If you’re moving to Mexico with your family, an important decision you’ll face is how to continue your children’s’ schooling. Mexico may not have the strongest public schooling available, but there are a variety of options available to you.

The Mexican schooling system has had a tumultuous past – from battles with the catholic church to the influence of socialism, it hasn’t always been a smooth road. Luckily, the schooling system has increased in quality and stability in recent years, with strong optimism for the future. Now regulated by the Secretaría de Educación Pública or SEP (meaning Secretariat of Public Education), public schools are completely secular, well-funded in urban areas and mandatory until age 18.

Whether you’ve already packed your bags, secured your work visa and are ready for the big move or you’re just an expat adjusting to life in Mexico, it’s never too early to start learning about the Mexican education system.

Here is a quick guide to get you started.

The Mexican education system

Pre-school (which is optional and privately-funded) is available for children starting at age three. Primary school is mandatory from ages six to twelve, after which middle school (also mandatory) is for children aged twelve to fifteen. Mandatory schooling finishes with high school, after which attendance at University is possible (although uncommon, especially in rural areas of Mexico).

Educación Preescolar (Preschool) Educación Preescolar isn’t mandatory and may start as early as age three.
Primaria (Primary School) Primaria education in Mexico is mandatory for all children aged six to 12 and consists of grades one to six.
Secundaria (Middle School or Junior High School) Secundaria is comprised of grades 7-9 (when a child is aged 12-15) and is part of Mexico’s basic compulsory education system.
Preparatoria (High School or Preparatory School) Preparatoria is compulsory for students aged 15-18 and consists of grades 10-12.
Universidad (Higher Education) University education in Mexico generally follows the US education model – four years to complete a bachelor’s degree undergraduate level (Licenciatura), and two degrees at the postgraduate level, a two year Master’s degree (Maestría), and a three year Doctoral degree (Doctorado).

Primary School (Primaria)

Primary school (or Primaria) is offered free of charge to children in Mexico and is mandatory for all children aged six to 12. Primaria starts in grade one and concludes in grade six . New standards created by the SEP have seen more and more schools requiring a second language. Where learning a second language is mandatory, half of the school day is taught in Spanish while half is taught in a second language of choice (often English, French, or native Mexican languages Tzotzil or Tzeltal).

Middle School or Junior High School (Secundaria)

Secundaria begins at the age of 12 for Mexican students and usually consists of three years (grades seven to nine). It’s during these years that students receive more focused and specific education, including courses on subjects like Physics, World History and more.

Mexico also offers telesecundaria, or distance learning programs, for students aged 12-15. These online

High School or Preparatory School (Preparatoria)

Preparatoria was not mandatory for Mexican students until very recently. It’s now compulsory for all children in Mexico to complete their education through to the 12th grade, however, there are a wide variety of options available for specialized education.

There are two main types of high school programs in Mexico:

  • SEP Incorporated Preparatoria – curriculum is mandated and run by the Government via the Secretariat of Public Education
  • University Incorporated Preparatoria – these Preparatorias are closely affiliated with a local University, who establishes the curriculum

Should you decide to send your child to a private school, you may also choose from other minority programs such as the International Baccalaureate program. Should a student choose to pursue a vocation rather than higher education, there are tecnología (technology) and comercio (commercial) programs that are designed to prepare students for a future outside higher education. Each of these programs carry different systems and methods of teaching, but in order to be accredited each must include a national subject and pass standard qualifications as established by the SEP.

One difference you’ll see between Mexican Preparatoria schools and American High Schools is Preparatoria allow students to select some degree of specialization. For schools that prepare students for higher education (college or university), the first half of the year is dedicated to a common curriculum. These schools are often called Bachilleratos and allow students to focus on a specialization of their choice from physical or social sciences (chemistry, biology, commerce, philosophy, law, etc.) to artistic endeavors (literature, fine art, music, etc.) later in the school year.

What are the Pros and Cons?

The Mexican educational system has had a history of ups and downs and has come under a lot of criticism in recent years. The number of students who complete their schooling is extremely low, and lower still is the number of students who choose to continue on to higher education after completing their compulsory coursework. The cause of this dropoff is often attributed to the lack of infrastructure in rural schools – much of Mexico’s population lives in non-urban areas.

