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Internet in UAE - Local SIM


Page update - Sep 20, 2022

What is cheaper for a tourist in the UAE - local SIM-cards or roaming? What are the tariffs for tourists? Where and how to buy a local SIM-card? Read the answers on this page.

Important!

In 2022, Etisalat and DU operators (UAE locals) completely renewed their travel SIM lines. Now, there is even unlimited internet for tourists. Read the details below on this page. The prices and information on this page were updated in September 2022. We're "keeping our finger on the pulse". Read only sites with actual information.

In this page we will only talk about the Internet. If you want to make the cheapest calls possible, read our page "How to call from the UAE".

Mobile operators in the UAE

There are only two mobile operators in the UAE - Etisalat and DU, both are UAE national companies, partly owned by the government. Both work on GSM 900/1800, the SIM-card format is common. There are also Virgin and Swyp, but these are only the second brands for Etisalat and DU. We will talk about Virgin and Swyp some later.

It is considered Etisalat is more popular towards residents, and Etisalat has more post-paid subscribers. DU is more focused on tourists and short-term visitors to the UAE, and DU has more pre-paid subscribers.

Prices between the two operators are almost the same. The competition between them exists only "for show". In fact, their activities are fully controlled by TRA UAE (UAE Telecommunications Authority).

This policy has led the UAE to the status of one of the countries with the most expensive Internet. According to Cable.co.uk estimates in 2021, the UAE ranks 205th in affordability of Internet prices! For comparison, the UK ranks 78th and the US ranks 154th.

In the United Arab Emirates a gigabyte of mobile traffic costs $7.62 on average. In the UK it costs $1.42 on average. In the US it costs $3.33 on average. But this analysis includes all tariffs (including the most expensive), and we, as tourists, are primarily interested in the basic tariffs.

Virgin and Swyp

The Virgin operator is not really an operator, just a second brand of DU. We categorically do not recommend Virgin, as their SIM-cards work on an auto-renewable subscription basis. Your bank card will be charged monthly, and it's almost unreal to unsubscribe. There are hundreds of angry reviews on the internet from tourists about this. Highly do not recommend it!

The operator Swyp is not really an operator, but just a second brand of Etisalat. And the problem is the same - an automatically renewable subscription. Highly not recommended!



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Attention! Messenger calls don't work

The UAE has strict laws in the field of telecommunications. Only two operators, Etisalat and DU, are authorized to provide VoIP (voice over digital communication networks) services. The other options are prohibited by law.

Prepare for Skype, Viber, WhatsUp and other messenger calls to not work. Voice traffic is blocked by operators. Although from time to time calls by messengers work, the blocking system (FireWall) does not work ideally. For example, in 2021 two tourists have already written to us that VoIP calls work in Telegram messenger.

There are 9 VoIP services authorized in the UAE. They are BOTIM, C`Me, HiU, GoChat Messenger, Voico, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype Businesses, Zoom. You can call with one of these services, BUT remember to check the mobile tariff to support them. Some tariffs support and some do not. Some tariffs support only BOTIM and C`Me, but don't support others. You need to check before buying the SIM.

Some users install VPN software in their phones. To explain in simple words, these programs organize a "tunnel" to a special server in another country. The phone works as if it is on the Internet in the UK or US, and the messengers work. Theoretically, in the UAE such a trick is outlawed - the "Cybercrime Law" of 2016.

Important: What is DATA SOCIAL?

If you never touched this conception then we explain.

When you buy Internet packages from Etisalat and DU, you see the phrases "250 Mb + 250 Mb DATA SOCIAL" or "3 Gb + 2 Gb DATA SOCIAL".

DATA SOCIAL is the traffic which can be used only for social networks. Moreover, not all social networks are included. Usually, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIN are included. Will this traffic be useful for you personally? Hard to say. It is up to you.

Censorship

The UAE has a system of Internet censorship. It works like the famous Great Firewall of China, but a little differently. In the UAE, there are only two operators, any blocking is easily made on their equipment. In most countries, such a censorship system is not even theoretically possible, because there are too many operators.

In the UAE they can be blocked:

- Resources that pose a threat to the competition of the VoIP monopoly;

- Resources that are inconsistent with UAE cultural, moral, and political values;

- Any websites in the .il (Israel) domain or Hebrew language pages. Although UAE-Israel relations were normalized in October 2020, sites can be blocked "by old memory".

