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Choosing the best international school for your child in Portugal and Spain

Updated 13 Jun 2024

Nathalie Willis-Davis, Founder and Managing Director of Tendoria Educational Consultants, shares some of her top tips for finding the right international school for your children in Portugal and Spain. Check our Educational Consultants in Spain page for more on Tendoria's service offerings.

International families moving to Portugal or Spain are spoilt for choice when it comes to English-language international schools. Of the two countries, Portugal has experienced the highest growth recently, with the number of options doubling in the past five years.

That said, Spain has significantly more international schools than Portugal. Given the vast array of options, it’s essential to truly understand what separates one school from the other to make the right choice for your family.

Navigating international school options in Portugal and Spain

Kids in classroom

English-language international schools (as compared to French or German schools, for example) offer either the American, British, or International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum in its entirety or parts thereof. In fact, many international schools mix and match curriculums, making it trickier for parents to understand what type of education the school truly offers.

To illustrate, the Lisbon region has approximately 28 English-language international schools. Schools that offer the British curriculum, in part or entirely, represent roughly 75 percent of the total, whereas American curriculum schools have a 12 percent share.

Most of these schools offer or plan on delivering the IB Diploma Programme in Grades 11 and 12 (equivalent to Years 12 and 13 of the British system). However, the appetite for the British A-level programme is increasing in Portugal, with two additional British curriculum schools planning to offer the A-level programme in the near future. In Spain, on the other hand, the majority of English-language international schools offer the British curriculum culminating in the A-level diploma.

Another notable difference between international schools in Spain and Portugal is that some British curriculum schools in Spain offer the Spanish Bachillerato in Grades 11 and 12. In contrast, international schools in Portugal do not provide the possibility of obtaining a Portuguese diploma. Given all of these options, families with children aged 13+ should consider which diploma programme is the best fit for their child.

Despite its importance, curriculum is only one of many factors one should consider when evaluating a school. A great school will make the most of any curriculum to make learning enjoyable. They will provide children with the opportunities to discover their interests inside and outside the classroom and support them in their personal development to flourish into compassionate global citizens driven to fulfil their potential.

Which is the best international school in Portugal and Spain?

I am often asked this question, but providing a specific reply without understanding a family’s school wish list is impossible. This list is different for every family and can even be different for children within one family. An internet search will provide you with a list of schools, but please don’t trust it entirely. Do your research and visit the schools in person to get a feel for them and ask many questions.

A significant factor for many is school fees: What are the tuition and other school fees?

People exchanging money by Cottonbro Studios from Pexels

There is a notable difference in fees depending on your city of interest. The priciest international schools are typically found in larger cities such as Lisbon (including Cascais), Madrid, and Barcelona. Those school fees generally range roughly between EUR 10,000 and EUR 25,000 per year per child. It’s also possible to find less expensive options within those cities as well. Exploring other areas, such as Valencia and the Algarve, is best for more affordable options. Please note that the older the child, the higher the school fees. This varies by school, as do the additional fees you must pay.

One notable expense at some schools is the so-called campus enhancement fee or capital levy (every school has its own name for this), which is usually non-refundable at any point. It is typically paid in one lump sum (generally ranging from under EUR 1,000 to EUR 5,000) upon joining the school. Some schools include other items such as educational materials, lunch, and after-school clubs in their fees. Some do not. Please read the fine print so that you can compare apples to apples.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this question: Will my child be happy and thrive at this school?

To find the 'best' school for your child, compile a school wish list, do your research, visit schools, and ask lots of questions. Our expert school advisers at Tendoria can simplify the process for you by recommending schools that best match your requirements, providing unbiased information about these schools and supporting you throughout the application process.

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