Children's Education

International schools in the United Arab Emirates

For parents looking for a good education for their children, international schools in the United Arab Emirates have plenty on offer.

International schools in UAE

Updated 19-4-2024

An expat haven in the Arabian Gulf, the UAE is about as international as it gets. For parents looking for a good education, international schools in the United Arab Emirates have plenty on offer, with diverse options in teaching style, curriculum, classroom philosophy, and price tag. Therefore, savvy parents will have to spend some time narrowing their options.

This helpful guide will explore some of the key aspects that go into choosing the right school, as well as reviewing some of the best international schools on offer. It includes the following sections:

The United Arab Emirates education system

The educational system in the UAE is a huge operation. Private and public schools across the Emirates are working to develop, advance, and meet standards in a school system that is less than a century old. The nation has made amazing progress and has one of the world’s highest literacy rates.

There are significant differences between government-run public and privately-run schools, however, including gender segregation, the language of instruction, teaching methodology, and price.

International schools in the United Arab Emirates

International schools are extremely popular in the UAE, with nearly 1,600 schools educating more than 1.1 million students. Unlike public ones, international schools rarely teach in Arabic or segregate by gender; in fact, depending on their affiliation, their language of instruction may be English or French, Urdu or Tagalog.

International school students

The structure of the school may also differ: where government schools are broken up into three levels, many private schools offer kindergarten through to secondary school, allowing for educational continuity. Private schools don’t usually follow the Ministry of Education (MOE) curriculum but, rather, the curriculum of their country affiliate. In fact, although they may follow the guidelines of the MOE, they are not directly under government supervision.

International school curricula and certificates in the UAE

International Primary Curriculum (IPC)

The International Primary Curriculum is a system that emphasizes themes like high engagement, rigorous learning, and intercultural awareness. It highlights explicit learning goals and personal learning between the ages of five and twelve and is essentially an adaptation of the UK curriculum for international schools. Here are some schools that follow the IPC model:

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a highly structured program that is truly international. At the core of IB are essay writing, the theory of knowledge, and a project combining creativity, activity, and service. However, students also study science, the arts, math, language, and literature. To receive the IB Diploma, all students take a rigorous exam at the end of secondary school. Many parents appreciate the IB program because it is widely recognized for its rigor and recognition as students apply to universities across the world. The IB diploma program is offered by 42 schools in the UAE.

International GCSE (IGCSE)

The International General Certificate of Secondary School (IGCSE) follows the British curriculum and is broken down into three stages which altogether lead to an A-level qualification. Students take coursework in science, English language and literature, a foreign language, and maths. Most students will take the IGCSE through the Cambridge International Examinations Board in the first two years of secondary school. In the final two years, they will take their A-Levels; most British universities will consider them for admission based on these results. British curriculum schools are very popular because they allow students to move smoothly into higher education in the UK.

American high school diploma and Advanced Placement

American curriculum schools follow the American system, which is split between elementary, middle, and high school. Students simply need to fulfill graduation requirements and pass their exams. Subjects covered include math, science, English, social studies, and often a foreign language. With this American diploma, students can easily apply to universities and colleges in the US and Canada. These schools often offer useful resources such as SAT preparation classes and US college application advising. In addition, Advanced Placement exams, which are university-level courses that many universities accept as college credit, are a bonus.

Should you send your child to an international school in the UAE?

Sending your child to a private or public school is a big decision. Within your family discussions, you should explore a few different questions. Does your child speak Arabic, or would you like them to learn it? Would you like them to be in a primarily Emirati cultural environment or a multicultural one? Does your child plan to go to university and, if so, in which country? Does your child focus better within bigger or smaller class sizes?

School bus in Sharjah

International schools offer the advantage of anticipating and meeting many expat students’ needs. They also make it easier to apply to a university abroad because of their international certifications. That said, studying in an international school can be wildly expensive and usually means that your child will likely be in an expat bubble. Be sure to weigh your options as a family before deciding.

How to choose an international school in the United Arab Emirates

International schools abound in the Emirates – however, they don’t always have openings and they aren’t always affordable. When deciding on a school for your child, think through what kind of experience you would like them to have. What kind of teaching philosophy best suits your child? Should they be enrolled in an educational system that mirrors your home country? What is the reputation of the schools you are considering? Do they offer the extracurricular activities your child is passionate about? Your best bet is to make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves in a school – then start making calls. Oh, and be patient, this isn’t an easy process!

If you would like to compare international schools, the Department of Education and Knowledge’s website for schools in Abu Dhabi the KHDA Ratings reviews Dubai institutions.

Types of international schools in the United Arab Emirates

International Baccalaureate schools

If you are looking for IB schools in the Emirates, you have a number of options. Their primary teaching language is generally English, and you usually have to provide identification documents, transcripts from prior schools, immunization records, as well as fill out a health form and an application. Some schools may require interviews or unique application requirements. Fees can range significantly depending on the grade; anywhere from 20,000 AED to 100,000 AED per year is possible.

Here are some IB schools in the UAE:

American international schools

American international schools try to mirror the American education system as closely as possible. They teach in English and are popular because their courses and credits are easily transferable. Students going on to study in the US will have no problems during the university application process. Often, American schools also practice an IB curriculum, making them very attractive to expats. Applications usually involve identification documents of parents and children, a completed application form and prior transcripts, as well as the submission of supporting documents. Depending on the level, fees can range from 20,000AED to 75,000AED annually, however, some schools offer scholarships, so be sure to check.

Here are some American international schools in the UAE:

British international schools

British curriculum schools are very popular in the UAE because the UK is a popular study destination for many expats. Furthermore, graduating from a British secondary school eases the university application process significantly. The language of instruction is English. The application process varies by school, however, most schools require an application form, ID documents of parents and child, health records, and supporting documents, as well as a possible assessment or interview. Although some schools offer scholarships, fees can range from 22,000 AED to 100,000 AED per year.

Here are a few British curriculum schools in the UAE:

Other national international schools

Because people from all over the world call the UAE home, there are plenty of schools that cater to various nationalities. Languages of instruction differ, as do the curricula, fee structure, and application requirements, therefore, if you are interested in a national school, be sure to do your homework.

Here are a few other national schools in the UAE: