When you first get off the plane in Dubai, you can off course keep using your old phone on roaming mode. This can, however, be incredibly expensive. You might be able to get a great deal on your contract. Vodafone customers, for instance, can pay £6 a day to use their Roam Further plans in Dubai. This plan lets you use your UK minutes, texts and data in the UAE (£180 a month!). You can also use your pay-as-you-go plan for the first few days. I have looked up the cost and price of roaming in Dubai as a UK phone contract customer.
But what about getting a phone contract in Dubai? When I moved to the UK, I had some help from my husband and his friends. I had to select a phone company that would have service at his parents’ house in the New Forest (patchy service for a lot of providers) since we would be visiting a lot. As someone who had a 1.5 hour London commute, having a large data plan was also of the utmost importance (Hallo Netflix). I found that phone contracts were actually a lot cheaper in the UK than in Belgium. However, after having done some initial research, I noticed phone contracts in the UAE are even more expensive than in Belgium.
The UAE has two providers. From what I have read they have a monopoly whilst being in competition with each other. This means that although the prices are the same, the difference will mainly lie in the kind of contract you sign or the phone deal you can get.
You NEED your Visa or Emirates ID!
In order to get a phone contract - let alone a sim card (!!) you NEED your Emirates ID or visa. When you do not (yet) have your Emirates ID, you will receive a tourist prepaid card. Always bring your passport as you will not be able to receive or buy a sim card without your passport.
Dubai provider Etisalat.
The first Dubai mobile phone provider I will be having a look at is Etisalat. It is important to know that at the moment 1 pound sterling (GBP) is about 4.5 Dirham (AED) or 1 US Dollar (USD) is 3.7 Dirham (AED). This is to give you a reference framework as working with different currencies is not all that easy at the start.
Prices of Etisalat contracts (13/08/2018) range from 50 AED (13 USD or 10GBP) to 250 AED (68 USD or 53 GBP) with the biggest differences in data and minutes. With services such as Skype calls and Whatsapp calls not being available in the country, minutes are a lot more important than they would be in other countries. Keep this in mind when selecting a plan.
In order to set up a contract, you will need an original Emirates ID and any of the following documents: Stamped salary certificate (minimum salary: AED 2500), Vehicle licence, 3-months bank/online bank statement, Last month’s utility bill with physical address, Tenancy/ownership contract, Ministry of Labour contract (minimum salary: AED 2500).
Etisalat also offers Monthly combo packs. These combo packs are no contracts but monthly prepaid packs offering ranging from 35 AED (7.5 GBP or 9.5 USD) to 100 AED (27 USD or 21 GBP). You will get a LOT less for your money (100 AED for 1.5 Gb in prepaid or 150 AED for 6gb in postpaid).
Dubai Provider DU
The second and last mobile phone provider in Dubai I am having a look at is DU. DU offers post-paid and prepaid contracts and sims. These can be monthly, over 12 months or over 24 months. I honestly don’t know how I feel with getting a 24-month contract in the current climate. It seems that the UAE is trying to innovate in order to attract more foreign companies and investors. A few months ago, they opened up their country for foreigners to set up their own business. Where in the past, your company had to be in Emirati hands for 51%, now immigrants and expats can set up their own company outside of the free-zone. This tells me that the UAE – which is already a modern country, wants to attract investors which might mean they want to open up their telecom market resulting in lower prices and maybe even lifting the VOIP-ban (fingers crossed). Anyway – this is just me speculating, however, in a country that is innovating so fast and so effective as Dubai, you might want to sit out the 24-month contract to see if anything else that comes up might tickle your interest.
Du has some interesting contracts, especially for people looking to use a lot of minutes. With basic plans (so without a time commitment) you ill be able to call up to 2 preferred numbers for free. This means that if you think you will be calling someone a lot, this might be a great option for you. Their plans range from 150 AED (32 GBP or 40 USD) to 1000 AED (272 USD or 213 GBP).
If you would like to go for a 12-month contract, you can opt in for free Anghami plus. Think Spotify premium – but then for the Arabic Peninsula.
Du also has prepaid plans ranging from 35 AED (7.5 GBP or 9.5 USD) to 100 AED (27 USD or 21 GBP).
If you are visiting Dubai as a tourist, you might be interested in a Tourist plan. Du offers a tourist plan where you pay 65 AED (13 GBP or 17 USD) for a set number of minutes and 500MB of Data (1 week).
Etisalat has a package called a Visitor Line. These packages are 100 AED (27 USD or 21 GBP) and you will be able to choose between talk, text and surf, just surf or just talk and text. They are valid for 14 days and when repurchasing these packages you pay only 75 AED (16 GBP or 20 USD).
When getting off the plane, it might be best to opt in for a tourist package. Your first few days will be incredibly hectic. You will be in a completely new country, in a completely new city and you will need to figure out your every day life. Where will you do your groceries, where is your corner shop, what internet provider will I go with, where is the hairdresser – how can I survive this jetlag!
But once you are ready to pick up the pace, you first need to think about how much data you are going to use and how many minutes you will be calling – especially since there is NO VOIP (WhatsApp or skype or Facetime…). Have a talk with other expats and figure out what they are doing.
I personally am a Data monster. I have 20gb of data on my phone and thus will have to do with a lot less in Dubai. But nothing is insurmountable. I will just have to download my music and podcasts and Netflix episodes onto my laptop instead of streaming them onto my phone and data.