The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is strict when it comes to online censorship. Websites that are considered immoral based on local religious beliefs are actively blocked. The government makes use of keywords to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to websites and other online services.
This causes access to several streaming video and audio providers, gambling and gaming sites, and other “immoral” sites to be blocked.
A VPN encrypts your internet connection, preventing UAE government officials and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from detecting and/or blocking your online travels. In this article, I’ll share the top 5 VPNs to best protect you while inside the UAE.
Later in this article, I’ll share the best practices for using a VPN in a restrictive country like the United Arab Emirates.
Best VPNs for UAE
I tested all of my top VPN providers, and my test results revealed that these 5 VPNs will offer the best protection from inside the UAE. The TL;DR summary is as follows:
- ExpressVPN: This provider’s well-encrypted, kill switch-protected connections make it the #1 choice for protecting your online travels from prying eyes while inside UAE borders. IPv6 leak protections and custom DNS servers serve as added protection.
- NordVPN: This budget-priced provider offers obfuscated servers, kill switch protection, custom DNS servers and blocking of malware and ads, which all provide optimal protection while inside the UAE. A Double VPN option routes your connection through a pair of VPN servers, delivering added anonymity.
- Surfshark: A recent entry to the VPN world, this provider is quickly becoming well-known for its excellent protection in the UAE and other parts of the Middle East. It allows unlimited simultaneous connections, making it a top choice for large families and small businesses.
- PrivateVPN: Based in Sweden, this is another recent addition to the VPN industry that is gaining a reputation for well-protected connections. Kill switch, IPv6 leak and DNS leak protections are available.
- VyprVPN: While this provider has had some issues from time to time working in the UAE, the provider’s customer support folks assure me the VPN is working well at the time of this article. The provider owns and operates all of its servers.
I evaluated and ranked the top UAE VPNs using the following criteria:
- Total privacy protection
- Total security protection
- Fast connection speeds
- Wide-ranging global server coverage
- Comprehensive multi-platform support
- Optimal customer support
Here’s my list of the top 5 VPNs for use in the UAE.
ExpressVPN is the #1 option for keeping your UAE-based internet activity undercover and safe from detection.
The provider’s super-fast connections are protected by military-grade encryption, as well as an automatic kill switch, IPv6 leak protection, DNS leak protection, and an option to force your computer to only use ExpressVPN’s DNS servers.
The British Virgin Islands-based provider keeps no logs of any kind, ensuring no one can force the provider to expose the history of your online activities. Sign up for the service with a disposable email address and pay with Bitcoin, and no one can connect your account directly back to you.
With 3,000+ VPN servers in 94 countries, ExpressVPN can connect you to an entire world of content that would usually be inaccessible.
ExpressVPN offers native apps for macOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Kindle Fire HD, Nook and Chromebook devices. Browser extensions are available for the Chrome and Firefox browsers. If you’d like to protect more than 5 devices at once, or if you have devices not on the above list, take advantage of the provider’s router support.
ExpressVPN support is there for you anytime of day thanks to 24/7 live support chat, email support, a support ticket tracking system and a searchable support library.
- More expensive than many other VPNs
BEST VPN FOR THE UAE:ExpressVPN is the best VPN for keeping your United Arab Emirates internet activity undercover. Provides fast connections to most of the world. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of ExpressVPN.
The provider offers connection speeds that can easily handle any online activity.
Those activities are protected from prying eyes thanks to the provider’s government-grade encryption, connection obfuscation and kill switch protection. The provider’s custom DNS servers help protect against DNS leaks. A “Double VPN” option routes your connection through twin VPN servers, adding more anonymity.
This Panamanian VPN service keeps no logs of your actions while connected to their servers. A combination of a throwaway email address and Bitcoin payment keeps your subscription totally incognito.
NordVPN has over 5,200 servers stationed in 60 countries, providing excellent access to the outside world.
The Windows, iOS, Android, macOS, Linux and Android TV platforms all make NordVPN’s native app support list. Chrome and Firefox users can protect their browser sessions by using a NordVPN extension.
If you need more than 6 concurrent connections, or need to protect other devices, the provider’s router support comes in handy.
24/7 customer support is available via live support chat, email, a “contact us” form and a searchable knowledge base.
- No user logs
- Budget pricing
- Double VPN protection
- Connection obfuscation
- Slowest connection speeds on this list
BEST BUDGET VPN:NordVPN is an optimal VPN option for UAE-based users who want excellent protection without spending many Emirati dirhams. Double VPN and connection obfuscation are only a few of the protections this bargain provider offers. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of NordVPN.
Surfshark provides connection protection equal to that of many other VPN providers, and in addition, it allows you to simultaneously connect as many devices to the service’s network as you’d like.
