If you’re travelling to the United Arab Emirates, you can save a lot of money by using the right SIM card. Compare the best SIM cards for using your phone in the UAE.

Each year, around 1.5 million Brits visit the United Arab Emirates (including Dubai and Abu Dhabi). If you want to use your mobile phone whilst you’re there, it’s worth getting the best value SIM card for your trip.

Having access to your mobile phone in the United Arab Emirates makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and family on your trip. It’s also helpful for finding your way around (e.g. with directions on Google Maps) and for calling a taxi, your hotel, or a local restaurant for a reservation.

Nowadays, it’s really easy to use your mobile phone in the United Arab Emirates. There are roaming packages available from £2 per day when you use a UK SIM card. Alternative, you can buy a local UAE SIM card from 49 AED (about £11.80) on arrival, or there are data-only eSIMs available from £7.50 for 7 days usage.

In this article, we’ll review the best SIM cards for using your mobile phone in the United Arab Emirates (including both Dubai and Abu Dhabi). We’ll compare the three different ways of using your mobile phone in the UAE (roaming on a UK SIM card, getting a local SIM card upon arrival, and buying an eSIM plan). We’ll also discuss the network compatibility with your UK phone.

Best UAE SIM Card: Sky Mobile (UK-based SIM)
Recommended Plan: £2 per day Roaming Passport Plus
(unlimited minutes and texts to the UK & use the data from your plan)
Inclusive Features:
Network Coverage: 99% population coverage in the UAE
Compatibility: Works with most unlocked smartphones (including iPhone & Android)
Sky SIM Card: Get Sky Mobile SIM card (from £6) →
eSIM Alternative: US$8.50 (~£7.50) for 1GB data on Burj Mobile (Airalo)
(data only plan, valid for 7 days, requires an eSIM-ready phone)

Using Your Mobile Phone In The United Arab Emirates

If you’re planning a trip to the United Arab Emirates (including Dubai and Abu Dhabi), there are three ways to use your mobile phone whilst you’re there:

  • You can roam on a UK-based SIM card. This is the easiest way to use your mobile phone in the UAE. However, it can be an expensive option if you’re on the wrong mobile network. You’ll have a UK-based phone number (+44) and you’ll pay your UK mobile network for usage.
  • You can buy a local SIM card upon arrival in the UAE. This will give you a local phone number (+971). However, you’ll need to undergo SIM card registration and censorship will also be in place on the SIM card. This can be an expensive option if you need more than 2GB data.
  • You can buy a data-only eSIM for the UAE. If you’re using an eSIM-compatible phone, you can get a data-only eSIM from Burj Mobile (via Airalo). This can save you some time and hassle compared to getting a SIM card on arrival. It’s also cheaper if you need 1GB of data or less.

The following table shows a side-by-side comparison of these three options:

Roaming on your UK SIM card Buying a UAE SIM o arrival Buying a data eSIM for UAE
Best for moderate data usage & calling UK phone numbers.
Best for light data usage & calling locally in the UAE.
Best if you’re departing soon and need an eSIM quickly.
You’ll have a UK-based number (beginning with +44). You’ll have a UAE-based phone number (beginning with +971). Data-only service. Use your normal SIM for calls (roaming fees apply).
We recommend a Sky Mobile SIM card. You’ll pay £2 per day to use your plan in the UAE. Choose from Etisalat and Du. Prices start from 49AED (approx £11.80) for 2GB of data. Get an eSIM from Airalo (Burj Mobile). Prices start from £7.50 for 1GB data over 7 days.
You’ll need to set up & activate your UK SIM card before you depart. You’ll need to buy & activate your UAE SIM card on arrival. You can set up & activate your eSIM on any compatible mobile phone.

If you only need a small amount of data for your trip, consider getting a Burj Mobile eSIM with 1GB data (valid for 7 days). This will cost you about £7.50. Alternatively, if you want a little more data, get a local SIM card on arrival from Etisalat or Du. This will come with 2GB data and it will cost you around £11.80 (valid for 28 days).

For customers needing even more data, the costs can add up very quickly when you get a local SIM card or eSIM. For instance, you’ll currently pay around £19 for 4GB of data and £30 for 8GB of data. In this case, it can be cheaper to roam on a UK-based SIM card from Sky Mobile. This is because Sky Mobile charges a £2 daily fee, which allows you to use your normal plan allowances when you travel the UAE. For instance, you’ll pay just £8 for 6GB of data on Sky Mobile (plus £2 per day when you’re travelling in the UAE). As part of the £2 daily charge, you’ll also be able to use the unlimited UK minutes and texts from your plan.

