Best VPN for the United Arab Emirates: Surf freely while you’re in the UAE
While the United Arab Emirates has embraced cutting-edge technology, it’s one of the most restrictive countries when it comes to Internet usage; a wide range of sites are blocked or filtered, while prosecutions and detention for online activities is far from unknown. A VPN can help on both accounts, giving users the means to access blocked sites and services or see unfiltered search results, plus a means of concealing their location and identity for purposes of free speech.
Choosing a VPN for the UAE
The desire for Internet freedom is a major motivation for users in the UAE to use a VPN. By connecting to the global Internet through a private VPN link to a server outside the UAE, they can access websites that are normally blocked and see search results, free from censorship. By switching your location and anonymising your activity, using a VPN can also conceal online activities, though this shouldn’t be considered a watertight disguise. While Facebook, Twitter and other social media services are available from within the UAE, users tend to heavily self-censor. What’s more, VoIP services like Skype and WhatsApp are blocked.
The key factors when choosing a VPN for the UAE start with finding one that leaves no indication of your true location, one that’s effective at overcoming content blocks and that provides robust protection of your anonymity and privacy. As the effects of losing either through a dropped VPN connection can be severe, a killswitch, which cuts all connections if the VPN stops, is a must, while features that prevent DNS leaks giving the game away are well worth looking out for. What’s more, an anonymous payment method can help users cover their tracks and hide the association between their online and offline identity. Users in the UAE may also want to stream content from UK or US video streaming services, making good connectivity to those countries and the ability to overcome local blocks there a real plus.
Best VPNS in the UAE
1. VyprVPN: The best value VPN for the UAE
Price: Standard – £6.95 per month, Premium – £10.50 per month
Not every VPN has any kind of presence in the UAE, but VyprVPN has a server in the territory. The company makes a point of owning its own servers, networks and hardware, plus a built-in DNS service that kicks in automatically when you connect through the VPN, defeating DNS-based censoring and filtering. With over 700 servers handling 70 locations, it’s not hard to reach any region in the world, and the service uses dynamic server switching to prevent servers getting overloaded and becoming unavailable.
VyperVPN does log some basic information, retaining the user’s source IP address and the VyperVPN address used, but it doesn’t log traffic or your activities while online. VyprVPN also has a killswitch, instantly shutting off all connections should your DNS connection fail, while its built-in Chameleon security protocol, bundled in with the premium version, is designed specifically to bypass VPN blocking. On the downside, VyprVPN takes more personal information than most when you sign up, and doesn’t allow payment via Bitcoin or any other anonymous form. Still, speeds are consistently above the average, particularly over shorter hops, making VyprVPN a solid option if anonymity isn’t your prime concern.
2. Buffered VPN: The most simple, speedy VPN for breaking UAE restrictions
Price: $12.99 (£9.92) per month, $6.60 (£5.00) per month with annual contract
While Buffered VPN doesn’t have the UAE in the list of over 40 destinations it offers around the world, it makes up for it with a great choice of options in Europe, Asia and the Americas. While not the most feature-packed service, it scores high for simple, strong protection, with an intuitive interface that can have you restarting your last VPN in seconds, or finding a new location within two or three clicks. Buffered copes well with blocks on US and UK streaming services, and is a challenge to trip up when it comes to concealing your location; it passed DNS leak tests without a fault. Speeds are good as well. We found Buffered one of the fastest services for long-haul connections between the UK and the US or Singapore.
The company is located in Hungary, putting it outside the immediate reach of the fourteen eyes network and authorities in the UAE, but Buffered loses some points for its lack of any anonymous payment option, including Bitcoin. More seriously, there’s no killswitch, which could leave you high and dry with your real IP address showing if the VPN goes down. These faults mean it’s far from the last word for privacy or anonymity, but it’s otherwise a quick, easy-to-use VPN.
3. Nord VPN: The best VPN for privacy and anonymity
Price: $11.95 (£9.13) per month, $5.75 (£4.39) per month with annual contract
Despite having over 1400 servers in 61 countries, Nord VPN doesn’t have a presence in the UAE, yet it’s worth using anyway because it’s anti-blocking and anti-surveillance features are so strong. These include optional double encryption and a dual-hop VPN, which disguises your IP address not just once but twice to throw snoopers off your track. You can also route traffic via the TOR network using an Onion over VPN server, while the Obfuscated Server option is designed for use in restrictive countries, making it easier to circumvent content filters and website blocks. NordVPN also has an effective configurable killswitch, which can be set to close specific apps immediately if your VPN disconnects.
Nord VPN is based in Panama, which isn’t part of the fourteen eyes network and has no mandatory data retention laws, and Nord VPN claims a strict no logging policy as well. It’s not the fastest service, but performance is solid; even with a UK to Singapore VPN connection speeds only dropped 67.9%, while UK to US connection speeds were well above average. It’s a good, anonymity-friendly VPN.
4. Hide My Ass: The best VPN for performance and Internet freedom
Price: £7.99 per month, £4.99 per month with annual contract
You don’t have to work hard with Hide My Ass to connect to a server beyond the scope of the UAE’s restrictive laws; it has a special Freedom mode that connects you automatically to the nearest server in a country that supports free speech. What’s more, Hide My Ass has two servers based in the UAE itself, giving you a high-speed option if reaching blocked content or maintaining anonymity isn’t absolutely crucial, for instance, when you just want additional security while you work on a public WiFi network in a hotel lobby.
Hide My Ass also wins when it comes to performance. With both short hops or lengthy Asia to Europe or America VPN connections, Hide My Ass is consistently one of the speediest services, with only a 36% drop in speed when connected to a US server from the UK, and 75% when connected to Singapore, against an 83% average. It has the all-important killswitch and a double-hop option, disguising your location twice, and the only concerns are that HMA is based in the UK – in the core five eyes network – and that it keeps logs, though no details of your Internet activity are preserved. Within the UAE this probably doesn’t worry you, and this is otherwise a great VPN.
5. PureVPN: The best VPN for easy setup
Price: $11.95 (£9.13) per month, $10.95 (£8.36) per month with annual contract
PureVPN is another service with a local presence, with four of its 500-plus servers in the UAE. As one of the larger VPN providers its range if extensive, taking in some 121 countries, while speeds are consistently good. It’s right up there with the fastest for both short and long-hop VPNs, speeds only dropping by 18% for UK to UK VPN links and 60% for US to UK connections, putting them comfortably above the average.
Pure’s purpose-based approach is a good fit for the UAE, as you can easily find the optimal setup for streaming from US video services or circumventing the state’s restrictive filters and website blocks. Pure also has a Killswitch as a safeguard and supports split tunnelling, so that you can set some applications to always use the VPN and some to disregard it. PureVPN claims it doesn’t log activities and, as a Hong Kong-based provider, isn’t subject to pressure from the fourteen eyes intelligence network or the authorities within the UAE. It’s speedy, secure and simple to use, which makes it an excellent choice.