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Best VPN for UAE in 2021

Illustration of the flag of the UAE
Headshot of Top10VPN.com Site Editor Callum Tennent

Callum oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his advice about VPNs has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society. Read full bio

Internet in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is heavily censored, with the ruling monarchy controlling Etisalat and Du, UAE’s main ISPs and mobile carriers. That means they dictate what web content is available, and what’s not.

If you’re in Dubai or Abu Dhabi you can’t access most online political, religious, gambling or adult content. Also, important websites like Wikipedia and VOIP services like Skype are blocked.

However, there is a solution to bypass online censorship in UAE: using a reliable VPN known to bypass the most aggressive of web blocks. Many UAE residents are already aware of VPNs, and one out of every 2.58 people in the UAE have used a VPN at some point. The question is, are the VPNs they use any good?

We have spent thousands of hours reviewing over 70 VPNs, and testing over a hundred, with many failing our UAE-specific tests. That’s why we can confidently say the five VPNs we recommend below will unblock websites and apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp in UAE. They will also keep your online identity concealed from UAE government agencies.

Read on for the definitive list of the best VPNs for UAE. You can also scroll further down the page to see our answers to frequently asked questions about VPNs and censorship in UAE.

What Must a UAE VPN Have?

  1. VPN servers in nearby countries
  2. Reliable and fast connection speeds
  3. Useful security and encryption features
  4. Clear and privacy-focused logging policies
  5. High quality customer support
  6. Custom apps for popular devices

5 Best VPNs That Still Work in UAE

1. ExpressVPN

Ranked #1 out of 69 VPNs for UAE

ExpressVPN's new app on mobile devices
ExpressVPN's new desktop app
(1,758 user reviews)
Visit ExpressVPN
  1. Top choice for anti-censorship
  2. Strong encryption and security
  3. Strong logging policy
  4. Fast global speeds
  5. User friendly interface, design and support
  1. More local servers would be better
  2. Not strictly no logs
  • Best Price

    $6.67/mo over 15 Months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    88Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    94 countries, 3,000+ servers

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

Express is #1 VPN for UAE due to its consistency and reliability.

A lot of people worry about the effectiveness of a VPN when it comes to using one in the UAE.

You can rest easy if you use ExpressVPN — it’s the most reliable option for bypassing censorship.

This is a great choice for bypassing censorship all over the world. ExpressVPN dedicates a lot of time, resources and secrecy into ensuring online freedom is a priority. 

ExpressVPN is the one to beat for anti-censorship.

The drawback is its limiting local servers. There are options to connect to the relatively nearby Egypt and Israel but we’d like to see it compete with NordVPN and add more for even better performance.

There are also no servers within the UAE. If getting around censorship is your main objective you won’t be needing them, but if not then you may notice an impact on your internet speeds. 

Having said that, its average global speeds are great all round, so there shouldn’t be too much of a problem. 

All the while, just as it enables the user to have more online freedom, it protects its users’ identities and personal information with top security.

ExpressVPN comes with the all-important kill switch and unbreakable encryption. The privacy policy is safe too, although not strictly no-logs like some other VPNs below.

For a more in-depth look, read our full ExpressVPN review.

2. Astrill VPN

Ranked #2 out of 69 VPNs for UAE

Screenshot of VyprVPN's Mobile App
Screenshot of Astrill's Desktop App
No user reviews
Visit Astrill
  1. Stealth VPN protocol beats censors
  2. No leaks and plenty of security
  3. Privacy-friendly jurisdiction
  4. Servers in UAE
  5. Good amount of nearby servers
  6. Fast and reliable speeds
  1. Fairly expensive
  2. No refunds
  • Best Price

    $10.00/mo over 12 Months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    80Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    60 countries, 110 servers

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

Astrill doesn’t mess around: it’s one of the most secure and most advanced VPN options on the market.

