One of the first facts that you learn about Beijing international schools is that they cost a fortune, but be grateful, it is only the second most expensive place on the planet to educate your child – Shanghai schools cost even more!
Currently, the population of Beijing is running at over 20 million people but the number of truly international schools is remarkably small – surprising, considering the number of expats who work in the city. Maybe, the cost of the schools, the totally different culture and even the pollution (they’re working on it but Oxford Street is the Antarctic, by comparison) are reasons why so many families choose to keep their children safely ensconced in schools at home.
A couple of the famous English names, Dulwich College Beijing and Harrow International School Beijing have set up shop and the global educational giant Nord Anglia Education has taken over the British School of Beijing but there are not nearly as many international players, as in cities, such as Singapore and Bangkok. It waits to be seen as to whether Covid 19 will change this pattern and a lot will depend on how the international schools handle the practical problems of running large schools under new rules. However, one poll showed two thirds of parents intending to re-enrol their children when the schools opened again, so it looks as if it’s business as normal.
Chaoyang District – Beijing’s Chelsea
Chaoyang District is the upmarket choice of expat families as it is the place where you can work, shop and party, as well as having most of the better international schools on your doorstep and your embassy around the corner. The crème de la crème of prestige addresses is in the Chaoyang Park neighbourhood, as there is a rare patch of green at its centre, complete with pagodas and Chinese gardens, maybe encouraging to any Brits, who yearn for London parks.
This is also home to a large number of the schools, most popular with expats, which include the British School of Beijing Sanlitun, Canadian International School, Harrow International School Beijing, Western Academy of Beijing and Yew Chung International School of Beijing. Your choice will probably depend on the curriculum that you want your child to follow and also whether they can fit your little, or not so little, darling in. The International Baccalaureate programmes are currently very much in favour and almost all international schools offer the IB Diploma, even if the remainder of the curriculum is English or American.
The size of the schools can be daunting to parents used to student numbers in three figures but the mainly, brand new, architect-designed campuses are specifically arranged to deal with the hordes. There are some exceptions to these huge numbers, such as the Sanlitun junior campus of the British School but anything under 1,000 students is unusual. Even the International French School (formerly the more charmingly named Lycée Francais de Pékin), one of the oldest foreign schools, only just stays under the thousand mark.
Shunyi District – suburban Beijing
To the northeast of Beijing, Shunyi Central Villa District is a true suburb (think Chinese-style) and is very popular with expats, particularly as it is in-between the city and Beijing Capital International airport. If you can afford it, there are grand neo-classical villas but there are also cheaper options, leaving enough in your pocket to afford a round of golf on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course. If Chaoyang is Beijing’s Chelsea, Shunyi is Beijing’s Sunningdale.
Naturally, this is a Mecca for international schools and the British School of Beijing Shunyi, the International School of Beijing and Dulwich College Beijing have all opened their doors here on eye-catching and surprisingly green campuses. The choice of school will, again, depend on the curriculum that you are looking for (often the one that will allow your child to transition most easily to schools or universities elsewhere) but in Shunyi, the schools have more to offer in terms of sport and space for parents, who want the traditional extras that their children would have at home.
It is unlikely that families without at least one Chinese parent and with children who have some familiarity with the language (both spoken and written) would consider sending their offspring into such a foreign environment for formal schooling. However, the more adventurous do send their children to bilingual kindergartens, partly to pick up the basics of Mandarin but also to absorb the atmosphere of their new environment and, hopefully, make friends with Chinese children.
Naturally, these kindergartens gravitate towards the areas where expats settle, so Chaoyang is home to some of the most discussed (around the dinner table) options, including:
Beanstalk International Kindergarten - offering an international curriculum (taught in English) and a fully bilingual one
Etonkids International Kindergarten Lido - Montessori based, with either a 70% English and 30% Chinese programme or one targeted at Chinese families.
3e International Kindergarten - teaching half the day in English and half in Chinese
International Montessori School of Beijing - on three campuses and accredited as a Montessori International School
Ivy Academy - offering an English language programme devised in collaboration with Harvard
Sanlitun Kindergarten - a local public kindergarten that accepts foreign children
The Children’s House - a Montessori school, offering classes taught in English as well as in Chinese with English-speaking assistants in every class
Some kindergartens belong to groups that provide a bilingual education for older children, the most well-established, probably, being Beanstalk International Bilingual School (BIBS). The students are mainly Chinese but they also enrol other nationalities.
Some genuinely bilingual schools are considered by expats and amongst these are Beijing Aidi School, which is a school offering a range of curricula options including, American, Australian, English and Chinese and Beijing Huija, another bilingual school that also contains a number of foreign students. Possibly, the one in this category that expats tend to favour most is Yew Chung International School of Beijing, which accepts students from the age of three to eighteen.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Beijing considered by expats'.
The population goes on growing and the international schools go on expanding in ever more glamorous facilities (paid for by parents, via the cost of the school fees) but at least the pollution is better than it was.