Vietnam’s international school sector is relatively new compared to many other expat destinations in South East Asia, and the first school – International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) – only opened 25 years ago in 1993. Since then there has been a steady rise in the number of primary, secondary and all-through schools. According to the 2017 ISC Market Intelligence Report for Vietnam, there are 109 English-medium international pre-schools and schools in Vietnam for children aged between three and 18, enrolling more than 39,000 students.
From 2011-2016, there was a small increase in the number of schools from 84 to 109. However, we can expect to see a surge in the international schools’ market once a new government policy that removes the cap on Vietnamese students comes into place. Currently, international schools are restricted to a maximum enrolment of 10% local children at primary level and 20% at secondary level. There are no restrictions, however, at locally-owned international and bilingual schools where up to 100% of the students can be Vietnamese. The removal of this cap on local student attendance is expected to attract new foreign-invested international schools.
There is a decent choice of all-through schools offering an education from nursery through to Grade 12/Year 13 (IBDP and A Level), and a smaller offering of standalone primary and secondary schools. Most schools have a very multicultural student population, with a mixture of Vietnamese nationals and expats from Asia, Europe, North America and Australasia.
International schools have a greater focus than local schools on sport, the arts and other extra-curricular activities. This is reflected in the state-of-the-art facilities on many international campuses, and the lengthy list of extra-curricular activities and residential trips offered to all students.
In Vietnam, international schools are generally autonomous in that they decide on the curriculum offered, the student admission criteria and the fees. They do, however, need the approval of the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training (MOET).
There is a mix of independent schools and those run by global international school groups such as Nord Anglia Education, UWC and Cognita. The largest education group in Vietnam is KinderWorld, a Singaporean-based group that owns 15 schools under the brand name of Singapore International School (SIS) in the cities of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Binh Duong New City, Vung Tau, Nha Trang and Ha Long.
The academic year runs from August to June at the majority of schools, and the year is divided into two or three terms/semesters depending on the curriculum. There is no centralised system of inspections or reports for international schools, but some schools are inspected independently by organisations such as the British Schools Overseas (BSO).
Families have a choice of British, American, Australian, French, German, Russian and Korean schools, as well as more generic ‘international’ schools. There are 12 schools that follow the International Baccalaureate programme (IB), including four that offer all three IB programmes: European International School, Hanoi International School, International School HCMC and United Nations International School of Hanoi.
A selection of British schools offers both IGCSEs and A Levels, including the Singapore International School campuses and the International School of Vietnam. You’ll also find several schools that offer two streams of education – an international stream that’s taught in English and a Vietnamese stream that offers an enhanced version of the MOET (Ministry of Education and Training) curriculum.
Vietnamese nationals must attend compulsory Vietnamese language and culture lessons as part of the curriculum, from kindergarten through to the college years; most schools open this up to all students though. Depending on the school, there may be the opportunity to learn French, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish.
Although there have not been any new international schools recently, two existing schools have expanded and opened new campuses in the past 12 months. British International School, Ho Chi Minh City opened a new early years and junior campus in District 2 in January 2018, offering a British education from nursery through to Year 2. In 2017, International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) opened a new secondary campus in District 2, HCMC, which offers the IB programme for Grades 6 to 12.
Looking ahead, QSI International School of Haiphong will open a new campus in 2018 to serve its growing student population; this purpose-built school is located close to the existing school in Haiphong.
While international school fees are expensive for the average Vietnamese family, they are low when compared with the costs of schooling in Europe or other parts of Asia. Many schools in Vietnam offer scholarships to students for excellence in academia, sport and the creative arts; these generally offer a reduction in the tuition fees, or full tuition fees and even boarding.
Average annual tuition fees range from VND 345,000,000 (US $15,100) for Year 1 through to VND 390,000,000 for Year 6 and VND 654,000,000 (US $29,000) for college – and that’s often just the tip of the iceberg.
You’ll need to budget for additional charges (some optional) including a non-refundable application and enrolment fees, a refundable deposit, contributions to the parents’ association, extra-curricular activities, exams and field trips. Extra costs include uniform, school transport and lunches. Click here for the cost of International Schools in Vietnam.
Education in Vietnam is expensive for a reason though: many campuses have state-of-the-art facilities, modern classrooms, the latest technology, international teaching staff and opportunities for global study.
There’s a small choice of schools boarding options to both male and female students, often from Year 3 upwards; these include APU International School and Horizon International Bilingual School.
International schools accept applications from new students throughout the year. Apply as early as possible as some of the top-performing schools can have long waiting lists for certain year groups.
Most schools require students to sit an entrance exam, typically to test for English and maths proficiency, and the most popular schools may select admission based on academic achievements.
To apply to an international school, you need to submit a completed application form (for many schools this is online) and the following documents:
• A copy of the child’s birth certificate
• Copies of the parents’ passports
• Latest school results (including official transcripts, report cards and/or standardised test results). Some schools request reports for as many as three previous years.
• A copy of the child's study permit (or proof of application)
• Medical records, including vaccination certificates
• A copy of at least one parent's work permit, permanent resident visa, dependency visa, etc.
• A completed copy of the particular school's application for admission form, which may include a writing sample
Parents will then be contacted with a date for an admission interview or assessment at the school.