School starting ages around the world

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What age do children start school?

What age do children start school?

Updated 19th June 2019: Original post – January 2017

This question is akin to ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Compulsory school starting ages vary a lot around the world – mainly from age 3 years to age 7 years.

Knowing a country’s compulsory school starting age is useful for expat families who move between countries and schooling. It can be quite a shock for a child who has started school in the UK at aged 4 or 5 to move to country where compulsory education doesn’t start until they are 7 years old.

Since I originally shared this article in January 2017, the link to a rather cool and interactive map it came with pretty much stopped working. There’s nothing I hate more than links that get removed or broken, and normally I would simply remove this whole post from my website. However, people kept searching for the information about when a child should start school and finding this page, and I have quite a few links to it, so I kept it ‘alive’ with the following disclaimer;

Unfortunately, the link this post went to has proved unreliable and often missing, so I have unlinked it. I was going to rewrite the data but I simply don’t have the time. Apologies! It’s too big a job as many countries have different rules even per state or territory. Normally I would simply delete this post but I have quite a lot of links to it.

Well, I found a little time to work on it today – 19th June 2019 – and it nearly drove me crazy. Gathering all the information about all the countries and their different rules and regulations turned into a bit of an obsession. I have sent Google in to meltdown trying to find concrete information and, for quite a few countries, I have to admit I simply gave up. That’s also the reason I clearly put the date I created this into my article. Governments keep changing their mind on when a child should start school.

Also, there are many criteria to consider, for example:

  • When the school year starts in that country. Is it January? April? September?
  • When your child reaches a certain age. Are they 5 years old on x date, or y date? Your child’s birth date will definitely impact on which school year/grade they will enter.
  • This is all about the local school system too – you may find that if you send your child to an international school based on a specific country’s curriculum, their starting age may be different from the local, compulsory school age. I’m confusing myself now!
  • There is also a difference between compulsory school and compulsory education. I’m not even going there.

Compulsory school starting ages around the world

So, do I have a definitive list for you? Nope. Sorry.

There are so many countries, and so many conditions that it proved impossible to create something relevant and readable. What I have done is narrow my list down to countries that will work for the majority of you.

You MUST do your own research. It may change next week. And, as I say, there are variations in the information I found – some say 5 years old, another link source regarding the same country may say 6 years old with a mandatory year in pre-school.

Country Age Notes
Australia 5
Austria 6
Bahrain 6
Belgium 6
Canada 6
Cayman Islands 5
Chile 6
China 6
Colombia 5
Costa Rica 6
Cyprus 5
Egypt 6
England and Wales 5 Most start at 4, Your child must start full-time education once they reach compulsory school age. This is on 31 December, 31 March or 31 August following their 5th birthday
Finland 7 Beginning age is negotiable ± 1 year
France 3
Germany 6 Varies slightly between states
Greece 5
Hong Kong 6
Hungary 3
India 6
Indonesia 5 – 6
Ireland 6
Israel 6
Italy 6
Japan 6
Kenya 6
Kuwait 6
Luxembourg 4
Malaysia 6
Mexico 6
The Netherlands 5 Although most start at 4
New Zealand 6 Although most start at 5
Northern Ireland 4
Norway 6
Portugal 6 It is the law that children living in Portugal (if there for 4 months or more) must go to school. Home schooling is available with registration at a school and quarterly examinations in the Portuguese curriculum only.
Russia 6
South Africa 7
Spain 6
Scotland 5
Singapore 7
Spain 6
Sweden 7
Switzerland 4 – 6 Varies by canton
United States 5 – 8 Varies by state

Yes, I have missed out many, many countries. It seems world education is in constant flux and nobody can decide if school should start earlier or later in a child’s life. There are only so many hours in a day that I can work on this. I can only reiterate, do your own research based on the country you are moving to.

Oh, and if you were thinking about covering gaps with home schooling, check that as well because it isn’t legal in many, sometimes surprising, countries.

Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad. 

There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution. Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.

It’s easy to get very stressed at this point. Don’t panic! I’ve put together this book to help you kick-start your search for the best type of school for your child.

Now available on your local Amazon.

For instant access to the key points, find my eBook here

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  1. I'm from Hungary and we don't start school til around 7. 3 years is the starting age for kindergarten.
    I understand you put in a lot of work, I just thought to let you know. Great job,anyway.

  2. Of interest to U.S. expats may be how the naming of schools in countries like France and Hungary (and elsewhere where kids optionally start “school” by various names at early ages) has a bearing on tax issues. Currently in the U.S., one may get a tax credit for daycare, but kindergarten fees (i.e. for children aged 5 and above starting in the formal U.S. education system) are not eligible. So if your 3-year old is enrolled in an ovoda in Hungary or a maternelle in France where the (translated) school name or other documentation like receipt and contract potentially speaks of “kindergarten,” is this eligible or not? The French maternelle is relatively easier to handle, as it is formally broken down into petiite section for 3 year olds, moyen section for 4 year olds, and grande section, where the equivalent of U.S. kindergarten starts. In fact, French maternelle can be translated as nursury or pre-school in addition to kindergarten, and the same applies to Hungarian ovoda. However, for marketing purposes, English-based schools will often opt for the “kindergarten” wording as parents want to see their kids starting school, learning, etc., and they don’t want to think they are paying for glorified babysitting as might be evoked by the terms daycare, and nursery. In the end, I’m comfortable enough with the circumstances to justify listing it as a childcare credit expense (e.g. whether in an ovoda in Hungary where it is compulsory to start at age 3 or in a daycare in the U.S., a 3-year old is basically engaged in similar activities, and besides enriching the child, the daycare is needed to allow the parents time to work), but as my taking time to post this comment shows, it does make one pause for a moment to think about it.

  3. An update on Belgium: the age of compulsory education has recently been lowered from 6 to 5. You should start school on September 1st of the year in which you turn 5. However, 95% of Belgian children actually start school at 2.5 years old…
    Homeschooling is also an option. With exams to be taken in the language of the region where you officially live (Dutch for the North, French for the South, German for the small region in the East)

  4. In Canada, kids school Junior kindergarten early as 3 (they will turn 4 by the end of the year December). Schools here start in September. when they enter grade one they are 5/6, those who are 5 will turn 6 by the end of the year in December. My son is born in November, he started grade one as 5 and by the time school finishes in end of June he’ll be 5. some of his classmates born in January of the same year will start grade 1 in September as 6 year olds and turn 7 by the time the finish in June.

  5. Pingback: A failure at 6? Data-driven assessment isn’t helping young children’s learning - Denver Daily Post
  6. Israel requires compulsory education for all children from ages 6 to 16 NOT age 3 as stated.

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