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As a travel photographer who needs Internet access to run my business, I can’t rely on slow Wi-Fi connections or no signal when trying to get a sunrise shot of the Burj Khalifa or traveling between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and that’s where eSIMs come in.
You could use your home SIM card and network and roam internationally of course, but this usually costs an absolute fortune, and I definitely do not like spending more money than I have to!
So when I was last in the United Arab Emirates, I scouted out the actual best eSIMs that would be reliable, fast, and wouldn’t throttle my data or kick me off if I hit some arbitrary cap.
So that you don’t have to go through these same hours of research, my quick recommendations for eSIMs in Dubai that you can set up in seconds are below.
The best value for money is the AloSIM UAE eSIM, which offers 5G on the du network and the lowest prices for lower data uses. Nomad and Holafly are better value at higher data usage, but only offer 4G on Etisalat, while the Airalo Discover offers 5G on Etisalat, the overall best network in the UAE.
If you want to know why I’ve recommended each eSIM, then full details on each of them are below, as well as info on why I would not recommend a local SIM from one of the UAE’s national operators.
Quick eSIM Picks for Dubai
I’ll cover the differences between the performance of each eSIM in detail further on in this article, but if you just want a quick top pick, then choose one of these three depending on the length of your trip and your expected data use.
My Top 3 eSIMs for Dubai are:
- AloSIM eSIMs use the du network at 5G speeds, which have excellent coverage across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Al Ain, are extremely fast and the cheapest eSIMs for lower data uses.
- Airalo eSIMs are great for wider use across the Middle East, with their Menalink eSIM covering 15 countries, including the UAE in LTE mode.
- Nomad eSIMs are good value for money at higher data uses if you’re happy with 4G speeds.
Any of these can be an excellent choice, but I would personally recommend AloSIM for price and speed. It’s very easy to set up, as well as being the only eSIM to offer 5G coverage in Dubai.
eSIMs for Dubai Only
There are also a few other options of eSIMs which make sense for Dubai and the UAE as a whole, which are included in the tables below for completeness.
The main Emirati telecoms networks for eSIMs are du and Etisalat, with both offering 5G, although only du eSIMs will actually connect to the 5G networks. If you are using Etisalat, you are stuck with 4G.
5G coverage is excellent in the built-up areas of Dubai and the other Emirates (see maps below), and must be at the top of the global coverage charts, so this is highly recommended for Dubai.
|eSIMs for Dubai
|Airalo Burj Mobile
|7 days or 30 days
|1GB – 5GB
*Best eSIM for Dubai*
|7 days – 30 days
|1GB – 10GB
|5 days – 20 days
|7 days or 30 days
|1GB – 10GB
eSIMs for the Middle East
If you are traveling to other countries in the Middle East on your trip, then consider the regional eSIMs like the Menalink from Airalo, which let you use your eSIM for the duration of your trip for a slightly higher price.
Nomad offer very cheap Middle Eastern eSIMs, but they only cover 7 countries compared to Airalo’s 15.
|eSIMs for the Middle East
|7 days – 30 days
|1GB – 3GB
|Nomad Middle East
*Cheapest Middle Eastern eSIM*
|7 days or 30 days
|1GB – 10GB
Global eSIMs and Including Calls/Texts
For those on longer multi-country trips, then choose a global eSIM like the Discover from Airalo, which covers 130 countries.
Nomad also offer global plans, but these tend to be very bad value for money compared with the ones below, so I won’t cover them here.
|7 days – 365 days
|1GB – 20GB
|7 days – 365 days
|1GB – 20GB
|10min/SMS – 200min/SMS
|AIS eSIM2FLY Global
Should You Get Calls/Texts eSIMs?
In general, eSIMs only offer data and not calls and texts.
In practice, this is not a problem, as you can still use WhatsApp with an eSIM. You may need to receive a code by text to your existing number to confirm your identity with your new eSIM, but either way, you will be using WhatsApp within seconds without any problems.
You should also be able to keep using Uber and the like, as you keep your existing physical SIM card active, meaning that you keep your current phone number and can still receive texts to it for ID confirmation.
Even if you do need to call a business, most now offer WhatsApp calling, or you can use Skype with an online number to make and receive calls.
If you do have a definite need for calls and texts, then you should look at the Discover+ from Airalo which you can set up prior to leaving for your trip, or a local SIM card when you get to your destination, but the latter adds a lot more hassle.
How Easy Is It To Use An eSIM?
First, you will need to make sure your phone is not locked to a carrier. If you got your phone at a reduced price under a monthly contract, then your phone may well be locked. You can usually request a code to unlock it from your carrier at the end of your contract.
