Dubai is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that is known to be rather strict when it comes to internet censorship.
Blocked websites include any that are considered “immoral” based on local religious beliefs. Immoral content can include streaming audio and video sites, gaming sites and many others. The government instructs Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to use a supplied list of keywords to actively block any such websites.
One way around such content-blocking is by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts a user’s internet connection, protecting it from prying eyes. It also offers the ability for the user to appear to be connecting to the internet from another country, where the content isn’t blocked.
In this article, I’ll share the 5 VPNs that offer the best protection while using the internet inside Dubai city limits. (Am I the only one who just “heard” the first few bars of the Tina Turner classic, “Nutbush City Limits”?)
Later in this article, I’ll share the best practices for using a VPN in a restrictive locale like Dubai.
Best VPNs for Dubai
I ran all of my top VPN providers through rounds of rigorous testing, and the results proved that the 5 VPNs listed below offer the best protection from inside Dubai. Here’s a quick summary, in case you’re short on time
- ExpressVPN: This provider scored the #1 spot thanks to its optimal connection and privacy protections. ExpressVPN uses banking industry-grade encryption to protect your online travels from prying eyes, while its no-logs policy means there’s no evidence of any of your online actions.
- NordVPN: This budget-priced VPN service offers a Double VPN option that routes your internet traffic through two VPN servers, providing added anonymity. Meanwhile, the provider’s low price makes it an excellent option for budget-minded users.
- Surfshark: This is a fairly recent addition to the world of VPNs, but it has quickly become known for reliable protection for users in Dubai and other locations in the Middle East. The provider allows unlimited connections, making it an optimal choice for users with a need to protect a large group of users.
- PrivateVPN: This is another recent addition to the VPN industry, one that is becoming known for top-notch protection, which includes a kill switch and IPv6 and DNS leak protections.
- VyprVPN: This provider has had some issues in the past with working reliably in Dubai. However, a VyprVPN customer support agent assured me that that’s all in the past. The provider adds an additional layer of protection for its customers thanks to its self-owned and -operated server network.
I evaluated and ranked the top Dubai VPNs using the following criteria:
- Privacy protection
- Security protection
- Download speeds
- Global server coverage
- Multi-platform support
- Customer support
Here’s my list of the top 5 VPNs for protected internet use in Dubai.
ExpressVPN is the best option on this list for protecting your internet activities while inside Dubai city limits.
The provider’s connections offer top-notch speeds, the fastest available in our recent testing. ExpressVPN protects those fast connections using military-grade encryption, an automatic kill switch, IPv6 leak protection, DNS leak protection and the ability to force your device to use the provider’s protected DNS servers.
The VPN service keeps no logs of any kind, which ensures no one can ever gain access to records of your online travels. Plus, if you sign up for the service using a disposable email address and make use of the provider’s cryptocurrency payment option, there will never be a detectable connection between you and your VPN account.
ExpressVPN opens up access to a world of geo-blocked content thanks to a global server network of 3,000+ VPN servers in 94 countries.
Users of most all devices will find a VPN app available to protect their online activities. macOS, Windows, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Nook, Linux and Chromebook devices are on the protected list.
Users who have other devices, or who find the provider’s simultaneous connection allowance of 5 a bit limiting, can take advantage of ExpressVPN’s router support.
24/7 live support chat, email support, a support ticket tracking system and a searchable support library all provide around-the-clock support.
- Top-notch privacy protection
- Servers around the globe
- Military-grade connection encryption
- Excellent app support
- Super-fast connections
- Costs more than many other VPNs
BEST VPN FOR DUBAI:ExpressVPN is the best VPN around for enhancing and protecting your online activities from inside Dubai city limits. Its speedy downloads ensure optimal access to streaming content from around the globe. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of ExpressVPN.
NordVPN is the best option for budget-minded users who are searching for a reasonably-priced VPN provider that also offers excellent protection.
While NordVPN’s connection speeds are the slowest in this roundup, they still provide plenty of speed for your online activities.
Your online undertakings are kept from observation thanks to military-grade encrypted connections, kill switch protection and connection obfuscation, while NordVPN’s custom DNS servers protect you against DNS leaks.
Additionally, an available “Double VPN” option routes your connection through two VPN servers, further protecting your real IP address from detection.
Based in Panama, this VPN provider goes completely sans server logs, leaving no evidence of your online activities. Plus, by using a throwaway email address in conjunction with the service’s Bitcoin payment option, your subscription is completely incognito.
Over 5,200 servers stationed in 60 countries provide superb access to the outside world.
The Windows, iOS, Android, macOS, Linux and Android TV platforms are all covered by NordVPN’s excellent native app support. Chrome and Firefox users have access to NordVPN browser extensions.
Users with a need to protect other types of devices, or who require protection for more than 6 devices simultaneously, can use the provider’s router support to protect them.
Around-the-clock support is available thanks to live support chat, email, a “contact us” form and a searchable knowledge base.
