Best VPN Services for UAE

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The United Arab Emirates has a population of approximately 10 million. In recent years, the country’s internet penetration has grown dramatically, reaching 75% of households in June of 2014 – the second highest rate among Middle Eastern nations, with Bahrain in top spot at 80%. More interestingly, as of this year the UAE has gained the highest smartphone penetration in the world at a staggering 78%, outpacing the likes of South Korea, Singapore and every other country.

An avid mobile user market like this has urged local network giants Du and Etisalat to quickly roll out 4G coverage in major urban areas, including Dubai, the city with plans to earn the “Smart City” tag in the very near future. In fact, Dubai is already home to the largest ICT hub in the Middle East and North Africa, aptly named “Internet City”. The centre hosts some of the biggest names in the business, including LinkedIn, Microsoft, Oracle, Yahoo and MasterCard, to name a few.

Dubai VPN
Dubai is often regarded as the ‘future of cities’, but can the same be said for its net laws?

It does seem like most major aspects of the tech economy are moving in the right direction, so what exactly is hindering progress? The underlying issue for web users in the UAE is internet censorship. Despite rapid technological acceleration, the law of the land in the United Arab Emirates is well known for restricting entire categories of popular online resources, and for varying reasons too. In this post we explain just how far internet censorship in the UAE extends and recommend six of the best VPN services to use in the country for unblocking websites, apps while maintaining full online privacy.

Internet censorship in UAE

The history of online censorship in the UAE is rather long and convoluted to say the least, dating back to the last decade, when internet use began to take off, primarily due to the city’s ambitions to become globalised. Restrictions are implemented and closely monitored by the central Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), covering a wide variety of web portals and services. Some of the most common blacklisted categories include pornography, religiously sensitive content, VoIP services as well as dating and gambling sites. Out of the recognised names, the TRA blocks Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, hi5, Friendster, XVideos, along with numerous Wikipedia and Facebook pages that do not comply with authority guidelines. Further blocks have been put in place, effectively blocking access to some of the more popular VPN service websites, which sometimes makes it tricky to buy a subscription.

Although it was officially announced last year that use of Skype had been given the long awaited green light, high hopes for a local revolution of censorship policies were indeed short-lived. It was soon realised that despite its application becoming openly available for download on desktop and mobiles, users of certain networks still lodge complaints about not being able to make actual calls over the service. VoIP blocking is especially notorious and is down to strict TRA-imposed licensing rules. In other words, to legally provide VoIP services in the UAE, the company must obtain an additional license from the TRA. However, the license is not handed out to just any entity. Conveniently, the only companies that do have it are local telecom giants like Du and Etisalat, indicating that the measure was likely imposed to protect state-owned telco revenues. Along with Skype, Viber and WhatsApp have received much the same treatment and their apps are currently blocked in the kingdom.

In July 2016, the UAE government has introduced a new law that stipulates that anyone using VPN or proxy software to access illegal sites or to overcome unauthorised voice over IP (VoIP) services could face a fine of up to £400,000 or a prison sentence. For more info have a read of our news article.

Du blocked website page
Blocked web page on Du broadband network

Social media battle

Unsurprisingly, social networks like Facebook and Twitter have experienced their share of ups and downs since entering the UAE market. Upon their introduction, both networks became an instant hit and somewhat a breath of fresh air to local users, whose means of digital (crowd) communication were almost nonexistent up until that point. By 2007, FB and Twitter found themselves blocked by local ISPs, while visitors were instead redirected to a page with an identical message to the above screenshot. The next year they were unblocked again, but following widespread social unrest that gripped the Arab world in 2011, organisation of which was heavily attributed to social media, the UAE government began to take a more sinister approach in dealing with political dissent, whistleblowers and other ‘undesired’ contributors of the blogosphere.

In an effort to deal with criticism and defamation of state, authorities reinforced a nationwide cyber-crimes law, which confirmed that the government was actively monitoring its citizens’ online activities, particularly on social media. Consequently, several Dubai residents have since been arrested and prosecuted for controversial Tweets, sparking extra caution among local bloggers. More worryingly, media reports suggested that a private NSA contractor even began helping the UAE replicate the US agency’s snooping tactics domestically and in nearby countries, including Iran.

So what’s the lesson for UAE net users like yourself amidst this increasingly confusing and insecure digital landscape? After all, even the Vice-President has over 6 million Twitter followers. But is this just a veil for an underlying threat to your privacy? And in all seriousness, it’s about time that you were able to access restricted content and not have to pay extortionate rates for making international video calls.

Evidently, one of the top priorities will be to fully unblock restricted websites, messengers and VoIP services from the comfort of your own computer or mobile device. Nonetheless, it is even more crucial to ensure that your web traffic remains completely encrypted and out of view, as it makes its way through your internet service provider’s tunnels. This principle applies even more if you regularly use social media, access online banking accounts, check your emails and chat online. Whether you’re located in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates, it’s essential to have a subscription to a fast and secure VPN.

Best VPN providers for United Arab Emirates

In order to choose the right VPN service for the UAE, it’s worth taking three key factors into consideration prior to making a purchase. Firstly, the provider should offer strong encryption. This is to protect the flow of traffic and stop your ISP from being capable of monitoring your surfing habits. If your VPN connection is running with OpenVPN or even the SSTP protocol, your data will be safeguarded and (to-date) impossible to crack. Secondly, to overcome censorship, it’s necessary to connect to international servers. But to get the the best possible performance and speeds out of your VPN, it’s generally wise to pick a provider that has servers in nearby countries. The closer you are to the server, the faster your connection will be. Saying that, many companies support very fast and often even better servers that are dotted around European locations. Be sure to test these out for comparison. Thirdly, taking into account that you’ll probably want to use the VPN on your mobile device (i.e. smartphone or tablet), it will be handy in the long term if your chosen provider comes with its own custom applications for either iOS or Android operating systems.

With these key features in place, your VPN will be good to go in the country, and the services that we’ve shortlisted are most suitable choices for UAE residents. Each listed company delivers exceptional security, constantly improving their encryption techniques on an individual basis. In addition, we’ve indicated the best nearby server locations available with each provider, including in neighbouring countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Finally, all of our recommended VPNs come with their own mobile apps for either iPhones/iPads, Android or both, making connection and switching between servers on-the-go that little bit easier. Here is our list of best VPNs to use in the United Arab Emirates:

Top 6 VPN Providers

Logo Name Closest VPN Servers Links Monthly Price
Read Review
Visit Provider
ExpressVPN ExpressVPN Egypt
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Visit Provider
IPVanish IPVanish Saudi Arabia
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Visit Provider
VPNArea VPNArea Egypt
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Visit Provider
Saudi Arabia
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Visit Provider
VyprVPN VyprVPN Turkey Read Review
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Glancing back at the curve.

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