Gather information about what schooling is available at your new home.
How? Start with your sponsor, your company or school, or, for information from the U.S. Department of State. While primarily aimed at Americans abroad, the Department of State information also addresses some international schools and so will be of value to non-Americans seeking an English-language educational environment for their kids.
The European Council of International Schools is an on-line source for world-wide international school information.
The Australasian Association of Distance Education caters specifically to Australian families who are temporarily staying away from their normal school system and would like to have their children continue their studies in the Australian system when they return. Read what one Australian parent had to say about distance learning here.
What is most common, at least in urban areas abroad, is that your child may seek to attend an “International School”, or an “American School” (in may places there are also “German Schools”, “Japanese Schools” and the like. If your children speak other languages at home, your options may increase dramatically.)
The terms “International School” and “American School” can be confusing, especially because their definitions can change from place to place.
In strictest terms, an “American School” is one that follows the general U.S. September to June calendar, taking time off for major U.S. holidays. The curriculum usually resembles that offered in most domestic schools, with classes like American history available. Teachers may be from the U.S., and textbooks and other materials should look familiar.
International schools are generally less Americanized while still teaching in English. Some of their materials may be from other English-speaking nations, the calendar may differ, and different teaching methods may be found.
That all said, in practice the name alone will not necessarily tell you everything you need to know about the school and its policies. You'll need to check individually with each institution.
If you have the choice, which type of school, “International” or “American” is best?
Some things to think about concerning “International Schools” might be how different the school would be from what your child is used to, and the effect this may have on his/her acclimation to your new home. If you are going to be living abroad for a short time, a radically different curriculum might also make it harder for your child to re-enter U.S. public schools.
If you have a child headed to college soon, there might be courses that the college admissions board will be looking for that are not on your son's international school transcripts, such as U.S. history and government classes. A non-American school curriculum might also disadvantage your child on standard tests like the SAT, which include a heavy cultural bias toward main stream American topics. You might also value the enculturation into American things that a school stateside would provide (Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day, July 4th) for your child.
Many international schools offer, sometimes as a requirement, sometimes as an option, an “International Baccalaureate” (IB) degree in lieu of what we would call a simple high school diploma. The IB is more common in Europe, and holds a number of advantages and disadvantages for an American student. Learn more directly from the school, or from the International Baccalaureate Organization.
On the other hand, you might value the broader perspective a more diverse student body might hold for your child, figuring s/he has plenty of time left to acquire the more American things. The international school might better prepare your child if she is looking toward college outside the U.S. You might find that a faculty with diverse backgrounds and teaching styles is more intellectually stimulating for your child. The value of your time abroad can be multiplied tenfold by exposing your child to a new way of learning, and perhaps a more diverse group of friends and classmates. Looking back at the U.S. from a new perspective is a valuable set of insights for anyone to acquire.