Best VPNs for UAE: Bypass the Local Online Bans

article by Nicky Hoseck
February 25, 2020
In the United Arab Emirates, a VPN is the only way to make VoIP calls, access the whole of Wikipedia, or visit a gambling site. With UAE authorities using cyberspace as their chosen hunting ground for critics and dissidents, VPN users are among the few who can traverse cyberspace without authorities looking over their shoulders.

If you’re planning a trip to the UAE and want to enjoy online privacy and the freedom to access blocked content, you’ll need one of the best VPNs for UAE – nothing else will do. Don’t expect to be able to sign up with a VPN once you’re in the UAE, however, as many VPN sites are blocked, although that doesn’t mean VPNs are illegal.

Our best VPN for UAE provides superior encryption, high speeds, and comprehensive online privacy. Find out how we choose our UAE VPNs and what current legislation affects their use.

If you don’t want to read the whole article, here’s our list of candidates for the title of the best VPN in UAE:

  • ExpressVPN – Unbeatable security and world-class speeds are complemented by a strong commitment to user privacy and an extensive server network
  • Surfshark – Multi-Hop and No Borders mode mean it functions in restricted areas and provides cutting-edge security at a competitive price
  • NordVPN – Military-grade security and obfuscated servers mean NordVPN works consistently in restricted areas and makes up for its sometimes-sluggish connection speeds.

Our Top Picks For The Best VPN in UAE

#1 ExpressVPN

Express VPN 210X100With its zero-knowledge DNS and proven no-logging policy, ExpressVPN shrouds its users in a digital cloak of invisibility. Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN is under no legal obligation to keep logs and protects its users’ privacy with the ferocity of a good guard dog.

Using the latest AES-256 encryption and the most secure protocols, ExpressVPN incorporates advanced security features, including a network kill switch, to ensure no traffic is leaked in the event of a broken connection. ExpressVPN prides itself on maintaining 99.9% uptime and some of the fastest connections in the world.

ExpressVPN has an extensive international server network of over 3,000 servers in 94 locations and, while this doesn’t include any servers in the UAE itself, it does include several in nearby Egypt and Algeria. In other words, ExpressVPN can’t give you a fake UAE IP address, but it can unblock most geo-restricted streaming services, including BBC iPlayer and Netflix.

Pros:

  • Fast, secure connections
  • Proven no-logging policy
  • Zero-knowledge architecture
  • Extensive server network

Cons:

  • Limited to five simultaneous connections
  • More expensive than the competition

BEST VPN FOR UAE: With apps available for almost every device and operating system imaginable, ExpressVPN combines versatility, speed, and security to make it the best VPN for UAE, but not necessarily the cheapest. If you sign up today, however, you could enjoy 15 months of freedom and protection for the price of 12. Want to know more before you take the plunge? Check out our full review here.

#2 Surfshark

Surfshark VPNSurfshark’s server network is a third of the size of ExpressVPN’s but it manages to compete with the grandfather of cybersecurity, thanks to its clever server distribution and impressive speeds.

Surfshark uses different modes to achieve different things and, for those in restricted areas like the UAE or China, it has several advantages. Its NoBorders mode can detect the restrictions put in place by government authorities and will automatically select the most appropriate servers for bypassing those restrictions and launching you into the great blue yonder.

Alternatively, users can activate the MultiHop mode and send their traffic via two secure servers situated in two different countries. This can combat bandwidth throttling and boost connection speeds while giving users an extra layer of protection.

Pros:

  • Multi-Hop double VPN for extra security
  • Strict no-logging policy
  • Competitively priced
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections

 Cons:

  • Limited customer support
  • Comparatively limited server network

BEST budget VPN FOR UAE: Surfshark is one of the few VPNs to offer unlimited simultaneous connections and its competitively priced subscriptions make it an affordable alternative to ExpressVPN. Another BVI-based VPN, Surfshark operates under a strict no-logging regime and uses military-grade encryption so why not sign up with Surfshark today and enjoy freedom on the internet even in the UAE? Alternatively, check out our full review for a truthful evaluation of its pros and cons.

