What age do children start school?

School starting ages around the world

In Education, Expat Kids, School options, Younger kids: 4-8 year olds by Carole Hallett Mobbs4 Comments

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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.

If you’d like to chat about YOUR children and preparing them for a move overseas, get in touch!

Hop on a call with me to get the lowdown on moving abroad with children

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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.

If you’d like to chat about YOUR children and preparing them for a move overseas, get in touch!

I can help YOU with YOUR move abroad

I offer one-to-one support and targeted help and advice to help YOU navigate your own expat journey. I can make sure you are well-prepared for expat life. Hop on a call with me to find out more

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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.

Buy from Amazon UK More detail on the book




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  1. Pingback: The world of work is changing, it’s time our education system did too

  2. Israel requires compulsory education for all children from ages 6 to 16 NOT age 3 as stated.

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