Newcomers to VPNs might be put off by it’s fortress-like features (and its price), but seasoned users will love the array of advanced options and features – you definitely get what you pay for.

Astrill includes AES-256 encryption, the rare inclusion of the new WireGuard protocol, DNS, IPV6 and WebRTC leak protection, split tunneling, and ownership of its DNS servers.

It’s also got a very nice number of neighboring connection options: Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel.

Crucially, it’s a beast against censorship. This is a popular option for people in UAE, as well as countries like Iran and even China.

This is due to its Stealth protocol which provides an additional layer of obfuscation.

Astrill even includes ‘SuperCharged’ servers, which are there to bypass censorship and stay secure without skimping on speeds. 

It’s not as pretty as some of the other apps on this list, but you can excuse that for the quality of the results it delivers.

This extends to Astrill’s speeds too, which are very fast and reliable at a global level.

Astrill do log some data, though, and this is a bit of a let-down, but it’s not personally identifiable and can be deleted on request. 

Customer support could also be better. Theres no 24/7 live chat feature like you’ll find with ExpressVPN, but email support often comes good. Or you can consult the extensive Astrill Wiki.

For a more in-depth look, read our full Astrill VPN review.

3. VyprVPN

Ranked #3 out of 69 VPNs for UAE

Screenshot of VyprVPN's Mobile App
Screenshot of VyprVPN's Desktop App
(62 user reviews)
Visit VyprVPN
  1. Local servers in UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia
  2. Chameleon protocol to bypass censorship
  3. Strict zero-logs policy
  4. No security leaks
  5. Easy to use apps
  1. Slower speeds compared to other top competitors
  2. Best features limited to ‘Premium’
  • Best Price

    $1.66/mo over 36 months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    77Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    64 countries, 700+ servers

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

VyprVPN has a great choice of server locations within the UAE and neighbouring countries, including Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. 

Spoilt for choice in the region, this helps VyprVPN users avoid congestion and pick up maximum speeds.

That’s helpful, as VyprVPN falls behind on speeds when compared to ExpressVPN. 

It’s by no means slow, and is always reliable – it’s just not as quick as the top two on this list.

It’s strong on privacy and security too, with a very strict no logs policy. VyprVPN collects no information to potentially be seized by authorities. 

One essential feature for UAE users when using VyprVPN is its Chameleon protocol. This is an exclusive feature to this VPN service which is designed to beat censors – and it works.

This special feature is available on every VPN server, and VyprVPN even works in China, so you know it’ll be effective in the UAE. 

For a more in-depth look, read our full VyprVPN review.

4. PrivateVPN

Ranked #4 out of 69 VPNs for UAE

Image of PrivateVPN's app on mobile
Image of PrivateVPN's app on mobile
(1,736 user reviews)
Visit PrivateVPN
  1. No logs VPN
  2. Excellent speeds
  3. Advanced privacy with Tor over VP
  4. Server in the UAE
  1. No advanced privacy settings on mobile
  2. Limited local servers
  • Best Price

    $1.98/mo over 24 months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    94Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    62 countries, 150+ servers

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

PrivateVPN has a lot going for it as a VPN for UAE. 

One of its chief appeals is its price — this is a budget-friendly VPN that is also as easy to use as a VPN can be.

But its usability doesn’t come at the cost of effectiveness. This is a VPN with solid security and a no-logs privacy policy. We detected no leaks or compromises of any kind.

This means that when using PrivateVPN your internet is safe and, as the name suggests, private.

PrivateVPN used to have no servers in the UAE, but has recently launched its first. This is a good start, but a single server risks congestion.

The other nearest available servers are in Turkey and Israel — not all that close.

We picked up pretty impressive speeds with PrivateVPN anyway, with low latency across the board. 

Customer support is a let-down in comparison to the other VPNs on this list, so if you have problems with PrivateVPN, or you’re just looking for information, it’s unlikely to be resolved as quickly as its rivals. 

For a more in-depth look, read our full PrivateVPN review.

