If you already live in the UAE you probably know how popular VPNs are as a means to access blocked websites and apps, including Skype and WhatsApp, or to connect to US Netflix and other streaming services.
Here, we take a look at the best VPNs for Dubai or elsewhere in the UAE. We will run through some common concerns about using a VPN in the United Arab Emirates and try to clarify some misconceptions about legal issues with Virtual Private Network use.
If you don’t have time to read the full article, here’s a summary of the top five best VPN service providers for Dubai and the UAE:
- NordVPN Our recommended VPN for the UAE. Fast, reliable connections and impeccable security credentials, plus a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Surfshark An inexpensive, privacy-focused VPN with no bandwidth or connection limits.
- ExpressVPN Fast connection speeds, great for accessing blocked internet content, top-notch security.
- PrivateVPN Fast, secure servers that are great for unblocking streaming sites from abroad. No logs. Good for accessing US Netflix in UAE.
- VyprVPN Secure solution with a zero logs policy and optional added obfuscation. Has struggled with VPN blocks in UAE and Dubai over recent months.
Note: Over the last 12 months many VPNs have been blocked in the UAE, this article is regularly updated to show working VPNs. From time-to-time VPNs on this list are temporarily blocked.
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Travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Dubai is increasingly common – pandemics aside. If you do happen to find yourself there for business or for pleasure, you may experience a bit of frustration accessing a fair number of websites. VoIP services like Skype and WhatsApp are blocked, as well as gambling sites like Betfair and several Wikipedia pages. The country’s Telecom Regulatory Authority imposes strict internet censorship across the board. Somewhat surprisingly, the TRA is very transparent regarding what sites are blocked and why. If you want to access blocked sites and apps like Skype in the UAE you will need a VPN, although many won’t work.
How we selected the best VPN services for the UAE
We identified a specific set of criteria to form our recommendations for the best VPNs for Dubai and the rest of the UAE. In particular, those currently in the UAE should use VPNs that allow them to securely access a large number of blocked websites and VoIP services without worrying about data leaks that reveal what websites or services they’re accessing.
The VPN services we determined were the best for UAE and Dubai VPN users all fit the following criteria:
- Good encryption
- No traffic logs
- Plenty of servers
- DNS leak protection
As an added bonus, we also emphasized any services that utilized obfuscation to hide the fact that you’re even using a VPN at all.
Expert tip: Some VPN sites are blocked in the UAE so if you are not yet there, be sure to sign up before traveling.
Best VPNs for UAE and Dubai
Here is our list of the best VPNs for the UAE and Dubai that are still working:
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN is a great option for those seeking an extra amount of security. This service also offers a Tor over VPN option. It hit every point in our criteria (no-log policy, high-level SSL-2048-bit encryption, a large variety of servers). Tor is perhaps the safest method to browse the web. NordVPN combines its service with Tor to offer an extremely safe and heavily encrypted web-browsing experience, especially for those connecting in the UAE and Dubai.
Additionally, NordVPN features a DNS leak resolver designed to prevent DNS leaks as well as a process-specific internet kill switch should the service fail, or should any individual program running start leaking data. OpenVPN protocols are available here, as well as PPTP and L2TP/IPsec. While NordVPN does not include its own obfuscation method, it does support Obfsproxy. Their website provides a helpful walkthrough on how to set this up through their service. The service also utilizes a double VPN feature which doubles the encryption, although this does, understandably, slow down the service a bit.
VPN apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.
NordVPN speed test data
|Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)||111.7 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)||122.3 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)||112.0 Mbps|
- Trusted VPN provider and works in UAE
- The fastest speeds of any VPN we’ve tested
- Strong encrypted connections, security and privacy credentials
- Works with Skype
- User data is protected as it keeps no logs
- Desktop apps can be sluggish
BEST VPN FOR UAE AND DUBAI:NordVPN is our first choice browsing safely in Dubai & UAE. It’s an especially fast VPN with strong unblocking, powerful online privacy features, and a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
Find out more in our full NordVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Surfshark is a high-level VPN service that offers everything we looked for in our criteria. This includes AES-256 encryption, a strict no-log policy and a large number of server locations.