Get Sky Mobile SIM Card →

Roaming On Your UK SIM Card

The easiest way to use your mobile phone in the United Arab Emirates is to roam on a UK-based SIM card. This could cost you as little as £2 per day if you’re a Sky Mobile customer. However, on the other UK mobile networks, it could cost you substantially more.

If you’re using a UK-based SIM card, you’ll be able to set everything up before you depart. The SIM card will allow you to call and text other UK-based phone numbers. This includes your friends & family who are back home in the UK, as well as other people who are travelling abroad together with you.

Best Roaming Deals For The United Arab Emirates

At present, Sky Mobile is the best UK network for roaming in the United Arab Emirates. On Sky, you’ll pay just £2 per day for the Roaming Passport Plus. This allows you to use your Sky Mobile plan allowances when you travel to the UAE. You’re able to receive incoming calls free of charge, without activating the £2 per day fee.

With Sky’s Roaming Passport Plus, you can use the inclusive minutes and texts to contact other UK-based phone numbers (starting with +44). This includes friends and family members travelling abroad with you. If you’re calling a UAE-based phone number (starting with +971), you’ll pay Sky’s international calling rates (currently £1.75/minute for calls to the UAE).

At present, you can get a SIM-only deal from £6 per month on Sky Mobile:

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly
Cost
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited2GB£6.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited3GB£7.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited6GB£8.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited12GB£12.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited25GB£15.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited40GB£20.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited50GB£30.00

As a Sky Mobile customer, you’ll be able to roll over your unused data for up to three years. In addition, there’s the guarantee of no mid-contract price rises. You’ll also get unlimited data for streaming Sky TV when you’re inside the UK.

There’s a 12-month contract on the Sky Mobile SIM-only plans, but you have the flexibility to change your plan whenever you like (e.g. moving to a cheaper plan, or upgrading to another plan with more data).

Get Sky Mobile SIM Card (from £6) →

Standard Roaming Rates

On the other UK networks, you should expect to pay substantially more to use your phone in the UAE. The following table shows the standard roaming rates you can expect to pay:

Network Making a Phone Call Receiving a Phone Call Sending a Text Accessing the Internet
BT Mobile £1.93/minute £1.47/minute 44p/text £6/day for 500MB
EE £2.05/minute £2.05/minute 67p/text £6.85/day for 500MB
giffgaff £1.00/minute £1.00/minute 30p/text 20p/MB
O2 £2.00/minute £2.00/minute 50p/text £7.20/MB
iD Mobile £6.00/minute £1.50/minute £1.20/text £9.60/MB
Lebara Mobile £3.49/minute £1.49/minute 49p/text £14.99/MB
SMARTY £2.50/minute £1.00/minute 40p/text £1/MB
Sky Mobile £2/day to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts & data
Tesco Mobile £1.49/minute £1.49/minute 40p/text £5/MB
Three £3.00/minute £1.25/minute 35p/text £6/MB
(£5/day for unlimited†)
Virgin Mobile £5.00/minute £1.50/minute 60p/text £5/MB
Vodafone £6/day to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts & data
VOXI 60p/minute 36p/minute 8p/text 12p/MB

Comparison of roaming charges when using your UK-based SIM card in the United Arab Emirates. The costs shown are for calling the UK and sending a text message to the UK. It’s always free to receive a text message wherever you are in the world.
† If you’re a Three Pay Monthly customer, you can buy the £5/day Data Passport add-on for unlimited data in the United Arab Emirates.

If you’re paying the standard rates for roaming in the UAE, the costs can add up very quickly on your plan. This is because the average UK smartphone user consumes more than 100MB of data per day. At the standard rates, this could easily cost you more than £100 per day.

Buying A UAE SIM Card On Arrival

If you want a local phone number beginning with +971, you can get a local prepaid SIM card upon your arrival in the United Arab Emirates.

Prices start from 49 AED (approximately £11.80) for a basic tourist SIM card with 2GB data included. You’ll also get 30 ‘flexi minutes’ on your plan, which can be used for calling locally and internationally.

There are two main things worth being aware of before you get a local UAE SIM card:

  • You’ll need to register the SIM card with the government authorities. Before you’re able to use a local SIM card in the United Arab Emirates, you’ll need to register it with the government authorities. This involves registering the SIM card with a copy of your passport and visa. Your fingerprints will also be taken for biometric registration of the SIM.
  • Censorship is in place on local UAE SIM cards. It isn’t possible to use voice-over-IP calling services such as Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. You can, however, continue to send text messages through these apps. The United Arab Emirates also places a block on websites that are “inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political or moral values of the UAE”. This means, for instance, LGBTQ content is blocked.

