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Education for Expat Children in Zurich

Are you planning to spend a few years as an expat living in Zurich? Lucky you! You’re going to benefit from one of the most popular destinations worldwide. Our guide to Zurich briefly introduces you to leisure, transportation, healthcare, and education in the city by the River Limmat.

Step One: Pre-School and Primary School

In Switzerland, all 26 different cantons are, to a certain extent, autonomous when it comes to organizing their education system. In the canton of Zurich, obligatory schooling begins at the age of four. Four- and five-year-old children attend two years of kindergarten before they start primary school. There are daycare facilities for younger kids and nurseries for the little ones, but these are not in any way mandatory. We will come back to daycare and pre-school for expat kids below.

After the first two years of playful education in kindergarten, children in Zurich go on to primary school. The so-called Primarstufe (primary education) is divided into two levels, year one to three and year four to six. The curriculum includes such subjects as German, English, and French, math, basic lessons in geography, history, and the sciences, as well as arts, music, and physical education.

Step Two: Secondary Education

After grade six, students will attend a secondary school for three years. At this type of school, teenagers are taught in two or three different sections, according to their grades and academic skills. After two or three years, the best students can sit the entrance exam for a Gymnasium — an upper secondary supposed to prepare them for university.

Those who can’t or don’t want to attend a Gymnasium can opt for vocational training in a company or add yet another few years of secondary school, often called Berufsschule, Berufssmittelschule, or Fachmittelschule. These schools have a more vocational and practical focus than a Gymnasium.

For more information on Switzerland’s education system, please refer to our in-depth article on education in Switzerland.

Going to University

As far as tertiary education is concerned, the Greater Zurich Area boasts several renowned universities. The University of Zurich offers what is probably the widest range of degree courses in Switzerland, including several English-language Master’s programs. The ETH Zurich also has a number of English Master’s degrees, mostly in the natural sciences: after all, the ETH’s most famous lecturer was none other than Albert Einstein! About 90 km outside Zurich, there’s the University of St Gallen, a popular law and business school, which attracts lots of foreign students.

There are quite a few universities to choose from in Switzerland. Make sure to read our in-depth article on higher education in Switzerland for more information.

Not Mastering the Language? Join an International School

Public education in the canton of Zurich has the distinct advantage that it’s mostly free. However, many public schools in the Zurich aren’t day schools and end in the early afternoon. What’s even more important for expats, though, is the potential language barrier.

The official language in the classroom is Standard German, and younger kids may also receive instructions in the local version of Schwyzerdütsch (Swiss German). Several secondary schools of the Gymnasium type have bilingual sections (German-English, German-French, or German-Italian) for older students. However, even there lies a strong focus on the German language. 

Fortunately, there are a number of international schools in the Zurich area. While they often demand high tuition fees, many of them also offer after-school hours for older kids and even foreign-language daycare for toddlers. To learn more about individual schools, please check out the websites listed below.

Selected International Schools in Zurich  


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Andrey Vasilyev

"I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides."

Elin Gustavson

"At the first InterNations event that I attended, I met my wonderful partner. We now live together in a flat next to the Limmat."

Global Expat Guide