VPN FOR UAE AND DUBAI: Peculiarities of the Region, 5 Paid & 5 Free VPNs
We have found several VPN services that actually work and bypass censorship in the UAE. This article contains some really useful and proven information for those who want to use VoIP and access websites and apps blocked in that region.
VPN-Review has conducted a 6-month research on VPN services’ performance in the UAE. We have reviewed real customer comments, tested the technologies the services implement for safe use of virtual private networks, and compiled not one but two lists of the best VPNs for Dubai and the rest of the UAE.
We’re thrilled to share the findings of our work with you:
- Analysis of how legal it is to use a VPN in the United Arab Emirates.
- The best safe VPN for Dubai and the UAE.
- Proven methods of using Skype
- Answers to FAQ and advice based on our experience.
- Surfshark: A new modern service that supports obfuscation on every location. Has a lot of positive reviews. Low price - $1.99/mo.
- CyberGhost VPN: Has been tested by VPN-Review in the UAE. Has the highest number of servers; optimized for streaming.
- NordVPN: A powerful VPN with the secret use technology. Has high speeds and supports all regions of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc., double VPN technology, and tons more.
- Astrill: Optimized to work in countries with censorship, but is expensive and asks for too much information at signing up.
- PIA: Shadowsocks technology, low prices, but too few countries to choose from and no streaming support.
- ProtonVPN: This service has a free plan with no traffic limits. Security-oriented but does not support obfuscation.
- Windscribe: 10GB per month on the free subscription, Stealth and Wstunnel protocols. Extremely slow.
- hide.me: 2 GB per month at a good speed. No obfuscation.
- TurboVPN: A popular service for mobile devices.
- VPN Gate: A non-commercial project that uses an advanced protocol.
We have tested mobile apps’ stability during connectivity issues and reconnecting from one access point to another. This is a major vulnerability for a VPN. We have also intercepted and analyzed VPN traffic to ascertain the efficiency of the services’ security.
The main question that concerns people when they hear about VPN technology is whether or not it is legal in the Emirates.
It’s no secret that using a virtual private network (VPN) to bypass the state censorship in the UAE has been forbidden since 2016. The corresponding law was amended and made more severe in 2018. All the other types of block bypassing are also prohibited. VPN is just a method, albeit the most effective one.
So should one abandon any attempts to access the prohibited websites for the sake of one’s safety? The penalty for using block-bypassing tools is quite large: 500,000 to 2,000,000 dirham or jail time.
This penalty has been applied in practice since the legislation was passed 4 years ago. Despite this fact, virtual networks are used universally. According to GlobalWebIndex, 25% to 29% of the UAE netizens use a VPN.
First of all, the law doesn’t forbid but rather restricts the use of VPNs:
وأكدت الهيئة حرصها التام على سلامة وانسيابية النشاطات الاقتصادية لمختلف الشركات والمؤسسات في دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة، مشيرة إلى أنه لا يوجد تنظيم يمنع تقنية ال VPN التي تستخدمها الشركات والمؤسسات والبنوك للوصول إلى شبكاتها الداخلية عبر الإنترنت، ولكن هذه التقنية، شأنها شأن أي تقنية أخرى، قد تعرض مستخدمها للمساءلة في حال إساءة الاستخدام.
Secondly, having analyzed several dozen cases of the VPN use being punished, we conclude that it is bloggers and people who use the internet to popularize their thoughts and ideas who are in the danger zone, i.e., those who post information online that can be interpreted as lawbreaking.
Therefore today, the VPN-ban law is used as a means of punishment for those who actively engage in public activity on the internet or violate moral and religious principles. The risk is minimal for the rest of the citizenry as well as for the visitors of the region as long as they use the internet for communication and self-improvement and stick to these three simple rules of using a VPN in the UAE:
- Do not break the laws that protect public morals and religion.
- Do not participate in social activity too much; do not aggressively state your position on any aspects of living in the UAE.
- Do not tell anyone you are using a VPN.
