What about compulsory education during a (temporary) stay abroad while living in the Netherlands? Some parents are unaware of what problems this can cause while traveling or when returning to the Netherlands.

“We are going to live abroad temporarily. We want to travel through Spain and Portugal for a year. Can we keep up with you in Dutch so they can re-enter their Dutch school afterward?”

But also permanent moving questions.

“We are moving to the Netherlands from Romania in a year. Before this, we lived in Curaçao. Can our son start Dutch now? He doesn’t go to school now because he doesn’t speak the language here.”

These are the kinds of questions we regularly get in our inbox at Dutch for Children. These questions concern parents assuming that the children will not have to go to school locally and in the Netherlands.

Of course, we can take care of the Dutch part, but you, as parents, still have nothing further arranged regarding compulsory education.

For some parents, this is a disappointment because they have not realized that their children may be subject to compulsory education and may be checked when traveling.

For completeness, some providers offer the full Dutch school package, but you still need permission for homeschooling and acceptance of the provider’s package by the compulsory education officer in the municipality where you live.

The example of Laura, “the sailing girl,” showed that even with such a complete package, this is difficult to arrange in the Netherlands.

Below I explain what compulsory education is, when exceptions are made and how compulsory education works abroad.

Compulsory education in the Netherlands

Children from 5 to 16 are subject to compulsory education in the Netherlands. Children are allowed to go to school when they are four years old. This usually happens in the Netherlands.

The explanation

Compulsory education simply states when children are subject to compulsory education according to the law in the country where the child is enrolled. That means they are obliged to go to school. The Compulsory Education Act says when children must go to school, what age they must be, and for how long.

In the Netherlands, compulsory education lasts until the end of the school year when your child turns 16. Compulsory education also ends when your child has attended school for at least 12 full school years.

Children who do not have a starting qualification after the age of 16 must attend school until the age of 18. A starting qualification is a diploma havo, vwo or mbo (level 2 or higher).

The compulsory education officer in the municipality where you live in the Netherlands supervises compliance with the Compulsory Education Act. This official has three functions: encouraging students to go to school, assessing exemptions from compulsory education, and enforcing school absenteeism. To this end, the compulsory education officer has access to data on pupils’ enrolment and de-enrolment.

When is your child subject to compulsory schooling?

Under certain conditions, your child may go on vacation outside school. For example, if one of yours professions makes it impossible for you to go away as a family during regular vacations. This does cover a limited period, not months of travel.

In some cases, you can invoke an exemption from compulsory education:

  • Psychological and physical complaints
  • Objection to the philosophical direction of schools in the neighborhood
  • Education in Belgium or Germany
  • You travel around for your job, e.g., as a fairground operator.

Please note that these exemptions apply for a maximum of one year. After that, they must be reapplied for.

Mandatory education abroad

Countries differ in the ages when children must start school, but in most countries, compulsory education is similar to the Netherlands in the sense that a number of years must be completed in school.

However, there are clear differences in the flexibility with which homeschooling is allowed. Therefore, homeschooling is a perfectly legal way to fulfill compulsory education in most European countries. Each country has different regulations.

England is an example of a country where it is relatively easy for parents to homeschool. However, the rules are stricter in France and Austria. In France, there are regular inspections but no mandatory exams. Austria has no inspection, but homeschooled children must pass an annual exam.

Read more about each country’s laws here.

Not complying with compulsory education

One way around compulsory education is to deregister your child from the Netherlands. However, wherever you enroll your child next, the rules of that country apply, which you must comply with.

Fines in the Netherlands

Anyone who does not receive permission is in violation. Parents who do not comply with their child’s compulsory education can receive a prison sentence of up to one month or a fine of 3,700 euros. Children 12 and older can receive community service or learning disability or also a fine of 3,700 euros.

Control at the border

Some countries check at the border, especially outside school vacations. For example, when we lived there, we almost didn’t get off Curaçao once because the school had a different vacation, and we hadn’t considered asking for an official statement from the headmistress.

Returning to the Netherlands

When you return to the Netherlands, you will register your child at a school again. The school will want to see what your child has been doing in terms of education. The most important thing for a smooth entry is that your children’s Dutch is up to standard, especially spelling and grammar. Good preparation before departure, such as extra Dutch lessons, is a good help in this regard.

Also realize that if you have deregistered your child from the Netherlands and now re-enroll him or her, you may be held accountable. This can happen when it becomes clear to the school attendance officer that you have used your deregistration as a means to travel.

So, I do not take my child abroad?

That is too black and white. The only thing I advise you to do is to read up well, make a plan, and then set your course. Whether that is asking permission from the school attendance officer or deregistering your children, be well prepared. The better your research and plan, the more likely you are to succeed in keeping your child’s education in good standing.

Links about compulsory education when staying abroad


Want to keep up with your child’s Dutch and math during your trip?

Then, share your plan with us. Together, we will look at what fits your child best and what the compulsory education officer or your new country requests regarding his education. You can always email me for free advice at info@dutchforchildren.nl or via our form.