Reduce your roaming rates by using a local SIM.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the wealthier Arab nations, and consists of seven emir states: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain. Using your home phone there can be expensive, so consider switching over to a local SIM card to take advantage of better deals and plans. The United Arab Emirates has some good prepaid SIM cards available, with deals that could reduce your bills. You can buy 1GB of data from the UAE’s leading telco provider for AED60 (about US$16), which may sound expensive but will most probably work out cheaper than roaming on your home phone there. So, whether you’re planning a short trip, longer stay or tour of the Arab nations, check out the best SIM card options on finder.com.Prices up to date: September 2017
There are two main operators in the UAE: Etisalat and Du Mobile. Both operators go through a strict approval process before being allowed to operate, and each competes with the other to offer the best deals. Their services have all been tried and tested by both locals and travelers, and can be trusted. According to OpenSignal’s coverage map, both operators offer good network coverage and Internet speeds across most of the country. Signals can suffer as you head towards the desert regions but that will happen on all phones and providers you use there, it’s not just a local problem.
About the operators in the United Arab Emirates
The UAE’s operators offer good roaming rates and sell prepaid credit, which allows users to take advantage of cheap local offers and deals. Both providers offer customers 2G, 3G and 4G services on a GSM platform. You can buy a SIM card by showing your passport and after filling out a registration form your telephone number is already active when you purchase it. There are tough rules and regulations in Dubai, along with a great deal of censorship over content. We advise you to download a VPN onto your device before you travel to allow you full access to the Internet while you’re in the UAE. The local authorities also monitor social media channels, so be careful what you write and post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To add credit, there are several prepaid card machines around various towns and cities, and vouchers are stocked in stores and supermarkets.
Below, we have broken down each telco provider to highlight exactly what they can offer you during your stay in the UAE.
Etisalat is the largest operator in the UAE. It offers good network coverage and Internet speeds are fast. Etisalat provides customers with 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on a GSM platform. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores only and, as highlighted above, there are rules and regulations that apply to purchasing SIM cards. Credit can be found in most stores across the emirates.
The “Wasel” prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for AED55 in all sizes, and comes with an AED1 bonus, valid for a day. Credit vouchers can be purchased in the following denominations: AED25, AED50, AED100, AED200 or AED500, and can be added by dialing *120*<VoucherCode>#. Dial *121# to check your balance. Dial *140# to double check your SIM card is registered and activated properly or it might get shut down. Prepaid SIM cards remain active for 9 months after your last top-up.
The standard default data rates is charged at AED1 per MB. The following packs can be purchased:
- 100MB for AED5, activation: SD
- 250MB for AED10, activation: D250M
- 100MB: AED15, activation: W100M
- 500MB: AED35, activation: W500M
- 1GB: AED50, activation: W1G
- 250MB: AED30, activation: 250M
- 1GB: AED100, activation: 1G
- 3GB: AED150, activation: 2G
- 5GB: AED200, activation: 5G
- 7GB: AED250, activation: 7G
- 10GB: AED300, activation: 10G
- 20GB: AED450, activation: 20G
Send an SMS along with the relevant activation code to 1010 to purchase, or dial *170# and choose the relevant package.
The following booster packs are also available:
- 100MB: AED20, activation: ADD100M
- 500MB: AED40, activation: ADD500M
- 1GB: AED60, activation: ADD1G
There is also a “Visitor Line” for AED100. The following plans are available:
- Talk, text & surf: 30 local & International minutes + 30 local & International SMS + 500MB of mobile data
- Surf: 1GB of mobile data + 5 hours through Etisalat Wi-Fi
Each is valid for 14 days. Dial *101# and select the relevant pack to activate.
The following combo plans are also on sale:
Daily Combo Pack:
|Daily||50MB||AED2.5||Subscribe *135*7#||Unsubscribe *135*3*1*2#|
Local and/or International calls to 100 countries are also available. Validity 1 day. For other offers, dial *135#
Monthly Combo Pack:
|Small||100MB data||60 minutes||AED 40|
|New Combo 100||1GB data||100 minutes||AED 100|
|New Combo 150||2GB data||150 minutes||AED 150|
|New Combo 200||3GB data||300 minutes||AED 200|
Valid for 30 days in 100 countries.
Social Data is also available to access Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and BBM & LinkedIn.
Dial *135*3*2# to subscribe and choose the relevant pack.
Promo Social Plus Daily Bundles (1 Day Packs):
|Social Chat + Minutes||150MB||@ 64Kbps||AED 2||*135*5*2# to activate|
|Social Plus + Minutes||150MB||@ 64Kbps||AED 3||*135*5*2# to activate|
|Social Plus + Data + Minutes||150MB||@ 64Kbps||AED 5||*135*5*2# to activate|
Social Chat includes: Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn, WeChat, Viber Chat, Line.
