The United Arab Emirates might be a tolerant Middle Eastern regime.
But it still blocks sites and online platforms used for work, communications, and activities.
Luckily, unblocking websites in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai included) is easy – use a VPN!
But it needs to be a reliable VPN – like Surfshark.
Surfshark offers great speeds, supports VoIP and streaming, and provides obfuscation features.
That said, using a VPN to unblock websites in the UAE isn’t as easy as installing and connecting.
There are considerations and different methods to use instead of (or together with) your VPN.
I’ll walk you through everything you need to know in this guide!
What’s the Easiest Method to Unblock Sites in the UAE Without a VPN?
One of the most reliable ways to unblock sites in the United Arab Emirates without a VPN is by using Oxylabs.io or the Tor Network through the Tor Proxy Browser.
This isn’t always guaranteed to work, and if you use Tor, you’ll need to use Tor bridges.
For this reason, a VPN is still the most reliable way to unblock sites.
To read about using Oxylabs.io or the Tor Network to unblock sites in the UAE without a VPN – along with other methods – keep reading!
Other Methods for Unblocking Websites in the UAE Without a VPN
While using a VPN is the safest way to unblock sites and apps in the United Arab Emirates, there are a few other options you might find worth trying.
Here they are!
1. Proxy Servers
Using proxy servers is one of the most popular methods for unblocking websites.
And with thousands of free and paid options available, it’s easy to see why!
However, the UAE already blocked most proxies, including their websites.
So, if you find one that works, it’s only a matter of time before your unrestricted access to the online world is cut short again.
If you decide to use a proxy, I recommend Oxylabs.io.
Oxylabs is a trusted proxy provider offering various proxy plans, including datacenter proxies, residential proxies, and more.
The Tor Proxy Browser is another great example of how people living in or visiting the UAE can use proxies to bypass online censorship.
But you’ll have to use Tor bridges, which aren’t always guaranteed to work.
An added risk is that proxies aren’t encrypted, so using one to unblock illegal content is a surefire way to get fined or arrested.
2. Search the IP, Not the URL
Instead of entering a website’s URL – for example, vpnalert.com (or https://vpnalert.com) – in your browser’s search bar, use that site’s IP address instead.
To do this, you need to find the site’s IP (a numerical address used by computers and servers to identify each other).
Here’s How to Find a Site’s IP on Windows:
- Hold WindowsKey+R and hit Enter to open the Command Prompt app (cmd)
- Alternatively, open your Start Menu by clicking the Windows logo at the bottom-left of your screen and type Command Prompt before hitting Enter
- Type “ping” followed by a space and the website’s URL. For example, “ping vpnalert.com”
- Hit Enter to run the command and take note of the displayed IP address
Here’s How to Find It on Mac:
- Open Spotlight by clicking the magnifying glass icon in the top-right of your screen
- Search for “Network Utility” and open the app
- Click the “Ping” tab at the top of the Network Utility window
- In the text bar, enter the name of the website you want to visit. Unlike Windows, Mac requires you to include the “www.” part of the URL to ping a site, for example, “www.vpnalert.com”
- Select the “Send only ___ pings” option – you only need to ping the site once
- Click the blue “Ping” button at the bottom-right of the Network Utility window and take note of the displayed IP address in the white pane at the bottom of the window
And Here’s How to Find It on Linux:
- Open the Terminal by double-clicking the app icon (typically a black box with “>_” in it) or holding Ctrl+Alt+T (assuming you’re using a Windows keyboard)
- Type “ping” followed by a space and the website’s URL. For example, “ping vpnalert.com”
- Hit Enter to run the command and take note of the displayed IP address
- Remember to press ctrl+c to stop the ping process – otherwise, it’ll run indefinitely
BONUS: How to Find a Site’s IP on Your Smartphone?
I prefer using my laptop to ping a website’s IP address and saving it on my phone’s notepad app to copy-paste it into my mobile browser easily.
But if you’re away from your computer when the urge to visit a website strikes and you don’t already have the IP, there are apps you can use.
