Moving to Amsterdam, made easy.

Moving to Amsterdam? Learn about the different education paths

in the Netherlands, how to enroll your child in a school, and language requirements.

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The Netherlands has an excellent education system and its consistently ranked in the top 10 globally. Students are considered among the happiest as well, reporting low stress — that could be because homework doesn’t really become a thing until they’re older. All public and most private schools are open to all children and teachers, regardless of faith or cultural background The Dutch keep it simple with just two phases of compulsory schooling: primary and secondary.

Primary and secondary education is free, although there may be some costs for things like class trips, gym clothes, or calculator. School hours are typically from 8:30am to 3:00pm. There are three school terms per year. While dates vary, the Autumn term runs roughly from early September to mid-December, the Spring term runs from early January to mid-April, and the Summer term runs from early May to mid-July. Each term has a mid-term holiday break. The Dutch use a 10 point grading scale that is roughly equivalent to the A-F grades in the United States, where a 10 is the best and anything less than a 5.5 is failing. Amsterdam is also home to over a dozen international schools serving French-, Japanese-, Chinese-, and English-speaking students. These schools are in high demand and often having limited availability; some even have waiting lists.


Primary education is compulsory starting at the age of 5, but many children start kindergarten classes when they are 3 or 4. Primary school lasts until the age of 12, at which point the student’s secondary schooling begins. A test in the final year of primary school, the “Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs”, just Cito for short, helps determine what type of secondary school the student attends, though parents and teachers will also weigh in on the decision.

SECONDARY SCHOOL IN AMSTERDAM There are three types of secondary education: HAVO, VWO, and VMBO. When the student is completing primary school, he/she picks the type of study to purse during secondary school.

HAVO (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs; literally “higher general continued education”) is a 5 year course of study and is attended from the ages of 12 to 17.

VWO (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs; literally “preparatory scholarly education”) is a 6 year course of study and generally lasts from 12 years of age to 18 years of age. Either a HAVO or VWO degree is required to attend university in the Netherlands. VWO is considered the more challenging school. While HAVO enables students to attend a vocational university (also known as a university of applied sciences), VWO enables students to attend a research university. For some areas of study, the Netherlands does not make a distinction between bachelor’s or master’s degrees earned at either type of university, but for other topics a bachelor degree from a vocational university does not automatically allow access to a masters program at a research university. The Netherlands we used to have a more distinct division — the old “HBO” was for higher vocational training and university was more of a typical research university — but they’ve been more or less merged as competition for skilled labor increased with other countries, though in some cases the old system still has its traces. A Ph.d. degree can only be earned at a research university.

VMBO (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs; literally “preparatory middle-level applied education”) is a 4 year course of study and is more like pre-vocational training for students. Though it includes basics like math, history, science, and arts, it also provides job training. There are several levels of VMBO that range in how much emphasis they put on job training.


First, you’ll need to find the eligible schools based on your address. You can use the city of Amsterdam’s School Finder website to see what schools qualify. This will show you a list view of nearby schools; a filter on the right side of the page lets you only display schools that are religious or by the education approach (i.e. Montessori). By default, the 8 closest schools are considered ‘priority’ schools. This means that if there are more applicants than spaces available, your child gets priority over children who live farther away. (You can apply to any school in Amsterdam if you wish, which is why priority matters.) Other things also give ‘priority’ to certain students, like whether the student has an older sibling already attending the school or if the student practices the religion the school is denominated in. You can read the complete rules on priority on Amsterdam’s school board website. Clicking on the school shows basic information like the grade given by the Education Inspectorate, a governmental organization, number of students, and whether it’s linked to a pre-school program (if it’s a primary school). By default the description of the school is in Dutch so you’ll need to use a browser translator to read if you’re not fluent in Dutch. Most schools have information days (voorlichtingsdagen) though you can also book a private appointment if timing doesn’t permit you to attend. Once you’ve identified the schools you like, you fill out a registration form where you can list up to 10 schools listed in order of preference. You can either download this form at the City of Amsterdam School Board website ( or pick one up at any school. You must provide proof of address when you submit the registration form, such as an apartment lease. Then deliver the form to the school you listed in the #1 spot. The school registers this information in a central system. Your child’s school is determined based your preference, available spaces at the schools, and priority.

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