5. StrongVPN

Ranked #5 out of 69 VPNs for UAE

StrongVPN mobile screenshots
StrongVPN app screenshots for MacOS
(34 user reviews)
Visit StrongVPN
  1. Proprietary ‘scramble’ tool beats censors
  2. Good speeds
  3. Strict zero-logs policy
  4. Lots of security and privacy features
  1. Limited local servers
  2. Jurisdiction within privacy-unfriendly US
  3. Many servers use PPTP protocol only
  • Best Price

    $2.05/mo over 12 Months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    84Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    39 countries, 950+ servers

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

StrongVPN delivers on privacy and security and beats the censors.

For all these reasons, it deserves to be on our UAE list. 

Its proprietary ‘scramble’ tool provides an obfuscation technology that bypasses UAE censorship, usable on OpenVPN connections. 

Alongside that, StrongVPN has a strict no logs policy — not even collecting metadata.

It also owns its DNS servers, which is a huge plus for security. 

The catch with StrongVPN is its over-reliance on PPTP servers. This is an outdated protocol, susceptible to hacking, that prioritises speed at the expense of security. Speed is always good, but in the case of the UAE, security at the expense of speed is better.

Nearby Israel is available on OpenVPN.

We wish there would be more servers to avoid server congestion (Israel is the only viable option for good speeds), but StrongVPN’s speeds are generally quick.

As long as you avoid PPTP, StrongVPN is very safe.

For a more in-depth look, read our full StrongVPN review.

UAE VPNs: An In-depth Look

Do I Need a VPN in UAE?

man facing a website browser window that is locked

If you’re planning on using the internet frequently, or making calls using Skype and WhatsApp, then using a VPN in the UAE is essential.

The UAE is a highly-censored country when it comes to the internet. Unsurprisingly, it’s ranked ‘Not Free’ by Freedom House.

Popular messaging services like Skype and WhatsApp are blocked or censored, along with gambling and dating sites, and a sizeable number of Wikipedia pages and YouTube videos. 

The censors are also extremely strict with regards to nudity.

When you use a VPN, your real IP address is replaced with an anonymous one and local ISPs, like Etisalat, will no longer see what you’re doing online. As a result, you’ll be able to unblock all those restricted websites and apps.

The short answer is: yes, VPNs are legal in the UAE.

But, it’s worth reading on for some important context. 

While there is some controversy as to whether a VPN is legal, either in theory or practice, UAE Federal Law No. 12 of 2016 amending the Cyber Crimes Law (link in Arabic) states that a VPN is legal to use as long as it’s not used to mask illegal activity.

UAE Federal Law No. 12 of 2016 amending the Cyber Crimes Law

UAE Federal Law No. 12 of 2016 amending the Cyber Crimes Law

That makes obvious sense: you should never partake in illegal activities. This is hardly unique to the UAE.

However, what is illegal in the UAE is quite different to what citizens in the West are used to, including pornography, online gambling, or even Skype. 

Using a VPN for these reasons is illegal and can lead to huge fines. Expressing certain political or religious opinions can also be enough to send users to jail.

Before you travel to the UAE, familiarize yourself with the local laws. It’s worth consulting the US Department of State’s guide to the laws and customs of the UAE.

The UAE is made up of seven emirates, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain.

Similarly to states in the US, each of these emirates has their own distinct judicial authority.

Dubai is one of the most popular destinations in the UAE, and many travellers want to know if a VPN is legal there.

The legal system in Dubai is a mix of Sharia Law and Civil and Criminal Laws, implemented by the Federal Judiciary, comprising courts of first instance and Supreme Courts. 

But there’s nothing unique in Dubai’s attitude to VPNs compared to the rest of the UAE. In other words, it’s legal as long as you don’t use a VPN to do something illegal.

However, this means that you need to be aware of the local laws and customs, as things that are illegal in Dubai are perfectly legal in other places. 

