In these modern times, connectivity is the lifeline of every human being or machine, more than it was ever before. To connect with people and machines, we need a medium. The most common medium in today’s time is the Internet.
From small local cable connectivity to the modern wireless connection, the Internet has made the world too small. We all enjoy our daily lives on the Internet doing numerous things ranging from entertainment, games, interactions, learning, and every possible thing you can do in real life.
With our senses hard-wired for it, people can feel distressed if things suddenly do not work. Did it ever happen to you that certain sites are not accessible, or you get a blocked content notification from the ISPs? As much as we wish the freedom of the Internet, it is practically impossible to achieve it.
With the Internet and its freedom, comes an evident instance of illegal content being posted everywhere and also the dangers of cyber-criminal activities. Banning such unlawful content is a must, but with modern technology under several demographics, the term illegal content varies as per the geographical and cultural influences.
The content on the Internet is under heavy censorship and surveillance from almost every country in the world. It is vital to note here that certain censorship is a must to protect the interest of the general public and state secrets, but many contents are blocked out of false reasons.
To bypass these censorships, the Internet has evolved to aid the viewers with proxy and VPN services. Most people in today’s world are aware of these services and usage. VPN and proxy services are used to bypass the Internet censorship of that region by spoofing the location IP of current place to another region.
In this review, we will be focusing on the middle east country UAE. We will discuss the local laws on the censorship and how the users can bypass them via the VPN, and finally which VPN is best for that country.
Jurisdiction and Online Censorships in UAE
Being one of the highly religious countries and having the limited traditional Sharia Laws, it is expected that many mainstream contents may be blocked and heavily censored in UAE.
The TRA (Telecom Regulation Authority) of UAE controls the content on the Internet and its related activities. It can block/unblock any content at will. However, unlike China, or Iran, censorship is not that harsh in UAE. As said earlier, the censoring is done more for political and religious-morality gains.
Ironically, even the sites that promote rebel activities against the government or religion are blocked frequently. We have heard the news where they started blocking the content and websites from Qatar, Egypt, etc. for regional political gains.
However, most of the day to day activities will not find any trouble with these censorships. Many real estates, airlines agency, and opposition sites were blocked too a few years ago.
There is high online censoring in UAE. The major items that are censored on the Internet in UAE are as below:
- Bypassing Blocked Content: As the name shouts, it’s illegal to surf the blocked content, confusing! Isn’t it?
- Cyber Criminal Activities: Online criminal offense related to cybercrime like hacking, phishing, malicious program distribution, spyware, etc.
- General Criminal Activities: Promoting hate speech against a person or state or religion, terrorist activities, online illegal drugs distribution, Gambling content, etc.
- Privacy Breach: Any form of eavesdropping or teasing, spreading rumors, or bad mouth someone using their social media or using stolen credentials to access others content, web accounts or bank.
- Pornography and Nudity: Sites and content promoting nudity, pornography, and related assault and violence, or LGBTQI pertaining stuff on the web including the P2P sites.
- Miscellaneous Blocks: Promoting criminal activities, Internet Dating Content, Prohibited Top Level Domains (TLD), and any content not aligning to local political and religious views.
As we can see from above, most of them fall under general categories that most countries block except some like dating sites, personal attacks (everyone gets triggered nowadays on the Internet with literally every word), etc.
There are some hilarious restrictions like banning all the VOIP services except the state licensed ones. So goodbye to voice calls on your social media apps. One of the reveals from US intelligence regarding UAE using an orchestrated hack on Qatar, worsening the relation of two countries.
Few more political instances appeared like blocking the Middle East Eye, a UK news site which exposed the harsh surveillance schemes and poor human rights in the country. Even sites like archive.today, archive.org(keeps snapshots of URL as a form of site backup), etc. were banned. Most political rebels and detainees are blocked over social media.
Another surprising instance is blocking all the VOIP content. That means goodbye to video calls via apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, IMO, etc. When Skype was banned in 2017, a petition was raised on change.org to free it, which resulted in change.org getting banned too.
These unusual censorships like on Couch Surfing, Orkut, archive.org, VOIP over discord, and timely blocks on many sites like Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and similar social media sites, may result in censoring the truth from Internet.
Opening any of the blocked content itself is a punishable offense in UAE. The punishment may include getting imprisoned or paying up to 500k AED. Unfortunately, there is no provision for lashes.
