The mainland's international schools sector has blossomed over the past decade, fuelled by dramatic economic growth and a surge in the numbers of expatriate workers. It is estimated there are about 70,000 foreign residents in Beijing alone - and the figure predates the influx of people working on this summer's Olympic Games. Numbers for Shanghai are hard to come by, but some estimates put the total as high as 200,000. With the city due to host the World Expo in 2010, the ranks of overseas residents will undoubtedly swell even further. But the flourishing economy has not been limited to the biggest cities, and the international community has grown in line with the westward migration of wealth creation. The government has been channelling investment into major infrastructure projects sweeping inland from the affluent coastal areas to as far as the peripheral western provinces. With moving to China no longer the trip into the 'Wild West' it once was, expatriates are increasingly likely to take their families with them. An early international experience is excellent preparation for life after school in an age of globalisation. The range of schools on offer varies from the vast to the intimate. Some of the smaller schools have just one class in each year. The largest are huge factory-sized schools with students numbering in their thousands. The school environment varies widely, and you will need to think seriously about what experience you want your child to have. Do you want your child to go to a school where every teacher knows every student's first name? Bigger schools may not be able to offer that degree of intimacy, but they more than make up for that with their facilities - everything from computing labs to Olympic-sized swimming pools. Larger schools can also offer a wider range of extra-curricular activities and clubs. One of the biggest and longest-established is the International School of Beijing, set in a spacious campus in the northeast of the capital with truly world-class amenities. At the other end of the scale, the newly opened British School of Nanjing has just 30 students in each year. Many schools cater specifically to the curriculum of one particular nation - American, British, Canadian and Australian being the most common. These are advisable for families posted to the mainland for a limited time so that children can slip back into the school system when they return home. There are even schools based on traditional British boarding schools. Dulwich College and Harrow now have branch campuses on the mainland, right down to the blazers and straw hats. For families that are likely to move around, however, continuity must be the first consideration. The popularity of the International Baccalaureate has grown in recent years, based largely on its transferability. With many schools both on the mainland and overseas offering the IB Diploma, it could be the best choice if a move is likely. Unlike in Hong Kong, international schools on the mainland are banned from accepting local students - only holders of foreign passports (including the Hong Kong SAR passport) are eligible. Though there will be a cosmopolitan United Nations feel, the only Chinese classmates your students will have will be overseas returnees or Hongkongers. However, parents who aim to give their children a more integrated experience may wish to go for a different option. A growing number of local schools, particularly those with 'experimental' status, are opening their doors to non-Chinese students. Children with the right attitude and good language ability will no doubt thrive in such a challenging environment, but success is not guaranteed. Make certain your child is prepared well for what is involved and realise that there is likely to be a difficult period of adjustment. It is important to look at the level of support the school is willing to give your child, particularly language teaching. This will be crucial in determining how well your child copes, and you need to be confident that the safety net is in place in case those teething troubles become something more serious.