Citizens of and visitors to the UAE have access to a highly restricted version of the internet. The government actively censors a range of sites and services, including the VoIP features of popular communications channels such as WhatsApp and Skype. Thankfully, a VPN can help.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts your internet traffic and sends it through a secondary server (in a location of your choice), switching your IP address with that of the VPN server. When you connect to a VPN, you can access content that would normally be blocked by government censorship or geo-restriction measures put in place by the content distributors.
That said, not all VPNs work everywhere. In countries like the UAE and China, there are clampdowns on VPN usage. If internet traffic is identified as VPN traffic, it will be blocked. As such, you need a VPN that can bypass these strict detection measures.
Which is the best VPN to use in the UAE? I reveal my top 5 choices below, I’ll go into more detail about each provider later, but here’s an at-a-glance look in case you’re in a hurry.
Best VPNs for UAE:
- ExpressVPN: My top recommendation for a UAE VPN. ExpressVPN is fast, secure, and works reliably in the UAE without requiring any special configuration. It includes a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
- NordVPN: Budget VPN that operates a huge network including a wide selection of obfuscated servers designed to hide your VPN traffic.
- Surfshark: Comes with a range of security and privacy features including Camouflage mode that masks VPN traffic.
- PrivateVPN: A privacy-focused VPN that has a strong track record of working in government-censored countries such as China and the UAE.
- VyprVPN: Uses a special protocol that flies under the radar of some of the most advanced detection techniques.
There are a ton of VPNs to choose from, but very few work reliably in the UAE. I based my list of the best VPNs for UAE on the following criteria:
- Has a range of servers that work in the UAE
- Pegs strong speeds
- Uses strong security
- Doesn’t log user data
- Has apps for all major operating systems
- Offers prompt and knowledgeable customer support
Best VPNs for UAE
Here’s my list of the best VPNs for UAE:
ExpressVPN is my top choice when it comes to the best VPNs for UAE. It’s a speedy VPN with a broad range of servers (more than 3,000 spanning 94 countries). It can bypass censorship in the UAE without you having to take any action other than connecting to a server in a location of your choice. ExpressVPN works with a ton of streaming sites including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and more.
This VPN offers a strong suite of security features including 256-bit encryption, perfect forward secrecy, a kill switch in desktops apps, and leak protection. It doesn’t maintain logs of any data that could be used to identify you or trace your internet activity. This means that even if it were forced to hand over records, it would have nothing to offer. A bonus with ExpressVPN is its flexible split tunneling feature that allows you to choose exactly which apps use the VPN.
You can connect up to five devices at a time. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. ExpressvPN even has custom firmware, so it’s easy to set up on your home router. 24/7 live-chat support is available in case you run into issues.
- Easily bypass detection measures
- Fast speeds
- Unblock tons of streaming sites
- Doesn’t log user data
- Excellent customer support
- Priced a little higher than rivals
BEST VPN FOR UAE:ExpressVPN is my top pick for a UAE VPN. It’s fast, reliable, and unblocks a ton of content. A 30-day money-back guarantee makes it a risk-free option.
NordVPN is an excellent alternative. While it’s friendly on the wallet, it offers top performance. With over 5,000 servers in 60 countries, you have plenty of options for finding a stable connection. You can narrow down the server list to only show the special obfuscated servers which have the greatest chance of working in the UAE. Speeds are blazing fast and NordVPN unblocks most streaming sites I’ve tested it with, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
This provider operates with a zero-logs policy and uses 256-bit encryption (considered effectively uncrackable) in conjunction with perfect forward secrecy. A kill switch (in all apps except Android) and leak protection ensure you never have to worry about your IP address being leaked. Automatic wifi protection and double VPN options are welcome security extras.
You can download desktop clients for Linux, Windows, and MacOS, and mobile apps for Android and iOS. Up to six simultaneous connections are permitted. NordVPN can be manually configured with home routers. NordVPN provides around-the-clock support via live chat.
- Special obfuscation servers
- Excellent speeds
- Strong security features
- True no-logs provider
- Connecting to servers via desktop can be slow
BUDGET VPN: NordVPN pegs some top speeds and operates an expansive network. It has excellent unblocking potential and plenty of security features. A 30-day money-back guarantee is included with all plans.
Surfshark is another provider that’s easy on the wallet but doesn’t scrimp on features. Its network is smaller than those of some rivals (over 1,700 servers in more than 60 countries), but there’s ample choice for finding a reliable connection. Surfshark is becoming well-known for its ability to access sites like Netflix and BBC iPlayer from abroad. Its Camouflage mode will help unblock content in countries dealing with strict government censorship.
Surfshark is gaining a solid reputation as a highly secure service. It has all the core features I look for in top paid providers including strong encryption, perfect forward secrecy, protection against leaks, and a kill switch in all apps. Extras include split tunneling, automatic wifi protection and a multihop VPN. Surfshark will never record any data that can identify you.
A huge bonus of this VPN is it doesn’t impose any limit on the number of devices you can connect at a given time. Apps are available for MacOS, Linux, Windows, Android, and iOS. Select home routers are supported via manual configuration. If you have problems you can always speak to a representative via live chat.
- Camouflage mode for avoiding detection
- Military-grade encryption
- No logs at all
- Smaller server selection than some top rivals
NO CONNECTION LIMIT: Surfshark is a great all-rounder with lots of security extras and no limits on data, bandwidth, or device connections. Plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
PrivateVPN is an even smaller provider with just 150 servers in 60 countries. But it manages to keep up with rivals on many other facets including speed, privacy, and security. Plus it works well in the UAE and other heavily restricted countries such as China. You can use it to unblock Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and more.