Social Plus includes: Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn, WeChat, Viber Chat, Line, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest.
Etisalat also sells some really good roaming packs for data use across the Middle East and in other countries around the world. Check promotions at time of purchase as these can change from time-to-time.
Etisalat’s APN: etisalat.ae, and website in English: http://www.etisalat.ae/en/index.jsp
Du Mobile is the only other operator in the UAE. It also offers good network coverage and the Internet speeds are fast. Du Mobile provides 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on a GSM platform. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores only, and as highlighted in our introduction, there are rules and regulations when purchasing the SIM cards. Credit can be found in most stores across the emirates.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased in the following options:
- Pay as you go: AED55 – 20 minutes international call time plus credit bonus, valid for 1 day. The SIM is valid for at least 9 months.
- Tourist Plan: AED75 – 200MB data, 20 minutes international calls, valid for 7 days. The Tourist SIM card is valid for 90 days after activation. For AED5 you can extend the SIM’s validity by dialing *135# and by following the prompts.
WoW recharge cards can be purchased in the following denominations: AED20, AED50, AED100, AED200 and AED500 or online by using a credit card. Dial *135# to check your balance.
The standard default data rate is charged at AED1 per MB. The following packages can also be added:
- 160MB: AED20, text “data 80MB o” to 1355
- 450MB: AED50, text “data 300MB o” to 1355
- 1GB: AED100, text “data 1GB o” to 1355
- 3GB: AED150, only available online, or ask in store for more details
- 5GB: AED200, text “data 5GB o” to 1355
- 10GB: AED300, only available online, or ask in store for more details
- 25GB: AED500, text “data 25GB o” to 1355
Du Mobile also sells some very good roaming packs for data use in 66 countries. For AED200 you will receive 1GB of data, valid for one week. Activate by dialing *135*20#. Dial *135# to check your balance.
Du Mobile’s APN: du, and website in English: www.du.ae
Some top tips from finder.com staff
- The official language in the United Arab Emirates is Arabic, but English is widely spoken and there’s a large expat community there.
- Locals call a SIM card a “SIM” or “Chip”.
- Ask the sellers to set up the SIM for you, because they will know how to do it. If not, follow the instructions we have highlighted above or go to the official operator website to get advice.
- Remember, it’s always better to get things done early, before the shops get too busy. That way you are more likely to receive better assistance and avoid the crowds
- Download a VPN onto your electronic device before you travel to allow you full access to the Internet
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
While it’s well known for reviews, booking hotels, flights and holidays, TripAdvisor also has many user comments that can help guide you through the SIM cards that have been tried and tested in the United Arab Emirates.
Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
“For calls/SMS only, you can pick up very cheap phones (not smartphones) from stores. Check the du.ae and etisalat.ae websites for ‘visitor line’ SIM card packages. Maybe you have a spare phone hiding in a drawer somewhere.”
“For about 25 dollars you can get a phone from carrefour markets which are in many of the major shopping malls or from anywhere in Dubai. If your requirements are not high consumption of Internet for many hours a day the best is not to buy anything and go to any shopping mall or coffee shop and use their Wi-Fi”
“I had an Etisalat SIM card (from a previous trip) I topped up AED100 from home and they always have some special promos, opted in to a double top up promo, had 2GB for 2 weeks, was just enough.“
“It’s very easy to find prepaid SIM cards in Dubai, especially in the malls. They can be a bit harder to find in the other emirates, they are not as modern. Abu Dhabi is OK but the others are a bit more dated. Credit can be found in most shops and supermarkets.”
Pros and cons of the UAE’s top telco providers
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible international phone. To double check you have this phone, or whether it’s possible to unlock your device, contact your provider before you leave.
- No devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Censorship over content
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
- Tough rules and regulations make buying a SIM card difficult
Do you have more questions?
Q: Is the signal really that bad in the desert?
A: All networks will suffer in the desert regions, no matter what provider you use. UAE networks offer a very reliable service that is no worse than what you would get on a home phone there, so it makes sense to opt for a local SIM card because the rates are relatively cheap.
Q: What shall I do if I lose my phone?
A: Your phone is your lifeline, especially when traveling around the Middle East. Make sure you keep it safe and always make a note of where it is. The importance of having a direct link to family and friends via social media or through phone services can never be underestimated! If you do lose your phone, then retrace your steps and ask around. If you don’t have any luck, then report it missing. Finally, find a cheap replacement to keep in touch with the outside world, and don’t let this one out of your sight!