Most VoIP services are banned in Dubai and the other Emirates, including Abu Dhabi, and WhatsApp–with its convenient built-in voice and video calling features–is no exception. One way to beat this block is by getting a VPN, which beats these countermeasures by giving you a foreign IP. It will also encrypt your data, making it all but invisible to government oversight, hackers, or any other third-party snooping.
If you’re not content being cut off from the rest of the WhatsApp-using world, this is the article for you. We’ll show you what makes a good VPN, recommend a few of the best, show you how to use them to unblock WhatsApp calling in the UAE, and wrap up with a word of warning against the state-sanctioned WhatsApp alternatives available in UAE.
What makes a good VPN for voice calling?
When using VoIP apps in the UAE, you’ll want to judge your VPN options by the following criteria:
- Server network size – the more servers are in a network, the more countries you can get a local IP from. This makes it easier to unblock WhatsApp in the UAE, and also gives you a chance to download the app in whichever language you feel comfortable with.
- Encryption protocols – the United Arab Emirates can be strict in terms of censorship, and flagrant when it comes to looking at your personal data. To protect your data and hide the fact that you’re using WhatsApp, you’ll want to use a VPN provider with strong encryption. The best formats to look for are OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP, which combine best-in-business security with speed and compatibility.
- Logging policy – whether you’re a traveler, a permanent resident or a digital nomad, the UAE can try to get your information from your VPN provider by asking them directly or applying political and commercial pressure. A strong logging policy can prevent this by making it so your VPN service doesn’t keep records of what you do online. Look for the words “zero-logging” and “no-logging” in specific.
- Speed and bandwidth caps – voice and video calling can require a lot of speed and bandwidth. A VPN service that limits how much data you can download and send is a poor choice, so look for providers that don’t limit your uptime, cap your speeds, or burden your connection with excess encryption overhead.
The best VPNs for unblocking WhatsApp calling in the UAE
ExpressVPN is the #1 overall choice for most Gulf countries – and the UAE is no exception to this rule. The service is highly secure, with a selection of 256-bit AES encryption protocols that would take a supercomputer millions of years to crack. One of these is the SSTP protocol, which helps beat hardcore censorship blocks – and can give you WhatsApp access no matter where you happen to be. In addition to this, ExpressVPN has a strong no-logging policy that covers browsing histories, IP addresses, traffic and more. If you’d like to protect your call data and your identity while using WhatsApp calls in Dubai, this is an excellent choice.
Another reason to choose ExpressVPN is its service and technology quality. With 2,000+ nodes in over 94 countries, you can access most localized app stores and access WhatsApp in any language you choose. Thanks to a selection of lightweight apps, installing the service on all common devices, including routers, is easy – and only takes minutes. Speed, server switches and bandwidth are all unlimited, allowing for long, clear calling. There’s also a host of extra features, like a DNS leak test that makes sure your data is safe – and split-tunneling, which lets you use WhatsApp calls without routing the rest of your online activities through your VPN.
If you’re interested in learning more about this service, check out our ExpressVPN Review for 2018.
NordVPN is a VPN service best known for its strong privacy and anti-censorship features. It uses military-grade 256-bit AES encryption to protect your data from all third parties, including governments and ISPs – which is excellent for dealing with heavy-handed UAE authorities. The company’s no-logging policy is comprehensive, covering traffic, IP addresses, bandwidth and more.
What really makes NordVPN stand out, though, is its specialty servers; there’s a total of six types, including obfuscated servers that hide the fact you’re using a VPN, as well as Double VPN nodes that route your data through two layers of security and two proxies for ultimate protection. As deep as the network goes, it also goes broad, spanning 5,000+ servers in 62 countries worldwide. This means that you can get any WhatsApp version you like, and choose servers that give you the best possible connection speeds and low latencies for your calls. This is part of the reason why NordVPN routinely ranks as one of the fastest VPNs on the market in our reviews and speed tests.
Some VPN apps are hard to use – but NordVPN’s, which work on virtually all common device types, are surprisingly straightforward given how powerful the app is. Rounding out the suite are a host of advanced features including ad and malware blockers, a kill switch, a built-in DNS leak test.
If you’d like to learn more about NordVPN, you can do so in our 2018 NordVPN review.
CyberGhost is the perfect choice if you just want to start using WhatsApp voice and video calls in the UAE without going through a complicated installation process. Instead of asking you to choose servers and configurations manually, CyberGhost simply lets you choose from six preset configuration profiles. It also has a selection of easy toggles, like “block online tracking” and “extra speed”. Between all these extras, using WhatsApp calls in the UAE is safe and easy – even if you don’t have much (if any) IT knowledge).
