With the new school year starting and almost a million children enrolling in UAE schools, parents are once again worrying about paying the school fees.

Forty percent of parents say it’s their biggest financial stress, according to our survey of more than 700 residents and UAE nationals in partnership with Arabic women’s lifestyle site Layalina.com.

School fees in the UAE range from AED 2,500 – 100,000, making it a big chunk of a family’s income. [Related: Credit cards that give tuition fee discounts or cashback] Extra-curricular activities were the biggest panic for 33 percent of parents, books for 25 percent, supplies (from stationery to lunchboxes) for 22 percent and uniforms for just 19 percent.

Ambareen Musa, CEO and founder of Souqalmal.com, said: “The fact that so many parents feel stressed about paying for all the added extras shows that education comes with a financial burden many of us underestimate.”

Pocket money

As well as school costs, parents must also consider how much pocket money to give their offspring – and it’s a balancing act to give generously while still educating children about the importance of money and savings.

A good half of parents surveyed give each child less than AED 100 per month, but a quarter give up to AED 300 – and a third of UAE nationals said they give a whopping AED 1,000 or more per child, compared to 58 percent of expat Asians who give under AED 100.

Getting back into a routine is also worrying parents – although at least that’s a pain they won’t feel in the wallet.

[Compare schools – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah | Guide to choosing a school | Most viewed schools]


Interestingly, while only one in five of those polled say uniforms is their biggest expense at the start of the school year, 80 percent of respondents buy new uniforms every year, rather than buying oversized clothes that will last longer or choosing to shop at a school’s secondhand store.

And more than six in 10 of parents say they have one fixed store they must buy uniforms from, limiting the chance to find cheaper alternatives.

However, it appears spending patterns differ by nationality. Expat Arabs, for example, vote books as their biggest extra expense, followed by supplies and then extracurricular activities. And 43 percent of Westerners say the uniform is their biggest expense.

Some 42 percent of parents in the survey had two children, 34 percent just the one, 14 percent three and 11 percent more than three.

During back to school season, what stresses you out most?

% respondents
Paying the tuition fees 37%
Paying additional expenses beyond tuition fees 25%
Getting back into a routine 24%
Running around sorting out the uniforms, books etc 8%
Organizing transportation for your child(ren) 7%

How much pocket money do you give each child per month?

% respondents
Less than AED 100 52%
AED 101 -300 25%
AED 301-500 13%
More than AED 500 5%
More than AED 1,000 5%

Biggest stress, by income level

Above AED 30,000 AED 10,001 – 20,000 AED 20,001 – 30,000 AED 5,001 – 10,000 Less than AED 5,000
Paying the tuition fees 35% 35% 40% 38% 40%
Getting back into a routine 33% 24% 29% 17% 10%
Organizing transportation for your child(ren) 9% 4% 9% 4% 8%
Paying additional expenses beyond tuition fees 12% 29% 14% 33% 37%
Running around sorting out the uniforms, books etc 10% 8% 7% 7% 5%

Pocket money per child, by nationality

Expat African Expat Arab Expat Asian Expat Westerner UAE National
AED 101 -300 31% 28% 25% 22% 23%
AED 301-500 13% 19% 11% 16% 19%
Less than AED 100 44% 38% 58% 47% 29%
More than AED 500 10% 9% 3% 9% 0%
More than AED 1,000 3% 5% 3% 6% 29%