David Balaban is a computer security researcher with over 15 years of experience in malware analysis and antivirus software evaluation. He has published his articles on such online media as Hackernoon, Tripwire, Infosecinstitute, and Cybrary.
- The Best Working VPNs for UAE 2019
The Best Working VPNs for UAE 2019
The UAE and Dubai in specific is regularly visited, especially for business and pleasure. However, one of the things you won’t like about the region is the internet censorship that has been put in place by the government.
Actually, the country’s internet freedom scores just 17/100 (0=Least Free, 100=Most Free) according to Freedom House. To access geo-restricted, censored or blocked content on your network, you will need to use a Virtual Private Network. In this guide, we’ll go through everything you need to know about the use of VPNs in the region and help you choose the best VPN for UAE.
With a reliable VPN, you will no longer have to worry about:
- Blocking of VoIP calls (Skype, WhatsApp call, FaceTime, etc.)
- ISP and government monitoring
- Content blocking
Since the market is flooded with hundreds of VPN providers, you need to choose your VPN carefully. To help us narrow down to the best VPNs for the Middle East, we rated the VPNs using the following criteria:
- Ease of use
- Size of the server network
- Obfuscation technology
- The speed offered by the VPN
- Privacy and security standards
- Features offered
- Streaming services it works with
- Overall performance
Here are our best VPNs for the UAE:
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPN providers in the UAE due to its excellent speeds and powerful performance. The VPN has been offering top of the line service over the years, and it tops our list of the best VPN for UAE in 2019.
ExpressVPN has an impressive server network that consists of 3,000+ servers spread across 160 locations in 94 countries. With such a network, you will have unlimited options for connecting outside the UAE.
However, ExpressVPN is usually targeted by UAE ISPs since it’s very popular in the region. To circumvent ISP blocking, it is recommended that you use the L2TP protocol instead of OpenVPN. There are also servers optimized for users in the UAE, and you can regularly contact their live chat support team for this information.
You won’t have to worry about your privacy as the VPN doesn’t keep any connection or usage logs, and it’s registered in the British Virgin Islands. As for security, the VPN uses AES 256-bit encryption and compliments this with features such as a kill switch, DNS leak protection, multiple protocols, browser extensions, split tunneling, and more.
The VPN will give you access to almost any streaming service including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and more. You will also be able to make voice and video calls on Skype, WhatsApp, Google Duo, FaceTime or any other VoIP service. All ExpressVPN subscriptions come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
+ Excellent client apps
+ Zero logs & solid security
+ Works with Netflix, iPlayer, Australian and other streaming services
+ 24/7 live chat support
+ Offers Smart DNS services
+ 30-day money-back guarantee
- Relatively costly
- Only 3 simultaneous connections
1.2. NordVPN – Biggest number of servers
NordVPN is known for being the VPN with the biggest number of servers in the market. Its network consists of 5,000+ servers spread across 60 countries, which is reliable for overcoming all UAE geo-restrictions.
The VPN is a great option for unblocking content thanks to the SmartPlay technology which combines the best features of the VPN and Smart DNS technologies. This lets you access Netflix US and other streaming services, as well as circumvent free voice and video calling services in the UAE.
Unfortunately, NordVPN is currently blocked by Etisalat. You however won't have any problem with mobile telecom operator DU. To increase the chances of avoiding this kind of ISP blocking, enable the Obfuscated Servers feature in the NordVPN app settings. You can also verify their list of optimized servers through the live chat support team.
NordVPN comes with a collection of features such as CyberSec, Kill Switch, Anti-DDoS, double VPN, Onion over VPN, and DNS & IP Leak protection. All these are wrapped in a slick client that is easy to use and also great for advanced VPN users.
As for privacy, NordVPN doesn’t keep any logs at all, and it’s also registered in Panama which is a great region for online privacy. Your data will, therefore, be safe from any prying eyes including the UAE government and ISPs.
NordVPN is super compatible and it can be used on 6 simultaneous devices. Besides, it’s a perfect VPN for iOS. All subscriptions to the VPN come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
+ Keeps absolutely zero logs
+ Has the biggest number of servers
+ Up to 6 simultaneous connections
+ Offers SmartDNS services
+ 24/7 live chat support
+ 30-day money-back guarantee
- High cost for month-to-month users
1.3. CyberGhost – 1-day free trial, lowest price
CyberGhost is another top UAE VPN that can let you unblock almost any website. The VPN is registered in Romania and it has been providing online privacy, security and freedom since 2004.