#3 NordVPN

 nord-vpnThis long-standing VPN has a reputation for providing military-grade security to users all over the world. One of the first to introduce both AES-256 encryption and DoubleVPN, NordVPN is a solid, if sometimes sluggish UAE VPN.

Despite boasting a server network of over 5,500 servers, NordVPN positions these in just 58 locations, making its geographical diversity more limited than our two other best VPNs for UAE. It works consistently and effectively nonetheless, connecting users in remote areas by connecting them to one of its obfuscated servers and masking the encrypted nature of their traffic.

NordVPN has been working consistently in the UAE for more than a decade, although it doesn’t currently operate with the internet service provider Etisalat. This isn’t an insurmountable problem though, as there are over 60 other ISPs to choose from.

Based in Panama, NordVPN takes advantage of the lack of data retention laws and operates a strict no-logging policy. While its speeds sometimes fluctuate, NordVPN’s security will never let you down. It is also consistent in its ability to bypass the toughest geographical restrictions, giving you access to streaming sites while protecting you against unwanted ads and malware with its CyberSec feature.

Pros:

  • Extensive server network
  • Cutting-edge security
  • Obfuscated servers to bypass government restrictions
  • In-built adblocker
  • DoubleVPN

Cons:

  • Connections speeds are inconsistent
  • Limited server distribution

MOST SECURE VPN FOR UAE: NordVPN is committed to online security and provides a reliable service that stands out from the crowd thanks to its adblocker and DoubleVPN options. Obfuscated servers make connecting from the UAE a breeze, so why not sign up with NordVPN today? Alternatively, find out why it’s very nearly the best VPN in UAE by checking out our full review here.

How We Choose the Best VPN for UAE

The most important aspect of choosing a UAE VPN is that it currently works in the country. A VPN that was operating effectively last week might be blocked the next. Keeping a finger on the pulse, so to speak, isn’t always easy, however, so we’ve erred on the side of caution with our best VPNs for UAE, only listing those that are working consistently and without interruption.

In addition to working in the UAE, we looked at the following criteria before selecting our top three VPNs in UAE:

  • Ability to bypass government and geographical restrictions
  • Protects users with military-grade AES-256 encryption
  • Offers obfuscation technology to disguise encrypted traffic
  • International server network
  • Supports P2P traffic
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Robust privacy policy
  • Reliable, high-speed connections
  • Kill switch to guard against DNS leaks
  • Uses latest security protocols including OpenVPN
  • Multiple protocols

While most of these features are self-explanatory, there are a couple that benefit from a more in-depth analysis. The size of the server network, for example, is crucial in areas, like the UAE, where IP blocking is used. If the government detects one IP address producing a lot of traffic or behaving strangely, it might assume it’s a VPN and block it. If you’re using the best VPN for UAE, however, you’ll have another 3,000 or so to choose from, which is why a large server network is so important.

Obfuscation technology is another area that is crucial to any VPN provider that wants to enter the contest for the best VPN in UAE because it disguises VPN traffic, making it look like regular internet traffic. UAE authorities may block encrypted connections in an effort, they say, to combat cybercrime so the best VPNs for UAE need to use obfuscated technology to operate under the radar and avoid detection.

While most of us can simply browse away on OpenVPN, ISPs like Etisalat may block some protocols, so having a VPN that can easily switch from PPTP to L2TP/IPsec, or OpenVPN to IKEv2, will make it easier to stay connected in the UAE.

Is Having a UAE VPN Legal?

There has been much confusion and controversy surrounding the legality of VPNs in the UAE and many have been under the misconception that simply using a VPN can land you in jail or see you facing a hefty fine. The UAE law states that “if the VPN is being used for a legitimate purpose, the use of the VPN itself would not constitute a crime”.

The trouble is, the law does little to clarify exactly what would constitute a crime, leaving VPN users with a broad spectrum of activities that could be deemed illegal. Legal experts agree, however, that “the authorities are more interested in … preventing access to nefarious content likely to damage the community (e.g. recruitment videos for terrorist groups) than preventing otherwise law-abiding citizens from accessing foreign TV series that are not yet available in the UAE (e.g. the latest series of Game of Thrones)”.

