Can You Buy a Sim Card in the Dubai Airport?

Can You Buy a Sim Card in the Dubai Airport?

In a digital era, there is still a lot of paperwork that moves. Especially when traveling, paperwork abounds with multiple currencies, airplane tickets, passports, credit cards etc.

That’s why carrying a wallet dedicated to travel is prime. For the long term, check out Bellroy or Fossil’s Leather Passport Case. If you don’t plan on traveling as often and want to remain organized, check out this Passport Holder by Genuines.

If you want to communicate with friends and family while in Dubai, you should get a local sim card. It can be hard to find a sim card once you leave the airport, though. 

So, can you buy a sim card in the Dubai Airport? Yes, you can buy a Sim card in the Dubai airport. Two local networks have shops at Dubai International Airport, and tourists can purchase a local sim from either one. Dubai also has a tourism initiative where all international travelers receive a free sim card.

This article will address several questions around the purchase of sim cards and phone usage in Dubai, including:

  • What are the local networks in Dubai?
  • Which network should I choose when visiting Dubai?
  • Is it possible to get a free sim card at Dubai Airport?
  • Can you buy a sim card in the Dubai Airport?
  • What do I need to buy a sim card in Dubai?
  • What do I need to know about phone usage in Dubai?
  • What are the consequences of using a blocked website?

What are the local networks in Dubai?

The UAE has two phone networks: Etisalat and Du. Both of these networks are partially owned by the state.

Etisalat, having 13 million customers in the UAE, is the bigger of the two networks. The company originally catered for locals with a strong focus on landlines.

Du entered the market intending to offer what Etisalat didn’t: options for tourists, migrants, and customers looking for pre-paid options. This plan worked, and the company has grown to 9 million users.

Which network should I choose when visiting Dubai?

After Du had entered the market and experienced success, Etisalat stepped up their game in terms of pre-paid mobile deals and options for tourists. 

Today, there isn’t much difference between the two. Both networks have extensive coverage and decent speeds. Either network is a good choice for a short-term deal as a tourist.

Is it possible to get a free sim card at Dubai Airport?

In 2019, Dubai implemented a tourism initiative that involves providing free sim cards to each tourist arriving at Dubai International Airport. 

Each sim card is pre-loaded with 3 minutes of calling minutes and 20 megabytes of data. These will expire one month after validation. Tourists can continue loading data onto the sim card once they have used the free offer or it expires.

Can you buy a sim card in the Dubai Airport?

In case you miss out on the free sim card or require more credit, it is possible to buy a sim card at Dubai Airport. You will find stores for both Etisalat and Du in all three terminals of Dubai Airport

It’s impossible to miss them as they are both located in the arrival hall, so simply keep an eye out once you have passed through customs and collected your luggage.

In most cases, the stores will be directly next to each other. This makes it easy to compare plans and see what will best suit your requirements. It is important to note that 5% VAT (Valued Added Tax) was introduced to the UAE in 2018. Du tends to include this in their product pricing, while it is usually an additional cost that should be factored into the overall price with Etisalat.

What do I need to buy a sim card in Dubai?

To buy a sim card in Dubai, you will need to show your passport. 

It is important that your passport also has a valid visa stamp (which it will if you have just come through customs). The store person will take a copy of your passport and complete the paperwork in the store. Make sure to factor in waiting time as this process can take a while.

What do I need to know about phone usage in Dubai?

Phone networks in Dubai are highly regulated. 

Many sites are restricted by the UAE’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority and cannot be accessed within the country. Sites get blocked in the UAE because:

  • They don’t align with the cultural, political or religious norms of the country
  • They provide direct competition to the two telecommunications networks owned by the state (Etisalat and Du), or
  • They have the domain .il, indicating they are an Israeli website.

VoIP services are also banned in the UAE. Common apps such as FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber are not allowed to be used in Dubai or the broader country. This is because Etisalat and Du are the legal VoIP providers, and the government does not want to upset the duopoly.

This ban also extends to Snapchat, which had its calling feature (voice and video) blocked in 2016. The video calling function on Facebook messenger was also blocked, while Viber and Facetime have been banned completely since 2013. 

It is also worth noting that if you decide to purchase a phone along with a sim in Dubai, these apps will not be available even after you have left the UAE. If you want to use them after you leave, you’ll need to switch back to your regular sim card. 

While these common apps are not legalized, three VoIP providers have been authorized by the UAE government. This step was made to provide residents and tourists with an option for international calling. The three legalized VoIP providers in the UAE are:

  • Botim
  • C’Me
  • HiU

All three apps allow voice calling, video calling, and instant chat; however, HiU is only available on the Etisalat network.

Some people have tried using VPNs to get around these blocks; however, it is illegal, meaning there are consequences if you get caught. As a tourist, it is best to stay on the right side of the law.

What are the consequences of using a blocked website?

If you get caught using a fake IP address to access a blocked website, there are significant consequences. 

The UAE government introduced a cybercrime law in 2016 that states individuals engaging in this type of behavior will face both temporary imprisonment and a fine. 

The fine will be between AED 500,000 and AED 2,000,000. The individual will either be presented with a fine, sentenced to imprisonment, or receive both punishments if caught accessing a blocked website. 


Here’s a recap of the major points mentioned in this article: 

  • Sim cards can be purchased at Dubai Airport. There are Etisalat and Du stores at each of the three terminals. You can find the stores in the respective arrival halls.
  • You will need a passport to purchase a sim card in Dubai. The passport needs to have a valid visa stamp, and the store person is required to take a copy of this for their records.
  • Dubai has implemented an initiative where all tourists get a free sim card. Keep an eye out as you go through customs to get your free sim card, which comes pre-loaded with 3 minutes of calling time and 20 megabytes of data.
  • The UAE has a duopoly when it comes to phone networks. The two major companies are Etisalat and Du, and both offer short-term of pre-paid options for tourists.
  • Phone and internet use is highly regulated in Dubai. Many sites are blocked because they don’t match UAE values, they provide competition to the phone network duopoly, or they have an Israeli domain.
  • Common VoIP services are banned in the UAE. Snapchat, Viber, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger are all on the blocked list. There are, however, three local, authorized VoIP apps to choose from.

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