Studying in the UAE

university in the UAE
Updated 2024-04-04 07:27

The United Arab Emirates is a choice destination for international students planning to study abroad. The country is home to numerous schools and universities, as well as other higher education institutions that are deemed to be some of the best in the Gulf countries. Moreover, the country offers a safe and attractive environment to study in, with its rich cultural heritage and diversity, as well as a great climate and plenty of leisure activities. As of today, the country hosts an impressive 65,447 international students.

Universities in the UAE

The UAE is currently home to three state-funded universities and more than 50 private institutions. Government institutions are generally highly competitive for international students, as Emiratis are given priority for admission. However, private universities and colleges are open for everyone with equal opportunity.

The UAE's government universities include:

  • UAE University – This is the country's flagship university and is known for its chemistry, clinical medicine, and engineering programs;
  • Zayed University – Once a strictly female-only campus, this is now open to male students as well. It is best known for its business and economics programs;
  • Higher Colleges of Technology – This is the country's largest university and is known for its science & technology and engineering programs.

Today, 11 universities in the UAE are featured in the TopUniversities Ranking 2024. The country's largest higher education institution is the Higher Colleges of Technology, with 15 campuses around the UAE. World-famous universities such as Sorbonne University and New York University have branches in the capital. These world-class universities boast the same standards their main offices offer.

How much does it cost to study in the UAE?

In general, a student visa costs around AED 3,000, excluding health insurance. A deposit of AED 1,000 is also required, which is refundable in the case of an unsuccessful visa application. After submitting all the required documents, the processing time is typically 10 to 15 working days (but may be delayed depending on the time of year).

The cost of studying in the UAE depends on which school you are admitted to and your lifestyle of choice (including on-campus accommodation or off-campus). For this reason, we will provide an example from one of the top universities in the city.

Here is an example of New York University Abu Dhabi's approximate breakdown of annual expenses for their students:

Expense type

Cost (USD)



Registration and Service Fees


Books and Supplies


Health Insurance


Room and board (meals)

Estimated Personal Expenses



Estimated travel




Naturally, the numbers above should only serve as a reference. Your actual cost of tuition depends on your choice of university, program, lifestyle, housing needs, and more.

The calculation of university fees differs from one institute to the other. Some universities will charge a fixed annual fee (based on the degree chosen) for students taking between 12 to 16 credit hours but also charge per credit hour for those taking below 12 or above 16. In other cases, tuition is charged based on the number of credit hours taken.

While most courses are taught full-time, some part-time courses are also available. Night and crash courses are also provided.

University fees are applicable for foreigners wishing to study in the United Arab Emirates. Higher education is only free for Emiratis in public universities. Fees vary from one university to another and according to the chosen field of study. You are required to check with the respective university or school for more specific information.

You may also wish to participate in a student exchange programme, which will offer you a cultural experience in addition to educational learning. For more information, contact the UAE mission in your home country.

Student visa in the UAE

Foreign nationals who are not from the GCC countries have to apply for a visa to be allowed to study in the United Arab Emirates. If the student's parents do not live in the UAE and therefore cannot serve as the student's sponsor, the university where they are enrolled can sponsor them. The university's Student Affairs office should facilitate this process and provide all the necessary information. These visas will have to be renewed each year upon proof of continuation of study from the university, and students need to undergo a medical examination. Application for this visa can cost up to AED 3,000.

Once the student has received their acceptance letter, the university should apply for the student's entry permit. This will allow the student to enter the UAE for a limited time period, during which the student visa must be applied for and issued.

To apply for a student visa, the following must be submitted:

  • Your entry permit;
  • A certificate issued from the university or institute that specifies the duration of your studies;
  • A recent colored photo with a white background;
  • A copy of your passport (which should be valid for a minimum of 6 months);
  • A Medical Fitness certificate approved by the relevant UAE authorities;
  • Your Emirates ID Application (to be facilitated by the university);
  • Your Health Insurance (Abu Dhabi, Dubai – provided by the university).

Under Federal Law, students 18 years of age and older are allowed to work part-time during their studies in the United Arab Emirates, provided they apply for a work permit.

University application for international students in the UAE

Students from abroad can apply online to private universities or colleges. However, you will have to meet the study visa requirements of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA). The UAE embassy or consulate in your home country will be able to provide you with more information. You can also contact universities directly for entry requirements.

Scholarships and financial aid are available for international students. You are advised to contact the UAE embassy or consulate in your home country for more information. Some universities in the UAE are single-sex institutions.

