrounds are standard. This becomes a positive educational tool in the international curriculum, as your differences become your strengths.

  • Community and communication: a strong point of international education is the robust network of parent/ teacher/ school associations. The whole family finds opportunities to connect with others and participate in an extended social experience linked with the school. Teachers are also more responsive to parent requests for student progress and parent participation in school events.

2. Main things to consider when it comes to international & private schools

  • Fees are costly, and they vary by school. There are also costs that are not included in basic international school fees. These can include: meals, lunch time supervision, after school activities, after school supervision, school trips (mandatory and optional field trips, humanitarian field projects), school sports competitions or festivals abroad, books, uniforms, and school transport. If you work full time some of these may be essential extras so make sure to take these expenses into account. Others on the list may be important for getting the full international school experience, but they may or may not be eligible for reimbursement from your company.

  • International schools typically either offer education in English exclusively or bilingual education in the local language and English. These schooling options are particularly interesting for parents who desire to foster a global perspective in their children from an early age.

  • Transportation is required - school buses are usually available, but at an extra charge.

  • Application for admission is required – acceptance is dependent on whether places are available. Early application is recommended. Some schools may have prerequisites for national programmes.

  • Living in the "international school world" of a monolingual international school, can isolate you from the local culture, community, and activities.

Top international & private schools in Switzerland

We want to make it easier for parents to identify the schools in their region. We've therefore mapped out below all the top schools in Switzerland so you can have a comprehensive view. Simply click on the pins and find out all about the respective schools. Alternatively, if you need help selecting the best school for your children, you can reach out to one of our education consultants to help you choose.  

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More in depth regional information

For a more in depth look at the local education landscape in your region, please have a look at the following excellent official resources: Basel, Zurich or Jura. And you can have a look at our top picks below:

ISB International School Basel 

At International School Basel, each student is unique and so is the way they learn. Our three International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes, for children 3-19 years old, provide a holistic education that fully develops their intellectual, socio-emotional, physical and creative skills. Our experienced and passionate teachers challenge them to think critically and independently and give them confidence to take action and make a difference.  

Click below to learn about our academic programmes, including our new English-German programme, and our wide range of co-curricular activities covering arts, music, athletics, technology, service and more! 

Discover ISB

ZIS Zurich International School

Education is about finding the right balance and the goal of ZIS - Zurich International School - is to ensure that every child develops a love of learning. ZIS' rigorous curriculum and extensive co-curricular program for children aged 3 to 18, including bilingual pathway for those aged 3 to 8, provides a foundation that supports students’ success as global citizens.

Click below to learn more about ZIS, including its new state-of-the-art Middle School.

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International School of Berne - ISBerne

Since 1961, the International School of Berne has had a reputation for excellent academicsworld-class facilities, and a warm, diverse community. It is one of a few schools in Switzerland to offer the International Baccalaureate® (IB) curriculum to ages 3 to 18. It is one of the world's most prestigious and popular educational programs, which means it is highly transferable across countries and recognized by top universities worldwide. 

No matter your child's interests, abilities, or age, ISBerne will provide unique opportunities for learning, development, and fun! Their Outdoor Education Week and the Ski and Skate Fridays are vital to their school culture. They also place great importance on student wellbeing and offer holistic student support that is caring, inclusive, and individualized.

Visit their website to learn more, submit an inquiry, or request a tour or virtual consultation.

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Academia International School

Academia International School is an international school, small by design, where your child will not get lost in the crowd. Academia follows the British International Curriculum (Pre-IGCSE, IGCSE and International A Levels) which focuses on the individual strengths of each student. Academia provides academic excellence in a cosy and caring environment. For more than 15 years their students have been highly successful at the official IGCSE- and A-Level-exams.

Academia International School runs three locations:

  • The Academia city centre school in Basel is located 5 minutes’ away from the railway station Basel and offers modern facilities on six floors.

  • The Academia state of-the-art education centre in the heart of Zurich-Oerlikon offers space for development, creativity and inspiration on five floors, including an open-air rooftop terrace.

  • Academia International School Winterthur offers an IGCSE and A-Level-programme in an ultra-modern school building, which offers everything needed for an inspiring educational setting.

All Academia schools are small by design providing individual support to students so they can reach their full potential.

Find out more


How to proceed: Local public school

Did you decide on a local public school for your children? This is what you need to know about registration.

  • The process starts when you register on arrival in Switzerland (no advance registration required).

  • School registration is processed with the residency permit application procedure for your children. This process is ideally completed one month before class attendance begins.

  • There is no choice of school - admission is based on your Swiss place of residence, so your local address determines what school children will attend.

  • Some schools will require placement examinations.

How to proceed: Private & international schools

The admission process in a private or international school is a bit more complicated. Each school has different demands, different fees, and a different admission process. Here are some common points however between all the Swiss private or international schools:

  • Start the process 6 - 12 months prior to admission.

  • File admission applications as soon as possible. Multiple applications to different schools are a good idea, since some schools are more in-demand than others and the open spots fill up quickly.

  • Decisions for entrance are taken in March/April for the new school year, which begins in mid-August.

  • Enrolment fees are due on confirmation of admission.

Our tip

Once you know where you'll live in Switzerland, visit as many schools in your area as possible - first impressions do count and you'll be able to tell if it's the right school for your kids or not. 

To select your 'area' consider the length of the commute you're willing to make and ask friends, aquaintances or facebook groups (here one of the largest English speaking groups) about their experiences with kids and commute. 

Choosing the right school is like choosing a flavor of ice cream

No one ice cream flavor is better than another but most people have a favorite that they will defend adamantly as "the best". The international school that is right for you and your child will depend on your personal preferences and goals. Luckily, the overall quality of these schools is very high, so be encouraged, not intimidated.

The right school for you is not necessarily the school your colleague loved; you just prefer different flavors. Make your own judgments about schools by visiting them and considering the special needs of your family. No one else can make the decision better than you.

The right school is out there. It will balance between your child's personality, interests, and specific learning needs, your family history, your family goals for the future, and your financial situation. Like a puzzle, you need to identify the pieces and put your picture together. Having the pieces in the right places will make your experience in Switzerland, and your child's future, even more spectacular.

Talk to an education expert