You’ll also find that Surfshark utilizes OpenVPN TCP/UDP protocols while supporting PPTP and L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols as well. Notable on this service is the zero-knowledge DNS on each server (meaning your private information is not saved on any server you connect to), automatic kill switch, double VPN chaining, and ease of use, as well as a reasonably large number of servers and server locations (over 500 servers in 50 countries).
Unlike most VPN services, Surfshark also offers the option to use one account to cover an unlimited number of devices.
VPN apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire TV. You can also install the service as a Chrome or Firefox plugin to cover just your web browser activities.
Surfshark speed test data
|Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)||170 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)||230 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)||220 Mbps|
- Works in UAE and China
- Excellent security and privacy credentials
- Keeps no logs
- Allows unlimited devices
- Steady, reliable VPN connection speeds
- Server network is smaller than most other VPNs
- Speeds vary between servers
BEST BUDGET OPTION:Surfshark offers online security at an affordable price. Boasts solid speeds, a 30-day money-back guarantee, and impressive unblocking ability. Connect as many devices as you like in the UAE and Dubai.
You can read our full Surfshark review here.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN easily meets all of our criteria for making the list of best VPNs for UAE and Dubai. The company stores no identifying logs about what users do online while connected.
The VPN uses AES-256 encryption, noted as one of the best encryption methods and notably used by many governments, including the U.S. government and military. ExpressVPN supports OpenVPN with TCP/UDP, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec and PPTP protocols. ExpressVPN employs DNS protection and an automatic internet kill switch in case the service fails.
Finally, ExpressVPN has among the largest number of servers, with geographic locations in 94 countries. As a bonus, this service utilizes its own, proprietary method of obfuscation to hide the fact that you’re connected to a VPN. As such, the service works in even the most VPN-unfriendly countries. It is known to even get past the Great Firewall of China. ExpressVPN reliably works with most major geo-restricted streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and HBO GO, as well as VoIP services like Skype.
VPN apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux (command line), and certain wifi routers.
ExpressVPN speed test data
|Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)||135.7 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)||134 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)||136 Mbps|
- Class-leading privacy and strong security features
- Fast connection speeds for streaming and torrenting
- Works with all major streaming services including Netflix
- Unlimited data with no data caps for users
- Obfuscated servers
- There are cheaper VPNs
- Few customizable features
GREAT FOR SECURITY:ExpressVPN is a quick, reliable service that works well in Dubai & UAE. Unblocks all major sites and apps including Skype and offers unlimited bandwidth. Keeps your personal data safe and includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full ExpressVPN review here.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
PrivateVPN is a young, up-and-coming VPN provider that offers a service on par with its veteran rivals. The company has a no logs policy and accepts payment via credit card, Stripe, PayPal, or Bitcoin. You can choose between 128-bit or 256-bit AES encryption, both of which use perfect forward secrecy. IPv6 leak and DNS leak protections are built in, as is a kill switch. The company is based in Sweden.
PrivateVPN is adept at unblocking geo-locked internet content, including the Netflix catalogs of several countries, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer, among others. It ranks near the top in our speed tests despite operating a smaller server network than other VPNs in this list. Live chat is available during business hours.
You can connect a maximum of six devices at the same time on a single account. Apps and software are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
PrivateVPN speed test data
|Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)||94 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)||56.7 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)||61.7 Mbps|
- A low cost option that works in UAE
- Keeps no logs whatsoever
- Works with a wide range of media streaming services
- Fast download speeds
- Small number of servers locations to choose from
- Support not available 24/7
GREAT SPEEDS:PrivateVPN works well in the UAE and allows up to 6 devices on the same account. Small network of servers but fast VPN connections. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full PrivateVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
VyprVPN is a Switzerland-based provider that owns and operates its global network of servers. This stands in distinct contrast to most other providers that simply rent servers in third-party data centers. This gives VyprVPN greater control over users’ online privacy, which is protected with strong encryption and a no user-logs policy.
VyprVPN is a veteran at evading censorship in countries like the UAE and China. It works with VoIP services like Skype and Facetime as well as some streaming services including US Netflix. Live chat support is on call 24/7 should you encounter any issues.
Apps and software are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. You can connect five devices at a time.
