“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.” So goes an Asian proverb that highlights the benefits of traveling. I know there are wonderful virtual and online “tours” available, but there is magic in the words field trip. Visit a state capital. Explore a landmark, historical site, or national park, and windows to imagination and learning fly open. There are so many possibilities! Travel creates memorable learning experiences. So families frequently look for opportunities to take their children on trips. Other families live in another country long term or work internationally, and they want to keep the family together. For families both in the U.S. and homeschooling internationally, it’s a lifestyle that literally takes them places.
Millions of families have found that freedom and flexibility are appealing features of homeschooling. It’s an alternative to public or private school education with unique advantages. If you’re willing to take on the costs, planning, organization, and work of homeschooling, your family will also get the rewards. For one thing, your child’s extracurricular activities will have new, broadened horizons. You’ll no longer be limited by a physical school because you can take your lessons with you wherever you go. The portability of homeschooling is definitely an exciting plus for students and parents, no matter where they live. And then there are families that find the portability of homeschooling is perfect because they are taking it with them.
So if you’re considering homeschooling internationally, what do you need to know ahead of time? What will be different for military or missionary families compared to families who have moved for work or personal reasons? Can you legally homeschool in your destination country?
What is international homeschooling?
International homeschooling is easy enough to explain–it’s teaching your children at home (wherever that home may be) rather than enrolling them in a school. Families who choose homeschool study overseas fall into a couple of categories, and the two groups will have some different legal considerations before they can begin.
Let’s say you have the chance to live and work internationally. Maybe you’ll be serving as a missionary, as part of the military, or working for the U.S. internationally. Missionaries, for example, might keep younger children with them in the field and later send them to missionary schools or boarding schools. Military and government employees may choose to either live separately or travel as a family. These parents can have their children attend a local school, a military school, or a boarding school in the U.S. For all types of families, homeschooling abroad makes meeting your children’s learning needs simpler.
Parents recognize the rich experiences that living and learning (and ministering) in a different culture can supply. Still, there can be several issues that complicate the decision. Families may or may not be subject to the educational laws of the country where they are living. But many countries, not just the U.S., require school attendance for children between the ages of 6 and 18. Families need to find a way to meet these requirements, but may decide that local schools aren’t a good fit.
This is when international homeschooling can be the ideal solution for families living overseas. When you live overseas as a missionary or military family, you generally aren’t subject to your host country’s educational requirements. Families who are homeschooling abroad will need curriculum materials that are portable, accessible, and comparable to U.S. requirements. Making sure that your children’s international homeschool education is comparable to a U.S. education ensures that they can transition easily should they return to the United States for a high school or college education.
Still other families are living outside the U.S. for different reasons. The term expat is an informal reference to expatriate, but it’s kind of a modern take on people who leave the country where they were born for a different country. Parents move the entire family to another country to live, perhaps long-term or permanently, even becoming citizens of that country. These families will be subject to the laws of their new home regarding education for their children. Some international cities have larger expat communities and have international schools, but not every family will have this option or choose to use it. For expat families looking to homeschool in their new country, you’ll need to look into your country’s education requirements, and you’ll need to choose a homeschool curriculum option that meets your needs. Your needs might be different if you’re a permanent resident in a different country.
Legally Homeschooling Internationally
So if you wonder if you are allowed to homeschool your children while living abroad, the answer is yes, in most cases. If you wonder how to homeschool your students, the answer is what we tell them so often–You have to do your homework. Just like homeschool parents in the U.S., parents will have to research, plan, and get creative in order to accomplish homeschooling internationally. You will have to tend to some extra legal obligations. But also like U.S. homeschoolers, you can have help along the way.
One organization has been a friend to homeschoolers for over 35 years both in the U.S. and globally. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) tracks the legal status of homeschooling in all 50 states in the U.S. While they don’t offer detailed tracking on legally homeschooling internationally like they do in the states, they are in-tune with many issues regarding international homeschooling. Partnering with them before you start considering international homeschooling can provide you with the insight you need to homeschool successfully, so you can know where to look for educational laws you will need to follow. You can also find helpful resources from your employer, government agencies, and support groups for military and expat families. You can also find blogs from experienced international homeschoolers with information and tips.
Homeschool Accreditation Requirements
When you homeschool overseas, your host country may or may not require that you use an accredited homeschool program. Note that even if accreditation isn’t required by law, it may still be valuable if your child may be interested in attending an international college or university. You can learn more about the pros and cons of accredited homeschool programs, but whichever you decide on, BJU Press has you covered.
Accessing Your Homeschool Curriculum and Supplies
It’s time to get technical. Some of your research and planning for homeschooling internationally will have to include the technology needs specifically for your host country. You’ll want to be confident before you order your homeschool materials that you’ll be able to access and use them. An online curriculum will obviously require internet access. Using something like a VPN may be helpful to fully access your online curriculum and materials. If you prefer parent-led homeschool options or won’t have a reliable internet connection, you may have to plan on hard copies of your materials or DVDs or BluRay discs (remember those?). You’ll need to make sure that DVD/BluRay players will work with discs from several or all regions.For hard copies, you’ll need to consider shipping costs, or plan on ordering your materials in conjunction with visits to the states.
Creating and Finding Extracurricular Activities
Last and definitely not least, you can begin planning for the FUN stuff. Think of all the fabulous extracurricular activities you’ll be able to build into your homeschooling plans! If the native language is something other than English, your children will have the chance to become bilingual. Language lessons or online learning can help this process along. Remember all the times you’ve visited an extraordinary place and said the pictures can’t do it justice? Now you won’t have to settle for a photograph. You’ll want to take advantage of opportunities to explore your new home country and even neighboring countries if you can.
A fabulous perk of homeschooling is that you and your family can weave the culture, history, geography, and literature of your new home into your children’s education. There could be dances to learn, a national sport to play, trails to hike, and new foods to sample. You can find adventure and learning at every turn when you are looking. These new learning opportunities will lead to memories to keep for a lifetime.
Depending on your location, you may be able to find a homeschool co-op group in the area. If not, look for an online support group geared towards expats or international homeschoolers. Your family will be able to find new friends and fellow students to learn with.
Ministry opportunities will abound while you are living and learning abroad. Living in a new culture will foster a deeper understanding of people different from ourselves. Jesus’ great commission in Matthew 28:19 says “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” I’ve read that another accurate translation of His command would be, “As you are going, teach all nations.” So wherever we go, as we go, we can be sharing the love and gospel of Christ. Finding ways to serve others is a wonderful option for extracurricular activities.
The Chance of a Lifetime
The call to live in another country could be the chance of a lifetime for your family to grow closer together, adventure into God’s majestic creation, and of course, learn. Using an international homeschooling curriculum could be the key to a successful family experience abroad. While your family is busy making memories, the lessons they learn will be unforgettable.
• • • • •Mabe is a retired homeschooler and high school language arts and technology teacher. Her favorite subjects are Bible and literature. After over twenty years in education, she hopes to adventure with her husband to as many of South Carolina’s waterfalls as possible.