Thursday, February 16, 2012

Diploma equalization (certificate of degree equivalency) in the UAE

When I was accepted into the master's program in TESOL at AUS, it was contingent upon my obtaining an Equivalency of Degree certificate from the Ministry of Higher Education in Abu Dhabi. The mention of this requirement was allotted a scant paragraph in the acceptance letter, so I didn't think it would be that big of a deal. I was wrong.

As I tried to start the process, I realized that nobody knew how to do it, including the university who asked me to do it, as well as the various ministries and embassies involved. It was the ultimate challenge of bureaucracy - convoluted, obscure, ill-defined, many-layered, time-consuming, expensive, and it had to be completed almost entirely without helpful instructions. The goal of this post (and its dry, informative, highly searchable title) is to help others who have been asked to obtain a diploma equalization/certificate of degree equivalency in the UAE. Basically, I'm doing for you what I wish someone had done for me, over a year ago.

Here are the steps:
1. Gather your wits about you, because you are going to need them. Sometimes writing out instructions for the notary and composing request letters and figuring out the right order to nest envelopes inside each other will threaten to break your very mind. Understand that all the UAE wants is to know that your Bachelor's degree was come by honestly, and was granted by a country whose educational standards are high enough to allow study at the MA level in the UAE. That's all you're trying to prove here.

2. Once you've gathered your wits, gather your documents. To be on the safe side, collect your high school diploma, your high school transcript, your university diploma, and your university transcript. My guess is that only one or the other of a transcript/diploma is needed, but I had different officials ask for different documents at each step of the process, so I ended up doing them all to be safe.

You will need to put each of the four documents through the authentication/attestation process (some states/embassies call it authentication; some call it attestation).

3. Have the document notarized at its point of origin - the place where it was issued, or the government office where you are requesting the copy. There will probably be a small charge for this service, per document.
My diploma, with a notary seal on the right margin.
4. When you receive the notarized transcript/diploma, you need to send it on to the Secretary of State for the state where it was issued, to have the notary's authority attested/authenticated. Again, there will be a fee for this service, and you will probably have to do it by mail (unless you live in the capital city).
A letter from the state of Utah authenticating the notarized diploma.
5. When you receive the transcript/diploma from the state secretary, you need to send it on to the United States Secretary of State to have the state-level Secretary of State's authority attested/authenticated. I am not joking. There will be another fee for this, and unless you live in DC, you will have to do it by mail. This step can take weeks, so you might want to do like I did and pay a friend (or a friend of a friend...) to walk it up to the service window in DC and get it done in a day.
Hillary Clinton's autograph! Also, the US Secretary of State authenticating Utah's authentication of my notarized diploma.
6. When you receive the transcript/diploma from the US Secretary of State, you need to send it on to the Embassy of the UAE in the US. I'm not sure exactly what it is they're authenticating, but it's a necessary step, so do it. They charge a fee just like everyone else and by now you should be an expert at nesting SASEs inside an envelope containing the documents and the request form and the payment money order.

7. Once you have all your documents back from the UAE Embassy, it's time to get to work in the UAE itself. The first step is to get a certificate of equivalency for your high school diploma from the Ministry of Education in the UAE (I went to the one in Dubai). Bring all your documents (just in case!), along with your passport, to the Ministry of Education and do what they tell you to. In my case, I had to drop all the documents off and leave them for two weeks while they completed the process. In the meantime, you need to pay a fee in e-Dirhams, which you can obtain at the Ministry of Justice, or at the EmPost station in Karama. I am not joking. One tricky thing here (haha, ONE) is that the Ministry really wants your original high school diploma. If you, like me, have no earthly idea where your original high school diploma is, and if you, like me, have a high school that does not re-issue copies of diplomas, you might catch some flak from the Ministry employees. However, the ladies who worked with me were really nice and ended up writing a letter saying that while they did not see my HS diploma, they were satisfied with the notarized transcript I had provided. In the end, I did successfully obtain my certificate of equivalency for my high school diploma from the UAE Ministry of Education even though I didn't have the original. I have no idea how big of an exception this was - maybe I was lucky, or maybe they do that kind of thing all the time.
Ministry of Education - equivalency of high school diploma certificate.
8. OK, you should now have a fully notarized/attested/authenticated university diploma and transcript, a fully notarized/attested/authenticated high school diploma and transcript, and a certificate of equivalency for your high school diploma. Take all of the above to your nearest Ministry of Foreign Affairs and have them stamped. You can pay 100 dhs per document to leave the document and collect it a few days later, or 150 dhs to have it done while you wait. I chose to pay 150 dhs and they were done in 10 minutes. I had them stamp all of my documents because again, I was unable to obtain clear instructions telling me which ones I needed to have stamped. So I just did them all. This is the level of desperation and exasperation you will reach - you will give money to lots of people to put pretty stamps on your documents. It is the goal of bureaucracy.
Ooh, pretty. Stamps from the Foreign Ministry and the UAE Embassy in the US.
9. The final step, before everything is out of your hands, is to take everything you have, plus every passport you've ever been issued, to the UAE Ministry of Higher Education in Abu Dhabi. They are only open on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings. Before you go, you should go to their website and fill out a request form and pay a fee (of course). Print out the confirmation and bring it with you. Once you get to the Ministry, you take a number and wait your turn to talk with an officer. They will look at everything you have and tell you if anything is missing, or if they need more information from you. If everything is in order, they will give you the golden ticket, which is actually a receipt stating that your file is in process. I got the receipt even though they had me go to the Sharjah Directorate of Naturalisation and Residency to obtain a Proof of First Entry certificate a few days later. That's why I recommend you bring every passport you've ever been issued. I didn't think to do that and I don't know that it would have helped me avoid going to the SDNR, but it's worth a shot.
The Golden Ticket

