How to choose schools in Spain: Spanish vs international schools

How to choose schools in Spain: Spanish vs international schools

2021-08-24 18:36:21

For many expats that move in with their family, education is an important factor to consider when they choose to buy a property. Therefore, it would be very useful to understand the Spanish education system before they make any housing decision. Many expat parents always wonder how the schooling selection works and how to choose the most proper one for their children. Today, this guide will explain the difference and the benefits of each type of school.

1. The Spanish education system in a nutshell

  • The Spanish law establishes that all children in Spain must attend school before the age of 16, which includes at least:
    • primary education (educación primaria)
    • compulsory secondary education (educación secuntaria obligatoria, or ESO).
  • After the age of 16, students can choose among three options:
    • Upper secondary education (bachillerato) if they want to enter a university
    • Vocational training (formación profesional)
    • Stop studying and begin working
  • Type of schools to choose from:
    • Public school
    • Private school
    • Fully independent school
    • Home school your children

2. What are the pros and cons of Spanish local schools or international schools?

  • Pros of Spanish local schools:
    • The most important consideration is the low cost. In most local schools like public schools, students are entitled to free education or paying a largely lower rate compared with some international schools
    • Suitable for people that plan to keep their children in Spain for long-term because it's mostly necessary to know Spain to find a decent job later in life or adapt to the local cultures
    • Suitable for young children because they usually can quickly pick up a new language
    • Also, it will help the parents to speak Spanish and adapt to the culture if they do not want to learn Spanish systematically and professionally
    • If your children can follow the system and enter the university, they might have already experienced different situations and become a well-prepared Spanish citizen
  • Cons of Spanish local schools:
    • Studying a new language (sometimes 2 including the local dialect, eg. Catalan in Catalonia) can be tiring and difficult for children, and they are burdened with averagely higher pressure
    • It´s sometimes possible for them to feel lonely or excluded in school especially at the beginning when they don´t know the language and have no friends. In extreme cases, they may even face racism, discrimination, and other unpleasant experiences in school by ¨being different¨
    • Older children may be reluctant to learn a new language and it might be harder for them to adapt
    • Local schools, especially not very good ones might offer fewer extracurricular art, sports, or business-related activities than international schools, leaving this job to the hands of parents
    • Class size tends to be larger than in private schools in Spain
  • Pros of international schools:
    • International schools work well if you want to offer a great education for a short period to children that are reluctant to learn a new language
    • Pupils can continue with a familiar curriculum, taught in their native language and at the same time if they want, they can learn new languages
    • Children and parents have more freedom to choose what they like to focus on for their future career without pressure like Spanish EBAU selectividad (the usual entrance exam that the children need to pass to be admitted to a university)
    • International schools usually offer a choice of academic and non-academic subjects and activities
    • Bilingual schools can be a great option to not forget the native language as well as learn Spanish at a native level
    • Have more exposure to international culture/experience
  • Cons of international schools:
    • The cost is usually very high since in most cases they are private schools which require continuously high payment
    • In international schools, they might have little real contact with Spanish culture and may be hard to adapt to Spanish culture
    • Although overall international schools are famous for having a good education, the professionalism of professors, teaching quality, and value for money may not be ideal
    • The downside of the elite environment on children's growth, which might make children ignorant of the real reality happening around the country
  • Note: The information above is a general comparison between Spanish schools and international schools, but each school is different and should be considered as a case-by-case study. For example, some autonomous region governments already tried to cope with the cultural adaption problem and offer a pairing scheme between Spanish and foreign children to help them settle in as quickly as possible.

3. How can I choose a school for my kid?

  • Usually, children attend the closest school to home at both primary and secondary levels. Therefore, your choice of school may influence where you live, or vise versa.
  • You should also confirm with the school about their rules and if your kids are eligible to attend their school.

4. Documents you need to present to attend schools

  • Spanish schools or state schools: (It´s important to notice that each autonomous region or even each school can ask for different documents. So we highly recommend you to confirm with the school where you want to enroll your children in.)
    • Enpadronamiento (city town hall registration)
    • Your child´s birth certificate or family book that can show the essential information of the kid
    • Passport of legal guardians
    • A Spanish NIE number
    • Documentos de los estudios realizados
    • Cartilla de vacunación
  • International schools: similar documents but according to each school

5. Some suggestions from Adeslas

Choosing an appropriate school is a difficult decision for a family to make. In this article, we tried to explain everything clearly for parents' reference. But as we said before, to make sure the registration success, it's inevitable to confirm every detail with the school and choose the best one for your children.

In Adeslas, we wish you great luck and enroll your kids in the school they want. And at the same time, we still want to remind you of our expat insurance, which is necessary for the main applicant to legally stay in Spain and bring children here. Our home insurance is also valuable protection for your home, with which your children can study in a safe, comfortable, and tranquil environment without distractions.


[1] Sistema educativo madrileño. (2021). Retrieved 30 July 2021, from

[2] Spain - Eurydice - European Commission. (2017). Retrieved 30 July 2021, from

Our contents will be updated according to the most recent legislation. Last update: 24/08/2021

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