Romania revoked its data retention laws way back in 2014, and the VPN takes advantage of this to offer a complete zero logs policy. Its security is also military-grade thanks to the AES 256-bit encryption used together with features such as a kill switch, DNS & IPv6 protection, ad blocker, and malware blocker.
CyberGhost has a huge server network that comprises of 3,700+ VPNs spread across 59 countries. The VPN lets you unblock any streaming service or website in UAE by connecting to its special streaming servers which are labelled to make selection easier for you. You will also be able to unblock Skype or any other voice and video calling app that has been blocked by DU and Etisalat.
The VPN lets you do all that at an incredible price of just $2.75 a month if you take advantage of their 3-year deal. You will be able to connect up to 7 devices at the same time and in case you want a refund, there’s a 45-day money-back guarantee.
+ 1-day free premium trial
+ Keeps absolutely zero logs
+ 7 simultaneous connections
+ Dedicated streaming mode
+ 45-day money-back guarantee
+ Allows payments via bitcoin
- Live chat support is not available 24/7
1.4. IPVanish - Super fast, owns its entire network
IPVanish is known for its superb speeds and for the fact that the VPN owns and controls its entire server network. And although it’s based in the US, the VPN promises not to keep any connection or usage logs of its users.
IPVanish server network comprises of 1,200+ servers spread across 75 locations around the world. Though this number is not as big as that of our first three VPNs, IPVanish still manages to offer great speeds and stable connections.
The VPN uses the standard AES 256-bit encryption for data security, and there’s an extra obfuscation feature that lets you hide the fact that you are using a VPN to avoid blocking. You will be able to beat all UAE geo-restrictions and censorship, opening up your internet freedom.
Apart from unblocking Skype and other VoIP services in the UAE, IPVanish also works with popular streaming services like Netflix US, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Spotify, etc. Its VPN apps are user-friendly and the VPN allows up to 10 simultaneous connections. Upon subscription, you will be given a 7-day money-back guarantee.
+ Zero logs
+ Excellent speeds
+ Own their network
+ 10 simultaneous connections
+ Super apps
+ Kill switch
+ 7-day money-back guarantee
- Based in the US
- No bitcoin payment
1.5. VyprVPN - Has a proprietary censorship protocol
VyprVPN is a fast and secure VPN which is great for unblocking censored content. The VPN uses a proprietary protocol known as Chameleon to offer its geo-unblocking capabilities.
Just like IPVanish, VyprVPN also owns and operates its entire server network which consists of 700+ servers in 70+ global locations. Partly due to this, the VPN offers reliable VPN connections from the UAE or any other region.
Security wise, VyprVPN uses the standard AES 256-bit encryption and has additional security features such as a zero-knowledge DNS and an automatic kill switch. Unfortunately, its privacy on the other hand is not so stellar. Despite being located in Switzerland, VyprVPN keeps connection details such as your IP for 30-days. Though they state that this data is only collected for network optimization, this may not sound good to privacy-oriented users.
Nevertheless, you will be able to enjoy video and voice calling in the UAE as well as other censored or geo-restricted content. One VyprVPN Premium subscription can be used on up to 5 devices. Their 3-day free trial gives you the chance to test the VPN risk-free.
+ Based in Switzerland
+ Own their server network & infrastructure
+ Multiple Protocols
+ 200,000+ IP addresses
+ 24/7 live chat support
+ 3-day free trial
- Keeps connection logs (30 days)
2. VPN services: what actually are they?
A VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. This is an online tool that is used all over the world to add an extra layer of both privacy and security to communications taking place on the internet.
A VPN works by encrypting your device’s traffic using various encryption techniques. This traffic is then securely tunneled to a remote server in a location of your choosing. Through this encryption, all the data sent to and from your device is now converted to ciphertext to prevent your ISP and any other third-party from knowing what you are doing on the internet.
The VPN server you have connected to now gives you access to the internet, and your traffic now appears to be coming from where it’s located, rather than your actual location. This is thanks to the new IP address bring with it a new online identity. This adds anonymity to your connection.
Apart from privacy, anonymity and security, a VPN will also help you overcome any censorship implemented by your ISP and even geo-restrictions placed by content distributors.
3. What makes the best VPN for UAE?
Choosing a VPN for a country that does not encourage the use of VPNs isn’t an easy task. If you don’t choose your VPN carefully, you may end up with one that is unusable. Here are some of the factors that you need to consider before choosing your UAE VPN:
► A VPN that is not blocked
Some VPNs are blocked in the UAE and especially by Etisalat. These VPNs usually take forever to connect and when they do, your speeds will be poor. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to determine which VPN is not blocked unless you are in the country.