VyprVPN speed test data
|Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)||41 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)||44.3 Mbps|
|Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)||47.3 Mbps|
- Military-grade encryption and online security
- Keeps no identifying connection logs
- Unblocks Netflix US, and others
- Works in China and the UAE
- Obfuscated servers
- Cheaper providers higher on the list
- Slightly slower download speeds than rivals
WORKS IN UAE AND CHINA:VyprVPN has a strong reputation for privacy and works well in countries where some other VPNs are blocked.
Read our full VyprVPN review.
VPNs to avoid in the UAE and Dubai
If you’ve been Googling around for what VPN to use while you’re in the UAE, a few probably popped up that are actually best avoided, either because they don’t work in the UAE or because of a precedent of shifty practices. There are a lot of bad VPN services out there, but here are two, in particular, to stay away from:
Hola is a peer-to-peer network that uses idle bandwidth on other people’s computers to create a VPN tunnel. Likewise, other people utilize your bandwidth when you’re not using it. This can make you liable for other people’s online activity, a huge risk when in the UAE and Dubai. The company has a history of abusing users’ trust as well. It once turned all of the devices on its network into a huge botnet and used it to carry out distributed denial-of-service attacks on websites.
While HMA doesn’t record any of your activity or the contents of your internet traffic, it does store detailed metadata user logs including your real IP address. The most famous example is the arrest of Cody Kretsinger, a LulzSec hacker involved in a cyber attack on Sony Pictures. HideMyAss handed over evidence to authorities under a court order that led to his arrest. While we don’t condone what Cody did, VPN users’ should be skeptical of HideMyAss’ “no logs” claims.
Are VPNs legal in the UAE?
Many users turn to a VPN to bypass these digital content blocks, an action that currently resides in a significant legal gray area in the country. In fact, rumors regarding legal consequences for using a VPN in the country abound.
Just recently, many UAE residents received a text message telling them to report a police station in Dubai to pay a fine of Dh5,000. This turned out to be a lie. Despite such false rumors, VPNs remain hugely popular.
A 2012 cybercrime law passed in the country only appeared to ban the use of VPNs for activity considered illegal in the county. Pornography, anti-religious hate speech, and gambling generally top the list. However, that law has since been amended and expanded, throwing many VPN users or potential users into confusion over the new law and whether or not there is a UAE VPN ban in place. Many are now more confused than ever over what is and is not permissible.
Yet between 2012 and 2016, few, if any, VPN websites that allowed users to access blocked internet content were themselves blocked by the TRA, indicating that the country is not actively blocking these sites, or at the least, not actively reporting it. Even still, many local stores sell VoIP cards that allow the use of Voice Over IP services, despite the ban on services like Skype. It would appear a blind eye is turned to what might be considered minor transgressions and a huge number of people use Skype and other “banned” VoIP services with the help of a VPN.
That said, the current amendment to the law is new and one that should be watched closely. There are many uses for a VPN in the UAE and Dubai, most of which are very much within the country’s legal gray area, such as accessing geographically-blocked content from streaming content websites like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.
UAE’s content and VPN laws
The UAE’s internet content blocking laws are overly complex but based on two categories: religious principles and protecting businesses.
The religious principles aspect of this is pretty clear. The United Arab Emirates has a complicated government structure with an absolute monarchy at the top. Laws are based on a mixture of Sharia and secular civil ideals.*
As the country’s laws have a significant basis in Sharia, the Telecom Regulatory Authority’s online content blocking makes sense per the UAE’s enshrined Muslim belief system, although it’s less draconian than what one might find in other primarily Muslim countries such as Iran or Saudi Arabia.
According to the TRA, content that “contradicts with the ethics and morality of the UAE” is blocked outright. This includes:
- VoIP sites and services (Skype)
- websites containing anti-religious hate speech
- websites related to the production, sale and distribution of illegal drugs
- content that is often contrary to beliefs of the majority Sunni population
- Many Wikipedia pages
- Israeli websites
The TRA provides statistics yearly on its content blocking initiative:
2016 amended VPN law
In early 2016, the UAE amended its cybercrimes law to specify more VPN uses. The law reads:
“Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dhs 500,000 ( USD $136,128.51) and not exceeding Dhs 2,000,000 (USD $544,514.04), or either of these two penalties.”