Almost any website can be banned. For example, if the site has a "Call us through the site" service. Or the site contains images of women with deep cleavage. The criteria are so vague that any site can be banned.



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Etisalat offers

Officially, tourists cannot use the whole range of Etisalat tariffs. That is, if you come directly to one of the Etisalat offices they will only sell a SIM-card with a Visitor Line (travel tariff). You can find a SIM-card with a normal tariff at resellers, who can always be found in shopping malls.

You have to pay for a SIM-card in the UAE. At the time this page was updated (September 2022) the Etisalat SIM-card (NOT tourist) costs AED 55 (+5% VAT). See our page "UAE currency" for current dirham exchange rates. After purchase, you have to wait for its activation, the procedure lasts within 1 hour. Some tourists are shocked by all this.

It is convenient to recharge the balance by payment cards that can be purchased in most any store. Having bought a payment card, follow the instructions on the card. Check the balance - *121#.

Visitor Line tariffs

There's not much difference in prices between tourist and resident fares, but tourist tariffs give you useful bonuses:

- 5 or 30 hours of access via UAE Wifi by Etisalat;

- A promo-code for 40% off (but no more than AED 25) on 4 Careem cab rides. Discount applies to new Careem users only. Not valid on the cheapest Careem Go fare, but it was canceled in the UAE in September 2019 anyway;

- SMILE ETISALAT app subscription. This one is the most interesting. This app gives discounts at amusement parks and water parks, restaurants, fast food outlets, and fancy stores. This bonus is available with any Visitor Line pack, even with the cheapest one.

UAE Wifi by Etisalat works in all public places in the cities. Maybe you won't have to use mobile internet via 3G/4G at all either.

You can easily find Etisalat sales offices and stalls in all large airports and malls in the UAE. How the sales office looks like, see in the photo near, click on the photo to enlarge to full screen.

To buy Etisalat Visitor Line SIM you need only your passport, money and a little patience to wait until registration passes.

There are 5 offers within the Visitor Line (tourist tariffs) now. All work for 28 days, except the unlimited one. This is a new line of tariffs, valid since 2022.

1. Visitor Line plan (basic). AED 49 (VAT included, no need to pay 55 for SIM): 2 GB of mobile internet, 30 local minutes, WiFi NOT included.

2. Visitor Line+ plan. AED 79 (VAT included, no need to pay 55 for SIM): 4GB of mobile Internet, 30 local minutes, WiFi NOT included.

3. Visitor Line Premium plan. AED 125 (VAT included, no need to pay 55 for SIM): 8 GB of mobile Internet, 120 local minutes, 5 hours WiFi included.

4. Visitor Line Premium+ plan. AED 200 (VAT included, no need to pay 55 for SIM): 22.5 GB of mobile internet, 525 local minutes, 30 hours WiFi included.

5. Visitor Line Unlimited plan. AED 319 (VAT included, no need to pay 55 for SIM): Unlimited mobile Internet, 100 local minutes, WiFi NOT included. Warning! Package is valid for 10 days only.

See our page "UAE currency" for current dirham exchange rates.

You can switch your SIM from tourist status to common status if visiting any Etisalat office, but we do not know the details of this procedure.



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Etisalat rates for residents

Traffic volume based tariffs for residents are about the same as for tourists.

30 days plans: 750 MB for AED 25 (Medium), 2 GB for AED 50 (Large), 3.5 GB for AED 75 (Extra Large).

It's much more interesting to subscribe to New Control Line plans which are volume free but speed limited. For 80 dirhams you get 1 GB at full speed, but further the Internet does not turn off - it works at 64 kbit/sec. You will not be able to watch videos at YouTube with such low speed, but the speed is acceptable for web-browsing or social networks.

In addition, this fee of 80 dirhams now includes 1000 minutes with a "favorite number". For example, you can buy two of these SIM-cards, connect the numbers as "favorite" (marks the first dealt number as "favorite") to each other and talk to each other with practically no limits.

If speed is not important, then you will not find a better option in the UAE! Look for resellers who will sell a SIM-card with this tariff. However, it is very difficult to buy these unlimited rates. It is better not to seriously count on it.

