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Education and Schools

United Arab Emirates (UAE) - Education and Schools

Education in the UAE is compulsory for children between 5 to 18 years of age. State owned schools offer free education to UAE natives until the age of 18. Expats often find alternative education for their children in private schools.

Expat children are free to join any of the public schools in the UAE. However, most foreigners prefer enrolling their children in international schools.

All public schools in the UAE teach their curriculum in the Arabic language. English is only taught as a second language in many of the public schools. This establishes a language barrier for expat children who cannot speak Arabic. In addition, the Arabic curriculum may be different from what an expat child is used to.

Public Schools in the UAE

Expats coming from Arabic-speaking nations may enroll their children into public UAE schools. An Arabic speaking expat student will fit better into the new system because the language favors them. Public schools in the UAE are also cheaper compared to private schools.

Private Schools

The majority of the international schools in the UAE are private-owned. Private schools teach the English curriculum and may also offer Arabic courses. Expat children tend to prefer private schools because of the international audience. Blending in with other students is easy and the curriculum favors them as well.

International schools provide the British curriculum, American System, or International Baccalaureate. Some international schools offer their curriculum in French, Japanese, and various Indian languages. The private school curriculum includes out-of-class opportunities like cultural and exchange programs.

The best private schools are located in the big cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. New private schools open each year to serve the growing number of foreign students. As an expat parent, there are plenty of private schools for your child to be admitted into.

Getting an Expat Child Enrolled in Private School

Even with the growing number of private schools, student enrollment is still competitive. Established international schools receive thousands of new applications each year from expat students. It is possible to be on the waiting list for months before a position opens up at an international school.

International schools in the UAE will only admit high-performing students. New students who want to join the top private schools have to go through a strict vetting process. The student sits for an assessment exam followed by an interview.

Students are then graded based on how they perform in both assessment tests. Only the best students join the prestigious private schools. Students who fail to secure a spot will have to seek other alternatives or wait for the next admission.

Private schools are very expensive compared to state schools. Private schools in Dubai will charge up to $11,000 a year to educate an expat child. Schools in Dubai that teach the International Baccalaureate curriculum are even more expensive and may charge a fee of $26,000 per year for a single student.

Tips for finding the best private school

A mistake many expat parents make is concentrating on the established international schools. The long wait to finally get your child enrolled may never happen. There are other ways to get your child into a private school without going through so much hassle.

Expats yet to get their kids enrolled in school can focus on the less competitive schools. New schools open every year in the UAE to serve the growing number of expat students. Such schools are not well known but tend to be easier to get into for this reason.

Upcoming private schools will be more willing to welcome a new student to fill their vacant slots. Ensure that you ask for the annual fee structure before enrolling your child in a new private school. Some upcoming private schools may charge more than the established international schools.

Visit the websites of these schools and download their fee structures. You can also ask them to send a detailed brochure of their curriculum. Get to learn all you can about a new private school before committing your child to it.

If you still want your child to join the established private schools, there are ways to make it happen. You can start by calling each of these schools and inquiring directly. You may be lucky enough to land an interview for your child, especially if their grades are exceptional.

One other thing to keep in mind when looking for private schools is the fee charges per semester or term. Some expat parents receive an education allowance to educate their children. For the expat parent willing to pay their child's fee, you may want to consider the cost of education.

Many private schools will charge a retainer fee for entry exams or interviews. Some private schools will also charge an acceptance fee when a student enrolls. School fees will also depend on the quality of facilities a school has as well as their reputation in the UAE.

A rule of thumb here is to look at the fee structure beforehand. There are many miscellaneous costs that may not be mentioned when enrolling a child. These costs can add up and become quite significant.

Schools in the UAE begin their session in September. It is impossible for an expat student to join a new school in the middle of a term or semester. In addition, students are not allowed to change schools between semesters or terms. The ministry of education reserves the right to transfer a student at will.

A high tuition fee does not always mean quality education. Research available schools for expats and choose the one that best meets the needs of your child. The UAE has many top performing schools for expats.

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Expat Health Insurance Partners

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.