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Global IEP Transitions

December 10, 202311 min read

“Embracing the challenges and opportunities of global IEP transitions can have a positive impact on a child's education”


Welcome to our blog post on "Global IEP Transitions," where we explore the journey of parents with children who have exceptional needs moving to the United States from foreign countries. We understand that relocating to a new country is an exciting adventure, but it can also present unique challenges, especially when it comes to the education of children with disabilities. One crucial aspect that demands careful consideration is the transfer of their child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) to the new educational system.

Global IEP Transitions: Navigating Challenges for Children with Exceptional Needs

The challenges arise because IEPs developed in foreign countries, such as China or Canada, may not have the same legal weight under United States law, particularly under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As a result, parents may find their child's IEP is not directly applicable at their new US school, leading to uncertainty and confusion.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the complexities of global IEP transitions and offer insights into the two main scenarios parents may encounter. First, we'll explore the challenges related to IEPs from non-US territories, where differences in education laws and systems can pose significant hurdles. Secondly, we'll discuss IEPs from US military bases or consulates overseas, where US sovereignty applies and IDEA comes into effect, potentially offering a smoother transition process.

Our primary focus is to provide practical advice and valuable information to parents navigating the intricate world of global IEP transitions, all while keeping the best interests of their child's education and well-being in mind. 

IEPs from Non-US Territories

When families with children who have exceptional needs move to the United States from non-US territories like China or Canada, they may encounter challenges related to their child's Individualized Education Program (IEP). As a nonprofit organization offering special education advocacy, PASEN has received inquiries from parents seeking guidance on this topic, prompting us to share a couple of examples to shed light on the complexities of global IEP transitions.

For instance, consider the case of a parent who had an IEP created for their child at an American school in China. The parent hoped to enforce the IEP at their child's school in China, but they discovered that it wasn't possible. Since the American school in China was not located on US sovereign grounds, meaning it was not under the jurisdiction of the United States and its laws, the IEP was not enforceable under US law. Each country operates with its own set of rules and regulations regarding special education, and the IEP developed in China may not directly align with the requirements of the USA’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If this parent moved to the United States, then the incoming school would look at the evaluations completed and then start the process from the beginning to evaluate a child under IDEA for an IEP. This highlights the need to be prepared when transitioning to a US school district.

Similarly, consider another example of a parent who moved from Canada to the United States. In Canada, disability law grants each province (state) the autonomy to determine its own laws and regulations concerning disability services, including IEPs. As a result, an IEP from Canada might not follow the same criteria as IDEA in the United States. When a student with an existing IEP in Canada transfers to a US state, the new school district may require a new IEP eligibility determination. While evaluations conducted in Canada within the past year may be considered, the incoming school will likely initiate the IEP process from the beginning, possibly conducting additional evaluations to assess the child's needs and develop an appropriate IEP.

Navigating these differences in education laws and systems between countries is essential for parents to ensure their child's seamless transition into the US educational system. Understanding that the foreign IEP may not directly apply in the new school district, parents can work collaboratively with the school and educational professionals to create a new IEP that addresses their child's specific needs within the framework of IDEA.

IEPs from US Military Bases or Consulates Overseas

When it comes to IEPs from US military bases or consulates overseas, the situation is unique due to the application of US sovereignty in these locations. On military bases and US consulates, the United States has jurisdiction, and as a result, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) comes into effect. This implies that IEPs created for children attending schools on these bases or consulates are subject to US special education law, just like IEPs in any other US state. This can offer significant advantages for families when transitioning to the US mainland.

One of the key benefits is the continuity of services and support that a child with exceptional needs receives. Families who have a child with an IEP from a US military base or consulate overseas can find reassurance in the fact that their child's educational support will continue without disruption when they move to the US mainland. The IEP developed at the military base or consulate is already aligned with US special education standards, and the receiving US school district is more likely to recognize and implement the existing IEP, provided it remains current and meets the child's needs.

One unique situation concerning the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) and IDEA is that DoDEA operates its own educational system on military bases worldwide. This system caters to the children of military service members and civilian personnel stationed abroad. The DoDEA ensures that the education provided is consistent with US education standards, including the provisions outlined in IDEA.

Families moving from a DoDEA school on a military base overseas to a US mainland school may find that the transition process is more streamlined. The IEP developed within the DoDEA system is likely to follow similar procedures and guidelines as those on the US mainland, making it easier to transfer and implement the existing IEP. However, it's essential for families to communicate with the new school district and provide the necessary documentation to facilitate a smooth transfer.

Moreover, it is worth noting that most states have specific laws to assist military families with educational transitions. These laws recognize the unique challenges faced by military families due to frequent relocations and aim to provide support and assistance during these transitions. Military families may benefit from special provisions that facilitate the transfer of records and services, ensuring a smoother integration into the new school district.