Many stories came out immediately following this amendment that seemingly broadened the extent of this law to include all VPN usage. However, this has not been the case. Indeed, VPN usage in the UAE and Dubai is exceptionally high and very common. As evidenced by the TRA’s own content filtering statistics, most websites outside of those going against ethics laws are not commonly banned. This includes VPN services. Nevertheless, as long as the VPN you are using is doing its job and obfuscating your connection to the VPN server, you’re not likely to draw any attention from authorities.
Some content blocking is meant to benefit businesses
The UAE sees a significant amount of international business traffic and relies heavily on that traffic as part of its economy. Dubai, in particular, has a large number of non-Muslims and temporary residents living and working in the city year-round and long-term. To stay on the friendlier side of their international business partners, the country tends to spend less time enforcing some of the laws it has on the books in Dubai, although recent changes to the law may indicate a consequential return to strict censorship and enforcement.
Businesses themselves enjoy some content blocking laws that are designed to protect their interests. The digital content blocking of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) and many other messaging apps, such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Google Hangouts, is because the country wants to protect its telecommunications industry from losing business to those using free communication platforms. As such, long-distance calling in the UAE can only be accomplished the old-fashioned way, at least legally.
The VoIP cards that are commonly sold in the country are a below-the-counter method of getting past this ban. VoIP calling cards are a workaround to the system allowing users to call a remote PSTN that then connects to a VoIP system. In this manner, users can make VoIP calls using the regular cellular network or even a landline phone.
We recently created a comparison study on the internet censorship policies of various countries. UAE actually ranked in our top 10 worst countries for internet censorship.
As of 2020, the UAE has a score of 28 out of 100 for internet freedom from the democracy and freedom ranking organization Freedom House. The higher the score, the better the country’s internet freedom ranking.
The full report from Freedom House confirms the fact that the UAE’s internet content blocking is among the worst in the world, although it is not the worst in the world, or even in the Middle East. The report also indicates that the country’s Internet service providers like Etisalat utilize content blocking tools NetSweeper, SmartBlocker, and Blue Coat ProxySG. The report additionally indicates that Facebook and YouTube are available, although some search terms and content are blocked on those sites.
Online streaming in Dubai and the UAE
Netflix is not blocked in the UAE. The service launched in the UAE earlier in 2016. There are now over 300 TV shows and just under 1,000 movies available in the country. This represents around 30% of what is available through U.S. Netflix. Many Netflix users in Dubai are using VPNs to access other Netflix regions. Note that not all VPNs are effective at accessing Netflix; for more details see our Netflix VPN list.
Similarly, many users are utilizing VPN services to access Amazon Prime Video services in the country. Amazon itself is not blocked, but the website does not operate its video streaming services in the country. These are, however, available through a VPN, and not considered part of the “illegal content” under the country’s recently amended VPN laws.
Using a VPN to access international libraries of online media streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, or Amazon Prime Video is considered a low-risk venture. Authorities are more concerned with users utilizing VPNs for serious crimes, and more particularly, for issues more directly related to the ethics laws mentioned earlier.
Tip: Get your VPN before arriving in the UAE
Although VPN websites are in the legal gray area in the UAE, accessing them to download a VPN service may trigger warnings and make you a monitoring target, even if you’re not using the service for illegal purposes. It’s best, then, to download a VPN program before entering the country.
Downloading before you go will help ensure you have the VPN service on your computer before going to the country. You won’t raise any red flags by going to the VPN’s website after you arrive. And if you’re making sure to utilize obfuscation, assuming you’re using a service that has this option, you can avoid even getting identified as a VPN user at all.
Getting around VPN blocking
As stated earlier, VPN blocking does occur in the UAE, as VPN services are among the items listed by the TRA that they monitor. The new amendments to the country’s cybersecurity law to broaden the scope of VPN illegality also makes it more likely that you’ll find your VPN service blocked.
You can, however, get around VPN blocks by utilizing several known methods.
