Public School Enrollment

I am posting this because it is hard to find school enrollment info for public schools. My guess is that for 90% of folk, the local public school will take your kid for elementary if they have a visa. However, living in Taipei we’ve discovered that many schools fill up. As foreigners, there is not a great one-stop place to work out these issues, so I thought I would post this here to get others started. We have three children–the oldest is in 3rd grade at a bilingual school–and I had wanted to check out the public school next door before deciding what to do with our kindergarten twins for next year.

We live directly next to Ren’ai Elementary, which we learned is an “overfilled school” 額滿學校. Initially we were told that our kids simply couldn’t attend there and would have to choose one of two other schools in the zone (both a 20-30 minute walk, rather than next door). I went and checked in with the enrollment officer at Ren’ai again—she’s very nice—and she gave me the elementary enrollment people for the education department (Ms. Hsu 台北市教育局承辦新生入學的人員,許婉玉 1999分機6373) . On Friday I went and met with her and a colleague (I just showed up and asked to meet, which probably annoyed them but got me the answers I needed). They talked to me for about a half hour and here’s what I gathered from that.

Things to Know about Public School Enrollment

As background, here’s what I would say:

  • I had heard on this forum that foreigners can essentially just enroll at the closest local school, at least for the early grades. This is not true.
  • While the English guidelines suggest that schools will have an enrollment plan for foreigners (guidelines 17 and 20 here), this rule supposedly applies only to schools that are seeking out exchange opportunities. Ms. Hsu stressed to me that there is no system for foreigners and the draw works the same for everyone.
  • The guideline on the Education Department says that you can enroll your child if there are 35/class. It is outdated. The number is now 29.
  • If there is competition for slots, to get into the “drawing” for the school (where an individual school will go through its priority lists and enroll students), foreigners need to go to immigration to get their full record of visas and entries/departures.
    +It may also be necessary to go to the local household registry place and confirm your status for the draw and address and get on the school’s drawing list.
    +Apparently there are different priorities for schools, which include: low income students, owned/rented housing in the district, when one moved into the current zone, number of children, possibly being a foreigner, etc. I don’t understand the priority lists yet, but will try to post a current list when I do. In the park, someone told me that being a foreigner is still higher priority than having three children.
    +Things work differently for public kindergartens—where often a small number of applicants can draw into the school—and for junior high and high school where there’s a whole other series of tests and so on.
    +In Taiwan there’s both a Ministry of Education 教育部 (national) and a city Department of Education 教育局. The Department people told me that they manage the registration for the city and that the Ministry isn’t involved. They also said there’s no one in either institution specifically tasked with helping foreigners. You kind of have to figure this out on your own, although finding an intermediary is a good idea.
    +Relationships matter a lot. I may have botched things by being a little too pushy. I’ve had people tell me that both principles and teachers can decide to admit you to their class, although I think this may be a relic of earlier ages.


I’ve talked to some parents in our local park, and they helped provide additional info new parents should know:
+If you don’t draw into the preferred school, you will be able to have your kids attend any other school in the zone with openings.
+For elementary school, classes start with four half-days and one full day a week.
+If you want kids to do homework and keep up, they almost always have to go to an afternoon school program and/or do tutoring. Public school is not necessarily a lot cheaper for foreigners because you will also have to find an anqingban or buxiban for the after-class hours.
+Local schools (and even the bilingual schools) assume that parents will work to keep their children up to speed and the onus is on the student to stay up to speed.
+Local school offices are often not used to working with foreigners and will not necessarily know how to help you with enrollment (at Ren’ai, they were friendly but at first told us the twins couldn’t sign up for the waiting list until the start of first grade, when in reality it is possible to get on the list but will require the immigration dept visit and a lot of materials).
+Even for private schools there’s still a lot of variation on how enrollment works. Some definitely require foreigners to draw and at other you can just enroll.
+If you want to do public (or private) school enrollment, pay attention to enrollment deadlines. At many places if you miss the drawing, you can’t go to that school.

So, on reread, this post is a little dramatic. Let me just say that Taiwan’s educational system really is pretty good. There’s also a huge amount of variation from teacher to teacher. As a foreigner, there will probably be things that bother you anywhere (in downtown Taipei, all classes seem to be pretty huge). It will also open up new worlds to you. I feel like my kids have gotten more music and the like in Taipei than they would have in the States. I also feel like I understand the culture, family life, and social questions much better having kids that are in local schools.


That’s very informative. Thanks for posting this.

Thanks for sharing!
I probably will have to deal with it in a year or two, when my son will be 3~4yo. But it may be different for us, as his mom is Taiwanese, he probably will go through the process for locals.
Reading the priorities, I found this article, but there’s no mention about foreigner kids. Interesting information, nevertheless (in Chinese):

Thanks Ricarte, this is helpful. It looks like the draw this year occurs 5/24-26 and it lists some of the priorities (older siblings, teachers’ kids).

My Chinese is okay but if someone would be willing to translate the three days and the priorities, I know it would be a help for others. It looks like the word for the list is 錄取順序 “admission order.”