Nevertheless, some VPNs usually try and stay ahead of the game by obfuscating their traffic and optimizing various servers for users in the UAE. It’s also advisable to keep in touch with the customer care of such VPNs to know the best settings and servers for the region.
► Solid Privacy & Security
Since the internet is highly monitored in the UAE, you need to choose a VPN that doesn’t keep any of your connection or usage logs. This way, there will be no track of what you did while connected to the VPN, and no activities can be linked back to you.
Solid encryption will ensure that the authorities can’t decrypt your traffic and make sense of the data that you were sending. This should be accompanied by features like an automatic kill switch and DNS & IPv6 leak protection.
► Stealth Mode
Stealth mode is also known as obfuscation. This technology is usually meant to bypass Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) which is used to block VPN traffic. The feature disguises a VPN’s encrypted traffic to make it appear like regular https traffic and evade detection.
Stealth mode is very important for the UAE since the mobile telecom providers there discourage the use of VPNs. It can be activated from the settings page in most VPN apps.
► Kill Switch
A kill switch is an important feature that prevents you from being exposed. It works by stopping your internet connection altogether when you lose your VPN connection. If for example, you were accessing an illegal site and your VPN disconnects, your telecom provider will know what you were doing. If your VPN kill switch is on, you will be safe from accidentally revealing this to your ISP.
► DNS & IPv6 Leak Protection
Some VPNs still leak your DNS requests and your IP address even when your encryption is working. These leaks are enough to show your telecom provider the kind of data that you are sending or accessing, and so you can easily land in trouble.
To prevent such, we strongly recommend that you disable IPv6 while in the UAE. Besides that, ensure that your VPN has DNS leak protection and that you have turned it on.
► Money-back Guarantee/ Free Trial
Since telecom providers in the UAE block most VPNs, your VPN of choice is not guaranteed to work. It’s, therefore, important to choose a VPN that gives you the chance to test it either through a free trial or a money-back guarantee. This way, you won’t have to risk throwing your money down the drain.
4. Why do I need a VPN for UAE?
The UAE is an absolute monarchy and the government exercises high levels of internet censorship. Internet Freedom is also a thing of the past in the UAE and it is implemented through the high levels of online censorship, heavy legal constraints, and huge penalties for a critical speech on the internet.
To ensure it’s easy to control the internet, the government maintains tight control of the telecommunications industry through the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). It holds large stakes in the country’s two ISPs, ISPs Etisalat and du (telco).
TRA blocks all politically sensitive material as well as other social and religious websites. Anything that is perceived as against the perceived moral values of the UAE is also blocked, and this includes pornography, gambling, and even LGBTI content.
Apart from blocking anything that threatens the political leadership, Islam or social morals the government also blocks some services for economic reasons. These services include VoIP calling services such as Skype, Google Duo, WhatsApp Call, etc. and this is the reason why most people travelling to the UAE look for a VPN.
Here’s what a VPN will help you achieve in the UAE:
► Use VoIP Services
Video calling is the best way of staying close to your family or discussing business matters while travelling. Unfortunately, the popular services that enable this like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp calls, etc. are all blocked from making calls in the UAE.
This ban has been implemented to prevent visitors and residents from making free calls over the internet. If you want to reach out to your family or business associates while in the UAE, you have to use HiU, C’Me or Botim apps which are provided by UAE telecommunication companies. To call with these apps, you need to subscribe to a mobile plan and the people you want to call have to install it too.
To avoid all this hassle, all you need to do is install a VPN. Once you are connected to a VPN, your traffic will no longer appear to be coming from the UAE, and you will bypass all the VoIP blocks put in place by the ISP. This way, you can still stay in touch with your loved ones.
► Digital Privacy in the UAE
The internet in Dubai and the UAE in general is highly monitored to trace individuals who post content that is prohibited in the country. This ranges from anything offending the state and its rulers or symbols and insulting religion to posting on issues such as pornography or the LGBTI community.
If you don’t want everything you do on the internet to be monitored, the best thing you can do is to use a VPN. Since a VPN encrypts your activities, the government and ISPs won’t see the content you access while online. Your DNS requests will also not be routed through the ISP DNS servers and you should use a VPN with DNS Leak protection like ExpressVPN to avoid any leaks.