Overall, the censorship is very random, or say mood-dependent here. Our earlier observation was correct when we said it will always be related to the geopolitical and religious aspect.
Can I Use a VPN in UAE?
Did we say something about accessing the online content before? You bet we did. If you misread it, accessing blocked content online is a punishable offense. So, using a VPN to access the censored items is a crime. Ehhh, quite ironic given the primary use of VPN is to open the restricted Internet space.
The thing is that the UAE state either partially or fully owns most popular telecom companies, and so you will not be able to escape the surveillance. Many foreigners have been arrested and deported, for using VPN, exchanging intimate photos on WhatsApp, and other similar offenses; due to this surveillance in effect.
Talking about the Internet, it is quite accessible in the UAE. The reports from their internal surveys suggest the region has high Internet penetration reaching above 90% as of current years. Also, with the broadband affordable for most residents, and many computer literacy programs running on, Internet usage is quite high.
Since most of the people have access to the Internet, it will be quite tempting for all of them to engage in trying to access the blocked content. And for that, nothing goes better than a VPN or a proxy site. UAE has a very ironic law on the use of VPNs. Below is the law that states about the use of VPNs:
Any person utilizing the fake IP or similar services to spoof their identity, via private or third party means, for the purpose of crime or to hide its discovery, will face a fine of AED 500k to 2 Million and a prison sentence.
As we can clearly deduce from above, the law specifically targets the use of VPN for accessing the censored content. So yes, you can be jailed or attract a hefty fine if you just talked to your friends, colleagues or your mom via VPN or any restricted VOIP apps, sigh!
There are only two VOIP providers in UAE viz. Du and Etisalat. Use any voice calls except them, and you are a criminal. The reason stated for this amateur mess is they want the local telecoms to profit. However, individual banks, institutions, companies are allowed to use the VPN for non-consent uses.
This situation is not new given that many telecoms are pissed on Internet voice calls and video calls since most people now barely use the phone calls as long as they are connected to the Internet. Well, isn’t it evident that I would instead prefer a face to face calls to my loved ones than a mere phone call if that’s available?
So, concluding here, the law does not forbid the usage of VPNs but prohibits their use for visiting the censored content. It’s tough to decide what is legal or illegal content with every changing region, but we would advise the visitors and expats to consult the local authorities or any person knowing the law before jumping on the VPNs or proxies.
How to use a VPN in UAE and for what purpose?
First of all, there are some readers here who have less idea on how to use a VPN and what exactly it does. Let us help them clarify it and then we can proceed to instructions to use it.
The word VPN is a short form of Virtual Private Network, and it is a form of networking tool that is used to access the restricted content over the Internet. A VPN is used to make an encrypted channel that is used to bypass the restriction by spoofing and encrypting the current data exchange via a remote server.
Once the physical location is changed, and data encrypted, it becomes difficult to trace the identity of a person( unless the service providers reveal it). This can help you not only to surf through restrictions or maintain privacy but also be safe from the hackers, sniffers, surveillance and other online threats.
Using a VPN service is an effortless task. If you have some elementary technological knowledge, then it’s a child’s play. All you need to do is to download the VPN app and hit a few buttons on it.
Most VPN apps have a simplistic UI, and the users only need to select the server location and hit the connect button. We will discuss later on which VPNs have given better results for UAE.
The primary purposes a VPN can be prompted to be used in UAE are as follows:
For Safe and Encrypted Connections: To safeguard the content of your data on the Internet from any online threats and maintain privacy on the Internet. This can prevent hackers from stealing your information or protect you against the surveillance.
Spoofing the Physical Location: To access the geo-restricted content like streaming services or any other local censored content. Many blocked services like Netflix, Tinder, VOIP apps like WhatsApp, Facebook calls, etc. can be accessed via VPN.
Data Protection: Encrypted tunnels of VPN and secure proxies can hide your data exchange via encryption. This is ideal for organizational uses or banking purposes. Many companies and banks are allowed to use the VPN service for such security reasons freely.
Do not use the VPN services for conducting any illegal activities like hacking, phishing, snooping, or any cyber-criminal actions. We do not advocate the use of VPN for any such activities and the doer will face the consequences on their own.
The Best VPNs for UAE
To find out the best VPN for UAE, there are multiple factors to be considered. Most VPN are not blocked in UAE, so there is no issue with conducting a trial of various VPNs on your devices.