Unless your child is bilingual, public school is often not the best option for expats or internationals, especially because these public schools often see corruption and underfunding. However, many internationals choose to send their child to public school for half a day, while homeschooling for the other half. This allows children to learn Spanish while also integrating themselves in Mexican culture.

Overwhelmingly, expats and internationals choose to send their children to private schools, which offer stronger bilingual integration and have more funding. There are many international schools in Mexico as well, mostly in larger cities.

What’s the cost of education?

While public schooling in Mexico is free from grades one to 12, students must purchase their own textbooks and school supplies. Private school fees vary from school to school, and the bilingual schools tend to be the most expensive. In general, expect to pay a first-time admission fee, annual reinscription fees and additional charges for things such as school transportation, after-school activities and other student programs.

If you decide private school is the route for you, don’t over-pay those hefty fees. Using TransferWise is the best way to get the real exchange rate – cutting out expensive international bank conversion and transfer fees.


The Mexican education system has had its share of struggles. The dropout rate in public schools in Mexico is high, as many children need to work in order for their families to survive. Rural schools are underfunded and have a shortage of buildings, teachers and textbooks. Urban public schools are better, but the standard of education is still relatively low. Private schools, however, have a high standard of bilingual education that is usually well-suited to expat children.
The education system in Mexico is segregated by social class. Wealthy families normally send their children to private schools (colegio), where the standard is high and there is no shortage of good teachers and textbooks, while poorer families send their children to public schools (escuela).
In Mexico, basic education is normally divided into three levels: primary school (primaria), grades 1 to 6; junior high school (secundaria), grades 7 to 9; and high school (preparatoria), grades 10 to 12.
Many expats homeschool their children, or send them to a Mexican school for half the day and homeschool them in the afternoons. Immersion in a Mexican school for half the day can help expat children learn Spanish and assimilate better into Mexican culture.

Public schools in Mexico

Public schools in Mexico are free of charge and secular, as religious instruction is banned in public education. The Mexican government provides free textbooks for primary school children but once they reach high school, parents need to buy textbooks for their children.
Children must achieve at least 60 percent in the national examination at the end of each school year in order to proceed to the next grade.
School days in Mexico are shorter than that of many other countries. It is common for some children to work in the mornings and attend school in the afternoons. The school year usually runs from September to the following June.
Unfortunately, there have been reports of corruption in Mexican public schools. The schools are underfunded and lacking in resources. This is especially true in rural areas, with urban centres only marginally better.
Because of these disadvantages, public schools are rarely an option for expat children. That said, expat children who are fluent in Spanish can benefit from attending public school for half the day, followed by home-schooling in the afternoon.

Private schools in Mexico

Although there are many private schools in Mexico, they are mainly concentrated in the big cities. When considering a private school, expats must ensure that it is accredited through the Ministry of Public Education and visit the school to see its quality first-hand, as the standard of private schools in Mexico can vary greatly. Parents are advised to meet with teachers and check the curriculum to determine suitability. Those with children who will be going to university in their home country should ensure that the school is accredited internationally.

Most expats send their children to private or international schools, as they offer a broader curriculum and better teachers than public schools. Many private schools provide bilingual education, where half the day is taught in Spanish and the other in English.
Enrolling in a private school in Mexico
Expats enrolling their children in a private school in Mexico must provide school records proving that their child has completed the previous year of school and has qualified to continue to the next grade level.
Schools usually ask for a copy of the child’s birth certificate, a copy of their school records and photo identification for the child and the parent.

International schools in Mexico

An international school is often the best choice for expat children. Attending an international school will ensure that children receive a world-class education and can attend university in their home country or anywhere else in the world.

Most international schools in Mexico are located in large cities, such as Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. English and American, as well as German, French and Japanese schools are available in Mexico. Tuition varies greatly from affordable to exorbitant for the most elite schools.

Tertiary education in Mexico

Tertiary education in Mexico is similar to the model followed in the United States. A Bachelor’s degree is typically four years long, a Master’s is two years long and a Doctoral degree is three years.

There are three types of higher education: a Higher Technician certificate, a Bachelor’s degree and postgraduate degrees. The Higher Technician certificate allows students to train with skilled workers and professionals in a specific field and then enter that trade themselves.