CyberGhost has a strong selection of encryption protocols, including OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP (two cutting-edge technologies used by militaries and special ops teams). The logging policy is so perfect that it stores virtually nothing, not even your e-mail address.
With 2,700+ proxy servers in 60+ countries, OpenVPN allows for fast connections, and gives you the chance to download whichever WhatsApp version you prefer. All of this comes with unlimited bandwidth, unlimited speed, unlimited server switches and up to 5 simultaneous device connections – making CyberGhost a top choice for online users of all kinds. Dedicated apps are available for a variety of devices: iPhones, Android smartphones, macOS/Linux/Windows computers, routers, video game consoles and more.
To learn more about CyberGhost, read our CyberGhost review for 2018.
PrivateVPN is one of the most well-rounded providers out there. This provider’s only possible point of criticism lands on its server network, which numbers 100 nodes in 52 countries. However, in practice, you’ll find this is more than enough to get strong connections to IP addresses all over the world–not to mention any local-language version of WhatsApp you may want. More importantly, all PrivateVPN servers are exceptionally powerful – and equipped with a variety of encryption protocols, including OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP, PPTP, L2TP, IKEV2 and IPSec.
The passcodes used for PrivateVPN’s encryption are 2048-bit (via AES-256) – which means that they have more possible variations than there are atoms in the known universe. Between this and a tough zero-logging policy that makes it virtually impossible to trace your identity, device and location, this is an excellent service if you’ve got privacy and security front of mind.
Bandwidth, speed and server switches are all unlimited with PrivateVPN. That means you can use WhatsApp calls to your heart’s content, without ever worrying about extra fees or speed reductions. PrivateVPN has a free, remote setup service to help you install your VPN, so if you’re not sure you can manage it on your own, this service is the one for you. Last but not least, anonymous torrenting and other P2P services are accepted and welcome, which is convenient if you want more than just WhatsApp calls from your service.
With 2,000+ servers in 140+ countries, PureVPN gives you a huge selection of foreign IPs, which is helpful for getting localized WhatsApp versions and getting high-quality connections with people, no matter where in the world they are. It’s also a cool extra if you want to stream videos, play video games and do other things without restrictions. Bandwidth, speed and server switches are all unlimited – and there’s a large suite of apps, including browser extension versions of PureVPN, to make installation and operation a breeze.
In addition to having a large server network and feature set, PureVPN is strong on security. In addition to using military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, there are extra features like app filtering, DDoS protection, anti-spam filtering, anti-virus software, and even a NAT firewall. There’s also built-in P2P protection for torrent users, anti-ISP throttling that removes limits UAE internet providers may set on your speed, a proprietary Ozone feature that protects your device, data and identity no matter what time of day it is. There’s even a built-in kill switch that takes your WhatsApp calls offline to avoid them getting discovered if your PureVPN connection drops.
Why can’t you use WhatsApp in the UAE?
The United Arab Emirates’ government keeps tight controls over internet access in the country. Internet filtering (i.e. censorship), government snooping and ISP tracking are all part and parcel of using the local internet. Moreover, there are only two internet providers in the country: Etisalat and du. Between these two government owned and affiliated services, the state has almost complete control over what you can and can’t do online in the country. Facebook, WhatsApp, SnapChat and Skype are all blocked or restricted, as are pornographic websites, gambling websites. many other websites, like some of Wikipedia.
The exact reasons for these filters and blocks are hard to identify. For example, Baha’i Faith resources have often been restricted or blocked in the past. So has politically sensitive information. Given that most if not all the news sources in the UAE are government-owned or government-controlled, it appears that WhatsApp is blocked at least in part because of how it can be used to encourage anti-government sentiment and spread information.
Why not use the legal alternatives to WhatsApp?
Whether you’re already in the Gulf state or only considering going there, you likely know about the UAE’s domestic VoIP applications: C’Me and BOTIM. These apps both meet the UAE’s regulatory framework, which basically means they are happy to censor their users and reveal their personal data to the state. There are three main problems with the apps. First, they are easiest to use with other C’Me and BOTIM users – which there are very few of. For example, most companies and individuals you know are unlikely to have either app.
Second, BOTIM and C’Me aren’t the best-made apps. There are many complaints about both of them crashing, malfunctioning and otherwise displeasing users. They appear to be even less well-put together than Skype – and certainly worse than WhatsApp on most fronts. Third, both apps are paid, running from 52.50 to 105 AED. Compared to WhatsApp audio calls, which are completely free to make, this is very expensive – and another reason to avoid using BOTIM and C’Me.
Now you know how to get a VPN for the UAE and use WhatsApp voice and video calls with no restrictions. You also know about UAE’s legal options – C’Me and BOTIM – and why they may not be the best choice for you.
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