The service’s download speeds are fast and provide reliable access to online content.
Government-level encryption and kill switch protection protect your online activities, while the provider’s CleanWeb feature blocks unwanted ads and trackers. “MultiHop” protection routes your internet traffic through twin servers for additional protection.
Surfshark’s servers save no logs thanks to a strict no-logs policy. The provider also accepts Bitcoin as payment for its subscription plans.
A global server network that consists of 800+ servers in 50+ countries offers decent access to content around the globe, but could lead to slowed speeds as more subscribers join the action.
Surfshark has all the most important device platforms covered thanks to options for the iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, Linux and Amazon Fire TV platforms. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are also an option.
Simultaneous connection support is as good as it can get, with an unlimited simultaneous connections allowance. Plus, you can protect devices not on the above list by using the provider’s wide-ranging router options.
Customer support is an around-the-clock proposition at Surfshark thanks to a searchable support library, contact form and 24/7 live chat.
- MultiHop doubles-down on server protection
- No limits on concurrent connections
- Excellent all-around security and privacy protections
- Missing some advanced options in their apps
- Global server numbers could lead to congestion
PERFECT FOR COMMERCIAL USE:Surfshark’s unlimited concurrent connections allowance should be attractive to owners of small businesses or heads of large families (but not crime families, because that’s illegal). A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of Surfshark.
PrivateVPN provides excellent protection and connection speeds, but its global server network is stretched a bit thin.
The connection speeds that this VPN provides rank in at 2nd place and can handle any type of streaming of gaming entertainment you might enjoy.
Military-level encryption is the protection of the day, while kill switch and IPv6 leak prevention add to the level of protection. The provider’s advanced Stealth VPN protection hides your VPN activity, making it appear to be normal browser traffic.
The provider’s servers store no information of any kind related to your online activities, and a Bitcoin payment option helps keep your subscription info undercover.
The PrivateVPN global server network could stand some improvement, as 150 servers stationed in 60 countries mean things could get a bit slow as the provider continues to add customers.
App support is also somewhat limited, as it covers only the big 4 platforms: iOS, Android, macOS and Windows. Up to 6 simultaneous connections are available. Users who need more can set up PrivateVPN on their routers.
While 24/7 live support chat is available, the provider’s FAQ section isn’t searchable, forcing you to “browse” through the section for help. A contact form is also available.
- Fast download speeds
- 6 simultaneous connections
- Stealth VPN feature helps hide VPN usage
- Thinly-stretched server network
- No searchable support library
GOOD OPTION FOR EXPERIENCED VPN USERS:PrivateVPN offers a highly protective option for users who will appreciate the advanced options available in the provider’s apps. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of PrivateVPN.
VyprVPN is the only VPN provider on this list to own and operate their entire server network. The provider’s other security and privacy offerings include kill switch protection, government-grade encryption and custom DNS settings.
VyprVPN is far from the fastest in this roundup, but it can easily handle any of your online activities. Their connections are protected using government-grade encryption, kill switch protection and an auto-reconnect option. An option to use VyprVPN DNS servers for better DNS leak protection is also available.
The Swiss VPN provider doesn’t keep any logs, so there are never any records of your online activities that a third party could exploit. However, a Bitcoin payment option is not available.
You can connect to VyprVPN’s 700+ self-owned and -operated servers in over 70 countries. The fact that VyprVPN owns their own servers means no third-party contractors have access to your data.
VyprVPN’s native app support includes applications for the Windows, macOS, Amazon Fire, Android, Android TV and iOS platforms. No browser extensions are available.
You can connect up to 3 devices simultaneously to the provider’s servers on one set of credentials. If that’s not sufficient, or if you need to protect devices not on the list above, you can make use of the service’s router compatibility.
Support is available around the clock, with 24/7 live support chat, a searchable support library, a trouble ticket system and a service status page.
- Encrypted, kill switch-protected connections
- No logs
- Proprietary servers
- More expensive than many other VPNs
- Only 3 simultaneous connections
ADDED SECURITY:VyprVPN’s self-owned and-operated servers provide additional privacy for your personal data, keeping third parties well away from your information. They also act as a buffer against the prying eyes of UAE government types. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of VyprVPN.
How to Use a VPN in the United Arab Emirates
The top 5 VPN providers in this roundup have all proven to work well from inside UAE borders.
However, keep in mind that UAE officials block the websites of several VPN providers. That means you should always sign up for a VPN provider and download and install their apps to your devices before entering the UAE.
Users who would like to keep their internet activities protected from the prying eyes of the UAE government and their ISPs should follow these steps:
- Subscribe to the VPN provider that best fits your needs.
- Download and install the VPN’s app(s) to your device(s).
- Log into the VPN’s network.