- No logs, no how, no way
- Champagne service for a beer-bottle price
- Double VPN protection
- Connection obfuscation features
- Slowest download speeds in this roundup
BEST LOW-PRICE OPTION:NordVPN’s low prices belie its excellent level of VPN protection. While the provider’s pricing won’t drain your bank account, their Double VPN and connection obfuscation protection provides better protection than many higher-priced VPN alternatives. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of NordVPN.
Surfshark offers a feature very few other VPN providers offer: unlimited simultaneous connections.
The provider’s connection speeds fall smack into the middle of the pack this time around. They can readily handle your high-definition streaming needs, and they’ll also come in handy for gaming, as well as downloading and sharing files.
Military-grade encryption and kill switch protection make the feature list. Plus, Surfshark’s “CleanWeb” feature blocks unwanted ads and trackers, while its “MultiHop” protection routes your internet activity through a pair of servers, adding additional connection obfuscation to the equation.
The British Virgin Islands-based VPN service keeps no server logs of any kind, meaning no evidence of your online antics is ever available. Bitcoin is an available subscription payment option.
The Surfshark global server network consists of over 800 servers located in 50+ countries, providing access to most areas of the globe.
The provider’s native app support includes apps for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Linux and Amazon Fire TV devices. Chrome and Firefox users have access to browser extensions. If you need to protect a device not on this list, you can make use of the provider’s excellent router support.
No worries about managing use by multiple users on the same account, as the provider offers an unusually liberal simultaneous users allowance, placing no limits on the number of concurrent users.
Support is available anytime thanks to the provider’s 24/7 support chat feature, as well as a support contact form and a searchable support library.
- No limits on simultaneous connections
- Fast download speeds
- MultiHop doubles your connection protection
- Apps missing some options that advanced users prefer
- Global server numbers could be better
ATTRACTIVE OPTION FOR LARGE GROUPS:Surfshark’s unlimited connections policy will prove to be quite attractive to users looking for VPN protection for a large group of users. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of Surfshark.
Users will appreciate this provider’s connection speeds but may find the company’s server network to be a bit limiting.
PrivateVPN’s connection speeds are quite fast, making it an attractive choice for streamers, gamers and users who download large numbers of files.
Military-grade encryption keeps all of those online activities protected from observation. In addition, the provider’s Stealth VPN and IPv6 leak protections offer additional security.
All of your online travels are safe from later investigation thanks to the Swedish VPN provider’s strict no-logs policy. Combine the provider’s Bitcoin payment option with an anonymous email address, and your subscription info will be kept completely camouflaged.
While the PrivateVPN global server network covers 60 countries, a mere 150 servers means the coverage is stretched thin. The small server count means your connections could slow as more users join the network.
Speaking of limited, app support is restricted to the big 4 (iOS, Android, macOS and Windows). Router support is available to protect devices on other platforms. Up to 6 simultaneous users can connect to the service via a single set of user credentials.
24/7 live support chat keeps you covered. However, the provider’s FAQ section isn’t searchable, making it a bit more laborious to find help on your own. A contact form is also available.
- Speedy downloads
- 6 simultaneous connections
- Stealth VPN and IPv6 leak protection
- Server network is stretched thin
- App support is also limited
GOOD OPTION FOR EXPERIENCED USERS:PrivateVPN’s protection is an attractive option for experienced computer users looking for fast connections. Users looking for wide-ranging app support or global server networks are advised to look elsewhere. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of PrivateVPN.
VyprVPN offers a layer of protection not found with the other VPN providers on this list thanks to its self-owned and -operated server network.
VyprVPN provides download speeds that can easily handle high-definition video, online gaming and more.
Government-quality encryption, as well as kill switch protection and an auto-reconnect option, keep your online activities undercover. The ability to use VyprVPN DNS servers adds additional DNS leak protection.
The Switzerland-based VPN provider keeps no logs of any kind, so you won’t leave any online activity footprints to be tracked. No Bitcoin payment option is available.
VyprVPN has over 700 servers located in 70 countries around the globe. Since it owns and operates all of those servers, VyprVPN keeps any third-party operators away from your personal information.
Native app support includes app availability for all of the major app platforms and then some. You’ll find apps for macOS, iOS, Android, Windows, Android TV and Amazon Fire devices. No browsers extensions are to be found here, however.
Only 3 devices can be simultaneously connected to the provider on a single login. Users who require coverage for additional devices can make use of the provider’s router capabilities.
24/7 customer support is available via live support chat, a trouble ticket tracking system, a searchable support library and a service status page.
- Well-protected connections
- 24/7 customer support
- Owns and operates entire server network
- Priced higher than many VPN services
- Rather limited 3 simultaneous connections
ADDED SECURITY:VyprVPN owns and operates its entire server network, providing an additional level of security for your personal information. The provider’s network offers fast, well-protected connections. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of VyprVPN.
How to Use a VPN in Dubai
All 5 VPN providers we’ve taken a look at in this article do an efficient job of protecting your internet connections while you’re in Dubai.
Be advised, however, that Dubai is inside of the United Arab Emirates, and UAE officials are known to block the websites of several VPN providers.
So, I strongly advise you to subscribe to a VPN provider and install the provider’s apps on your devices before entering UAE airspace.