The employees of VPN-Review have visited Dubai many times and made long stays there. We haven’t had any problems with using a VPN. We have also spoken to people who permanently live in the United Arab Emirates and can’t imagine their lives without a VPN. Besides, we monitor the user reviews and the news that concern the state of internet censorship in the country.
As of this day (February 2020), it is quite safe to use a VPN in the UAE if you adhere to the principles of basic caution.
The number one VPN service that works efficiently in the United Arab Emirates today is Surfshark. We consider it to be the best because it combines modern technologies that allow using a virtual private network discreetly to access VoIP with unblocking geo-restricted content. CyberGhost is the next thanks to its constant work on supporting safe circumvention of any censorship. The powerful NordVPN is also in our top 3 but can be blocked at times.
1. Surfshark: An efficient solution
The best VPN that really works in Dubai and other parts of the UAE is Surfshark (the latest test was conducted on February 20, 2020).
There are 3 reasons why Surfshark VPN can bypass censorship:
- It is a relatively new service (founded in 2018) so it is not as popular as others and thus, doesn’t draw the authorities’ attention as much.
- It has its own obfuscation technology that protects the VPN connection from being discovered.
- Surfshark has its own VPN location in the UAE. Thanks to that, the speed of the connection is high and doesn’t attract unwanted attention. At the same time, VoIP and other blocked activities are available:
Extra features and the price of Surfshark
- Netflix, Hulu, and other video streaming services access
- Kill switch
- MultiHop VPN (double VPN)
- Supports all the platforms
- Unlimited number of devices per subscription
- Tracking protection
This provider’s huge advantage is its price that starts from $1.99 per month at the current 83% discount. There’s no other VPN equally as powerful that works in the UAE and costs this little.
Surfshark is on our Top 10 safe VPNs. It has passed the tests of VPN Review Realtime IP Logger and the intercepted traffic analysis. The first test proved that its mobile apps are protected from unencrypted data leaks (which is especially important when using VoIP). The second one confirmed that the entirety of traffic is encrypted and there are no data leaks about the visited websites (DNS leaks).
We also tested speeds of various locations including the UAE servers:
The speed was high on every location we’ve tested.
We have also tested how long and stable a VPN connection can be and whether there are any connectivity issues. This test was passed with flying colors, too.
Thus, Surfshark is the best solution to access the internet in Dubai and the rest of the UAE. You can access blocked and censored resources safely and surreptitiously with it as well as unblock geo-restrictions for the US Netflix video content.
We have personally tested CyberGhost VPN in Dubai and can confirm that this VPN does really work there. We used both public Wi-Fi networks and hotel internet in our tests.
This provider’s distinctive feature is that it has the record number of servers (more than 5600) in 90 countries. Another huge advantage is that, apart from its good privacy and security, it also provides great American Netflix support.
Four reasons to choose CyberGhost VPN:
- It works in Dubai.
- Has a huge choice of locations and the ability to select any of the 5600+ servers.
- Streaming support (bypasses geo-blocks of more than 15 services and TV channels).
- Is safe for torrenting.
Compared to Surfshark, the only downside of CyberGhost VPN is that it doesn’t have obfuscation. It can become a problem if the authorities want to track the user’s activity because it’s easy to see when someone is using a VPN without obfuscation and using VPNs is legally forbidden to individuals.
Nevertheless, we tried CyberGhost VPN out and had no problems with the authorities.
Extra features and the price of CyberGhost VPN
- It has its own dedicated IP (extra function).
- Has special servers for US, UK, DE Netflix and other streaming services.
- The kill switch is constantly on.
- Torrenting is allowed.
- Supports all the platforms.
- 7 devices are available per subscription.
- Has tracking protection.
Prices of this service start at $2.75 per month with the current discount of 79%. Other things to note are its 24-hour free trial period and the money-back policy. The provider allows getting a refund for 45 days (more than most other VPNs).
CyberGhost VPN has successfully passed our security tests on mobile devices and Windows and Mac computers. The permanently active kill switch reliably protects the traffic and other data from leaks even in the most unexpected conditions of the connection quality and using the device on the move.