So, the deciding factors for their choices primarily are Server Locations, Speed, Security, Privacy and Pricing structure. Let us now explore why these factors can influence your usage of VPNs.
Security Algorithms: The first and foremost checklist of a good VPN will be the security features it is armed with. Most of the time, the VPN will be using AES-256bit encryption. Apart from that, several VPNs may be using additional tunnels to give two-factor encryption. Also, features like kill switch, P2P Support, DNS Leak Protection, etc. can be seen as additional perks.
Server Locations: This is also a useful criterion to determine the correct VPN for you. More the number of servers, the lesser the load on a single server will be, and the range of content accessibility will also be broader.
Bandwidth: Now, do we want to sit for hours just to open a wiki page on a three-fold encrypted connection? Most probably not, since we all know how frustrating low-speed Internet is.
Apart from that, most bandwidth is dependent on the service providers. The ISPs can throttle VPNs, and pseudo-ban them with network error messages. Most top VPN have about 50-60% reduction in bandwidth, and this is better than the average level for encrypted traffic.
Without wasting our time further, let us now jump to the list of Top VPN for UAE. We will be using the above criteria for our assertion.
One of the top brass in the market of VPN services, ExpressVPN has earned the top spot here. Let us see what it offers on checklists mentioned above.
Security Algorithm: Unlike average VPNs, ExpressVPN is equipped with high-security AES-256bit encryption. It is also armed with other security features like Kill switch, DNS leak protection and multiple secure protocols viz. OpenVPN, IPsec, UDP, and PPTP. It also restricts each encrypted key to one hour, which makes sure the hackers will not access the data beyond 60 minutes in case of a breach.
Bandwidth: Although highly server dependent, bandwidth reduction across most servers was around 60-70%, a typical case for most VPNs. Some servers performed very well and gave us about 50-60% of the standard bandwidth.
Server Locations: ExpressVPN has server locations spread across more than 90 countries and so you will find an extensive list of servers to connect to. Do not worry with such a lengthy list; you can surely try to check them according to their popular location or nearest to your geo-location. It all depends on individual server performance, and so this part will require some trial and error testing.
Privacy Policies: Now comes the most dreaded part for masses. ExpressVPN follows a strict no log policy. Located in BVI( British Virginia Island), it will not respond to any external queries unless they are serious for a one year plus jail sentence in the local laws. However, as the service providers claim, they do not store any personally identifiable data of a user. This means it’s safer to use this VPN without getting your data leaked to surveillance.
Now apart from the above points, it is essential to note that ExpressVPN has a long reputation of one of the top service providers with many detailed features. Many features like safe torrenting, obfuscated proxy, etc. can prove to be useful features. And given that it is almost available on every platform, this VPN is our first choice for UAE.
Another product NordVPN, a top end VPN has made it to the list for top VPN in UAE. Below are the criteria we used to rank it higher than other VPNs for UAE.
Security Algorithm: When it comes to security features, NordVPN is armed with highly secured AES-256bit CBC encryption. There is no provision for other protocols like IPsec, P2P, etc. except the OpenVPN. Kill switch are given to shut application as well the Internet connection in case the VPN disconnects. They have some features like CyberSec, Tor browsing and LAN invisibility as extra security features.
Bandwidth: NordVPN is quite known to give considerable bandwidth even after a remote server connection. In our tests, NordVPN performed quite well for automatic connections and gave us a mere 20% reduction in bandwidth speed. However, the speed in double VPN reduced by 60% and onions servers were much slower. Overall, in terms of bandwidth for healthy connection, it performed better than ExpressVPN but could not maintain the consistency over other connections.
Server Locations: There is no comparison to the number of servers NordVPN has across various countries. It has more than 5000 servers across all countries. Most servers are concentrated across Europe, but you will surely find one of them near your location. Good news for UAE people and visitors is that NordVPN has eight servers in UAE and are among the obfuscated ones. So, there are plenty of options for UAE peeps to try on this VPN.
Finally, NordVPN is pretty cheaper than ExpressVPN and also offers much better bandwidth and more servers but lacks in providing more connection protocols. There are some unique features in NordVPN, which cannot be detailed here. Overall, most VOIP and restricted content worked flawlessly while using the NordVPN.
VyprVPN came in our top choices due to its unique features and more importantly due to its server feasibility in UAE.