For Android, I recommend PingTools Network Utilities.
And if you have an iPhone or iPad, you can use iNetTools.
The Problem With Searching by IP
Some websites are set up to send you the wrong IP address when you try to ping them.
If you suspect this is happening, try replacing the ping command with “traceroute.”
Additionally, even if you have the correct IP, it might still be blocked.
Your traffic isn’t encrypted, either, so it’s not the safest way to unblock restricted content.
3. SSH Tunnels (The Hard Way)
Secure Shell (SSH) is a program that lets you connect to another server.
However, setting up an SSH tunnel is fairly complicated, as it works on the command line level.
You need to create an encrypted tunnel yourself with port forwarding to an SSH server via a proxy server.
If you have a love for technical setups, then it’s worth looking into SSH tunnels.
The biggest challenge is finding someone (or, more commonly, an organization) that will let you SSH into its server from the United Arab Emirates.
In my opinion, it’s much easier to use a VPN instead.
VPNs perform a similar task by sending your online traffic through an encrypted tunnel via its servers, cutting out most of the hard work involved with SSH tunnels.
4. Remote Desktop Connections
The last option is using remote desktop connections.
As the name implies, this involves connecting to a different computer through your own.
You need a trusted friend or family member outside of the UAE to provide the second device – ideally one they can monitor for you but won’t need to use.
Once you establish the connection, you effectively take control of the other computer.
This allows you to open the browser and visit blocked websites.
Popular examples of tools you can use for remote access include Microsoft’s Remote Desktop, TeamViewer, and VNC Connect.
Unfortunately, tools for creating remote desktop connections aren’t encrypted by default, and most don’t give you the option of adding encryption.
This means you still run the risk of getting caught or having someone else snoop on the connection.
Using a VPN to Unblock Websites in the United Arab Emirates
As you (hopefully) understand by now, using a VPN to unblock websites in the UAE is the safest option – and the easiest!
But it’s not as simple as picking a VPN provider at random and connecting to its servers.
Here’s the run-down:
Which VPN Features Are Essential For Accessing Censored Websites in the United Arab Emirates?
VPNs aren’t created equally, and most can’t bypass the UAE government’s online censorship.
When evaluating different providers, here are essential features to look for:
- Proven No-Logs Policy – there’s no reason for VPN providers to log your data, including the sites you visit while connected. This is especially prevalent when using your VPN to bypass censorship, as your data shows your online activities. For this reason, it’s essential to find a VPN provider with a no-logs policy proven through independent audits.
- RAM-Only Servers – RAM-only servers don’t record anything to their hard drives. Anything stored on the RAM is permanently deleted when the server is rebooted. This adds a massive layer of trust to an already-proven no-logs policy – so while not strictly necessary, it is a feature I strongly recommend.
- No IP or DNS Leaks – IP and DNS leaks are one of the ways your online activities can still be tracked even if you’re using a VPN. This means everything is still visible to your ISP and government despite your connection seemingly being masked by your VPN. Make sure to test for leaks before purchasing a VPN subscription!
- Internet Kill Switch – one way your IP and online traffic can still be leaked is if your connection to the VPN server is interrupted while browsing the internet. If this happens, the kill switch immediately ends your internet connection to protect you. However, without a kill switch, whatever you’re doing when your connection drops is visible to your ISP and government.
- Obfuscation (VPN Masking) – this helps hide that you’re using a VPN by masking the connection as regular HTTPS traffic. This is especially vital for users in the UAE or Dubai, as your ISP (and government) won’t know you’re using a VPN at all.
- VoIP and Streaming – considering VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) apps like Skype and WhatsApp are blocked, your VPN needs to support using and unblocking them. Likewise, for streaming on Netflix and other platforms.
- Speed – the faster your VPN is, the better – otherwise, unblocking websites will be a painful experience. Using a VPN slows your internet speed anyway, but that reduction should be kept to an absolute minimum. Having thousands of VPN servers in many countries and locations worldwide helps.