This service won’t log your activity or connection data. It has a kill switch in the Windows app and leak protection to keep your IP address safe. These features are backed by 256-bit encryption and perfect forward secrecy.
PrivateVPN allows up to six simultaneous connections. Mobile apps are available for Android and iOS, and easy-to-use desktop clients can be downloaded for Windows and MacOS. To cover all devices in your home, you can configure the VPN with certain home routers. You can also manually configure PrivateVPN with Linux devices. Live-chat support is available but it’s not quite 24/7.
- Works reliably in the UAE
- Privacy-focused service
- Very small network of servers
- Kill switch is only available in Windows
SECURE VPN: PrivateVPN packs plenty of privacy and security features. Plus, it’s great at accessing blocked content and boasts some fast speeds. This VPN extends a 30-day refund policy.
VyprVPN stands out when it comes to circumventing censorship due to its Chameleon protocol. This enables you to access whatever content you like from anywhere in the world. VyprVPN can even unblock stubborn services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. It has over 700 servers in around 70 countries to choose from.
This provider doesn’t disappoint on the security front. Your traffic will be secured with 256-bit encryption with perfect forward secrecy. There’s also a kill switch (built into the desktop apps) and leak protection. VyprVPN no longer retains records of any personally identifiable information.
Download apps for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. Support for Linux and some routers is available through manual configuration. You can connect up to five devices at any given time under the premium plan.
- Chameleon protocol disguises VPN traffic
- Includes a kill switch and leak protection
- Keeps no logs
- Doesn’t accept cryptocurrency payments
- Not the fastest VPN
HIDES YOUR TRAFFIC: VyprVPN uses a special protocol to ensure your traffic remains undetected. It’s fast, private, and secure, and impresses with its unblocking potential. Plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Can I use a free VPN for bypassing censorship in the UAE?
With just a little bit of research on VPNs, you’ll quickly uncover a ton of free options. Anything free is always attractive but I recommend steering clear. To begin with, it’s highly unlikely that these services will work in the UAE. Free VPN providers tend to be cash-strapped and wouldn’t have the funds required to invest in the technology needed to evade detection.
Regardless, they typically have a very small selection of servers, long wait times to connect, and data caps limiting what you can do online.
Free VPNs perform poorly on the security front too. Many use weak or no encryption and some act as vehicles for malicious programs. Their privacy standards are low as well—many free VPNs make their money by tracking user activity and selling the data to third parties.
As you can see, paying a few dollars per month for a privacy-conscious VPN is well worthwhile.
How do I set up a UAE VPN?
If you haven’t used a VPN before, not to worry. These services sound a bit complex but they’re actually very simple to set up.
Here’s how to set up a VPN in the UAE:
- Choose from the list of the best VPNs for UAE and subscribe. I recommend ExpressVPN.
- Download the appropriate app for your device.
- Log in with your new username and password. Depending on the provider, you may need to adjust settings or select from a specific list of servers to ensure your VPN bypasses the UAE’s detection measures.
- Connect to a server outside the UAE. A geographically close server will usually give you the best speeds.
- Try accessing content that was previously blocked and you should be able to view it.
If you run into issues, try clearing cookies and reloading the page. Note that it’s best to set up your VPN before traveling to the UAE, if possible (more on that below).
Are VPNs legal in the UAE?
The use of VPNs in the UAE is a bit of a legal gray area. It’s generally understood that VPNs are only illegal if they are used to commit a crime, which makes sense. This includes accessing illegal content such as sites involving pornography, gambling, and anti-religous hate speech.
As per a law introduced in 2016, the penalty for cases where “internet protocols are manipulated to commit crime or fraud” is jail time and a fine of up to Dh2 million ($544,000).
That said, it’s possible that downloading a VPN app while in the country could open you up to monitoring. While this isn’t an issue if you’re not doing anything wrong, no one likes to be monitored. As such, you might want to download your apps before you arrive in the UAE.
I do not condone or encourage the use of VPNs to commit or cover up illegal activity. It’s also worth bearing in mind that rules are subject to change, so you should consult up-to-date local laws before connecting to a VPN.
Is Netflix available in the UAE?
Netflix launched in the UAE in 2016. However, the UAE Netflix library has far fewer titles than many of its international counterparts, such as Netflix US and UK.
A VPN can help you access other country’s libraries. Just connect to a server in the corresponding country, for example, the UK or US, and log into your Netflix account as normal. You should now have access to the full range of content for that country.
What else can I use a UAE VPN for?
VPNs are incredibly useful tools. So far I’ve discussed unblocking geo-restricted content and bypassing censorship, but they have other uses too.
While on the go, many internet users will find themselves connecting to public wifi. These open hotspots are notoriously unsecure and offer an ideal opportunity for hackers to steal your data. A VPN encrypts all your internet traffic, so if you connect to a VPN while using public wifi, all your data will remain safe. Even if someone intercepts your internet traffic, it will be unreadable.
A VPN can also be handy for spoofing your location to access online banking. When traveling abroad, it’s common for bank fraud alert systems to lock customers out of their accounts. While this is good for security, it can be a huge inconvenience if you have no access to funds. Connecting to a VPN in your home country can help bypass some fraud alert systems, allowing you to use online banking services without the added stress.