1. Don’t use a free VPN
Free VPN providers are a gamble that is simply not worth your time, especially if you’re traveling to the UAE. Free VPNs often:
- useless secure encryption methods
- place third-party ads on your web pages
- keeps logs
- have fewer server options
- have slower servers with less bandwidth
- sell users personal information
Given the significant gray area that exists for VPN users in the UAE and Dubai, there’s no reason to take that risk to save a few bucks.
2. Change your TCP port to 443
OpenVPN TCP protocol can travel through the 443 port. This is the same port as the HTTPS protocol. This is essentially a mild obfuscation method, as it makes your VPN traffic look just like regular SSL traffic from an HTTPS website. Many paid VPN services allow you to change to this setting rather easily, especially if they’re already using OpenVPN.
3. Change to a different protocol
If the OpenVPN TCP protocol is getting blocked, you may try changing to L2TP/IPsec protocol. This protocol is highly secure and still common. However, make sure that your L2TP protocol comes with the IPsec security, as a “raw” L2TP protocol is not secure.
You may also try the SSTP protocol, if available. However, this protocol is not commonly supported on most devices, although some Windows machines may have it as an option.
We do not recommend changing to the PPTP protocol. It’s not secure, primarily because it is viewed as obsolete. Given that you’ll be connecting to a VPN in a more-or-less unfriendly environment, you’ll want to avoid an insecure VPN protocol.
*Disclaimer: While we have researched this topic thoroughly, nothing in our article should be taken as legal advice. Our goal is to provide you with the best information and solutions. That said, we are not legal experts on the nuances of the UAE’s laws.
VPN FAQ for UAE and Dubai
Which is the VPN to use in the UAE for video calls?
For video calling in the UAE, you need a VPN equipped with advanced obfuscation technology. You also need a reliable connection, excellent speeds, strong encryption, and a true no-logs policy. ExpressVPN will give you all of this and more and is our number one choice for VoIP calling in the UAE. NordVPN and Surfshark are excellent budget alternatives and both come with advanced obfuscation.
Is it safe to use VPN to unblock WhatsApp calls and other VoIP services in UAE?
While there have been some reports of people getting into hot water for using a VPN, many of these have been found to be unreliable. It appears that the government is more concerned with people using VPNs for more nefarious purposes and their use for accessing VoIP services remains common in the country. That said, local laws and up-to-date news reports should be consulted as the landscape is liable to change.
Is it safe to go online shopping with a VPN?
Yes, it is safe and recommended. No matter where you are globally, a VPN can make your online shopping experience more secure. A VPN encrypts your data, so that even if someone intercepts your internet traffic, they can’t read its contents. This is especially useful when using public wifi networks, which are notoriously unsecure and a common hangout for hackers waiting to steal your data.
Is online banking safe with a VPN accessed from the UAE?
Yes! VPNs add an extra layer of security for your banking information when you access your online bank account from the UAE. Online banks now use TLS encryption standards (noted in the website address as HTTPS) that create a secure connection between your website browser and your bank. However, websites with HTTPS are not completely secure and you’ll still be vulnerable to certain types of attacks, especially if you’re using public Wi-Fi. If you want to hide and encrypt all of your internet traffic (including disallowing anyone from seeing the sites you’re visiting), you’ll need a VPN.
Who are the ISPs in UAE?
There are only two licensed ISPs in the UAE: Etisalat and du. Both of these are required to follow the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority’s rules and restrict access to a wide range of material. Conveniently, this allows them to block free VoIP services like Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom, while offering their own, paid alternatives. This not only means that citizen’s conversations can be monitored more easily, it also ensures that they’re getting a worse deal than users elsewhere in the world.
Is Netflix Banned in UAE?
Netflix is freely accessible in the UAE, with plans starting at 29 AED (roughly $7.90 USD) per month. However, there are only around 2,900 titles available; for context, the US library offers almost 6,000 in total.
Originally, when Netflix launched globally, it drew ire for attempting to block VPN users outright, which was not a good look considering that those in the UAE face harsh punishments for breaching a myriad of often vague online restrictions. It has since changed its approach, though. Instead, if Netflix detects that you’re using a VPN, it will only show movies and TV shows that it has global broadcast rights to (all Netflix Originals, for instance). You’ll still be able to watch, just with a vastly reduced selection of content.