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Education for Expat Kids: International Schools in the UAE

International schools are aplenty in the UAE. The expat hot spots Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular offer a lot of education opportunities for expat kids. However, the costs are high and getting a place at a prestigious international school is anything but easy.
Many international schools follow the curriculum of a certain country, such as the USA, but still hand out an international diploma at the end.
  • Most international and private schools for expat kids are located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
  • Tuition, curriculum, and price are important factors to consider when choosing a school.
  • Established international schools have long waiting lists; it’s often worth applying to schools which have only just opened their doors.
  • Expats who have to shoulder school fees without their employer’s support need to keep an eye on their budget.


Even though expat kids have been allowed to attend local schools in the UAE for a few years now, most expat parents still choose an international school over an Emirati state school. The advantages are obvious: their child will be taught in an international environment, together with other expat kids in relatable situations, in a language they actually understand. Unless you hail from an Arabic-speaking country, the Arabic curriculum might just be a little too much to take on.

Luckily, there are a lot of international schools in the UAE to accommodate the needs of the many expat families flocking to the country each year. Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular have large expat communities which is why you will find most international schools in these emirates. Aside from the schools which offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) to kids from all over the world, there are some institutions which cater (almost) exclusively to children from the USA, UK, Germany, France, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, for example. While some expat parents choose these types of schools, many prefer an international institution at which English is the language of instruction.

How to Choose an Expat School

Although the large variety of international schools may seem like a blessing at first, newly arrived expat parents will soon discover that getting their child into one of these schools is challenging. However, before we tackle enrollment and tuition, let’s take a closer look at how to choose an international school in the first place.

The Nuts and Bolts of It: Determining Factors

There are a lot of aspects to keep in mind when trying to decide on a school. Parents often look to the most popular, well-established schools, hoping to provide their children with the best education possible. The factors which play the biggest role are the following:

  • age of school — well-established schools are usually more popular
  • curriculum — a good and diverse curriculum is important for many parents
  • price of school — many parents will apply to affordable schools first
  • age group — not all international schools cater to all age groups; it is important to find the right fit

Moreover, international schools are regularly inspected and ranked by various authorities such as the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai. Schools which have been ranked “Outstanding” are a lot more popular among expat parents, of course, but this does not guarantee that they are the best choice for your child.

How to Beat the Crowd

Naturally, you will keep an eye on all of the factors mentioned above, as you should. However, thinking outside the box when looking for a good international or private school in the UAE can be a great advantage. Don’t just target the schools which are considered exceptional because your chances of having your child accepted at one of them are very slim. Be open to other schools as well. For instance, smaller and newer schools are much more likely to have free places. These schools are often not rated by organizations such as KHDA yet, and you might get in before word spreads about their excellent curriculum and facilities.

Each year new, great private schools open their doors in the UAE. These schools usually have a rather high rate of admission, sometimes up to 45%. At the end of the day, the school search will be a little more successful if you consider options that are off the beaten track.

Another factor which you should be flexible about is the school’s curriculum. Instead of focusing exclusively on the IB schools, try to keep an open mind. For instance, about 32% of all private schools offer the curriculum of the UK. However, many UK families also consider US or Australian schools for their kids. Similarly, expats from the US, Australia, or South Africa sometimes like to send their kids to schools with a UK curriculum. It makes sense to talk to the schools directly, of course, as policies will differ from school to school. Some of them may base their curriculum on the requirements of a certain country but might still offer the option to obtain an international degree.

The Art of Getting In

No matter which schools you choose to apply to in the end, make sure to contact them early on, especially if you have some of the more popular international schools on your list. Remember that even if you apply early, you may be put on a waiting list.

Try to gather your children’s school records and any other relevant paperwork before you even start your search. Some schools may ask for a recommendation by previous teachers in addition to report cards and immunization records. You can find out which documents you need for enrollment from school websites. Many schools will also offer more detailed information upon request.

Many private and international schools also invite applicants for an interview in order to assess whether the child is a good fit for their institution. This might involve an examination to determine your kid’s skills and knowledge.

Pinching Pennies: Keep an Eye on Your Budget

Costs are a big issue for many expat parents. Not only do UAE state schools charge fees for expat students, private and international schools do so, too. In addition to the tuition, many international schools charge a non-refundable application and assessment fee, as well as an acceptance fee. Even though every parent is in principle ready to pay whatever it takes to allow their children to get the best education possible, you should not underestimate the costs. They can add up quickly and put a huge dent in your budget. You should also keep in mind that fees often tend to increase from one year to the next.

Some expat parents are lucky enough to have their employer pay for their children’s education or receive help in securing a spot at one of these schools. However, chances are that you will have to shoulder the costs alone.

Tuition fees depend on the age, facilities, and reputation of a school. International and private schools in Dubai, for instance, charge between 1,800 AED and 97,000 AED per year. The approximate average tuition of a Dubai private school is around 19,000 AED. Although it is easier to get a place at a school which was only established recently, the older international schools are often the more affordable choices. At the same time, price is not necessarily an indicator of quality or, simply put, just because a school is expensive, doesn’t mean that it is exceptional.

Generally speaking, IB schools are the most expensive choice, followed by UK and American schools, and Indian schools, with a few exceptions, of course. The costs are a lot to bear for expat parents, and there are quite a few families who have contemplated sending their children to school abroad or moving back home for this reason.

You should do a lot of research before you settle on a school. At least the tuition fees will help you weed out the schools you won’t be able to afford.

A Starting Point: Selected International Schools

There are too many international and private schools suitable for expat kids in the UAE to list them all. This is why the list below is by no means comprehensive and merely acts as a starting point for your own research:


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