There are two mobile networks you’re able to choose from in the UAE: Etisalat and Du. As both of them are partly owned by the state, there’s limited competition and they offer similar products at a very similar price point. You can get a SIM card in the airport arrivals hall (including at Dubai Airport and Abu Dhabi Airport), though you should be prepared for a bit of a wait at times. You can also get a local SIM card in major shopping malls across the UAE.

Etisalat

Etisalat is the UAE’s largest mobile network, with a total of 11 million customers. As a tourist, you can get the Etisalat Visitor Line. This starts from 49 AED (approx £11.80) for 2GB of data to use over a 28-day period. This goes up to 79 AED (approx £19) for 4GB of data and 125 AED (approx £30) for 8GB of data.

The following table shows Etisalat’s prepaid tourist SIM cards:

Network Minutes Texts Data Cost
30
2GB 49 AED
(~£11.80)
valid for 28 days
30 4GB 79 AED
(~£19)
valid for 28 days
120 8GB 125 AED
(~£30)
valid for 28 days
525 22.5GB 200 AED
(~£48.20)
valid for 28 days
100 Unlimited 319 AED
(~£77)
valid for 10 days

As an Etisalat customer, you’ll benefit from a 20% discount on 4 Careem taxi rides (up to a maximum of 25AED per ride). This is the local equivalent to Uber in the UAE.

You can find a Etisalat store to get your Visitor Line SIM card.

Du

Du is the United Arab Emirates’ second mobile network. It has a total of 6.7 million customers. This makes it smaller than Etisalat, but they’ve historically had more of a focus on the prepaid and tourist SIM market.

You can get the following prepaid tourist SIM cards from Du in the UAE:

Network Minutes Texts Data Cost
30
2GB 49 AED
(~£11.80)
valid for 28 days
30 6GB 99 AED
(~£23.90)
valid for 28 days
30 10GB 139 AED
(~£33.50)
valid for 28 days
30 20GB 189 AED
(~£45.50)
valid for 28 days
Unlimited 299 AED
(~£72)
valid for 10 days

If you’re arriving at Dubai Airport, you can get a free SIM card at the airport immigration counter. This will include 1GB of data (valid for up to 24 hours). After the first 24 hours, you can recharge it with one of the plans listed above. It’s also possible to get a Du SIM card from other stores across the UAE.

You can also get a tourist SIM card from Virgin Mobile UAE (powered by Du). However, the tourist plans on Virgin Mobile are much more expensive and start from 150 AED (approx £36) for 7 days of usage. For this reason, we wouldn’t recommend getting a SIM card from Virgin Mobile in the United Arab Emirates.

eSIMs For The United Arab Emirates

If you have a fairly modern smartphone that supports eSIM technology, you can also consider ordering a data-only eSIM from Airalo (Burj Mobile). This will require you to have an eSIM-compatible phone such as the iPhone 11, the Galaxy S20, the Pixel 3 or later devices.

The biggest benefit of getting an eSIM is the fact it’s available straight away as an over-the-air download (there’s no waiting around to get a SIM card at the airport). It’s also a little bit cheaper than getting a local SIM card, especially if you’re staying in the UAE for less than 7 days.

The biggest disadvantage is the fact you’re getting a data-only service. This means you’ll still need to use your normal SIM card for calling and texting, with all of the usual roaming fees that will apply for that.

At present, you can choose from the following eSIM plans on Burj Mobile (Airalo):

Network Minutes Texts Data Cost
None None 1GB US$8.50
(~£7.50)
valid for 7 days
None None 3GB US$22.50
(~£20)
valid for 30 days
None None 5GB US$35
(~£31)
valid for 30 days

See all UAE eSIM deals →

If you’re using a Burj Mobile eSIM from Airalo, you’ll get access to 4G coverage on the Du network in the UAE. Once activated, the eSIM plan is valid for either a 7-day period or a 30-day period. You’re only able to use the eSIM in the UAE – it will not work in any other country (e.g. if you’re transiting in another country).

For more information, see our Airalo review.

Handset & Network Compatibility

If your smartphone was purchased in the UK, it will work in the United Arab Emirates without any compatibility issues. This is because the same bands and frequencies are used on the mobile networks in the UAE.

If you’re using a SIM card or an eSIM from a different mobile network, you’ll just need to make sure your handset is unlocked.

The following table shows the bands and frequencies used in the United Arab Emirates:

Network Provider 5G Bands 4G Bands 3G Bands
Etisalat NR bands n78 LTE bands 3, 20 WCDMA 2100
Du NR bands n78 LTE bands 3, 7, 20, 42 WCDMA 2100

For more information, you can check the coverage available on the Etisalat and Du websites.

More Information

For more information, see our guide to using your mobile phone abroad.

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