Starting School in a New Country: How to Choose the Right School for your Child

If you’re a parent who wants to live abroad with your family, I’m certain you’ve asked yourself this question: how do I choose the right school for my child? It’s a valid question. Moving your family to a new country brings its own set of challenges such as adjusting to a new language, climate, and culture. That said, it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. We’ve already written about 10 reasons to raise a family in Spain, and now, we’re going a bit further and discussing school options.

What makes a good school? How will the new school help your child adapt? What are some warning signs when sending your child to school in a foreign country?

I’ve been living in Valencia, Spain for 4 months now. The hardest part for me of moving abroad was leaving my son’s school which had also been my school! I am still really attached to it and I was scared to death of looking for a new school.  

I had to make sure his new school would be the best I could choose for him, not only with regards to the academic side of it, but also I had to make sure they could understand what it meant for a little boy to change countries, houses, family, everything. They had to have extra patience and accompany him in this very huge transition.

Photo by  Tina Floersch

Photo by Tina Floersch

Types of Schools

I started Googling schools from Argentina, my home country, and what I first found out is that Spain has three types of schools: public schools, half public and half private (concertadas), and private. They are all regulated by Conselleria.

The admission process usually takes place the first half of May, and I was moving in January. That meant I had a bit of a problem because most schools didn’t have availability. Luckily, after calling and visiting many schools I found out that when you are switching schools or moving from another country they are basically obligated to find you a place for your child. 

Here’s some advice when choosing a school in a new country for your child:

Photo by  Element5 Digital

Do Your Research

Thank God for the internet! I Googled like crazy… I found out that there are many ways you can make sure you are choosing a good school for your child. 

I came across a document that is released every year which displays the best 50 schools in Valencia (or anywhere in Valencia) and for me it was very useful.

I also used Google Maps, Facebook and a web called Busco Colegio to check out user ratings, and parents’ opinions.

Another great way to do your research is to simply stand outside the school at the time when the parents go to pick their kids up and just ask. You also get the chance to check out the environment For example, do the kids look happy, friendly, comfortable? I also asked everybody I knew for references and contacts inside different schools.

Visit, visit, visit

I chose four schools to go visit and that really opened my eyes. 

Some buildings were fantastic, filled with natural lighting and plants but the people who were showing me around had such little patience with me that I thought they would have even less patience with my child, so I erased them from my list.

The second one was lovely but it turned out that it didn’t have a place for my kid, they thought I wanted admission for the following year. It can happen that although it is almost compulsory for schools to find a seat for your child when you are coming from a different country, when they really don’t have space available and it would compromise the comfort and well-being of the rest of the children in the class, the do say no.

The third one just didn’t feel right, and then I found out they told me some lies to try and sign me up right away. Definitely erased from the list.

And then with low expectations, I went to the fourth one. We (my husband and I) walked in and we felt such a lovely environment. We heard kids laughing, no yelling from teachers, kids just looked happy. We had a chat with the Principal that was beyond great, she was the first one that cared enough about us to ask questions and find out about our moving process and how we were holding up and what our expectations were. She had us at hello! 

Love and Patience

So the day came, my kid’s first day of school in a new country, a new building, different faces, and slightly different language (it’s incredible but sometimes Spanish from Spain and Argentina seem like different languages!).

He was so scared, so were we… We had talked about it, showed him support and also talked to his teachers who were so incredibly sweet and willing to help him adapt. He’s been going for two months now, and he’s still very shy when going in, but he’s made three friends and I couldn’t be happier.

Trust your instincts.

In the end, my advice is to trust your mum/dad instincts. It’s super important to do the research and narrow it down to a number of schools worth visiting, but the winner always has to be the one that gives you a peaceful heart. Good luck, be brave and have hope, the right one is out there waiting for you!

lmdes move abroad with family

Gisele is starting her adventure as a Valenciana, enjoying patatas bravas, tostadas con tomate and olivas and discovering with much amusement this “no pasa nada!” lifestyle. Recently arrived in Spain from Argentina, discovering places, people and food, trying to set up a new life for her family in this wonderful place.