Once you have that receipt from the Ministry of Higher Education, you can breathe easy for a while. AUS accepted it as proof that my degree equivalency was pending and I was allowed to continue with my studies. I've been waiting for the actual certificate for a little over two months now and it is still in process. However, the officer at the Ministry has told me that my file is complete and they're just waiting for everything to go through.

I started with Step 1 over a year ago. Part of the reason it's taken me so long was that it wasn't initially clear to me that I needed to involve my high school diploma in the process. I didn't get that part going until the summer time. Still, I think this process would take anyone six months, minimum, unless you personally go to all the state and national offices as well as the embassy, and then come to the UAE and finish up all that stuff in person, too. Also, these instructions apply only to educational documents obtained in the US. Good luck, everyone else! If this blog post is helpful to even one confused MA- or PhD-seeker out there, it will have been worth it.


Katie Lewis said...

Oh man. That is beyond intense. I just gained even more respect for you. Didn't know that was possible.

B-Rad said...

This sounds very similar to the plot line in "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."

Crys said...

Holy Hannah! I can see why your friend just got a new bachelors. But how cool is it to have Hillary Clinton's signature. I think that little inkling of bad President Obama feelings real just stem from my Hillary love. Yes I am a weirdo.

JosephJ said...

Great B-Rad! So what would the circular punchline be?

"And they would tell you that you need a Master's in TESOL to go with it..."

Nancy said...

I love that you had to prove your high school graduation status when you were trying to prove that you had a BA—isn't the BA enough?

This reminds me of trying to get Miriam's birth certificate and everything all figured out. We didn't really get everything sorted until we'd moved back here and were trying to file taxes...of course, we didn't finish up until June and by then she was nearly 20 months old!

Liz Johnson said...

Oh man. I think I have just decided to get my master's degree in the US.

Julee said...

This post was riveting!:)

Bridget said...

Ha ha, I didn't actually expect anyone to read it unless they're trying to go through this process.

Bekzod said...

Hi Bridget :)
I have just started the adventure, fortunately I have already attested the Bachelor Diploma and High School certificate as well as Transcript, I have that shiny stamp worth 150 Dirham for all of them. Now they are asking a letter from the embassy which states the authentication of my certificate attached with a university reply!! What is the form of that letter. Please let me know sending to my e-mail
I would be most grateful
Thank you

Jameel Ahmed Syed said...

Hi Bridget,

Thanks for the detailed description, right now going thru the process myself. But u mentioned MOHESR takes more time thats news for me bcos I assumed after having got all the fancy stamps and approvals it would just be a normal formality at the end. Well i guess I will have to wait and see and experience that for myself!

Thanks anyways

Anonymous said...

Hello, my employer required me to go through the same process but was given only a month to submit the documents (attestation and equivalency). I was just wondering, how long did it take to get this done all in all? Many thanks in advance for your reply.

Bridget said...

You won't like to hear this, but it took almost a year! Aside from all the mailing times back and forth from the US, the waiting period from the Ministry of Education was 2-3 weeks. The MOHESR took far longer - a few months.