If you bought your phone without a SIM or use a pre-paid card, then it is almost certainly already unlocked.
You can also check if your phone is compatible from Settings on Android or iOS.
Once you know that your phone is compatible, it’s as simple as scanning a QR code from your eSIM operator, or do it all through the app for providers like Airalo.
You will then be able to set your eSIM up in seconds once you have made your purchase.
Local SIMs from UAE Operators
eSIM companies do not own their mobile networks – they instead piggyback on local providers.
The potential problem with this is that some local providers will prioritize their customers in times of high traffic load, meaning that eSIM customers (and anyone internationally roaming) could suffer from slower speeds.
But there’s another variable to take into account – local provider’s pre-paid customers.
Because the local providers will make more money from contract customers than from pre-paid, pre-paid customers get pushed to the bottom of the pile, and it’s them that get deprioritized first during high network traffic.
This means that an eSIM from someone like Airalo can actually offer faster data speeds than pre-paid SIMs from local operators.
The other advantage of eSIMs is that you can set them up in seconds, usually using the provider’s app, and you don’t need to wait until you are in the country in question to do this.
Buying a local SIM often has you jumping through bureaucratic hoops, queueing in shops and getting worse deals than locals purely because you are buying the SIM in the airport.
Personally, after a long flight that’s the last thing I want to do.
If you take a look at Virgin UAE’s eSIMs, they’re worse deals than the third-party eSIMs here, and it states in the small print that, “Our team will review the passport … which might take a few hours.”
Now, let’s get into it and see exactly why I recommend these particular eSIMs.
AloSIM eSIMs for Dubai (5G + Cheap!)
AloSIM usually offers very similar prices to Airalo, but in Dubai they are substantially below Airalo’s prices, and offer 5G to Airalo’s 4G.
They are a little more fiddly to set up because you have to change your APN (Access Point Name) for the eSIM, otherwise it won’t work, but this is simple to do.
AloSIM use du Mobile at 5G, who have the best 5G availability in the UAE, which you can see in the map below, with all of Dubai under 5G.
Not only are AloSIM offering the fastest 5G speeds, they are also the cheapest eSIM provider in Dubai at lower data uses, so they are without doubt my number 1 pick.
AloSIM packages are:
- AloSIM UAE eSIM 1 GB in 7 days – 5G
- AloSIM UAE eSIM 2 GB in 15 days – 5G
- AloSIM UAE eSIM 3 GB in 30 days – 5G
- AloSIM UAE eSIM 5 GB in 30 days – 5G
- AloSIM UAE eSIM 10 GB in 30 days – 5G
Airalo eSIMs for Dubai
Airalo are one of the most highly regarded global eSIM operators, as not only are they often the cheapest and best value for money for short trips, but they also one of the original providers of eSIMs and have therefore managed to negotiate the most favorable terms with mobile networks.
They use local provider networks, but unlike other similarly priced subscribers, Airalo seems to choose the fastest of these networks.
Although they are using Etisalat, the fastest network in the UAE, you can only access it on 4G with their country and region specfic plans. You only get 5G if you use the Discover plan.
Airalo has four plans depending on your trip length and data usage:
- Airalo Burj Mobile eSIM 1 GB in 7 days – 4G
- Airalo Burj Mobile eSIM 3 GB in 30 days – 4G
- Airalo Burj Mobile eSIM 5 GB in 30 days – 4G
You can buy the plan now and set it up using the Airalo app in seconds without affecting the validity. The timer only starts when your eSIM connects to any one of the supported networks, meaning that it will start as soon as you get in-country.
You can also easily top-up your data if it’s running out from the Airalo dashboard, so you can buy a lower capacity card then upgrade if you’re not too sure how much data you’ll be using.
If you are looking for a regional eSIM, then the Airalo Menalink is very useful if you are traveling to more than one of the 15 countries it covers, which are:
- Saudi Arabia
Airalo Menalink offers are:
- Airalo Menalink eSIM 1 GB in 7 days – 4G/LTE
- Airalo Menalink eSIM 2 GB in 15 days – 4G/LTE
- Airalo Menalink eSIM 3 GB in 30 days – 4G/LTE
As with the single country eSIMs, the validity period starts when you first connect to one of the supported networks.
For completeness, there’s also Airalo Discover and Discover+ cards that offer global coverage (130 countries) with much longer validity periods. These are the best global eSIMs out there if you want long validity and don’t use too much data.
The Discover eSIM offers only data, while the Discover+ adds calls and texts into the mix, using a +43 (Austrian) phone number (which can be used to call any other country code).
Both cards have 5G on Etisalat, the only eSIM to offer this.