The server speed is generally high. It averaged at about 40-50 Mbps but some locations were much faster. Based on our impressions, the use of VoIP, streaming, and torrenting with CyberGhost VPN is almost the same as in other countries.
CyberGhost VPN works in the UAE and we’ve personally confirmed it. At the same time, it doesn’t use VPN obfuscation technology. Should you subscribe to this multifunctional VPN? It depends on what kind of activity you perform. Besides, I can give you a lifehack on how to use a virtual private network with no obfuscation more securely. I’ll tell you more about in the FAQ chapter.
3. NordVPN: A powerful VPN with obfuscation
The third VPN that we recommend is NordVPN.
The “arsenal” of this provider includes:
- Servers with obfuscation
- More than 5300 servers with the ability to access each one individually. Easy to find an IP that works in the UAE and isn’t blocked among them
- Ability to use the VPN with or without apps (in the case of blocking) on any platform.
NordVPN is the most popular and the second largest VPN in the world. It has garnered a huge number of positive reviews from all around the world. However, we only put it third on this list because its use in the UAE is not quite definitive.
I should explain.
Before writing this article, we have come across a stupendous number of reviews presenting this VPN as the best choice for Dubai and the entire region. We were skeptical because many real customer reviews had the opposite point of view: the provider couldn’t connect to the account or didn’t work at all for many of them.
We started looking into this and came to the conclusion that using the service as usual with the help of its apps can indeed fail to deliver the desired effect.
But there is a solution! On the provider’s website, there is a detailed manual on how to set the service up without using a ready-made app on a platform. It allows you to bypass the blocking of the controlling server to which the NordVPN app is connected.
In any case, the provider guarantees a 30-day refund. That’s a good guarantee in case of a failure. It may be well worth the risk because the technical abilities of NordVPN are impressive.
Extra features and the price of NordVPN
- Access to Netflix, Hulu, and other video streaming services
- Kill switch
- Double VPN
- Support of all the platforms
- 6 devices per subscription
- Tracking protection
At the same time, the prices start at $3.49 per month with the current 70% discount. Apart from the money-back guarantee, NordVPN’s advantage is that it has a 7-day free trial on Android and iOS.
NordVPN is the #1 on our safe VPN services ranking. Unlike many of its counterparts, it has passed our security tests for mobile devices and for desktops with default settings. Combined with the most reliable AES-256 encryption, VPN protocol obfuscation, and diskless servers (which leave no activity traces), it makes the use of this service more private and secure than other VPNs.
No leaks of the IP address, traffic, or visited website addresses and names were found. The connection was stable and the traffic is blocked from going online unprotected when an internet connection failure occurs.
Our speed tests yielded good and even great results. There are locations with the speed exceeding 100 Mbps.
Today, NordVPN is the leader in the VPN market. It provides secure access to locations in 59 countries, has powerful functionality, and a lot of positive reviews. Despite the fact that its use in the UAE can be, potentially, made a bit more difficult by the necessity to set it up manually, this provider’s features are worth spending some extra time on setting this VPN up.
From a professional viewpoint, Astrill VPN is the most optimized service to be used in countries that censor the internet. It supports all the modern technologies that allow hiding the fact that a VPN is used effectively.
However, Astrill has certain peculiarities that lower its privacy by a large margin:
- It requires a phone number to sign you up.
- Data and visited website names leaks are present with default settings (cannot be fixed on mobile devices).
There is a slight alleviation in effect for the UAE: you can enter a phone number from a different region at signup. Still, it’s hardly in line with the common standards of registration that only require an email.
What are the advantages of Astrill?
The most important one is its support of three “invisible” protocols: OpenWeb, StealthVPN, and WireGuard. Besides, Astrill allows connecting to a server in the UAE just like Surfshark, which excludes the risk of discovery of unencrypted traffic being transmitted outside of the country.
Extra features of Astrill VPN and its price
- Access to Netflix, Hulu, and other video streaming services
- Kill switch (Windows and Mac only)
- Dedicated IP addresses
- Support of all the platforms.