► Access Blocked Content
In line with the country’s laws and beliefs, various websites aren’t accessible within the country. A website that highlights UAE’s rampant blocking is Change.org, the popular petition website. When Skype was blocked again in December 2017, a petition protesting the ban of VOIP services in the UAE was started on the website. In January 2018, Charge.org was blocked.
According to Etisalat on Twitter, “The access to the Skype App is blocked since it is providing unlicensed Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Service, which falls under the classification of prohibited contents as per the United Arab Emirates' Regulatory Framework.”
Other blocked websites include:
- Dating sites and hookup websites
- Gambling websites
- Pornographic websites and pages
- Websites and pages deemed to be offensive to the UAE religion and/or culture
- Websites critical of the UAE
- Qatar-based websites (mostly news sites) - blocked since the diplomatic and trade embargo started in 2017
If you wish to access blocked content while in the UAE, a VPN will help you do so. Since your traffic will be routed to a server based in a different country, you will now appear to be from a different location. From there you won’t be subject to UAE blocking and you can access the internet with freedom once more.
► For Streaming & Geo-restrictions
Streaming services have become very notorious with geo-restrictions, and this has been a huge factor in the growth of the VPN industry. If you have travelled to Dubai, your favorite streaming service may not be available in the country. The ones that are available like Netflix are highly limited due to licensing issues,
For example, according to Finder.com, the UAE Netflix library has only 173 TV shows and 443 movies as of June 2019. The US catalogue on the other hand has a total of 1326 TV shows and 4339 movies. This is quite a huge difference, but you can change your Netflix library using a VPN.
However, you need to choose your Netflix VPN for UAE carefully as Netflix bans VPNs. To keep up with the cat and mouse game played by Netflix and VPNs, a VPN needs to refresh its IP addresses continually. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are two of the most reliable VPNs for unblocking Netflix and other streaming services.
5. Are VPNs legal to use in the UAE?
A VPN connects to a private network online and helps you bypass all restrictions placed by the UAE government. But is it legal to use one?
Yes, using a VPN in the UAE is completely legal. However, things are not as straightforward in the Gulf country. There are always stories that VPNs have been banned, VPN websites are blocked, you can only use government approved VPNs, etc.
Truth is, none of this can be objectively confirmed or denied, and all you can do is clearly examine the law and what the authorities say.
In 2012, President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued the UAE Cybercrime Law No.5 of 2012. This law included stern punishments that could go up to a life sentence and/ or a fine varying between Dh 50,000 (USD 13,600) and Dh3 million (USD 816,700). The punishment would be dependent on the severity and seriousness of the cybercrime.
TRA however clarified that companies are allowed to use VPNs as long as their activities do not contravene the UAE cyber law of 2012. Illegal activities include financial crime, attempting fraud, impersonation, stealing personal data, other illegal activities or anything that “undermines the values and principles of the UAE, its government and its structures.”
It’s safe to say that the same applies to personal use of VPNs.
6. The 2016 amended VPN law
The new VPN law, introduced by President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, states: “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 136,100) and not exceeding Dhs 2 million (USD 544,490), or either of these two penalties.”
Well, the important point here “for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.” Using a VPN in the UAE is therefore not illegal as long as you don’t use it to commit cybercrimes.
Using a VPN to unblock Netflix US or to Skype your family is not a crime. Actually, it has never been heard of getting fined just for using a VPN to do regular activities. If VPNs were illegal, TRA would actively block VPN sites and other websites that promote the use of VPNs, much like China does.
However, the UAE has many laws regarding the use of the internet and your online freedom. It’s therefore important to use the internet carefully and to choose a VPN that will give you maximum security. Using a free VPN for UAE is therefore something that we advise against.
All the VPNs listed above have top levels of privacy and security and so you won’t have to worry about your data or identity leaking out.
7. Free vs. Paid VPNs for UAE
There’s always the option of using a free VPN for your digital privacy and for circumventing censorship. However, using these VPNs pose a huge risk especially in a country where the government is actively monitoring online activities.
This is because free VPNs do not have the financial capability required to implement secure and private systems. This means that such a VPN can give you a false sense of privacy and security while TRA can see everything that you are doing.
Here are some reasons why you should not use a free VPN in Dubai:
► Weak Privacy & Security
Apart from not investing in features such as a kill switch, IPv6 and DNS leak protection, free VPNs still need to make money. Some of these VPNs therefore tend to record your data. They can then sell it to third-parties including bodies such as the TRA!