If you’re looking to keep your online activities from being monitored or restricted while inside Dubai city limits, follow these steps:
- Subscribe to your VPN provider of choice.
- Install the VPN’s native app(s) to your device(s).
- Log into the VPN’s network.
- Select and connect to a VPN server located anywhere outside of Dubai (UAE) borders.
- Enjoy your internet freedom.
Important Note: While the use of a VPN is technically illegal in Dubai, you likely won’t be prosecuted for simply using a VPN. However, you could face charges for using one in the commission of illegal activities. For more information, read the “Are VPNs Legal in Dubai?” section later in this article.
Is a Free VPN a Good Option for Use in Dubai?
I generally advise against using a free VPN for any online activity, but I want to strongly discourage their use inside of an overly-restrictive area like Dubai.
The most important thing any VPN should do is to protect your online activities from being detected and investigated. A free VPN doesn’t offer an optimal level of protection for either of those.
Like any business, so-called “free” VPNs need to cover their expenses. Many freebie providers keep logs of their users’ online travels, selling that information to advertisers and other interested parties.
If a free VPN provider will sell that information to the highest bidder, they’ll likely buckle under pressure from Dubai officials.
While on the subject of privacy, you should know that many free VPN providers have been known to inject unwanted advertisements and tracking cookies into their users’ web browsing sessions. (Those tracking cookies hang around even after you’ve disconnected from the VPN provider’s servers.)
Using a free VPN can oftentimes be inconvenient. Some will force their users to wait in a holding queue before being allowed to connect to their servers. Once allowed to connect, the server selection is limited, and that’s if you’re allowed to select a server and not automatically connected to one of the provider’s choice.
You’ll also find that free VPNs will limit your usage, imposing daily or monthly data caps or throttling your connection speeds.
Really, does any of this make a free VPN provider sound like an optimal online protection solution? It doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
Why Do You Need a VPN in Dubai?
Dubai is located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Freedom House gives the UAE an aggregate 2018 Internet Freedom Score of 69/100 (0 = Most Free, 100 = Least Free). That score ranks in as “Not Free” on the website’s Freedom Score scale.
The Dubai/UAE government blocks any apps and websites that link to or contain any content related to gambling, pornography or terrorism. Also blocked are sites that contain materials criticizing the government or that discuss social taboos.
The UAE government blocked U.K.-based online news site Middle East Eye in 2015 after it published a series of articles exposing the UAE’s harsh policies related to surveillance of citizens and the country’s poor record when it comes to human rights.
A VPN routes your internet connections through a tunnel of encrypted protection, preventing monitoring or restricting of your online activities.
This keeps the government and the local ISP from monitoring or blocking your online travels. This is especially valuable in overly-restrictive locales such as Dubai.
How to Maximize Your Privacy in Dubai
Before connecting to your VPN’s servers from inside of heavily restricted areas like Dubai, I strongly recommend doing the following.
Enable every protection that your VPN provider offers. Use the OpenVPN protocol if it’s available. If kill switch protection, auto-reconnect, obfuscation features, “scrambling” and other security features are available, enable them. Anything that can protect your online activities, turn it on.
Are VPNs Legal in Dubai?
Although the use of a VPN service from inside Dubai is technically illegal, the government isn’t apt to arrest you simply for using a VPN. However, they will nab you if you’re using said VPN connection to conduct criminal activities.
Using a VPN in the commission of illegal activities can bring additional charges, resulting in fines of 500,000 AED to 2,000,000 AED ($140,000 USD to $540,000 USD, at current exchange rates).
Those illegal activities include data and identity theft, bank fraud and other cyber crimes. Using a banned VoIP service can also be punishable under that same law.
While I strongly advise you to play it safe while using a VPN from inside the city of Dubai, I wouldn’t worry about the local officials prosecuting you for using a VPN to view your favorite episode of Letterkenny on Hulu.
Does a VPN Offer Any Additional Advantages?
In addition to keeping your online activities undercover, a VPN offers numerous other features to enhance your online life.
A VPN is an excellent tool for opening access to streaming, gaming, and other content and services that might normally be blocked in your region of the globe. Streaming services like BBC iPlayer, Hulu and Netflix geographically block access to some of their content due to their agreements with movie and television studios.
The encrypted connections that your VPN provider offers also help keep your personal information from the prying eyes of the bad guys, such as that shifty fellow with the WiFi Pineapple down at Starbucks.
It keeps your banking, online shopping, and bill paying info safe when using an unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspot, like those found at Starbucks and other public locations.
While Dubai may do its best to restrict its inhabitants’ internet access, a VPN offers the best available set of tools to preserve your online freedom.
A reliable VPN service – such as the #1 choice for use in Dubai, ExpressVPN – offers the best way to avoid internet censorship and to protect your online travels from being monitored and restricted.
ExpressVPN offers fast connections to a global network of VPN servers offering optimal access to a world of content and services that users might normally never have the ability to enjoy. Their well-protected connections prevent users from being persecuted for their online choices.
For more information or to purchase a subscription, visit the ExpressVPN website.