Firstly, remember that Milan is a northern city, full of industrialists and bankers as well as fashionistas. The city is beautiful but it is not the expat’s vision of an Italian, sun-soaked dolce vita bursting with ripe tomatoes and red wine - it’s more hard work and fog but there is the draw of a small number of international schools.
Rome is the home of Italy’s politicians but Milan is the driving force behind the economy and although some of the famous names have gone (Alfa Romeo and Falck), it is still the headquarters of giant brands, such as Pirelli, Bertolli and the vast engineering and construction business Techint. It is also a major, European financial centre, drawing in large numbers of outsiders to work in the Italian headquarters of global banks and insurance companies.
Considering the number of expats who work in Milan, it is surprising that there are so few international schools. However, a large number of foreigners only flit in and out, like the fashion butterflies that they are, and are seldom encumbered with offspring. So, even if they settle for longer than it takes for the season’s new clothes to escape the chrysalis, they rarely need to trouble with schooling.
Thus, the international pickings at earlier stages are lean but at the higher education level, Milan is awash with opportunities. There is a roll call of seven universities and several arts and design schools, including the European Institute of Design and the Marangoni Institute. Students also come from all over the world to study music, either at the wonderfully named, Pontifical Ambrosian Institute of Sacred Music, or the Giuseppe Verdi Milan Conservatory, the largest music school in Italy.
However, if you do arrive here as a family and it comes to considering the school run, you might want to do some triangulation exercises about where to live in Milan, along the work, school, home lines, as there will be a large variation in the time it takes out of your day. The metro system is extensive, and the more endearing tram network is one of the world’s largest, but unfortunately with some schools and neighbourhoods, never the twain shall meet, whilst other combinations mean that taking public transport is as fast and a lot less nerve-wracking than the drive.
A fair number of expats choose to live in towns, such as Monza and Arese, for a more suburban and less frenetic life but beware (particularly Arese) that taking and fetching your child from school could take up a large chunk of time, depending on the school you pick. Even if you live in a popular district in the middle of Milan, such as Brera, the British School of Milan means around 20 minutes in the car and an extra quarter of an hour to the American School of Milan. The difference being that you can reach the former in half an hour, using the metro, but the latter takes over twice as long.
The two schools mentioned above, together with the International School of Milan are the only really well-established international schools in Milan, joined by St Louis School in the late 1990’s and two whippersnappers, the Canadian School of Milan (2016) and the ICS International School in Milan (2017) – only a primary at the moment but intent on expanding. ICS does have one advantage over its rivals, in that it is right in the centre and a ten minute metro ride from most city neighbourhoods.
The curricula tend to be a mélange of English, American, International Baccalaureate and Italian but all the schools that teach up to 18 offer the IB Diploma with the American School allowing the choice between that and the American High School Diploma.
There is also the obvious caveat that, due to their scarcity, the schools are hard to get into and the fees are pretty high.
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 Milan considered by expats'.
As an alternative to the above, Italian schools are free and (on the whole) excellent, however the teaching is all in Italian, which may be a game-changer for expat children unless they are very young. If that’s the case, there are lots of bilingual nurseries or even local ones that will help with integration and if you are lucky and your child absorbs the language quickly, the public system becomes an attractive option, particularly if your stay looks like a long one.
The four established schools all produce good end results and have their supporters but we don’t know enough yet, or have sufficient reports back from parents, about the two newcomers to be able to give you any feedback on them.