The Airalo Discover and Discover+ offers are:
- Airalo Discover eSIM 1 GB in 7 days and Discover+ adding 10 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 2 GB in 15 days and Discover+ adding 20 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 3 GB in 30 days and Discover+ adding 30 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 5 GB in 60 days and Discover+ adding 50 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 10 GB in 180 days and Discover+ adding 100 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 20 GB in 365 days and Discover+ adding 200 mins + texts.
I’m not sure how useful a global eSIM lasting 7 days is, but if you have access to a private jet then you might find it useful!
There’s a variety of 5G and 4G/LTE networks used by the Discover eSIMs. You can check which networks each country uses by following this link, then clicking the Buy Now button for one of the eSIMs and then Check Available Networks as in the screenshot below.
Nomad eSIMs for Dubai (Cheapest eSIMs)
Nomad targets those travelers who want long validity on their eSIMs but are willing to take a smaller data cap for a lower price.
As the name might suggest, they’re aimed more at longer term travelers than those only away from home for a week, but if you do have a longer trip lasting up to 30 days in the Middle East, then Nomad are the best value for money, as they are for trips to Dubai.
Nomad uses eSIMGo, which are the cheapest for Dubai at higher usage levels, but are only 4G.
Nomad United Arab Emirates eSIMs (all 4G/LTE) include:
- Nomad UAE eSIM 1 GB in 7 days
- Nomad UAE eSIM 3 GB in 30 days
- Nomad UAE eSIM 5 GB in 30 days
- Nomad UAE eSIM 10 GB in 30 days
You should note that Nomad eSIMs must be activated within 30 days of purchase. If they are not activated by the 30 day mark, then their validity will start to count down even if you haven’t activated it yet.
So, as long as you don’t buy it more than 4 weeks ahead of your trip, you’re fine.
The real value for Nomad eSIMs comes from their Middle East plan though.
They have a 7 country plan on 4G/LTE, which also includes Turkey and the countries around the Gulf.
The 7 countries in the Nomad Middle East plan are:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Nomad’s 5GB and 10GB, 7 country Middle Eastern plans are the best value Middle Eastern eSIMs out there, and it’s quite nice that this includes Turkey, which is included on the European plan by providers like Airalo.
The Nomad Middle East plan includes:
- Nomad Middle East eSIM 1 GB in 7 days
- Nomad Middle East eSIM 3 GB in 30 days
- Nomad Middle East eSIM 5 GB in 30 days
- Nomad Middle East eSIM 10 GB in 30 days
The 9 countries that the Nomad Middle East plan does not include that the Airalo Menalink does, are:
Holafly eSIMs for Dubai (Unlimited Data)
Holafly are my go-to operator if you use a ton of data, as they offer unlimited data on all eSIMs (with some caveats).
Some users have reported throttling of connection speed after using a few GB of data in a short space of time, and it is likely that there is some upper limit given the relatively low cost, but there is no official word on this, other than “the carrier may reserve the right to apply a Fair Usage Policy” in their terms and conditions.
For normal usage (if you’re not streaming 4K movies all day), then you are unlikely to be throttled.
As Holafly are the only operator with unlimited data, they are my first choice for longer trips or where I know that I will need lots of data.
They use Etisalat in 4G/LTE mode in Dubai and the UAE.
- Holafly UAE eSIM unlimited GB in 5 days
- Holafly UAE eSIM unlimited GB in 7 days
- Holafly UAE eSIM unlimited GB in 10 days
- Holafly UAE eSIM unlimited GB in 15 days
- Holafly UAE eSIM unlimited GB in 20 days
Remember that you can’t extend your Holafly eSIM, so you’re better to buy a plan that offers longer coverage than you need rather than less, as otherwise you will have to buy another eSIM from them to cover your trip.
AIS Global eSIM (Great for 2-Week Trips)
Although a global eSIM rather than a specific location eSIM, AIS offers the best value for money option for medium data use over two weeks.
They only have one eSIM suitable for Dubai, which is the 6GB for 15 days global eSIM.
I only include it here because AIS offers the most 5G networks of any global SIM, so if you are on a two week trip to even a couple of different countries, the extra 5G capabilities of the AIS card can make it worthwhile.
The Best eSIM for the UAE: Conclusion
In my opinion, the best eSIMs for Dubai and the UAE are:
- AloSIM, as they give you the cheapest 5G, which is unbeatable in the current climate.
- Nomad have the cheapest 4G eSIMs.
- Airalo offer great 4G coverage across the area, with their Menalink eSIM covering 15 countries in the Gulf and North Africa.
- Holafly are my next choice if you want unlimited data.