Private: Dutch Education System

Navigating the Dutch Education System: A Guide for Expats

Are you an expat family planning to move to the Netherlands? One of the most important aspects to consider when relocating with children is the education system of your new country. Understanding the Dutch education system can help you make informed decisions about your children's education and ensure a smooth transition. In this guide, we will provide you with valuable information about the Dutch education system, from primary to higher education.

Primary Education in the Netherlands

The Dutch education system starts with primary education, which is compulsory for children aged 5 to 12. Primary education in the Netherlands focuses on providing a solid foundation in reading, writing, mathematics, and social skills. The curriculum is designed to foster creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities.

Primary schools in the Netherlands are divided into two types: public schools (openbare scholen) and special schools (bijzondere scholen). Public schools are non-denominational and follow a secular curriculum, while special schools can be based on a particular religious or pedagogical philosophy.

When choosing a primary school for your child, it's important to consider factors such as location, teaching approach, and school culture. The Netherlands has a wide range of primary schools, including international schools that cater to expat families. International schools often offer bilingual education and follow international curricula, making the transition easier for expat children.

Secondary Education in the Netherlands

After completing primary education, students in the Netherlands move on to secondary education. Secondary education is divided into three levels: VMBO (preparatory secondary vocational education), HAVO (senior general secondary education), and VWO (pre-university education).

VMBO is a four-year program that prepares students for vocational training or further education at the MBO (secondary vocational education) level. HAVO is a five-year program that provides a general education and prepares students for higher vocational education (HBO) or university. VWO is a six-year program that offers a more academic curriculum and prepares students for university education.

When choosing a secondary school for your child, it's important to consider their interests, abilities, and future goals. Some schools may have specific focuses, such as science, arts, or sports. It's also worth noting that some secondary schools in the Netherlands offer bilingual education, which can be beneficial for expat children.

Higher Education in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is known for its high-quality higher education system, attracting students from all over the world. The country offers a wide range of bachelor's and master's degree programs taught in English, making it an attractive destination for international students.

Higher education in the Netherlands is divided into two sectors: universities and universities of applied sciences (HBO). Universities offer academic programs and focus on research, while HBO institutions provide more practical, profession-oriented programs.

When considering higher education options in the Netherlands, it's important to research the specific requirements and admission procedures for each institution and program. Some universities may require additional entrance exams or specific qualifications. It's also worth exploring scholarship opportunities for international students, as there are various funding options available.

Support for Expat Families

As an expat family, you may have additional concerns and questions about the Dutch education system. Fortunately, there are resources and support available to help you navigate the system and make informed decisions.

The Dutch government provides information and guidance for expat families through organizations such as the Expat Center and the International Education Office. These organizations can assist you with school enrollment, language support, and other educational matters.

Additionally, online communities and forums for expat families in the Netherlands can be valuable sources of information and support. Connecting with other expat parents can provide insights and advice based on their own experiences.


Understanding the Dutch education system is crucial for expat families moving to the Netherlands. From primary to higher education, the Netherlands offers a diverse range of educational opportunities for children of all ages. By researching and considering factors such as school types, teaching approaches, and future goals, you can make informed decisions that will support your children's educational journey in their new home.

Remember to utilize the resources and support available to expat families, such as government organizations and online communities. With the right information and guidance, you can navigate the Dutch education system with confidence and ensure a smooth transition for your children.