In the park, I had another parent insist her kid was higher in the ranking because her husband was a foreigner. She also said “three kids” is on the list but lower down. I can’t tell if it’s having three kids or having triplets. Anyway, if anyone is willing to offer assistance either with translating materials or sharing their personal experience, it would be a help to the community. Maybe in time someone could also add lists for junior high, high school, and university.

In our case at Ren’ai another teacher said that they don’t have any “totally foreign kids” 完全外國人學生, which, OK, is a little racist, but it also let me know that everyone there had a hukou. My wife and I have ARCs. It sounds like these would be “good enough” for a normal registration with open spots, but if we want to enter drawings we need to go to immigration to confirm when we entered (and since we have left Taiwan for more than three months and moved recently this will be a more recent date) and also perhaps going to the office that handles hukou.

I’m adding a lot of info here, but the hope is it will help people down the road know what questions to ask and what can influence the process.

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I’ll give a shot on translating the priorities list. :ponder:

There are 3 selection phases. Each phase has rules for 3~5yo and 2yo kids. The rules for 2yo kids are similar to the 3~5yo ones.

1st phase is for: in “special conditions” which includes: low income families; kids with special needs (handicap); aborigines; parents with special needs; kids under foster care; kids with special needs siblings that are already in the same school.
B. 5yo kids:
B-1: whose family has more than three 5yo kids; whose parents are public teachers; son/daughter of immigrants
B-2: who has siblings studying (elementary or high school) in same school
C. other 5yo kids

2nd phase is for:
A. kids with special conditions that weren’t selected on 1st phase
B. 5yo kids
C. 4yo kids:
C-1:whose family has more than three 4yo kids; whose parents are public teachers
C-2: who has siblings studying (elementary or high school) in same school
D. other 4yo kids

3rd phase:
A. kids with special conditions that weren’t selected on 1st phase
B. 5yo kids
C. 4yo kids
D. 3yo kids (cannot surpass 1/3 of the class):
D-1:whose family has more than three 3yo kids; whose parents are public teachers
D-2: who has siblings studying (elementary or high school) in same school

Well, this the best I could do. :2cents:
Keep in mind that I’m a Brazilian translating Chinese into English in a public forum. So, don’t blindly trust what you see here :whistle:

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This part should be

X-yo kid whose family has three or more kids

Big school? Small school?
Here’s a continuation on this experience as we’ve checked around. In our “zone” there are two other schools, one larger (it used to be an overfill school) and one smaller. The smaller one has something like 5 classes/grade where the bigger two have 10+. The smaller school also seems to have a class size of around 20 whereas the bigger schools are near the max of 30. This is the difference between going to a school with 100 first graders and going to one with 350+ first graders. For Taiwanese, I suspect that in general a longer line and more students are associated with higher quality, whereas for foreigners we’d probably rather have a smaller class. We’re leaning now towards the smaller school.

Xinsheng, Shidong, Neihu
I also visited Xinsheng Elementary and talked to Ms. Peng, who administers the program for new arrivals there. In Taipei there are three schools where students can transfer for two years to have special CSL instruction. In theory the goal of these programs is to get kids up to speed so that they could enter a regular class. The schools are Xinsheng, Shidong (in Tianmu) and a school in Neihu. My understanding from Ms. Peng (who was great) is that you first register at your local school and then apply for the transfer to another school. The students in these schools spend a majority of their time in the regular class, but are pulled out for special sessions for non-native speakers (she said it’s often 7 hours a week for those who are struggling but could be less for those with more Chinese background). Xinsheng is a fairly gigantic school, so the regular classes there would all be at around 30. She said there are around 50 international students in the school, but I don’t know the breakdown (i.e. Japanese, Indonesian, Canadian, etc.).

There are also some questions I still don’t totally understand. It seems like in Taiwan if we you have left for more than three months it “resets” your priority for the regular school draw (like the big school next door) and you go to the back of the line, but to qualify for a program like Xinsheng I think in theory you should be coming in from abroad fairly recently (I don’t know if it’s within the last two years or if one needed to be abroad for two years).

Other Considerations
It also sounds like these aren’t magic programs. She said that older kids are often really bored and fall asleep in regular classes. I think coming in with no Chinese it would be a pretty rocky entrance. I did talk to her about our three and the challenges for how to handle it. She said it’s just a challenge to do both Chinese and English.

My hope with this is to say “here’s a possible system” if you’re looking for an entry point to the Taiwanese education system. At the same time, she said most foreign students go to international schools and I think these programs are still not an easy path. Certainly a lot would depend on the specific kid and the parents’ time and resources.

First, kids need to have returned (come) within 1 year. If both parents are foreigners & kids enter to 1st grade, it can be within 2 years.

In addition, they need to have been abroad for 2 years.

Here is a link to the document on the enrollment to their CSL program (語言教育班/語文教育班), though it is in Chinese.


Does it means that someone that returned within 1 year, but had spent less than 2 years abroad cannot enter this program?
In other words, say good-bye to summer vacation with Grandma​?

For “returning” kids, the document says “continuous residency” for 2 years.