Anonymous said...

man. I'm gald I just gotta get the Equivalency letter to start attending college and I thought that was stressful

but hoping it goes well. Thanks for the helpful insight and good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

thanx all, this gives me a light of hope that something will be done hopefully in due course... as my paperwork is almost 8 months in the ministry of education in UAE, as the country frm where I got my diploma does not have an embassy herein Uae so no idea where it is standing...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bridget for your post! It helped me a lot through my process. The legwork leading up to the submission is the most painful. As for my experience for the actual submission, it really depends on your luck and which officer you'll see when submitting. One officer told me to do this and that, whilst the second officer accpeted my submission as is. Once submitted, it took me approximately eight weeks (fyi, my docs came from Australia). Wish you all good luck.

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! This post just lifted my spirit. Was starting to feel like a Martian. Glad to know i'm not alone!
Thanks Bridget for taking the initiative to write this.

Muntaser Syed said...

It was great to read your article, made for an informative read and certainly reignited my hopes a little. I would definitely like to know how long the entire process took; as im now in my 5th month of waiting, and the funny thing is, i needed that equivalency certificate for my masters degree which ive already FINISHED... although i thought graduating from a tier 1 university in the usa would help, but looks like nope, it dosent.

Bridget said...

The entire process took about a year and a half. From the time I submitted the file to the MOHESR to the time I received the certificate, it was about six months. I wish you luck!

Rajeswari Vijayakumar said...


Hats off to you dear friend for this post .I am going to start for my post Gradutaion degree Equivalency from India .i thnk it will take 1 year atleast. Hoping for good result.

Kaiser said...

After successful submission to MOHESR how much time it takes? My case was referred to some committee and still its 4th week of waiting.

Bridget said...

Mine took 6 months. I have no idea if that is average or not. Good luck!

lekerdaisical xobile said...

hi..i am a Zimbabwean citizen who attended university in south Africa and am doing MBA in dubai. i have been told that i can't continue unless i bring the equalisation in 10days!!! or proof that i have applied..what proof can i give to say i have applied for equalisation? pls help I'm w]really worried

Bridget said...

If you submit the documents, they will give you a slip of blue paper as a receipt. That is proof that you have applied!

eve borzuchowska said...

Thanks Bridget for this post !!! I am just going through a shock after receiving an email from recruiters , I am in Dubai, and they ask me to attest my High School Diploma , its US Diploma.

Did you also finish HS in the States? Is it anything I can do myself in Dubai to attest it, avoiding sending it to the States ?

Besides I checked and contacted service which does the whole procedure for you...but it costs 1350 dirhams !!! just for High School diploma ! What do you think ? not worth it ?

Thanks for your suggestions

Bridget said...

You must send it to the US. It has to be attested at the state and national levels, in the US, then by the embassy of the UAE in the US. If you are on a tight schedule, 1350dhs could be worth it! Good luck!

Stunner said...

I've been a resident of UAE for 2 odd (or even) decades, yet the ever convoluted bureaucracy never fails to surprise me. Just so you know, I too graduated from AUS a year ago with an MS and then moved out to work in the capital. Luckily, I never had to go through the equalization process (i did my under-grad too from AUS). This requirement is a more recent concoction (2004-ish). Earlier, all that was required was to have your diploma attested by the country of origin and then the UAE ministry of foreign affairs would counter-stamp it for employment purposes.
Thank God they didnt ask you to have the US secretary of state's authentication authenticated by the US President. :p

Congratulation on your recent graduation!


Hi Bridget,
Its very informative for the people going through the same process. Thanks aloot for the article. I had to do my schools equivalency from ministry of education in dubai and later start the process for degree equivilisation in Abu dhabi. I would like to know about the time required to get the equivalency certificate from Ministry of Higher education in Abu dhabi after submission of all documents.


Hi Bridget,
It was very informative for the people who is going through the same process. I would like to know about the time required at Ministry of higher education, Abu Dhabi after submitting all documents for equivalency of degree certificate.

Thanks aloot for the information.

Bridget said...

My BA took a few months, but just the other day I submitted my MA diploma to be attested and it took 5 days! Good luck to you.

Bobbi said...

Thanks, Bridget. Did you actually let them stamp on your original diploma or are they notarized copies? Kind of hate to get the original diploma marked up.

Amr Almaktari said...


I'm going through the process now (also going to AUS), My university diploma (bachelors) and transcript are with the US state department. I guess my next steps are to get it to the UAE embassy, and then go to the UAE. I have to have this all done by the 24th of August (when registration starts). How long did it take for you to get everything equalized and attested once you got there? I know it took months for the MOHESR to officially certify you, but the receipt was good enough for AUS in the interim.


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