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What voice call works in Dubai?

Dubai is a major city in the United Arab Emirates known for its modern architecture, luxury shopping, and lively nightlife scene. However, staying connected through voice calls while visiting Dubai can be confusing given the different networks, plans, and services on offer. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss what voice call options work best in Dubai, so you can easily stay in touch during your visit.

Using Your Home SIM Card in Dubai

The easiest option is to simply use your regular home SIM card while in Dubai. However, this may lead to expensive roaming charges from your provider back home. To avoid bill shock, be sure to check international roaming rates and packages with your mobile provider before your trip. Some tips for using your home SIM card:

  • Confirm roaming is enabled on your account.
  • Check roaming rates for the UAE and consider a roaming package if available.
  • Set a cost limit or cap on data usage to avoid unexpected overage fees.
  • Use apps like WhatsApp and FaceTime for calls and texts over data.
  • Disable automatic app updates and reduce background data usage.
  • Put your phone in airplane mode when not in use to prevent roaming fees.

While using your home SIM card is possible, a local SIM card or eSIM is often a cheaper and more practical solution when visiting Dubai.

Getting a Local Prepaid SIM Card

Purchasing a local prepaid SIM card is easy and convenient for staying connected in Dubai. Here are some benefits of a prepaid Dubai SIM card:

  • Avoid expensive roaming charges from your home provider.
  • Local rates for calls, texts, and mobile data.
  • Prepaid, no contracts or credit checks.
  • Top-up as needed during your trip.
  • Compatible with unlocked phones.

When choosing a prepaid SIM in Dubai, there are two main carriers to consider:


Etisalat is the largest telecom operator in the UAE. Benefits include:

  • Wide coverage across Dubai and UAE.
  • Many affordable prepaid packs.
  • Etisalat prepaid SIM cards can be purchased at airport arrivals.


Du is the second largest carrier. Benefits include:

  • Reliable service and performance.
  • Some deals include free data or minutes.
  • Du SIM cards available at Du stores or Dubai airport.

Both providers offer prepaid SIMs from as low as AED 100 ($30 USD) with data, minutes, and text credits included. Top-up recharge cards are available at convenience stores, supermarkets, and kiosks across Dubai.

Using eSIM in Dubai

An eSIM or electronic SIM is a digital version of a physical SIM card embedded directly into your phone. eSIM allows you to instantly activate a mobile plan through a QR code or app without needing to physically swap SIM cards.

Here are some benefits of using eSIM in Dubai:

  • No need to purchase a separate physical SIM card.
  • Remotely switch between plans and providers.
  • Dual SIM functionality to keep your home plan active.
  • More secure and resistant to damage.

Both Etisalat and Du offer prepaid eSIM plans in Dubai. For Etisalat, you can purchase their eSIM package through the Etisalat app and activate the plan directly on your phone via QR code.

Du also provides prepaid eSIM plans through their website or app. Make sure your phone supports eSIM technology first before pursuing this option.

Making Calls in Dubai as a Tourist

Here are some tips for making calls to local numbers or back home with your Dubai SIM card or eSIM:

  • To call a Dubai mobile number, dial 0 + 10-digit mobile number.
  • To call a Dubai landline, dial 04 + 8-digit number.
  • To call internationally, dial 00 + country code + number.
  • Download a VOIP app like WhatsApp or Skype to call or text internationally over data.
  • Check your prepaid credit balance by dialing *122#.
  • Keep your SIM card topped up with adequate call/text credits.

Be aware that regular calls made to international numbers without a VOIP app will be expensive. As a tourist, try to primarily make local calls or use VOIP apps whenever possible.

Can You Use VPN in Dubai?

Yes, using a VPN (virtual private network) is allowed in Dubai and the UAE. VPNs are legal and widely used to access blocked content, get around internet censorship, and enhance privacy and security. Some top VPNs proven to work well in Dubai include:

  • ExpressVPN
  • NordVPN
  • Surfshark
  • ProtonVPN
  • CyberGhost

However, using VPNs is technically regulated under UAE telecom laws. Users should be discreet about VPN usage in public places. Downloading VPN apps directly in the UAE may be difficult as they are often unavailable in app stores. The best option is to download the VPN app before arriving in the country.

Some key benefits of using a VPN in Dubai include:

  • Access blocked websites and apps like Skype, WhatsApp calls.
  • Get around geo-restrictions to use streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu.
  • Enhanced Wi-Fi hotspot security when using public networks.
  • Prevent ISP throttling which can slow internet speeds.
  • Improve privacy by masking your IP address and location.

With the right VPN service, tourists in Dubai can bypass internet censorship to securely access blocked content and services.

Using SIM Cards from Other Countries

It’s technically possible to use SIM cards from other countries while visiting Dubai, but not necessarily recommended. Some considerations when using a foreign SIM card:

  • Ensure roaming is enabled before leaving your home country.
  • Check roaming rates to avoid bill shock.
  • Coverage and speeds may be limited, especially on less mainstream providers.
  • Not ideal for long-term stays with heavy usage.
  • Local prepaid SIM still cheaper and more practical in most cases.

The exception is using a SIM card from GCC countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, or Kuwait which tend to have competitive roaming rates to the UAE. But otherwise, using a SIM card from outside the Gulf region will likely incur expensive roaming charges.

Public Wi-Fi Options in Dubai

Staying connected through public Wi-Fi hotspots while exploring Dubai is easy with hotspots widely available at:

  • Malls: Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall, Ibn Battuta Mall
  • Cafes and restaurants: Starbucks, McDonald’s, Paul, Tim Hortons
  • Hotels and accommodations.
  • Airports: DXB, DWC.
  • Lounges: Primeclass CIP Lounge, Marhaba Lounge.
  • Parks: Zabeel Park, Creek Park.

Dubai offers complimentary Wi-Fi through the WiFi UAE service at many tourist spots, hotels, and shopping centers around the city. No passwords are required at these hotspots.

For added security when using public Wi-Fi, a VPN app is highly recommended to encrypt your connection. Free and paid VPN options like TunnelBear, Hotspot Shield, and ExpressVPN allow secure browsing on iOS and Android devices.

International Calling Options

For affordable international calling while in Dubai, here are some options beyond relying on your home provider:

  • Use calling cards – Available at supermarkets, stores. Allow international calls at local rates.
  • Call home via VOIP services – Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Viber.
  • Get a Dubai SIM card – Add an international calling bundle.
  • Use a calling app – Google Voice, Vonage.
  • Forward calls to a local virtual number.

To save money, try to make international calls over the internet using Wi-Fi. VOIP apps tend to offer the most economical rates compared to other options.

Activating Voice Mail

To setup voicemail on your Dubai SIM card:

For Etisalat:

  • Dial 1010 from your mobile.
  • Follow the prompts to create a voicemail PIN and personal greeting.
  • To access voicemail, dial 1010 or your own mobile number.

For Du:

  • Dial 121 from your mobile.
  • Follow the steps to create a voicemail PIN.
  • To check voicemail, dial 121 or your own mobile number.

By default, callers hear an automated greeting if you don’t answer. Set up a personalized greeting to let callers know they’ve reached the right number and to leave a detailed message.


Getting your voice calls to work while visiting Dubai may seem complicated, but starting with an inexpensive prepaid SIM card or eSIM provides the most convenience and value. Top providers like Etisalat and Du make it easy to stay connected with great coverage, while apps like WhatsApp or Skype help minimize the cost of international calling. With the right combination of SIM card, VOIP apps, and a secure VPN, you can affordably call and text anywhere in Dubai – and beyond.