DU offers

The situation is similar to Etisalat. The SIM card costs AED 55 (+5% VAT). You must wait up to 15 minutes for activation. Tourists can only buy Tourist Plan (tourist tariff) in the official sales branches. It is possible to buy a SIM card for residents from resellers, but it does not make any sense, as we explain below.

You can buy a SIM-card already in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah airports, there are DU offices in every terminal.

Tourist Plan packages from DU

You don't have to pay AED 55 for the SIM-card when you buy the Tourist Plan. At the moment there are five Tourist Plan offers. These are new plans, valid from 2022.

Plan 1. For AED 49 you get: 2 GB of traffic, 30 minutes with UAE numbers. The package works for 28 days.

Plan 2. For AED 99 you get: 6 GB of traffic, 30 minutes with UAE number. This package works for 28 days.

Plan 3. For AED 139 you get: 10 GB of traffic, 30 minutes with UAE number. This package lasts for 28 days.

Plan 4. For AED 189 you get: 20 GB of traffic, 30 minutes with UAE number. This package works for 28 days.

Unlimited plan. For AED 299 you get: unlimited mobile Internet, unlimited calls to UAE numbers. Attention! The package works for 10 days only.

Important moment! As soon as these 2GB, 6GB, 10GB, or 20GB expire, you can enjoy all mobile data bundles available through DU-network. You simply have to buy a "recharge card", top up your account with *131*[charge card number]# and activate your package.

Prices for Internet packages from du:

- 200 Mb (+200 Mb SOCIAL) - AED 25;

- 500 Mb (+500 Mb SOCIAL) - AED 55;

- 1,1 Gb (+1,1 Gb SOCIAL) - AED 110;

- 5 Gb (+3 Gb SOCIAL) - AED 210;

- 25 Gb (+15 Gb SOCIAL) - AED 525.

That is, the DU standard rates are available to tourists on the SIM-card Tourist Plan. There is no need to look for resellers and buy "roundabout" way SIM for residents.

Tourist Plan SIM-card bonuses

In 2022, DU SIM-cards no longer come with bonuses. Regrettable.

The SIM-card used to come with a useful promo-code with a 20% discount for four UBER cab rides. But that was in 2021. Under the new 2022 terms, that code is no longer available. There were two other interesting promo-codes for a Dollar Rent A Car discount and a free DU ENTERTAINER coupon subscription, but as of summer 2019, those promo-codes have been canceled.

Now they give a bonus QR-code to download the ALSAADA discount app. But the ALSAADA app is already free for all tourists in Dubai. And you don't need any QR-code, because the ALSAADA application can be freely downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. Simply put, it's a pseudo-bonus.

Read about ALSAADA and other discount and coupon apps in our in-depth review "How to save money in Dubai".

Roaming options

This page is targeted for a wide audience in different countries. So we are unable to make a detailed review for roaming options in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and other English-speaking countries.

Find the roaming prices in the UAE of your current mobile operator. Compare these prices with the prices of local operators we told above. Then make a choice - do you need to buy a local SIM or roaming is better?

SUMMARY

If you expect to call by Skype, WhatsUp or other messenger and thus save on calls, then in the UAE there is the unpleasant surprise - messengers calls are blocked. You will have to communicate with home in the traditional way. Read our review "How to call from the UAE".

If you need internet at a minimum price. Visit the nearest Etisalat office and buy a Visitor Line SIM-card and get 2, 4, 6 or 22 GB of traffic. Don't forget about interesting bonuses with this package. We wrote above about prices, conditions, bonuses.

If you need a lot of internet. Buy unlimited plans Visitor Line Unlimited by Etisalat (AED 319) or Tourist Plan Unlimited by DU (AED 299). The unlimited Internet access for 10 days.

In Dubai at airports you can take a free SIM-card by DU. Read details in our review "Free SIM in Dubai".

Read our review "How much money should I take to the UAE?" to find out what other expenses are expected while traveling.

Have a good connection in the United Arab Emirates, and read our pages about the country (see list of the pages below).

TIPS

Tips for Tourists in the UAE

IMPORTANT FOR TOURISTS

What to Take for the UAE

What You Should Not Do in the UAE

To the UAE with Kids

Sharks in the UAE

Weather in the UAE by Month

Holidays in the UAE

Are Unmarried Young Women
Allowed to Enter the UAE?