- Select and connect to a VPN server located anywhere outside of UAE borders.
- Enjoy your newfound internet freedom.
Important Note: While the use of a VPN is technically illegal in the UAE, you are not likely to be arrested unless you’re using it in the commission of a crime. For more information, check out my “Are VPNs Legal in the UAE?” section toward the end of the article.
Is a Free VPN a Good Option for Use in the UAE?
Absolutely not! While I traditionally never recommend a free VPN for any use, it is a particularly ill-advised option for protecting your UAE-based internet activities.
Arguably, the most important reason to use a VPN while inside of UAE borders is to protect your online activities from being monitored or investigated. A free VPN will not offer proper protection against monitoring.
Many free VPNs keep things running by recording their users’ online activities and then selling them to the highest bidder. Any VPN provider willing to sell your information to third parties likely won’t resist too much if UAE officials petition them for your user logs.
While we’re on the subject of privacy, I’ll mention that some free VPN providers have been caught injecting tracking cookies and advertisements into their users’ browsing sessions without permission.
You’ll also find that using a free VPN is simply not convenient. Some no-charge VPNs will force you to wait in a holding queue before connecting to a VPN server. And once you’re allowed to connect, you’ll have a limited number of servers to choose from. That is, if you’re not automatically connected to a server of the provider’s choice.
Last, but by no means least, sans-cost VPNs are known to usually throttle their users’ connection speeds and place daily or monthly data caps on their VPN usage.
I assure you, none of the above information makes a free VPN a good value. It can even be considered as a risky proposition.
Why Do You Need a VPN in the UAE?
Freedom House gives the United Arab Emirates an aggregate 2018 Internet Freedom Score of 69/100 (0 = Most Free, 100 = Least Free). This ranks as “Not Free” on the Freedom Score scale.
The government blocks apps and websites if they include links to websites that contain content related to pornography, gambling and terrorism. Websites that criticize the government or discuss social taboos are also commonly blocked.
VoIP app Skype was blocked in December 2017. When a UAE resident started a Change.org online petition to unblock Skype – which received thousands of e-signatures – the TRA then blocked Change.org.
A VPN keeps a user’s online activities incognito by hiding their online activities inside a tunnel of encryption, making it nearly impossible for authorities, ISPs and other nosy parties to monitor a user’s online antics.
In a restrictive country like the UAE, this allows users to access blocked and censored services and websites.
How to Maximize Your Privacy in the UAE
Once you’re inside UAE borders, before connecting to your VPN’s servers, do the following.
Turn on every protection available in your VPN’s app. If the OpenVPN protocol is an option, use it. If kill switch protection, auto-reconnect, obfuscation features, “scrambling” features and any other features that can help hide your activities and the fact that you are using a VPN are available, enable them.
Are VPNs Legal in the UAE?
It should be noted that while the use of a VPN service from inside the UAE is technically illegal, it isn’t likely that their government will crack down on you simply for using a VPN.
While the government could tell if you were using an encrypted connection, they won’t take action unless they suspect you’re using it to conduct illegal activities.
If a VPN is used in the commission of illegal activities, there can be 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).
Illegal activities can include cyber crimes, such as data and identity theft, bank fraud and other nefarious schemes. Using banned VoIP services via a VPN is also punishable under that same law.
While the information above could certainly discourage you from using a VPN in the UAE in the commission of any criminal plots you might have, rest assured that local law isn’t likely to come knock down your hotel room door for streaming a movie or TV show from Hulu via a VPN connection.
What Else Is a VPN Good For?
While this article focuses on how a VPN can keep your internet activities undercover, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the other advantages a VPN offers.
A VPN provides access to streaming, gaming and other types of content and services that might usually be blocked in your area of the world. This is true even in countries that don’t block or filter internet traffic. (Streaming services like Netflix geographically limit access to some of their content.)
A VPN also prevents your ISP from throttling your connection speed if you’re accessing “non-approved” sites and services. (Comcast and Cox have both been caught throttling the connection speeds of users that engaged in P2P file sharing.)
The same encryption that protects your online activities from UAE officials’ eyes also protects data-sensitive activities – including bill paying, banking and online shopping – from the observation of hackers looking to steal your info. That’s especially valuable when you’re using an unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspot like those found in coffee shops and hotels.
While the UAE government may use a heavy hand to restrict internet usage, there is a way to open access to all of the internet while using a UAE network.
A VPN – like my top choice, ExpressVPN – is the absolute best way to avoid any kind of internet censorship, protect your online activities from observation and open up access to a world of content that might usually be out of reach.
ExpressVPN offers fast download speeds, optimal security and privacy protections both online and offline, and a global server network that opens the door to content and services from around the world.
For more information or to purchase a subscription, visit the ExpressVPN website.