This provider is the most expensive among its competitors. The price starts at $10 per month and is up to $20. It doesn’t cover dedicated IPs, only basic traffic is included. If you use the upgraded servers with optimized speed and the ability to create chains of up to three VPN servers, the price can reach $100 per month.
We have written about the transmitted data protection issues in our in-depth review of Astrill.
How serious are they?
Ignoring these problems can lead to the ISP seeing the addresses of the websites you visit, and that you use torrenting and VoIP. These risks can be eliminated in the Windows and Mac apps by activating the kill switch function but it can’t be done on mobile devices. According to our tests, Astrill really does leak data.
The speed test showed above-average results including the servers for streaming.
Astrill would have been a perfect VPN for Dubai and the UAE in general if not for its flaws in traffic protection on Windows, lack of privacy during the registration and the high price. It results in the 4th position on our ranking.
In late 2019, Private Internet Access (PIA) introduced the ability to use Shadowsocks technology. Unlike the OpenVPN and IKEv2 regular protocols, it disguises itself as a normal https connection, which allows it to bypass the control over the use of VPNs.
Despite its seeming efficiency, there are 2 important issues:
- Many of PIA’s servers are blocked and cannot be accessed even with Shadowsocks.
- Only a selected few locations work with this technology. Besides, the tests showed that at least one of them was inaccessible. There were also cases when the declared country doesn’t match the real one.
I should also mention that PIA was recently acquired by the Israeli-British company Kape Technologies that also owns CyberGhost VPN. Many users saw this fact as a significant flaw for the future of the service which had previously been under the American jurisdiction for about 10 years.
What are the advantages of PIA?
At the same time, PIA is known for its good speeds and a large number of finer connection settings. Besides, the provider has proven that it doesn’t keep user activity logs on its servers when it was called as a witness in two high-profile investigations.
Extra features and the price of PIA VPN
- socks 5
- Kill switch on every platform
- DNS settings
- Split tunneling
- 10 simultaneous device connections.
For those who find PIA through search or via regular links, its price starts at $3.33 per month when subscribing for 1 year. There is, however, a way to save money: by using this link (this is not an advertisement and we receive no fee for it), you can buy the subscription by 15% cheaper.
We have tested all the stated features of Private Internet Access and can confirm its high level of security and privacy on all the platforms.
As for streaming support, PIA has disappointed us in this regard: Netflix is only available on the Australian servers. We also couldn’t unblock Hulu.
Torrenting and VoIP are supported at good speeds.
Private Internet Access has become interesting to users from the UAE very recently but it also has drawbacks. Regardless, the Shadowsocks technology it uses can help you freely access the internet in Dubai and the rest of the region if the first four services on the list do not suit you for some reason.
To unblock websites without geo-restricted content and don’t require high speeds or large amounts of traffic, free services can fit you. The best such VPN to use in the United Arab Emirates is ProtonVPN (read the full review of the service).
Warning: All free VPNs have serious flaws. Regarding the UAE, the most prominent one is the absence of technologies that mask the encrypted connection. ProtonVPN and other free services (apart from Windscribe) let you bypass the restrictions but do not use obfuscation. Besides, most IP addresses of the free VPN servers can be blocked. VPN-Review doesn’t recommend using free VPNs often.
Additionally, all the free providers have limits on speed, country choice, and, frequently enough, the amount of traffic.
The following five VPNs have positive reviews from the United Arab Emirates and can cope with certain not very sensitive tasks.
We put ProtonVPN first because its free subscription, unlike that of most other services, doesn’t have any traffic limits and has an acceptable speed at the same time.
It’s especially valuable for VoIP calls that don’t require high speeds but consume a lot of traffic. Free ProtonVPN does have two drawbacks in regard to VoIP, however:
- No obfuscation (VPN traffic is easy to detect)
- VPN servers can be blocked
Pros and cons of free ProtonVPN
|Unblemished reputation||Limited speed|
|Apps for all the platforms||No obfuscation|
|Unlimited traffic||No torrenting support|
|Expanded functionality||No Netflix support|
|No credit card required||3 countries|
|No logs kept|
Free ProtonVPN can be called the optimal solution for the United Arab Emirates. It is a professional service that adheres to high security standards and the level of software. It also doesn’t limit the amount of traffic its customers can use. On the opposite side, it can’t guarantee the stealthiness of using the VPN.
