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Getting a cell phone in Abu Dhabi

Posted on Monday, September 17, 2012 | 37 Comments

Hello guys!
I've been busy the past couple of weeks and I haven't been able to post too much. But in the meantime I got a lot of questions and requests for articles, so here I am, back with more information.
Today, I wanted to talk a little bit about mobile phones/cells phones. No matter if you're coming to abu Dhabi to look for a job or to get settled down, you will need to get a phone quite fast.
Just like for home phone and Internet, there are 2 providers in the U.A.E.: Etisalat and Du.

When you arrive, you will probably have to get a prepaid phone. That is because you won't have your visa yet, and your local bank account will not be set up. Here are the options given by Etisalat and Du.
To be honest, their offer is kind of complicated and cryptic... But here is how it works. You can purchase prepaid cards loaded with a given AED amount in their stores or in supermarkets. Then, it is up to you to see if you want to use these credits for local or international phone minutes, SMS, data (to have internet on your phone). To be able to use your minutes, you will have to type a certain code on your phone and the minutes will automatically be credited.
They also give you free minutes if you buy large amounts of credits. It might be interesting, but it depends on your consumption because these credits expire. I strongly advise you to bring your own phone to the U.A.E. so you can connect it with your new prepaid SIM. Make sure before leaving that this phone will work in the U.A.E. Obviously, the more modern and "smartphonish" the phone, the better it is.

Then, when all your paperwork will be done, you will be able to subscribe to a postpaid plan. Some people choose to stick with the prepaid and buy credits for phone, SMS and data. That way they don't have to worry about bills.
If you choose to get a postpaid plan, you will basically have to dive into Etisalat and Du offers and see what suits you best. Usually, their plans include international minutes.
Also, check with your company if any of these two carriers has special rates for employees. The plans are pretty interesting. This is the option I went for. I have a really good plan with a two years contract, and I got a Samsung Galaxy III for free. Pretty cool stuff ;-)
If you want to get a new phone for free or at a discounted price, make sure that you qualify for it. Some people I know sold their brand new phones prior to leaving their home countries. When they went to subscribe for a plan with Etisalat, they found out that they wouldn't be able to get a new smartphone (IPhone in their case) until they're Etisalat customers for 6 months... That created a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, because it didn't make much sense from a Western's perspective, but that's just how the system works.

A few additional tips :
  • Before coming to the U.A.E., a bunch of people told me that everyone here as a Blackberry - hence, that it would be easier for me to get a Blackberry and be in touch with people through BBM. That is not true. Lots of people now have IPhones or Android phones, and it is easy to stay in touch by using SMS messages or Whatsapp. A lot of people have more than one phone (a company phone which is usually a BlackBerry, and a personal phone)
  • Don't go crazy on your phone plan. You can always upgrade, but you can't downgrade.
  • Since everything... tends... to take... a lot... of time... in the U.A.E., even if your company promises you a company phone, I strongly advise you to get a prepaid plan when you arrive. That way you're not stuck without a phone for the first 4 months ;-)


  1. Hello! I am moving to Abu Dhabi in 3 weeks and just found your blog. I am hoping to get an iPhone while I am there ( I currently do not own one), but I read somewhere that people unlock their iPhones before moving to Abu Dhabi and continue to use their iPhones with sim cards. Since I don't have one yet, would you recommend to get one before moving to Abu Dhabi, or is it easy/affordable to get an iPhone in Abu Dhabi? Thank you for your help!

    1. Hello Hiro! Thanks for your comment and best of luck for your move to the UAE :) You must get that all the time but your name/screen name reminds me of the TV Show Heroes ;)
      I don't own an Iphone, but I believe the price of a new Iphone in the UAE is roughly the same as you'd get in Canada, maybe a little more expensive because everything tends to be overpriced here.
      That being said, it is also possible that the company you'll work with has offers with Etisalat or Du to get a discounted Iphone with a subscription. Do you have a contact in your future company (HR) who could answer this question for you? (This is important because if your company doesn't have special offers, you will have to pay your Iphone full price with your phone plan subscription)
      You can also check Dubizzle.com to check the price of a used Iphone. It is an affordable solution too!

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