- Price – just like all VPNs aren’t created equally, all VPNs aren’t priced equally, either. In some cases, this makes sense. For example, ExpressVPN comes at a premium price in exchange for premium features. However, it’s essential to research if your VPN’s price matches its features. Don’t pay more for a substandard VPN than a reliable one! Additionally, compare subscription plans, as you can usually save money by opting for a long-term plan instead of a monthly one.
Here’s My Recommended VPN: Surfshark
Surfshark is my recommended VPN for the UAE and Dubai.
The provider offers every single must-have feature I listed above, from a proven no-logs policy and RAM-only servers to blazing-fast speeds and the ability to unblock VoIP and streaming services.
The latter is a more robust version that needs to be turned on in the app settings.
With these obfuscation features, your government and ISP (or phone carrier) will be none the wiser about you using a VPN!
Better yet, Surfshark offers unlimited simultaneous connections – so you can stay protected on all of your devices at the same time!
This is especially useful if you want to call with your family via WhatsApp while streaming Hulu on your laptop.
The only downside to Surfshark is needing to enable the kill switch yourself.
Luckily, you only need to do this the first time you open the app on any device.
Best of all, with a 30-day money-back guarantee and this MASSIVE discount on a two-year subscription, you can try Surfshark without breaking the bank!
There are some drawbacks to using either service, but they each offer unique strengths too.
You can check out our ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN In-Depth Comparison for more information!
The Shortcomings of All VPNs
There are also shortcomings common to all VPNs – even the best of them.
If you want to use a VPN safely in the United Arab Emirates, you need to be aware of every shortcoming and how you can get around them.
- VPN server IP addresses can be discovered and blocked. Your provider needs to have many servers and be able to replace blocked IPs with new ones.
- Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) can be used to detect VPN usage, which is one reason obfuscation is a recommended feature.
- WebRTC still leaks your real IP. If this happens, the best option is to block WebRTC using a browser extension like uBlock Origin.
- Malware that infects your device can track and expose you. While some VPN providers offer features that block ads and malware (like Surfshark’s CleanWeb), you’re safer using a dedicated solution like Malwarebytes. I also recommend the NetCraft browser extension, which helps protect against phishing attacks.
- Payment methods can expose you too! This is especially true if you moved to the UAE for work and cannot return to your home country to renew your VPN subscription when it expires. The best option is to pay with cryptocurrencies, which is very difficult to track, though you might want to use a hardware wallet for extra privacy (and security).
NO Free VPN for the UAE is Safe (Do THIS Instead)
As tempting as free VPNs might be, you’re better off avoiding them altogether.
Most free VPNs sell your data to the highest bidder.
Worse, some are entirely fake and designed to steal your data, often by installing malware instead of a real VPN app.
Free VPNs also cut corners wherever possible, so you’ll get substandard VPN security.
When you’re in the United Arab Emirates or Dubai, that’s a big no-no that can lead to being fined or even arrested.
Even if you choose a reputable freemium option (where a premium VPN offers a free version), you’ll end up with limited functionality and strict bandwidth caps.
Not to mention very few servers to choose from!
If you’re only there for a month or less, consider choosing a premium VPN and taking advantage of a 30-day money-back guarantee instead.
For longer visits, either stick with the plan you paid for or switch from one provider to the next each month.
The major downside is you have to pay by card or EFT for the money-back guarantees to be valid.
And if you need to switch every month, consider asking a trusted friend or family member to do the transactions and account setup on your behalf from outside the UAE.
How to Access Blocked Websites in the UAE With Surfshark VPN?
Here’s how you can safely unlock websites in the UAE (including Dubai) with a VPN:
- Before visiting/moving, choose a VPN provider and purchase a subscription, OR
- If you already live there and your chosen VPN provider’s website is blocked, try one of the methods listed above to purchase a subscription.
- Download and install the VPN apps on all your devices (to be safe).
- Launch the app and make sure the kill switch is turned on.
