If you’re traveling to the United Arab Emirates, whether for work or for play, you’ll probably want to stay connected to friends and family back home and around the world. The UAE is a modern country with an excellent telecom infrastructure, so maintaining that communication shouldn’t be a problem. Nevertheless, there are several unique aspects of UAE telecom services you should know about before traveling.
Making calls from/within the UAE
If you want to use your US cell in the UAE, you might run into a few problems. Most American cell phones are not GSM-enabled; that is, they are unable to make calls outside of the US and immediately surrounding areas. If your phone does happen to be able to make calls in the UAE, though, don’t be too happy – you will probably be charged an enormous rate, since most enabled US cell phones count all calls made outside the country as roaming. You can try changing your regular SIM card for a local one, but most US-sold cell phones will not work with GSM-enabled SIM cards.
Buying a temporary cell phone for use in the UAE
If you’re going to need a working cell phone in the UAE, the best choice is to buy a temporary cell from one of the many Emirati telecom equipment dealers. A temporary cell phone equipped with a local SIM card might cost you anywhere from 100 to 300 AED ($27 to $81) depending upon the model. You can use this link to compare mobile offers in the UAE.
In order to use your cell, you’ll have to buy a prepaid phone card. Etisalat and du sell cards with scratch-off codes that will load minutes into your cell. The cards are not denominated by minutes, however, but by cost, ranging from 25 AED ($6.80) to 500 AED ($136.) It is advisable to buy prepaid cards in small denominations as you need them. Use this link to compare mobile phone plans in the UAE.
Internet in the UAE
UAE Internet service is fairly fast for the region, although Westerners may find it slow compared to the US or Europe. Nevertheless, Internet access is readily available in the UAE. Almost all hotels in Abu Dhabi and Dubai offer wireless access so, if you have a laptop, you should have no problem staying connected to friends, family, and work colleagues back home. If you don’t have your laptop with you, though, don’t worry – Internet cafés are plentiful in the UAE and cheap to use.
If you’re going to use the Internet while in the UAE, however, there are a few important differences between the internet in North America and Europe and the UAE.
Internet in the UAE is filtered according to an Internet access policy overseen by the government’s Telecom Regulatory Authority on behalf of Etisalat and du, the country’s only Internet service providers (ISPs).
Under the policy, ISPs must prevent access to online content that contravenes any of 13 prohibited categories. They include anything likely to offend public interest, public morality (including pornography, dating and gambling sites), public order, public and national security, national harmony or Islam.
Voice Over Internet Protocol is also blocked. If you already have Skype installed, it will work for Skype-to-Skype calls, but not Skype-to-landline. FaceTime is not installed on phones bought through Etisalat or Du, but will work on devices that already have it installed.
It is also worth noting that, in the UAE, user-generated content is treated in the same way as official media sites when it comes to internet filtering – this includes blogs, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
Communications in the UAE can be a challenge, especially for the western traveler. Still, don’t let this put you off visiting. The UAE is an interesting country with an exciting potential for growth, and it is well worth visiting, whether for pleasure or for business.