Ignorance of the laws and customs of Dubai, and the larger UAE, is not accepted as a valid excuse should you happen to break them.

VPNs That Work in UAE

Diagram showing how users connect to the internet using a VPN

How you connect to the internet using a VPN.

People in the UAE want to use Skype, WhatsApp, and other banned services. So, they turn to VPNs to unblock the internet. 

But you want to do it right, and securely. We get that. We also want to make the process of choosing the right VPN service as easy and reliable as possible. 

Some VPNs are more suited to the UAE than others. The above list of the best VPNs are all examples of services that work effectively in the UAE. 

We recommend you consult the list and choose from these: 

  • ExpressVPN
  • VyprVPN
  • NordVPN
  • Astrill VPN
  • Private VPN

If you’re not satisfied by this list, there are some other VPNs that will work in the UAE.

Keep an eye out for VPNs that are good at bypassing censorship (usually if they work in China, where VPN crackdown is most pervasive, they work anywhere in the world). 

But also take into account that you need a VPN that is either a minimal logs or strictly no logs. Remember that when you choose a VPN service, you are choosing to trust them to protect your information. 

Those are the two chief concerns when it comes to VPNs in the UAE, but it’s also worth taking into account things like speeds, ability to unlock streaming services, and ease-of-use. 

Avoid VPNs that don’t have good reputations, that are free to download and use, and remember that just because something calls itself a VPN it doesn’t mean that it does all that a VPN should.

VPNs that fit this criteria and are worthy of honorable mention include:

  • StrongVPN
  • Private Internet Access
  • VPNArea

VPNs That Don’t Work in UAE

Unlike China, there are a fair few VPNs that work well in the UAE. 

But what if you already have a VPN and want to know if it works?

We’ve come along to put together a list of the VPNs that we know for sure don’t work in the UAE. If your VPN is on this list, you should consider getting another if you plan to travel to the UAE. 

NordVPN used to be on this list, but its servers in the UAE were blocked and no longer works. CyberGhost, for example, is a good all-round VPN but it doesn’t work in the UAE. They even warn specifically against its use in the UAE.

ProtonVPN is another highly-rated VPN that doesn’t work in the UAE, although we’ve come across at least one report from someone saying that it did work for them when using OpenVPN.

Other well-regarded VPNs that won’t work include:

  • Hotspot Shield
  • HideMyAss!                   

Should I Use a Free VPN in UAE?

No. When it comes to the UAE, the myriad of free VPNs available aren’t going to cut it. 

You need a premium VPN that does exactly what it says it will do: secure encryption of your data, a privacy-friendly logging policy, and additional obfuscation tools that hide the fact that you’re using a VPN.

Our tests indicate that only these obfuscation and security features will grant you access to otherwise censored content. 

Free VPNs just can’t match them: they’re either extremely limited in what they can do (deliberately so), or in the worst cases are used to extract information, sell it, or inject malware into your device. 

Our overall advice is to stay clear of free VPNs. Your privacy is too important to risk with these freebies, especially in a country like the UAE. 

If you can’t resist the temptation, then we recommend that you stay safe and consult our list of the best free VPNs

Importance of Nearby Servers

Map of the UAE

When using a VPN in the UAE, you’re going to get faster speeds if you connect to a VPN server that is physically closer to your location. 

If you connect to a distant VPN server (e.g. in the US), your connection speeds will be affected, due to the distance between you and the VPN server. The further away the VPN server, the further you web traffic has to travel all the way to the destination, and then back to you.

This results in poor internet speeds, and no one likes that. 

Therefore, it’s always best to have a VPN with a great range of fast servers around the world. In general, the UAE, and the Middle East, are poorly-served with nearby VPN server choice.

In our list of the best VPNs for UAE, we’ve highlighted the exceptional VPNs that have servers either available within or close to the UAE. 

NordVPN is the current leader, with twenty VPN servers available within the state. That’s the most available on the market. 