General university requirements for international students in the UAE

You may enrol for studies at the university level, which would be undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctorate. The different universities and other higher education institutions provide a wide range of fields of study, including information and communication technology, business, commerce, marketing, management, etc. Most universities in the United Arab Emirates are branches of international universities that have come to establish themselves in the UAE. Some of the top universities in the UAE are the United Arab Emirates University, the American University of Sharjah, the Khalifa University, and the American University in Dubai, to name a few.

While each university will have their own sets of admission prerequisites, there are a few general requirements to keep in mind.

If you are applying for a Bachelor's Degree, you will generally need to provide your high school diploma, entrance exam scores (SAT or ACT if required by the university), language proficiency test scores (IELTS or TOEFL), and your academic transcripts from your secondary school.

If you are applying for a Graduate Diploma, you will generally need to provide your Bachelor's Degree (which needs to have been obtained from an accredited university), your language proficiency test scores (IELTS or TOEFL), any relevant work or academic experience, and your academic transcripts from your BA.

If you are applying for a Master's Degree, you will generally need to provide your Bachelor's Degree (which needs to have been obtained from an accredited university and in a relevant field to your Master's program of choice), your language proficiency test scores (IELTS or TOEFL), your statement of purpose which includes your research interests, and letters of recommendation.

If you are applying for a Doctorate, you will generally need to provide your Master's Degree (which needs to have been obtained from an accredited university and in a relevant field to your Doctorate program of choice), your research proposal, and your academic transcripts.

Popular fields of study in the UAE

Universities in the UAE offer a wide range of fields of study that cater to almost everyone's interests. That being said, there are a few that have proven to be more popular amongst students than others. These are:

  • Business Management;
  • International Business;
  • Computer Science and Information Technology;
  • Engineering (Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical);
  • Tourism and Hospitality Management;
  • Medicine and Health Sciences.

Below are some of the UAE's universities, along with the fields of study they are most known for:

  • Khalifa University – Popular for those interested in Engineering;
  • Zayed University – Popular for those interested in Liberal Arts;
  • University of Sharjah – Popular for those interested in Medicine;
  • UAE University – Popular for those interested in Research;
  • Abu Dhabi University – Popular for those interested in Law;
  • American University of Sharjah – Popular for those interested in Science.

Why study in the UAE?

Deciding to study abroad brings an exciting adventure and new experiences. It is the first step in embarking on a new and independent life. Being an international student in the UAE has its own set of unique advantages.

Study in top-ranked universities

As we've mentioned, the UAE is home to a number of top-ranked universities. This gives students the opportunity to gain high-quality education and prepare them for their careers ahead. The 11 top-ranked universities in the UAE are:

Be at the centre of education and research

The UAE is constantly working towards growing and developing its research and educational facilities and offerings. It has specifically heavily invested in its science and technology institutes, putting them amongst the best worldwide.

The country founded its Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT) in 1996 to ensure its position at the forefront of learning and technology solutions. The institution works with companies worldwide to develop nanotechnology, biotechnology, and a major supercomputing centre.

A diverse experience

As an international student in the UAE, you will be exposed to a wide variety of cultures, languages, and nationalities. This is a valuable addition to the education you will receive, as it enhances your overall life experience and understanding of people from different backgrounds. If diversity is something you are looking for, you should consider applying to universities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where it is most prevalent.

No language barriers

With the UAE situated in the Middle East, it is normal for prospective international students to be concerned about language barriers. While the country's main language is Arabic, English is the language primarily used in educational settings. This means that as an international student, you will face no issues during your studies, and you will not have to communicate with your professors and fellow students.

The ultimate place to live

In recent years, the UAE has become one of the most attractive places to live for expats. While this usually happens among job seekers, studying in the UAE gives you the advantage of having this experience earlier on.

There is no shortage of things to see and do in the UAE. From impressive architecture like the Burj Khalifa and Sheikh Zayed Mosque to exciting activities like skydiving, hiking, scuba diving, and desert excursions, there is no shortage of things to see and do around the country.

Student accommodation in the UAE

Most universities in the UAE offer student accommodation, which is the more cost-effective choice for those who wish to study there. However, student accommodation may be limited in some universities, and you may be required to arrange for private accommodation. While costs may vary between different universities, you can expect to pay between AED 1,500 and AED 3,000 per month.

If you do opt for private accommodation, keep in mind that this will likely increase your overall cost of living. How much more you will need to spend will depend on the emirate you choose to live in and the type of accommodation you want. Generally, Dubai is the most expensive when it comes to private housing, followed by Abu Dhabi. The less expensive emirates are Sharjah, Fujairah, and Al Ain.

Useful links:

Internships in the UAE

UAE Ministry of Education

Abu Dhabi University

American University in Dubai

American University of Sharjah

The General Directorate of Residency and Foreigner Affairs

TopUniversities Rankings

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.