► Slow Speeds & Bandwidth limits
Free VPNs tend to have to speed caps which greatly slow down your internet speeds. This means that with such a VPN, your video calls may not be as clear as they should. Further, you won’t be able to stream with such a VPN as it’s slow, and the amount of data you can transfer is also limited.
► Blocked by Streaming Services
Unless you invest in a reliable VPN, you won’t be able to unblock streaming services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, etc. These services usually block VPN services based on their IP addresses, and only top VPNs like ExpressVPN are capable of refreshing their IP ranges regularly.
8. Is Torrenting Legal in the UAE?
Torrenting presents millions of users with the chance to watch movies and TV shows for free. However, this can land you into a lot of trouble as illegally obtaining copyrighted material is illegal.
The UAE has always been serious about protecting the interests of local companies and so anything that poses a threat to them is often dealt with. The country therefore has zero tolerance for piracy.
In 2016, Abu Dhabi Court convicted the administrator of a pirate website. The pirate used to upload torrents on the website, and he was investigated and charged following a complaint by OSN.
The police found enough judgement and the pirate was sentenced to six months in Jail and a Dhs 50,000 (about USD 13,600) fine. This was a compensation fee paid to OSN for copyright and trademark infringement, and it was followed by deportation to his home country.
Though promoting access to illegal content has always been prioritized over accessing the content, it’s important to always stay safe. Whenever you want to access any torrents, always use one of the best VPNs for torrenting.
Note: Bestvpnrating doesn’t promote access to illegal content, and the information provided here is only meant to be educational. To stay safe, always use a secure VPN for torrenting.
9. How do I set up a VPN for UAE?
VPNs can sound intimidating if you haven’t used one before. However, that is not the case when it comes to the actual use of the products. Getting started with one is super easy, and here’s how you can install it.
- The first important step is to choose the VPN that best suits your needs. If you are not sure which one you should choose, we suggest that you go for ExpressVPN as it is an all-round VPN service.
- After that, you now need to choose a subscription plan and create an account.
- You can then download the VPN app for your device.
- Install it just like any other app and sign in with your credentials. If you are using a PC, you’ll need to get your ExpressVPN activation code from the dashboard.
- Now, connect to a server outside the UAE and you will circumvent all UAE geo-restrictions. To stay safe activate the kill switch as well as the IPv6 and DNS leak protection features before connecting.
In case you experience any difficulties, you can always reach out to the VPN’s customer support team through their 24/7 live chat support. Remember to change your VPN protocol from the default OpenVPN to L2TP.
10. Making the best out of your VPN in UAE
After deciding on the best VPN for your needs, it’s important to make sure that your connection is optimized for the best performance. Here are some recommendations to make sure you get the best VPN experience in the country:
► Stay in touch with the VPN’s customer support team
Since VPNs help you gain access to content and services that the government is not happy about, they’ll always try to make the process difficult. However, the best VPNs always stay one step ahead.
It’s therefore important to verify with their support team the settings that are necessary for avoiding blocks or maximizing your speeds in the UAE. These may include the ports, protocols and servers to use.
► Set up your VPN on the router
If you are staying with your family in the UAE or you just want to connect as many devices as you can, the best option would be to set up your VPN on a router. VPN routers help access all the benefits of a VPN, but they do so to every device that connects to the encrypted network.
This means that you won’t have to worry about connecting your VPN client every time you want to accomplish a particular task. Further, you’ll be able to connect to as many devices as you want since the router will only be counted as a single VPN connection.
► Always use the necessary security features
It’s important to ensure that your VPN connection is not blocked and you do not leak your personal data to the ISP and the government. To do this, activate the following features before connecting to a VPN server:
- The kill switch
- IPv6 and DNS Leak protection
- Obfuscation feature
- TCP port 443
► Set up your VPN before travelling to the UAE
Though the TRA is not very active in blocking VPN websites, they always monitor all activities on the internet. Accessing a VPN website that can therefore make you a monitoring target irrespective of the reasons you want to use the VPN for.
It’s therefore highly advisable to download and set up your VPN before visiting the UAE. This way you won’t raise any suspicions by visiting a VPN website after you arrive.
11. Wrap up
Using a VPN in the UAE can go a long way into helping get around the country’s strict censorship and stay connected to your family. There are a number of VPNs that can help you get around the blocks implemented by DU and Etisalat, but the above-listed VPNs are the best privacy tools at the moment.
However, while VPNs are legal to use in the Middle East, remember that using them to commit a crime isn’t.