But there are others too: VyprVPN has some servers in the UAE, and in neighboring countries too.

Outside of our list of top VPNs, other high-rated VPNs with servers within the UAE include:

  • IPVanish 
  • CyberGhost
  • Private Internet Access
  • StrongVPN
  • Surfshark 
  • Mullvad

Is Torrenting Illegal in the UAE?

Torrenting is simply a method of sharing files, so downloading torrents is not illegal. 

But downloading copyrighted material, like music or movies, is illegal. This is the same in the UAE as it is in many other countries.

However, the UAE are particularly proactive in defending copyright holders. Federal Law No. 7 of 2002 amended by Law No. 32 of 2006 on Copyright & Related Rights, strictly protects copyright holders.

In fact, UAE’s anti-piracy policies are some of the strictest in the world. So much so that the Business Software Alliance (BSA) ranked the UAE 20th best anti-piracy country in 2014.

In the past, copyright violators in the UAE have been subject to hefty fines and even jail time. On one occasion, an expat in Abu Dhabi was sentenced to six months in jail creating torrents of movies and TV shows.

Skype & WhatsApp: Why Are They Banned

Skype and WhatsApp are two of the most popular voice calling and messaging services. Unfortunately, they are subject to varying degrees of censorship around the world.

Firstly, the main reason Skype and WhatsApp (calls only) are blocked in the UAE is because they’re categorised as unlicensed VoIP services. Face Time, Facebook messenger, Viber and Snapchat are also partially or fully restricted.

Basically, UAE telecom operators provide their own paid VoIP services and banning ‘unlicensed’ VoIP service is an attempt to bolster the revenues of local operators like Etilisat and Du.

Secondly, UAE officials want to monitor all VoIP calls, but Skype and WhatsApp are unwilling to give them access.

It feels like the situation may change soon. There’s continued criticism of the ban, and supposedly the UAE is considering lifting the ban. Honestly though, we don’t think this will happen anytime soon.

Other Ways to Beat UAE Censorship

VPNs aren’t the only tools you can use to bypass online censorship in the UAE. There are other ways to unblock websites and apps, although they’re not as good as a VPN.

Below is a list of five circumvention tools for you to consider:

  1. Proxies

    One way to beat UAE web filters is to connect to a proxy server. A proxy spoofs your IP address, but your web traffic won’t be encrypted.

    As a result, your internet activities will still be visible to ISPs, governments, and any one looking to snoop on your traffic.

    One of the better proxies for the UAE is Shadowsocks, which uses the SOCKS5 internet protocol.

    Diagram of how a proxy server works

  2. Mirror Sites

    Sometimes websites create ‘clones’ of their official site, hosted on a different URL, to bypass content filters. These websites are known as mirror sites and if you know what the URLs are, allow you to access content that’s otherwise blocked.

    However, in our experience, it doesn’t take long for ISPs and governments to locate and block mirror sites. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse chase, but overall we don’t think it’s a very reliable alternative.

  3. TOR

    The The Onion Router (Tor) is a free anonymous web browser and one the most powerful ways to stay anonymous on the web. Tor anonymizes your web traffic by randomly routing it through a network of servers.

    Tor is by far a safer and more private tool than proxies or mirror websites, but it does come with two significant drawbacks: it’s very slow and not all websites are available via the Tor browser.

    Diagram of data passing through the Tor network

    How your data passes through the Tor network.

  4. FreeBrowser

    If you’re an Android user, then you might want to try out FreeBrowser, a free web browser with built-in circumvention technology. However, user reviews aren’t stellar and it’s only available on Android devices anyway.

    Don;t forget that it’s a web browser so any non-browser traffic will be not be ‘obfuscated’ by the circumvention technology.

About the Author

  • Headshot of Top10VPN.com Site Editor Callum Tennent

    Callum Tennent

    Callum oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his advice about VPNs has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society. Read full bio