Moving to the UAE With Children: Rules and Regulations You Should Know
If you are planning to relocate from overseas to the UAE, this guide will provide you with the basic information you need.
Schools in the UAE are governed by a UAE-wide authority – the Ministry of Education – and regulators based in, and responsible for schools in, each emirate. Although there is officially a standard set of rules and regulations covering the registration process for the UAE, there are variations between emirates and we would always recommend that you confirm information with the relevant Admissions staff at the schools you contact.
Children are legally required to be in school in the UAE during the academic year in which they turn 6 (5+ years on entry). In reality, international curriculum schools accept children from the age of 3 years and 8 months, and the case of the UK curriculum in Dubai, from the age of 3 years.
There is only one official start date at the beginning of the academic year – there is no phased entry for younger children as is common in England. Therefore, school starts in September for most international curricula or April (for Indian, Pakistani or Japanese schools). If you are relocating to the UAE during term-time, registration is usually possible throughout the first and second terms and early in the third term, but this is subject to curriculum and the location from which you are moving.
Until the age of 6, the “correct” year group/grade is determined by the child’s date of birth and this means that some children will be required to re-sit FS1, FS2 or KG1, despite already having started or completed these classes in their home country. No exceptions are made to this rule.
You can find out more details of the age cut-off dates by curriculum at our guide, When can my child start school.
Families transferring to the UAE are required to provide a “Transfer Certificate” from their child/ren’s current school.
This is a letter, completed by the School Principal, which confirms the details of the child’s attendance – the date and year group/grade s/he started at the school, the date and year group/grade at which the child finished at the school, and, if, at the end of the academic year, whether the child has been promoted to the next year group/grade.
The Transfer Certificate must be prepared on official Letter-headed paper and must carry a school stamp.
Schools in the UAE will provide a sample document for completion.
Depending on where the children have been studying, this document may need to be attested by the local Education Authority/Ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Home Country, the UAE Embassy, Consulate or Representative, and, on arrival in the UAE, by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
All documents must be produced in Arabic or English, and otherwise must be legally translated. Schools will provide you with details of the exact requirements for attestation depending on your circumstances.
For families relocating from the Southern hemisphere, whose schools follow the Gregorian calendar from January to December, the September to June academic year tends to complicate the decision on timing of their move. They often face a dilemma as to whether to relocate their children in September, prior to the end of the “home” academic year without their previous studies being complete, or to wait until the end of the academic year in November and try to get their children into school in term 2 in the UAE.
Children who move for a September start are required to repeat the academic year because they are deemed not to have completed the previous school year at home. This remains the case in all emirates except Dubai, where Schools and the Regulator have become more flexible in this context. The KHDA now tends to allow a child who has completed two semesters in the home country to be “promoted” to the next year group/grade for September entry, provided that there is evidence (through an entrance exam in the UAE school and previous school reports) that the child is capable.
In all emirates, children who complete the academic year in the “home” country, can join the next year group/grade in January, provided they have a transfer certificate confirming that they have completed the last academic year and evidence of capability to cope with the promotion to the next year group/grade.
Do bear in mind, though, that students studying in the UK curriculum (years 10 to 13), the US curriculum (grades 9- 12) and the IB Diploma programme (years 12 and 13/grades 11 and 12) may well have real difficulty – and indeed not find places at all – if they attempt to join part-way through either of the two year (I)GCSE, A level and IB Diploma programmes, or to enter a US curriculum school from another curriculum, as the High School Diploma requires 4 years of study.
It’s vital that you secure school places for students in these programmes before your move to the UAE.
Once you have applied for places, generally, the Admissions staff will be responsible for checking the application before forwarding it to the relevant academic staff. If your child is already in the same curriculum Primary/Elementary school overseas, school reports will be reviewed, standardised test results (where applicable) required and confidential assessments requested, but it is likely that your child will not be assessed by the school.
For Secondary/Middle and High School applications, schools may also rely on reports (particularly if there are standardised tests available), may offer remote assessment (at the current school) or may require assessment and an interview at the school in the UAE. Often, the UAE school may offer a conditional place, based on the documents provided, and conduct a final assessment and interview at the school when you arrive in the UAE.
The Transfer Certificate has a validity of only 30 days. Children are usually not permitted to remain away from school during term-time for longer. This presents its own challenges, since officially, prior to being registered, the child’s UAE residence visa and Emirates ID (EID) card must have been issued. Parents are therefore advised to ensure that they start the process for the child’s sponsor (usually the father) to obtain his visa and Emirates ID well ahead of the child’s arrival in order to ensure the minimum delay.
In reality, many schools admit students whilst the visa and EID process is still underway, but Indian curriculum schools, in particular, tend to stick strictly to the rules in this respect, with serious difficulty potentially for the child if there is a delay – particularly for older students who may be moving at a crucial time during their education and can ill afford to be out of school.
Where there is a delay in processing the visa and EID, the regulatory authorities are generally helpful in approving an extension of the validity of the Transfer Certificate, but parents will need to approach the relevant Education Zone in the Northern Emirates, the Abu Dhabi Education Council or Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, as appropriate.
The key to successful enrolment from overseas is preparation and planning ahead. Most procedures can be carried out on-line or by email but it is important to ensure that the visa and Emirates ID procedures are factored into the process also.
In this series:
MY CHILD DID NOT GET A SCHOOL PLACE. WHAT CAN I DO?
APPLICATION AND ASSESSMENT – WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
CHOOSING A SCHOOL – WHAT MAKES A SCHOOL THE RIGHT ONE FOR MY CHILD?
MOVING TO THE UAE WITH CHILDREN: RULES AND REGULATIONS YOU SHOULD KNOW
THE SCHOOL VISIT CHECKLIST – WHAT YOU NEED TO LOOK FOR…
THE CHOICE BETWEEN NEW AND ESTABLISHED SCHOOLS
UAE SCHOOL ACCREDITATION: WHAT TO LOOK FOR, AND WHY?
WHEN DO I START TO LOOK FOR A SCHOOL?
WHICH SCHOOL CURRICULUM SHOULD I CHOOSE?