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.

February 17th, outsourced

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