Security Algorithm: It has given a versatile approach to connection and provides a hassle-free AES 256bit encryption. VyprVPN also provides different connection protocols like OpenVPN, IPsec, PPTP, and its own Chameleon protocol. Further, users can configure the encryption level by themselves. It too provides the basic features like Kill switch, NAT Firewall, and such security features.
Bandwidth: VyprVPN gave us satisfactory results while testing for bandwidth. It had provided us only 40-50% reduction in bandwidth and it was more or less consistent among the servers. The various protocols did affect the speed, but it did not have more than 10% additional reduction from above.
Server Locations: VyprVPN has spread its reach to over 60 countries with 700+ servers across them. These servers are mostly in a location where their user base is concentrated. There is also a server in Dubai, UAE. Does this bring a smile on some faces? Since it is best to switch to nearby servers for the connections; we would advise readers to try the closest servers first.
Being located in Switzerland, they are not part of 14-eye nations, but these countries participate in time to time data exchange with 14-eye nations. The data retention policy states they can hand over your data if asked for via a subpoena or for criminal investigations. Overall, the data policies are decent as long as you are not planning an illegal activity.
VyprVPN does give the users some unique access to features and on top that, the subscription plans being cheap and a dedicated server in UAE, it can turn out to be useful to unblock specific access for UAE.
Being still young to the veterans in the VPN market, this VPN has some promising features and has ended up in our list for top VPN for UAE.
Security Algorithm: In this VPN, the users can choose between the 128bit and 256bit AES encryption. They are armed with protocols like IPsec and PPTP. They also have DNS Leak, IPv6 leak and Kill switch feature. Overall, the security features are standard like other VPNs.
Bandwidth: PrivateVPN performed decently in download and upload speed after the VPN connection. Overall, we noticed a 30-40% reduction in bandwidth, a bit better than most VPNs. The difference in bandwidth for 128 and the 256bit connection was around 5-10%. This can vary based on servers but is minimal as we can see above.
Server Location: The location and traffic of a server are primary criteria that can affect the performance of the VPN service. The more the server, the more traffic will be distributed, and this will later reduce the load on individual servers. PrivateVPN has fewer servers currently. They have a meager 80 servers across 50 nations. Being still new in the market, we hope that these numbers go high in future, with some in UAE.
Worry not as PrivateVPN claims that they use a No-Log policy. This means that they do not store any private logs or data of the customers. They do store the information regarding the account and its transactions, but will not disclose it to any authorities. However, they do come under Swedish jurisdiction which means being part of 14-eye nation; it is complicated to escape surveillance.
Overall, PrivateVPN seemed to give some decent speed and security features to be included in this list.
Let us see our final recommendation, i.e., PureVPN as the top VPN for UAE. This VPN is also amongst the top product in the VPN marketplace. We will see certain points here for its recommendation, and other features can be explored later.
Security Algorithm: Apart from the usual secure encryptions like AES-256bit type, PureVPN has given some extra perks in securing the VPN service. Along with an inbuilt DNS leak, IPv6 protection, there is a distinctive feature called Ozone. This is available only for selected few countries and provides antivirus, content filtering, IDS/IPS and URL protection. This can reduce the overall speed but is an evident phenomenon in exchange for high security.
Bandwidth: Generally, bandwidth will always be reduced than the original one after the connection to VPN services. In our testing, PureVPN had around 20% reduction in the Internet Freedom Mode, while Streaming Mode gave us a high reduction of 80% in the bandwidth. Other modes like Security and P2P gave an average 40-50% reduction in bandwidth.
Server Locations: PureVPN like its above counterparts has high-quality servers. Spread over every continent, it has 2000+ servers across them. The higher the number of servers, better speed a VPN can give to users. One of the servers located at UAE is in Dubai. This means UAE residents or visitors can try connecting to this server for maximum speed.
Finally, PureVPN is indeed one of the top VPNs. Given to its 30-day refund policy for new users and low pricing, if you are planning your trip to Burj Khalifa, you can try PureVPN without any doubt.
At last, we would say that you can find your heavenly matched VPN and also be able to use it to access some content online in UAE. Keep in mind that don’t try to be cocky and start using it for illegal purposes as mentioned above, else you may face prison or maybe something worse.
Based on your device configuration, the Internet speed may vary. Many expats and foreign tourists do many sorts of banned activities there, but the real deal is to avoid getting caught. If you have installed the VPN correctly, you can bypass the restrictions. So, use the VPN and enjoy your content and more importantly Stay Safe and Stay Private!