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 Dubai & Abu Dhabi.

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 important to choose 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 whilst you’re there. 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 just £1.67 per day when you use a UK SIM card. Alternative, you can buy a local SIM card on arrival from 49 AED (about £10.60), or there are data-only eSIMs available from ~£3.60 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 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, or 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 £7) →
Pay As You Go Alternative: £15 for 200 minutes & 500MB data on Lebara Mobile
(valid for 8 days, or get 400 minutes & 1GB data over 15 days for £25)
Data eSIM Alternative: US$4.50 (~£3.60) 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. 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. However, you won’t be able to call or text on it.

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

Roaming on your UK SIM card Buying a UAE SIM on arrival Buying a data eSIM for UAE
Best for moderate data usage & the ability to call in the UAE.
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 Lebara Mobile or Sky Mobile SIM card. Plans start from £1.67 per day to use your phone in the UAE. Choose from Etisalat and Du. Prices start from 49AED (approx £10.60) for 2GB of data. Get an eSIM from Airalo (Burj Mobile). Prices start from £3.60 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 need the ability to call and text on your trip, consider getting a SIM card from Lebara Mobile or Sky.

On Lebara, there’s a £15 roaming add-on that gives you 200 minutes, 100 texts and 500MB data in the UAE. You’ll be able to call both UK and UAE numbers, making it perfect for staying in touch. The add-on is valid for 8 days and you can get it on any of Lebara’s Pay As You Go plans (which are available with no contract and no credit check).

If you’re a heavy data user, Sky Mobile is also worth considering as you’ll be able to use your UK plan allowances for an extra £2 per day. For instance, they currently offer a 10GB data plan for £7 per month in the UK.

If you’re only concerned about the ability to use data on your trip (without calls or texts), consider getting a Burj Mobile eSIM with 1GB data (valid for 7 days). You’ll just need to account for the cost of calls and texts on your regular SIM card (which can be upwards of £2/minute). It’s also possible to get a local SIM card on arrival from Etisalat or Du, but this will cost you more money and be more time-consuming to set up.

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 £1.67 per day on Lebara, or £2 per day on Sky Mobile. 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

Lebara Mobile

If you’re looking for an easy way to stay in touch on your trip to Dubai, Lebara Mobile offers roaming add-ons for the United Arab Emirates from £1.67 per day.

The biggest advantage of Lebara’s roaming add-ons is the fact you’ll get inclusive minutes, allowing you to call other UK phone numbers as well as locally in the UAE. You’ll also get some texts and data included, and there’s no contract and no credit check on their plans.

Network Minutes Texts Data Bundle
Cost
Lebara Mobile 200 100 500MB £15.00
valid for 8 days
Lebara Mobile 400 200 1GB £25.00
valid for 15 days

If you’re new to Lebara, you’ll need to order a SIM card from them before you’re able to get a roaming add-on. You can use the KEN3 promo code at checkout to get 3 months half price, allowing you to get a UK plan from just £2.50 per month for 3 months.

Get Lebara SIM card (from £2.50) →

Sky Mobile

If you’re looking for more minutes and a larger allowance of data, Sky Mobile is our recommended network for roaming in the United Arab Emirates. On Sky, you’ll pay £2 per day for the Roaming Passport Plus. This will allow you to use your Sky Mobile plan allowances when you travel to the UAE. You’re also able to receive incoming calls free of charge, without activating the £2 daily fee.

Sky’s Roaming Passport Plus allows you to call and text other UK-based phone numbers (starting with +44). This includes friends and family members who are travelling abroad with you. However, unlike on the roaming add-ons from Lebara, you’ll pay extra for calling UAE-based phone numbers (starting with +971). At the time of writing, these are charged at an extra £1.75/minute.

You can get the following SIM-only deal from £7 per month on Sky Mobile:

NetworkMinutesTextsDataMonthly Cost
(may rise during contract)
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited10GB£7.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited5GB£10.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited50GB£12.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited10GB£12.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited25GB£16.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited50GB£20.00
Sky MobileUnlimitedUnlimited150GB£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 £7) →

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
EE £2.34/minute £2.34/minute 76p/text £7.84/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
(£6/day for unlimited1)
iD Mobile £6.00/minute £1.50/minute £1.20/text £9.60/MB
Lebara Mobile 49p/minute 49p/minute 49p/text 9p/MB
Lyca Mobile £2.25/minute 96p/minute 48p/text 5p/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 unlimited2)
Vodafone £6.85/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.
1 If you’re an O2 Pay Monthly customer, the £6 per day O2 Travel bolt-on will give you unlimited minutes, texts and data in the United Arab Emirates.
2 If you’re a Three Pay Monthly customer, you can buy the £5 per 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. This is because the average UK smartphone user consumes more than 100MB of data per day. At a rate of 10p/MB, this would cost you an extra £10 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 card.
  • 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 on local UAE SIMs.

There are two mobile networks that you’re able to choose from in the UAE: Etisalat and Du. As both of them are partly state-owned, there’s limited competition and they offer very similar products at a 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 (including the Dubai Mall).

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 £10.60) for 2GB of data to use over a 28-day period. This goes up to 79 AED (approx £17) for 4GB of data and 125 AED (approx £27) for 8GB of data.

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

Network Minutes Texts Data Cost
30
2GB 49 AED
(~£10.60)
valid for 28 days
30 4GB 79 AED
(~£17)
valid for 28 days
120 8GB 125 AED
(~£27)
valid for 28 days
525 22.5GB 200 AED
(~£43.10)
valid for 28 days
100 Unlimited 200 AED
(~£43.10)
valid for 7 days
300 Unlimited 319 AED
(~£69)
valid for 14 days

As an Etisalat customer, you’ll benefit from discounted taxi rides whilst you’re in the UAE. To get this, you’ll need to download the Careem app (their local equivalent of Uber). There’s a 25% discount available on 2 Hala taxi rides (up to a maximum of 15AED per ride) and a 15% discount on 5 Careem taxi rides (up to a maximum of 20AED per ride).

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

Du

Du is the United Arab Emirates’ second mobile network. With a total of 6.7 million customers, they’re smaller than Etisalat. However, 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
(~£10.60)
valid for 28 days
30 6GB 99 AED
(~£21.40)
valid for 28 days
30 10GB 139 AED
(~£30)
valid for 28 days
30 20GB 189 AED
(~£40.80)
valid for 28 days
100 Unlimited 199 AED
(~£42.90)
valid for 7 days
200 Unlimited 299 AED
(~£64.40)
valid for 14 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 142 AED (approx £31) 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, one of the cheapest options can be getting 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 cheaper than getting a local SIM card.

The biggest disadvantage is the fact you’re getting a data-only service. This means you’ll 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):

NetworkMinutesTextsDataPlan
Cost
NoneNone1GBUS$4.50
(~£3.60)
valid for 7 days
NoneNone2GBUS$7.00
(~£5.60)
valid for 15 days
NoneNone3GBUS$9.50
(~£7.50)
valid for 30 days
NoneNone5GBUS$13.00
(~£10.30)
valid for 30 days
NoneNone10GBUS$21.00
(~£16.70)
valid for 30 days
NoneNone20GBUS$35.00
(~£27.80)
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 Etisalat network in the UAE. Once activated, the eSIM plan is valid for either a 7-day, 15-day or 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).

As a special offer for May 2024, you can get a 10% discount on your Burj Mobile eSIM. If you’re new to Airalo, enter the KEN10 voucher code at checkout to get 10% off. Alternatively, if you’re an existing Airalo customer, there’s a 5% discount available with the KEN5 voucher code.

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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