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State School Systems for Expats in the United Arab Emirates

Submitted: December 2013

Education is compulsory from the ages of 5 to 18 (or Grade 12) at state schools in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Please note that while education is free for citizens, non-citizens have to pay fees in order to attend state schools. Many children enter the education system from as early as 3 years old. The state school system in the UAE can be divided into four stages:

  1. Early Childhood Education (Kindergarten): Ages 3-5

    It is important to note that while this level of schooling is not compulsory, entering your child in a learning environment from such a young age will have many benefits. Children attend co-educational classes in order to prepare them for entry into primary school.

  2. Cycle 1 Primary Education (Grades1-5): Ages 6-11

    Primary schools aim to have students proficient in a range of subjects including math, Arabic literacy, Islamic education, science, and social studies in order to provide students with a solid foundation for entry into the secondary education system.

  3. Cycle 2 Lower Secondary Education ( Grades 6 to 9): Ages 12-15

    Students are given a fundamental secondary education in core subjects. Classes aim to provide a more active and engaging learning environment.

  4. Cycle 3 Upper Secondary Education: (Grades 10 to 12): Ages 16 to 18

    Students tailor their studies to either the sciences or arts. At the conclusion of this cycle, students who are successful in the final examination receive the Shahadat Al Thanawiya Al Amma (School leaving certificate) from the Ministry of Education.

It should be noted that government schools in the UAE are gender-segregated. Students attending state schools are required to follow the Ministry of Education curriculum which includes a wide range of subjects which are taught in Arabic however English is taught as a second language.

You can use the following resource to locate a variety of schools, including state schools in the UAE:


Specifically, parents can use the following resource to locate state schools in the Abu Dhabi region (please click on the Advanced search tab to tailor your search):


For admittance into state schools, parents should contact the Education Council in their region in order to register their children. This process is relatively straight forward. An application form must be submitted along with supporting documents. In particular, for children of expatriates, documents such as passports of the child and parents, residence permits, salary certificates, rent contracts, birth certificate, photograph and transcripts from previous schools may be required. Please note that the transfer certificates would need to be attested by the relevant authorities in your home country: The Ministry of Education, the UAE Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For an overview of this process in Abu Dhabi for example, please refer to the following link below:


From the above overview, you may notice that your child is required to attend an interview as well as pass an admission test on English, Arabic and Mathematics. This requirement may seem daunting, however if you truly wish to send your child to a state school you can consider sending them to Arabic classes before in order to enhance their language skills.

The cost of tuition to send your child to a state school is approximately 6,000AED per year.

For specific information regarding this process as it relates to your region, please refer to the website below. Unfortunately, some of the links provided are in Arabic, so feel free to use the Google Translate option in order to view the page.




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