All-Inclusive in the UAE

Power Sockets & Voltage in the UAE

Hotels in the UAE with Own Beach

GENERAL INFORMATION

The UAE - Info, Facts, Figures

What Language is Spoken in the UAE

Population and Citizens of the UAE

History of the UAE

Flag of the UAE

Friday and Weekend in the UAE

Ramadan in the UAE

Sheikh Zayed - Father of Nation

Sheikhs of the UAE

GIFTS AND CUSTOMS LAW

What to Bring from the UAE

What You Can and Not Bring In the UAE

What You Can and Not Take Out the UAE

VAT Refund in the UAE

Shopping in the UAE - Why is Cheap

Date Fruits in the UAE

Camel Milk and Dairy Products

Bakhoor and Oud

MONEY AND EXPENSES

Money in the UAE - Emirati Dirham

Currency Exchange in the UAE

How Much Money to Take to the UAE

Food Prices in the UAE

Tourist Taxes in the UAE

Alcohol in the UAE

Cigarettes and Smoking in the UAE

Vape and iQos in the UAE

TRANSPORT

Dubai Metro - Fares and Map

Taxi in the UAE - Fares and Guide

NOL Transport Card Dubai

Dubai Tram

Dubai Monorail

Buses in the UAE

FROM AIRPORT TO CITY

From Dubai Airport (DXB) to City

From Al Maktoum Airport (DWC) to City

From Abu Dhabi Airport (AUH) to City

From Sharjah Airport (SHJ) to City

TRIPS BETWEEN EMIRATES

From Dubai to Abu-Dhabi

Free Buses Dubai - Abu-Dhabi

From Sharjah to Dubai

From Ras Al-Khaimah to Dubai

From Ajman to Dubai

From Fujairah to Dubai

From Umm Al-Quwain to Dubai

TELECOM

Internet in the UAE

Cheap Calls from the UAE

Free SIM-card in Dubai

UAE Phone Codes

EMIRATES

Dubai

Deira

Bur Dubai

Dubai Marina

Jumeirah

Downtown

TOP Attractions in Dubai

Beaches in Dubai

Abu Dhabi

Al Ain

Yas Island

Beaches in Abu Dhabi

Sharjah

Beaches in Sharjah

Ajman

Ras Al Khaimah

Umm Al Quwain

Fujairah

ATTRACTIONS IN THE UAE

Best Attractions in the UAE

Free Attractions in the UAE

DUBAI

Burj Khalifa

Dubai Fountain

Excursions in Dubai

How to Save on Entertainment in Dubai

DUBAI MALL

The Best in Dubai Mall

Dubai Aquarium

Candylicious in Dubai Mall

Waterfall in Dubai Mall

DUBAI DEIRA

Gold Market in Dubai

Al Mamzar Beach and Park

Deira Clock Tower

City Centre Deira Mall

JUMEIRAH DISTRICT

Burj Al Arab

Wild Wadi Water Park

Jumeirah Mosque

Dubai Marina Mall

Madinat Jumeirah

Jumeirah Beach

PALM JUMEIRAH

Aquaventure

The Lost Chambers

Dolphin Bay

Palm Fountains

The View at the Palm

DUBAI PARKS AND RESORTS

LEGOLAND

MOTIONGATE

LEGOLAND Water Park

BLUEWATERS ISLAND

Ain Dubai

Madame Tussauds

BUR DUBAI

The Dubai Frame

Dubai Dolphinarium

Al Fahidi Fort Museum

Museum of the Future

DUBAI - SOUTH-EAST

Global Village

Miracle Garden

Butterfly Garden

IMG Worlds of Adventure

MALL OF THE EMIRATES

Mall of the Emirates

Ski Dubai

ABU DHABI CITY

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Emirates Palace

Observation Deck at 300

Sheikh Zayed Memorial

Heritage Village

Corniche Waterfront

Sir Bani Yas

YAS ISLAND

Ferrari World

Formula Rossa

Galleria Ferrari

Warner Bros Park

Yas WaterWorld

Yas Marina & Formula 1

Yas Mall

SHARJAH

Sharjah Fountains

Sharjah Aquarium

Museum of Islamic Civilization

Al Noor Mosque

Mega Mall

AJMAN

Ajman Fish Market

Ajman Fort and Museum

City Centre Ajman Mall

UMM AL QUWAIN

DreamLand Water Park

NATIONAL CUISINE

Emirati Cuisine - What to Taste

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