The next provider doesn’t have this flaw.
Windscribe is the safest VPN for the UAE because it has two protocols that can’t be tracked by network filters. However…
In practice, they are extremely hard to use because of the snail-like connection speed. Our tests showed that the Stealth and WStunnel protocols on the free subscription slow the traffic down so much that most websites can’t even be opened.
If not for this constantly present drawback (we have been keeping track of the provider’s performance for more than a year now), it would’ve been the #1 best free VPN suitable for the UAE. Windscribe has powerful functionality, a wide selection of countries, and many other things for that. In reality, though, it is all outweighed by the low speed.
Pros and cons of free Windscribe
|“Invisible” protocols||Extremely low speed|
|Unblemished reputation||No Netflix support|
|Apps for every platform||Isn’t suitable for VoIP with obfuscation protocols|
|10 Gb of monthly traffic|
|No credit card required|
|Doesn’t keep logs|
Free Windscribe is good to browse the internet safely but only if you are patient enough. To improve its speed, you have to forego using the Stealth and WStunnel protocols but that makes the low profile use of the provider, which is its main advantage, impossible.
Hide.me is one of the fastest free VPNs. It’s easy to use both on desktops and mobile devices but not for long. The reason for that is that free hide.me has a 2 Gb monthly traffic limit. That’s too little to use the internet to its full extent and by no means enough for VoIP calls.
Like ProtonVPN, hide.me doesn’t have obfuscation. It significantly lowers its safety in the UAE.
Pros and cons of free hide.me
|Good speed||No obfuscation|
|Unblemished reputation||Doesn’t support Netflix|
|Apps for all the platforms||2 Gb of traffic per month|
|No credit card required|
|Doesn’t keep logs|
Free hide.me is a good VPN but only for one-time occurrences when you need to bypass website blocking.
TurboVPN is a popular free VPN for mobile devices. It is great for VoIP calls because it has good speed and no traffic limits. However, it should be used with caution because the OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols it uses are easy to track.
Besides, there are customer reviews that speak of TurboVPN’s locations being unavailable in the UAE.
Pros and cons of free TurboVPN
|Good speed||No obfuscation|
|Unblemished reputation||No Netflix support|
|No traffic limit||A lot of embedded ads (unsecure)|
|No credit card required||Only available for Android and iOS|
Suitable for VoIP and Web surfing on mobile devices but doesn’t have any discreet work technologies. There are also user complaints about servers being sometimes inaccessible.
VPN Gate is the only fully free VPN that is suitable for the UAE. It’s not your run-of-the-mill service with an owner company, websites, software, and some way of monetizing. It’s a fully free noncommercial project started by a Japanese university to popularize the advanced SoftEther VPN protocol.
Its features include a safe protocol and using the computers of other users (if they opt into it) as servers. These two facts combined make VPN Gate a great solution for secure censorship bypassing.
But like any other free provider, VPN Gate has its share of drawbacks. The most drastic one is that SoftEther can be only used on Windows. Also, countries of the Asian region are prevalent on the list of locations. Speeds are pretty low as well (1-2 Mbps).
Pros and cons of free VPN Gate
|Safe to use in the UAE||Low speeds|
|100% free||Predominantly Asian locations|
|No traffic limits||Servers can be turned off at any moment|
|SoftEther VPN is only available for Windows|
VPN Gate can be too complicated for inexperienced users. But with some tech-savviness, you can browse the Internet securely by using Asian locations. The speed, though mostly low, is enough to open websites and even watch videos sometimes.
Skype in UAE
All the apps and services that use VoIP technology underwent a ban in 2016. Skype was among them.
The ban is applied to everyone - individuals who make private calls to any part of the word and companies that used Skype to run conferences.
The issue of the repeal of the ban was brought up in 2018 and 2019. However, the problem was solved only for the time being. At the beginning of 2020, Skype became unavailable again.