I don’t know it means staying abroad for 365x2 days, or holding a foreign residence visa or an oversea national status for two years is included.

What’s hard on a lot of these is I don’t always know how flexible it is. I think on the years abroad it’s not totally clear if it’s two years total or two years preceding coming to Taiwan. The person at Xinsheng was really nice and I think there’s some leighway.

To me it is a little silly. I don’t know why they can’t just do entrance exams and admit kids with bad Chinese. At one point I’d looked at two bilingual schools in Tainan and they also had a regulation where I think kids coming from abroad had priority on admission.

I visited immigration yesterday to get the two forms we need to do for the public school draw (Alien Residency Record Application Form 外國人居留證明申請表 and Application for Certificate of Entry and Exit Dates 入出國日期證明書申請表). I asked if they had someone who liaisons with the education department. It seems that neither immigration nor education department has people designated to work with immigrants on these issues. On the one hand I know we’re in a sense asking for a “favor,” but on the other hand I think it would be really nice to have people who could catch the international applications and work with them (and probably less aggravation for everyone).

So I never posted a proper follow up, but our kids were admitted directly to the school we were looking at next door to us downtown. To figure out our order for the draw, we had to get immigration records listing entry and exit dates from immigration. We don’t have a huji and never had to go to the housing office. For foreigners, it appears that your housing residency is based on when you got your ARC address updated and can be reset by leaving Taiwan for more than 3 months (this is what I remember). Anyway, we had moved into our apartment circa May 2016 and returned to Taiwan in late August and that was good enough to get us enrolled without problems. We didn’t attend the draw in person–they just notified us we were likely to be admitted and we were admitted. My guess is that originally they were putting us in an “after everyone else enrolls” category, but that the rules allow foreigners to be in the ordinary enrollment system based on their ARC address and immigration records. So, a happy ending!

Thanks for the update. Did you put your kids in the language program?

Is the draw something that happens with all public schools? I know it happens with kindergartens and pre-schools (my kids have been involved in a few of those) but when it came to elementary school, we just got a notice: you live in such-and-such an area and you will attend such-and-such a school. There was really no entrance qualifications because we lived in the immediate area of the public school.

I get some schools are more desirable than others but I really thought being registered as living in the area was enough. There’d be additional hoops for ARC holders but the rules tend to apply to everyone.

At any rate, I bet @teach’s experience will help out anybody who’s put in the same boat in future.

at least for the elementary school, no. When the school is expected to be overfilled, they usually give a priority to those who have registered there since year xxx, or have siblings already attending the school, etc. I think what OP says the draw day is the day of the resistration for those who fulfill the requirements. For foreign kids, iirc, the enrollment is a principal’s discretion.

I wasn’t totally clear, but that’s why I wanted to share our experience. Gaboman, I think for 90% of kids with one school nearby, that’s the way it works–you just go to the local school. For us, we were next to a school, but there are three in our region and initially it sounded like we couldn’t be in the registration system Tando describes. In this case what was new info to me was that you can use ARC/immigration records to be in the ordinary enrollment system (I think principals do have discretion also, but in theory it’s supposed to a fair system). We ended up not doing the language program. At the end of the day, we were looking at three possibilities: (1) school next door (initially told filled), (2) another school in our region, but probably a 20-25 minute walk, or (3) trying for one of the programs for newly arrived kids, like Xinsheng or Shidong. I hope that makes sense. We met another parent in Tianmu who was told what we were initially: “you can enroll after everyone else” and then “your school is ____.” I actually think for foreigners we often have a different take on best/worst school. We weren’t gaming for the biggest/fullest/most intense school, but not having to walk kids back-and-forth twice a day saves us a lot of time.

**Sorry, I overlooked “in the ordinary enrollment system” part, even though I quoted it…

This may be an important information for us. I think I might read some official document saying similar thing, that if you recently moved from foreign countries into the school area, you can skip the resident period requirement. I’ll try to search the document later.

did some search, and found I confused local kids returning from foreign countries and foreign kids.
Though in Chinese, the below is the regulation on the enrolment to the public elementary schools in Taipei.
Article 13-6 says local kids from foreign countries have a priority, but foreign kids with ARC are in the ordinary enrollment system.

This could be because the parent contacted the school out of her residence area, or her child’s entry date was after the reference date.

There’s a thing in the English about when foreigners can enroll, but I was told that was for school exchange programs.

The two takeaways I would want for public schools are: (1) there are programs for recent arrivals, but only at a few schools, and (2) for an ordinary district your ARC/immigration records can get you a spot in the line (you’re not jumping the line and you’re not at the end of the line). For us, I think what happened is we were treated as being in line for 9 months instead of not at all. Hope that makes sense…

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Exactly, the document says so.
And if the period of the last stay out of taiwan is shorter than 3 months, the previous entry date is used. hope this sentence makes sense.

thank you for your wonderful information!

I have question regarding kindergarten minimum age, is there any limit regarding children’s age? what’s the time normally we can start to ask about enrollment? I hope by the end of April is not too late to attend the drawing.

FYI, my kid has arc, I guess we won’t have issue with immigration, and we plan to attend public kindergarten close to our living place.