Did you know that UAE has the highest number of international schools in the world? According to an ISC research report, UAE has 511 English-medium international schools, which constitutes of over 30% of all the international schools in the MENA region.

The most popular are British and Indian curriculum schools which charge an average of over AED 50,000 and AED 22,000 per school year, respectively.

The steep rise in cost of living in the UAE has become the main point of concern amongst expats. According to Mercer’s 2015 Cost of Living Survey, Dubai rose in rankings to become the 23rd most expensive city in the world (up from being ranked 67th in 2014) and Abu Dhabi rose to 33 (up from 68 in 2014).

To add to the financial burden faced by parents, school fees have been increasing every year in the UAE. This year, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) approved an increase of 2.92-5.84 percent in school fees at private schools in Dubai, depending on the KHDA rating of the schools.

And besides the tuition fee, parents also have to pay for transportation or bus fee, books, stationery, uniforms, school trips and events, which could easily cost over AED 10,000 per child per academic year.

So what are the options available for parents looking to ease the burden of school fees in the UAE?

Credit cards to the rescue

Credit cards in the UAE offer two types financial benefits with regards to school fee payments – up front discounts or cash back on school fees, and zero percent monthly installment plans for a period of 3 to 12 months.

Examples include NBAD which has a tie-up with GEMS and Aldar Academies, and offers co-branded credit cards to facilitate school fee payments.The NBAD GEMS credit card offers up to 7% discount on advance payment of tuition fee at any of the 29 GEMS schools in the UAE, along with a 0% easy payment plan for 12 months. The NBAD Aldar Academies card also gives parents a chance to win back 50% of the tuition fee (12 winners are declared every year).

Other examples of credit cards which offer cash back on school-related spend include the Standard Chartered Titanium credit card. With this card you can get up to 10% cash back on school fee payments. The card also offers a 0% monthly installment plan for 6-12 months for school fee payments.

What to look out for

If you’re thinking of opting for an easy installment plan, check with the bank if it actually is zero percent or whether there are any extras such as a processing fees for setting it up. Also check about the fees involved if you miss a payment. If you miss your monthly payments, you may end up paying interest along with late payment and over-limit charges.

Beside easy installment plans, also, look out for ‘minimum spend’ requirements as well as ‘maximum cash back’ limit when using cash back credit cards.

What about personal or education loans?

Many banks in the UAE offer personal loans to parents to help with school fee payments. ADIB, UNB and ADCB are a few banks that offer Education Loans for the specific purpose of paying for school or higher education. Reducing rates range from 6.25-10% for these loans.

Other banks offer general-purpose personal loans which can be used to pay for school or college fees among other things. For example, UAB’s Cash Flow loan with a reducing interest rate of 3.99% and repayment period of up to 12 months is another option to help finance school fee payment. Many Islamic banks like DIB and Ajman Bank offer ‘Services Ijarah’ based finance which can be used to pay for education.

What to look out for

Make sure to include all the fees levied by the bank when calculating your total cost, besides interest or profit rates. Also check the early settlement fees and terms and conditions before signing on the dotted line.

Even though banks may not require you to transfer your salary, you might get a lower rate and a higher loan amount if you do. The rate advertised might not always be the one offered to you, so check with a bank representative about the loan terms before applying.