If you simply want the best VPN in UAE to make a VoIP call, chances are the government won’t care, but if you use a service like ExpressVPN to mask an attempt at identity theft or fraud, you could face a fine of up to half a million dollars.

Another grey area that emerged soon after the UAE upgraded its cybersecurity law regarded the legality of specific VPN providers. For a while, it seemed only government-approved VPNs were legal, forcing anyone with an ounce of cybersecurity gumption to turn to the rather dubious-sounding VPN packages available from UAE ISPs.

That piece of legislation seems to have fallen by the wayside, which is a relief, and now any VPN appears to be legal if it’s not used to commit a crime or hide the fact that a crime was committed.

When it comes to using VoIP services, however, precisely what could constitute a crime becomes a little more difficult to discern. According to the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the provision of VoIP services is a regulated activity and, as such, any VoIP service providers must have an appropriate license.  Our concern is if you use a VPN to access a non-licensed VoIP service, will this be considered a criminal offense? Possibly, yes, but probably, no, unless you’re suspected of some kind of terrorist connection or criminal activity.

UAE Online Content & VPN Laws

In 2012, the UAE took internet censorship to a new level, introducing a cybersecurity law that prevented residents from accessing gambling sites, sites with pornographic content, and any sites associated with fraudulent or terrorist activity.

When the law was updated in 2016, little changed, although the amendments set off another round of debates surrounding the illegality or otherwise of VPNs in the UAE. The 2016 amendment merely increased the fines for “whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address by using a false address or a third-party address or by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery”.

Instead of a minimum fine of AED 150,000 (just over $40,000), anyone in contravention of the law would face a fine of at least AED 500,000 (over $136,000). Maximum fines also increased from AED 500,000 to AED 2,000,000 (the equivalent of around half a million dollars).

While most of us would be confident about remaining on the right side of the law most of the time, the laws in the UAE make it considerably harder. For instance, viewing pornography is a crime so using a VPN to create a fake IP address for this purpose would be a criminal offense.

Surprisingly enough, UAE legislation also makes the “breach of a person’s privacy a crime” which is a bit rich given the authorities’ enthusiasm for online surveillance, but it means anyone found committing such a breach and trying to hide with a VPN could be prosecuted. Making sure you understand the local laws can go a long way to making you safer online and ensuring you operate within the law whether you’re using a VPN or not.

Under the current law, the following content is prohibited in the UAE:

  • Pornography and nudity
  • Impersonation, fraud, and phishing
  • Insult, slander, and defamation
  • Invasion of Privacy
  • Offenses against the UAE and public order
  • Supporting criminal acts and skills
  • Drugs
  • Medical and pharmaceutical practices in violation of the laws
  • Infringement of intellectual property rights
  • Discrimination, racism, and contempt of religion
  • Viruses and malicious programs
  • Promotion of or trading in prohibited commodities and services
  • Illegal communication services
  • Gambling
  • Terrorism
  • Prohibited Top-level Domains

The Bottom Line

Tourist attractions and a thriving economy draw millions of visitors into the UAE every year, with many settling down and working in the area. Life is slick and modern, but life online is heavily restricted and widely censored.

Not only are UAE residents stopped from accessing certain sites and content, but they are also exposed to persistent government surveillance. The best VPN for UAE is ExpressVPN because it can bypass those restrictions while maintaining high speeds and masking your encrypted VPN traffic.

Few VPNs work consistently in the UAE, but our top three choices for UAE VPNs do. Not only that, they offer impressive speeds, thousands of servers and IP addresses, the ability to bypass both geographical and government restrictions and provide the latest military-grade encryption and security.

Despite common misconceptions, using a VPN in the UAE is not illegal, although using one to commit an online crime is. Even with the best VPN for UAE, it’s important to familiarize yourself with local rules and regulations so you can stay on the right side of the law. For instance, using a VPN to bypass geographical restrictions and access the US Netflix library isn’t illegal in the UAE, but using the same VPN to unblock a porn site could be.

Entering UAE cyberspace without a reliable UAE VPN is almost as risky as running through the streets of Abu Dhabi with no clothes on. Don’t leave yourself exposed but do give yourself the freedom to call home without relying on contentious apps like the UAE-based ToTok chat service, by signing up with the best VPN for UAE before you leave.