Every time you travel to a non-EU country the question inevitably arises: how can I be online with my mobile phone in the destination country? While it would probably be much more beneficial for relaxation to be offline while on vacation, many travelers won’t want to give up staying in touch with friends and family back home via cell phone.
Dubai in the United Arab Emirates
Image: teltarif.de / Thomas Michel
There are often very practical reasons for being able to go online with your mobile phone: whether it is to navigate with Google Maps or to be able to buy tickets for attractions. In many countries it is now customary to purchase tickets online or via app and then present them at the entrance using your mobile phone. Of course this can also be done via WiFi in the hotel, but it is more practical if you don’t always have to look for WiFi and log in to be able to do certain things online on your mobile phone. In the end, something like this can only cause stress – and that’s exactly what you want to avoid as much as possible on vacation.
VISA and SIM free at the entrance
The variant that tourists have at their disposal in the United Arab Emirates is therefore interesting. At least at Dubai Airport (DXB), tourists who choose an officer rather than the passport control machine receive a free SIM card from the “du” provider at passport control. This SIM card is already registered to the user and can be used immediately. Basically, a SIM card removal needle is included in the SIM card package.
Free SIM card when entering Dubai
Image: teltarif.de / Thomas Michel
After inserting the SIM card into the mobile phone, the tourist is greeted with a personal SMS and informed that this SIM card includes a data volume of 1 GB for 24 hours. If you need more data or want to use the SIM card for your entire stay in the UAE, you can book a data package via the provider du app. No registration is necessary and you can simply pay by credit card. For a larger volume of data or telephony you have some options with different durations available. You can find more details in our Dubai/UAE travel guide.
Unsolicited registration is questionable to say the least
If the SIM card is not used or no further package is booked after the first 24 hours, the SIM will deactivate after a maximum of one week without further action. Now you might complain that a SIM card is registered in your name or in your passport without the customer’s consent. This is correct and certainly questionable from the perspective of Western tourists raised in democracies.
However, before traveling to the United Arab Emirates, you should be aware that the United Arab Emirates is not a democratic republic and that completely different laws and rules apply there. This does not only apply to one’s behavior in public, certain clothing regulations or bans on taking medicines, some of which are also available in Germany without a prescription, but also to data protection and consumer rights. So if you don’t mind all the differences from the Western world, you shouldn’t see any problems with a registered SIM card without being asked when you enter the country. After all, the SIM is automatically deactivated and anyone who does not use it cannot be traced, if this is actually the case.
Online yes, but how and how much does it cost?
Whatever your reason for wanting or needing to be online abroad, the question always arises as to what options are available and how much it ultimately costs. For the most popular travel destinations outside the EU, many German mobile operators now offer more or less convenient options that can be booked in advance in Germany or upon arrival in the destination country. These options therefore mainly offer a quota of data volume for a limited period of time. Unfortunately it depends on your mobile operator whether or not this option is available.
Another alternative is to purchase a so-called roaming SIM card, which can already be purchased and activated in Germany. You can read more about it in our guide to roaming SIMs. The advantage is that these SIM cards can be activated in Germany and you can be sure that they will work immediately in the destination country. The disadvantage is that data allowances have to be purchased relatively expensively.
Buy local SIM
Finally, there is the option of purchasing a prepaid card from a local mobile operator in the country you are traveling to. They are generally inexpensive, but there may be some obstacles to overcome: obviously the SIM card can only be purchased after entering the country at a local shop, where there may be problems due to the language barrier. You should also know exactly what you need, so that you are not offered a completely oversized and therefore correspondingly expensive on-site rate. There is nothing more annoying than feeling “betrayed” at the start of a trip.
Model for the future
The Dubai example clearly demonstrates how easy it can be to use a local SIM card abroad. We can only hope that this becomes a model in other countries, but at least in the Western (democratic) world this should only be done with the traveler’s consent. However, in recent years mobile phones have become increasingly important, so much so that it is natural or even mandatory to be able to be online with your mobile phone abroad. Within the EU, such problems have been a thing of the past since 2017.
You can read more details about “Using your mobile phone in Dubai” in our roaming guide.