Let's take a moment to explore an example that illustrates the advantages of a transferable IEP within the DoDEA system. An active military family has been stationed at a US military base in Germany, where their daughter receives special education services through the DoDEA. They worry at first that their daughter's schooling will be disrupted when they receive orders to return to the United States. However, thanks to the DoDEA's adherence to IDEA, the daughter’s IEP is transferable and recognized by the receiving US school district. The family works closely with the new school to ensure a seamless transition, and the daughter continues to receive the support she needs to thrive academically and emotionally.

Other Areas with US Sovereignty

In addition to US military bases and consulates overseas, there are other territories that fall under US sovereignty, each with its own unique set of special education laws and policies. Some of these areas include Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands. Families who are considering a move to any of these territories should be aware of the specific educational regulations that apply in each location.

For instance, in Guam, special education services are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), just like on the US mainland. However, there may be variations in the implementation of IDEA based on the local context and available resources. Similarly, in Puerto Rico, IDEA is applicable, and families can access special education services. However, language differences and the availability of certain services may present unique challenges for families transitioning from the mainland US.

Moving to American Samoa also involves navigating specific educational policies related to special education. While federal funding through IDEA is available, the local education agency has some autonomy in determining how to allocate resources and implement services. Understanding these nuances is crucial for parents to effectively advocate effectively for their children's needs.

Similarly, in the US Virgin Islands, families will find that IDEA protections are in place, ensuring access to special education services. However, the local educational agencies may have their own guidelines and procedures for evaluation, eligibility, and services. It is essential for families to research and understand these guidelines to facilitate a smooth IEP transition.

To effectively prepare for a global IEP transition in any of these areas, it is vital for parents to conduct thorough research. Familiarizing themselves with the specific special education laws and policies in their destination will enable them to plan ahead and make informed decisions regarding their child's education. Connecting with local advocacy organizations or support groups can also provide valuable insights and assistance throughout the transition process.

Tips and Resources for Global IEP Transitions

Navigating the process of transitioning an Individualized Education Program (IEP) from another country to the United States can seem overwhelming, but with the right guidance and resources, parents can make the journey smoother for their child's education. 

Here are some practical tips to help families during the global IEP transition:

Start Early: Begin the IEP transfer process as soon as you know about the relocation. Early communication with both the previous and new school districts can help smooth the transition. Keep all relevant documentation, such as the current IEP, evaluations, and progress reports, well organized and easily accessible.

Collaborate with School Staff: Engage in open communication with teachers, special educators, and administrators in both the current and future school districts. Sharing valuable information about your child's learning needs, strengths, and challenges will aid in developing a new IEP tailored to their requirements.

Advocate for Your Child: Be an active advocate for your child's education. Familiarize yourself with the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that governs special education in the US. Understanding your child's rights and entitlements under IDEA will empower you to advocate effectively for their needs during the IEP transition.

Request Evaluations, If Necessary: In some cases, the new school district may need to conduct additional evaluations to assess your child's current educational needs. Be open to these assessments, as they are vital to developing a comprehensive and effective IEP for your child.

Seek Professional Support: Reach out to organizations and advocates specializing in special education law and advocacy, such as PASEN. We can provide you with resources, valuable insights, and support throughout the IEP transfer process.

Attend IEP Meetings: Actively participate in IEP meetings with school staff. Collaborate with the IEP team to set appropriate goals, accommodations, and services that align with your child's individual learning needs.


In conclusion, navigating global IEP transitions can present both challenges and opportunities for parents with children who have exceptional needs who are moving to the United States from other countries. When dealing with IEPs from non-US territories, it is essential to recognize that these IEPs may not carry the same weight under US law (IDEA) and may require a new IEP tailored to the American educational context. Understanding the differences in education laws and systems between countries is crucial for a smooth transition.

On the other hand, families with children who have IEPs from US military bases or consulates overseas benefit from the application of US sovereignty, where IDEA is in effect. This ensures continuity of educational support when transitioning to the US mainland, offering a sense of stability for the child's academic journey.

Moreover, families should be aware of other areas with US sovereignty, such as Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands, each with its own specific special education laws and policies. Thorough research into these regulations will empower parents to advocate effectively for their child's educational needs.

Throughout this journey, parents are encouraged to seek support from relevant organizations and advocacy groups. Collaborating with the school and educational professionals is essential in creating a new IEP that addresses the child's unique needs within the framework of IDEA.

In conclusion, embracing the challenges and opportunities of global IEP transitions can have a positive impact on a child's education. By understanding the nuances of the process, parents can provide their children with the best possible support and access to the services they need to thrive academically and emotionally.

For Additional Reading
Individualized Education Plans in Canada: A Comparative Analysis
and Special Education in Canada and the United States 

Disability Laws and Special Education Provisions in China, Kuwait, South

Korea, Turkey, and the United States 

China Inclusion 

Systematic Review on Chinese Special Education and Inclusive Education: China's Solution in Globalization 

Department of Defense of Education Activities 

IEP Transitions
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Michelle Harris

Michelle is the founder of Parent Alliance for Students with Exceptional Needs. She is an author, trainer, and educational advocate.

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