The language may be pretty unfathomable but the setting is glamorous and the choice of international schools is fairly straightforward, even if their names are deeply confusing.
The school marketing gurus, belonging to two schools opened in 2014 and 2015, obviously failed to communicate as they are called, respectively, the Budapest British International Academy (BBIA) and the Budapest British International School (BBIS).
To add to the confusion, there is the British International School of Budapest (BISB) originally opened during the communist era, with a few children sitting in a room on the top floor of the British Embassy. The current campus opened in August 2004 and is in the 3rd district in the Buda hills. BISB follows the National Curriculum for England and Wales with IGCSEs at 16 followed by the IB Diploma. This is the choice for many expat families in Budapest – especially Brits who need to keep their kids in a UK curriculum or for GCSEs and may only be staying for a couple of years.
The BISB student population (much larger than its rivals) is, however, made up of families from over 70 different nationalities with some students leaving at 11 and 13 to head off to UK boarding schools. No tutoring is given for Common Entrance exams to UK schools, but private tutors in Budapest can be found fairly easily. A school bus service is provided after extra-curricular activities as well as at the end of the school day, a service that is very popular with parents but relatively expensive, particularly if you have to dig into your own pocket.
Neither BBIA or BBIS are all-through schools, the former covering nursery and pre-school to the age of 12 and the latter taking children from age four to 14. They both have adapted curricula, based on the National Curriculum for England but BBIS is intending to expand upwards and has applied for authorisation to offer the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.
Not unlike BISB, the American International School of Budapest (AISB) was originally started in the American Embassy, for American children, but it has been established for a long time at the campus at Nagykovacsi (basically just outside the Budapest area but still easily accessible for students). The fleet of school minibuses collecting and dropping off the 900 odd students all over Budapest is a common sight as most students use this method of transport. As at BISB, the minibuses also ‘drop off’ after all the extra-curricular activities – a luxury for many mothers who usually face the heavier traffic at 6pm and when time is at a premium.
A 350 seat theatre, drama/dance studio, band/chorus rooms, 6 science labs, computer labs, art studios and a large and fully equipped library make this school a very popular choice for various expatriates and the wealthier Hungarians. Fees are high but, as most are paid by companies rather than individuals, this does not decrease the numbers of students and, as the facilities are so ‘state of the art’ most parents do not complain.
There are many non-native English speaking students at AISB, but a very effective ESL programme is well established and individual support incorporated into the students curriculum effectively integrates these students into the English speaking environment of the school.
The Britannica International School (BIS) is financially helped by the Hungarian Ministry of Education, Fees are much lower than at BISB and AISB and scholarships are offered to some Hungarian students, whilst British students, there, find the transition from a UK School relatively smooth because of the curriculum. The school does not offer a school bus service.
The Greater Grace International School of Budapest was established in 1991 by Christian Missionaries. It is a full-scale American primary and secondary school featuring the American curriculum, Saxon Maths programme and other supplementary material.. A small school but now on a greatly enlarged campus with much-improved facilities.
The Lycée Francais de Budapest is located out in District 2a where many expats live, offering a traditional, full French curriculum up to the French Baccalaureate. Some non-native French speaking families do choose this school – again, fees are much lower than at AISB or BISB and the campus offers good facilities at all ages. However, some British parents who have tried it have said that the language immersion is difficult (fluent French is required very quickly) and the transition from one school system to another, together with a new language, makes it difficult for some students to adapt.
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 Budapest considered by expats'.
A few expatriates have been brave enough to put their children into the Hungarian school system but numbers are small, mainly because the Hungarian language is very difficult to master to any degree of fluency. This lack of ability to communicate can create a huge barrier for expatriate families, especially ones only in Budapest for a few years and most temporary residents feel that the disruption to continuous education is too great a risk. However, for those with a parent who is Hungarian and have regular contact with Hungarians or are intending to become long-term residents, there are obvious advantages in going to these schools.
An architectural gem on the River Danube with its unspoilt skyline (preserved by its status as a World Heritage Site), which is not just a tourist destination but also a commercial centre at a historical, trading crossroads. Not too much problem with education if you are posted here (wherever you come from in the western world) as you have the option of English, American and French curricula to choose from.