- If you’re outside of the UAE, connect to a VPN server using the Connect If you’re already there, select a specific location from the VPN’s server list depending on your activity (for example, the US for Netflix).
- Open your browser and visit browserleaks.com to check for IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks before you start browsing.
- Log out of any services and close all internet connections before disconnecting your VPN. Consider deleting all cookies as well.
Depending on your VPN provider, your choices might be limited while in the United Arab Emirates.
For example, ExpressVPN has a list of only four recommended servers.
If your provider has a similar list, make sure to keep note of the servers included and bookmark the page so you can check for updates.
What Websites and Apps Are Blocked in the UAE and Dubai – and Why?
The United Arab Emirate’s Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) has strict control over what is and isn’t blocked.
ISPs are forced to comply.
One reason for specific websites and apps being blocked is that their content is perceived to be against Islam’s ideals or the government’s interests.
These include websites that host, advertise, or provide specific types of content.
Another reason – and the biggest reason for VoIP services being blocked – is to protect the local monopoly of the telecommunication companies, Etisalat and DU.
These companies rely heavily on international calls as part of their revenue, so all competitors are blocked.
Blocked and Unblocked Websites in the UAE (Including Dubai)
To give you a better idea of what websites are blocked in the UAE, here’s an in-depth list of blocked and unblocked websites.
VoIP Services (and Similar):
- Botim (you can pay Etisalat or DU a monthly fee to unblock the app, which is free to use elsewhere in the world)
- Facebook Messenger (blocked)
- Zoom (unblocked)
- Facetime (blocked)
- Microsoft Teams (unblocked)
- IMO (blocked)
- Smoothy (unblocked)
- WhatsApp (blocked)
- Google Hangouts (unblocked)
- Skype (blocked)
- Discord (blocked)
- Facebook (unblocked)
- MeetMe (unblocked)
- Reddit (restricted; most of Reddit is unblocked, some subs are restricted)
- Instagram (blocked)
- Snapchat (blocked)
- Twitter (unblocked)
- Tinder (reportedly blocked by Etisalat but unblocked by DU)
- Grindr (blocked)
- Bumble (reportedly blocked by Etisalat but unblocked by DU)
- OkCupid (blocked)
- Match (blocked)
- PlentyofFish (blocked)
- Spotify (blocked)
- Soundcloud (blocked)
- Deezer (unblocked)
- Gmail (unblocked but users reported issues)
- Hotmail/Live (unblocked)
- Protonmail (unblocked)
- Signal (unblocked)
Sites falling under specific categories are also likely to be blocked altogether, such as:
Is It Legal to Use a VPN in the UAE?
The only official ruling is it’s illegal to use a “false IP address or third party address… for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.”
So technically, using a VPN is legal – bearing in mind that anything illegal without a VPN is still illegal with it.
And if you’re caught, you’ll face additional charges specifically because you used a VPN “for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.”
The UAE is surprisingly tolerant when it comes to using a VPN to unblock messaging apps.
They seem to be okay with streaming as well, presumably so long as the media is either in the public domain or is licensed for broadcast in your home country.
So as long as you aren’t breaking any laws, it’s legal to use a VPN in the UAE.
Do I Need a UAE IP to Unblock Blocked Websites in the UAE?
No, you do not need a UAE IP to unblock blocked websites – quite the opposite!
To unblock sites and apps, use a VPN to connect to a server with a non-UAE IP.
How to Open Blocked Sites in the United Arab Emirates in Mobile?
To open blocked websites in the United Arab Emirates on your mobile browser, download a reliable VPN app, like Surfshark.
If prompted when opening the app or connecting to a server, confirm to allow the VPN to establish a connection.
You can also use a proxy like Oxylabs.io.
Although there are alternative options – such as Tor – for unblocking websites in the UAE and Dubai, the easiest method is to use a reliable VPN.
Based on my experience researching and testing VPNs for the UAE, Surfshark is the best!
You’ll get world-class VPN security, fantastic speeds, and unlimited simultaneous connections – plus a HUGE discount on your first two-year subscription if you sign up with this link!