If you have been planning a trip to Dubai, you might wonder if using a VPN is legal. When traveling, it is highly recommended that you have a VPN in place, especially if you are connecting to public hotspots and Wi-Fi.
VPNs are available to the public, and avid internet users are encouraged to have a subscription to such services for their online protection.
VPNs are not prohibited by law in Dubai or the UAE. But, there are strict censorship laws regarding what is viewed, shared, and accessed on the web.
Using a VPN to interact with blocked sites or illegal content such as pornography, dating sites, gambling, and unlicensed VoIP technology is unlawful.
You’re already probably spending a pretty penny on your trip, so at least you can browse the internet for free (yay!) without worry, right? Well, you definitely need to be cautious about your internet activity in the UAE, with or without a VPN.
Should I Use A VPN In Dubai?
Even with all the laws regarding online activity, the UAE is not free from cybercriminals and hackers. You may not think using a VPN while traveling around Dubai is necessary.
Still, if you plan on connecting to public Wi-Fi (including hotel Wi-Fi) and hotspots, a VPN is recommended. Especially a VPN with Domain Name Server (DNS) leak protection.
Using a VPN legally in Dubai means that it is solely a means of protecting precious data and information stored on your devices. Using it to connect to banned sites and applications would make it illegal.
NordVPN has a summary of VPN regulations in the UAE, further explaining the legalities of using one such network.
Which VPN Works Best In Dubai?
You may already be subscribed to a VPN, but I have found NordVPN to be the best in my research. And I’m not saying this just because they happen to sponsor many of my favorite YouTubers.
This company has done extensive research into the policies and laws of the UAE concerning the safe and ethical use of VPNs.
Should NordVPN not quite tickle your fancy, vpnoverview.com posted an article further educating you on using VPNs in Dubai and other suggestions for the best VPNs to use abroad.
VPNs, Censorship, And Online Activity In Dubai
If you’re like me, you’re probably less worried about using a VPN to protect your data and more interested in accessing as many Netflix titles as possible.
While it wouldn’t even cross your mind to access the deep or dark web for nefarious reasons, specific sites and applications that are entirely legal in your home country are, in fact, illegal in Dubai.
And it is not even the obvious things like pornographic content that may come to mind.
Firstly, it must be said that even if you disagree with the censorship laws of the UAE, as a guest in their country, you should abide by them.
And if you are tempted to use your VPN for what is considered illegal activity, be prepared to pay the price. Yes, a literal price.
Why Are Things Like Gambling And Online Dating Illegal In Dubai?
Strange to think that such an advanced metropolis like Dubai would have such strict censorship in place.
Firstly, Dubai is not run in the same way that western countries like the USA are. Did you know that there are no political parties in the UAE?
Hereditary rulers determine laws and regulations. And these rules abide by Sharia Law, which is based on the Islamic faith.
The primary purpose here is protection. Protection from illicit content and sites that may be harmful, fraudulent, or put the country at risk of terrorism.
Within this faith and law, things like gambling, consumption of drugs and alcohol, premarital sex, same sexed partnerships are forbidden; this is why certain types of media and online content and activity are illegal.
What Kind Of Sites, Apps, And Content Will Be Considered Illegal?
The UAE blocks ANY site that has “HTTP” instead of “HTTPS” as it runs the risk of being fraudulent. Sharia Law banned sites and apps used for online dating, gambling, LGBTQ content, and pornography.
You may be shocked that unlicensed apps using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), like Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Snapchat, and Viber, are also illegal.
These apps have been blocked by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).
Dubai block the apps to prohibit citizens from making free phone calls, thus ensuring the protection of the leading telecoms in the country’s profit. It also protects citizens and the country against potential security threats or cybercrimes.
Using VoIP even unknowingly could lead to prosecution. So when planning your Dubai trip, you had better figure out a legal way to communicate with your people.
BOTIM, for instance, is used in the UAE instead of messaging applications such as WhatsApp. “My Bayut” has an extensive guide to apps best used for messaging purposes in the UAE.
A list of banned sites and apps was published by dubaifaqs.com and further explains the censorship laws in the UAE.
This list was compiled and published a few years ago, and some applications and sites may have since been blocked or unblocked. It is still a good yardstick for your downtime browsing during your trip.
Some Blocked And Illegal Apps And Websites Include:
- Wikipedia pages about the Prophet Muhammed
- Websites that denounce or are critical of the Islamic faith
- Promotion of violence or terrorism
Besides whole websites and apps being blocked, specific terms and phrases are blocked on search engines and web pages.
In June of 2022, Amazon.com blocked over 150 words relating to LGBTQ content. A search that included terms such as “queer” and “pride” would return fruitless.
What Happens If I Accidentally Access An Illegal Website While In Dubai?
Close it! Close it immediately! Then close all the blinds, lock the door and hide under the bed. Just kidding, accidents happen, and your browsing habits are second nature. But seriously, close it quickly.
Instead, familiarize yourself with the things that could potentially get you in legal trouble. Expatmedia.net’s list would make for some good reading material for your flight; this could also refer to what you post or send online.
Swearing, slanderous language, and flipping someone off is also behavior that could get you into serious legal trouble.
Try not to stress too much about accidentally slipping up while using your VPN in Dubai.
Instead, make the absolute most of your time in this beautiful city (legally, please), and maybe don’t do or Google anything your grandmother would disapprove of.
What Are The Penalties For The Misuse Of VPNs In The UAE?
People who are found guilty of using VPNs for the sharing, posting, or downloading of illegal web content will be liable to a fine.
The fine could range between 82 thousand dollars and 2.7 million dollars, depending on the severity of the content.
ADG Legal Online further clarifies the most recent laws on what is considered a cybercrime and illegal content in the UAE.
They also guide you on what to do if you have found yourself unwittingly posting, sharing, or engaging with illegal online content while in the UAE.