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

Guide bySIS Swiss International School

Switzerland offers excellent quality education options, ranging from local public schools to private international schools, either bilingual or monolingual.

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  • Public schools are free of charge, but with non-continuous school days (no instruction during lunch break), while private international school 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. 

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: 

Age of your child
Your child's personality
Prior school experience
Languages spoken
How long you are planning to stay in Switzerland
Where you are going next - are entrance exams required?
Where do you believe/want your child's future to be centred
Do you have private school tuition support?

Local public schools pros and things to consider: 

Pros

Free schooling
Integration into the local community
Excellent facilities
Proximity to home or easy access by public transport
Guaranteed admission for students of (mandatory) school age
Extra language assistance provided for foreign students during transition period (up to around 1 year)

Things to consider

Instruction is in the local Swiss language
Child's age and personality - adaptability, independence and self-motivation are important for success
Non-continuous school days can pose a challenge: 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. 
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.

Private and international schools pros and things to consider:

Pros

Compatibility of school program to home country – consider how long you intend to spend in Switzerland. If you intend to relocate to your home country, then international school is the best option, as it will ease reintegration.
Choice of language of instruction – English, German, French, etc. or bilingual
Continual school day with lunch at school
Option of after-school care at selected schools (at an extra charge)
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

Things to consider

Private fees are costly, and they vary by school
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

How to proceed: Local public school

  • 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. Ideally to be 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.

  • There are no school fees for public schools.

  • Some schools will require placement examinations.

How to proceed: Private & international schools

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

  • File admission applications as soon as possible. Multiple applications to different schools may be advisable.

  • 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.

For a more detailed read, have a look at this article