And here’s the question – whether to look for the way to bypass restrictions or to find a legal way to unblock VoIP messengers?
Any legal issues?
VoIP services are rendered by du and Etisalat (HiU Messenger, BOTIM and C'Me) providers in the Emirates. But they don’t address the issue of confidentiality, free communication with any person in the world who has access to the Internet.
But there are two reasonable methods to access Skype:
- Access to the Internet through WiFi hotspots of international hotels, big shopping malls and restaurants. This method works as such places usually don’t undergo censorship.
- The use of a secure VPN. Here’s why it’s important to use a secure service namely as the technologies in the UAE allow detecting VPN traffic whereas VPN is forbidden for individuals. Secure providers like Surfshark or NordVPN mask the use of tunneling protocols without loss of confidentiality. Besides, they offer anonymous registration and methods of payment.
At the same time, it’s necessary to point out that we haven’t managed to find any cases of punishment for VoIP through VPN use. Although it’s rather risky, it applies to those who mask IP address to access restricted content.
? How can I bypass censorship safely without using obfuscation?
I should start by saying that there’s no way to 100% secure oneself. However, if you use your wits, you’ll be able to make the discovery of VPN traffic much harder.
Combining regular and encrypted traffic.
There are two ways to do that:
- Many VPN services such as CyberGhost VPN have the split tunneling function that allows choosing which apps should work with the VPN and which shouldn’t. Thanks to that, you can use two web browsers and combine your encrypted traffic with unencrypted, turn on the VPN only for the VoIP app or use this function in your own discretion.
- Using Chrome of Firefox proxy extensions that good VPN services provide (all 5 on the paid list and most of the free ones). In this case, the encrypted traffic will originate only from the web browser. The other apps and the system itself will work without encryption.
Combining encrypted and unencrypted traffic derails the efficiency of monitoring systems that are based on discovering fully protected connections. Besides, it gives additional protection to the users of local websites visiting which from foreign IP addresses is impossible or risky.
? Who needs a VPN in Dubai?
It’s no secret that Dubai is a multinational city drawing in people from all over the world. Individual experts, entire companies, tourists, and remote workers come to it. People who are used to the availability of any information on the internet face strict laws significantly restricting the communication that is habitual to them and access to certain data. These restrictions concern almost all areas normal for a westerner.
Even if we discount the fact that adult content is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, there are tons of social networks and other resources popular throughout the world that require a VPN to be accessed from there.
An additional problem is that it can be hard to know for sure if visiting a given website is allowed. What if there is a link to a dangerous site from a harmless one? What if it was allowed yesterday but is banned today? When you look at it like that, it’s easier and safer to live a modern life and communicate with people from other countries while under the protection of a VPN despite all the risks of using it.
So, most modern people need a VPN in the UAE.
❔ Should I choose a VPN before going to the UAE?
If you are just planning to go to Dubai or some other place in the United Arab Emirates, take care of a VPN subscription beforehand. It’s necessary for 3 reasons:
- Many websites, Google included, can be displayed in Arabic. It can become a pretty big nuisance if you need to access the internet urgently.
- None of the popular social networks work without a VPN, which can make communication more difficult.
- Some VPN websites may be blocked in the UAE, making the registration process hard.
? How to choose the correct VPN service
If none of the VPN providers in this article suits you, just use the following criteria to select a different one on your own:
- High security level (no leaks of IP addresses, addresses of the visited websites, stable performance when the signal is poor)
- Presence of kill switch.
- Streaming support (access to American Netflix, Hulu, etc.)
- Torrenting support
- High speeds
- No-logs policy
- Protocol obfuscation or alternative protocols – if possible
- Split tunneling – if possible
These are the main criteria for choosing a VPN to safely access the internet from the UAE.
? How to access Skype?
Despite Skype is officially forbidden and doesn’t work in the Emirates, there are two ways to get access to all its functions including voice and video calls:
- Use less restricted internet in hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and exhibition centers.
- Set up a secure VPN with obfuscation (mentioned in the article).