Iran is a remarkable travel destination. Tehran, Iran's capital is known for its museums, the Golestan Palace, and amazing views from the Milad Towers. Besides Tehran, Shiraz, Kashan, and Isfahan are other popular travel destinations.
Roaming with your provider in Iran can be expensive. Roaming is expensive in general, so it should not surprise you that it would be pricy in Iran. Seasoned travelers love to buy local SIM cards so that they can enjoy local rates instead of overpriced roaming rates. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Iran. Let's get this done.
Table of Contents
Mobile Operators, Networks & Frequencies in Iran
Iran has 3 telecom providers: Hamrahe Aval, Irancell, and RighTel. All providers have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks available to prepaid customers. 4G/LTE can be found in the bigger cities.
As of 2018, Irancel and Hamrahe Aval have made a national roaming agreement. As a result, customers of either provider can roam on the network of the other so that they can experience better coverage in rural areas. Normally, only one operator operates in one town, which made phone usage useless in these areas.
Best SIM Card in Iran
If you want to buy a SIM card in Iran, I would recommend going with Irancell. Not only do they have the best rates and the most choice in packages, but they are also the easiest provider to buy SIM cards from as a traveler.
SIM Card Registration in Iran
Like most countries in the Middle East, you have to show your passport when buying a SIM card. Copies of your passports will be made and fingerprints will be taken. Expect to be asked many questions (especially with RighTel). Therefore, you should have some spare time before buying a SIM card.
Currency in Iran
As of 2016, Iran switched from the Rial (IRR) to the Toman. Although most prices in Iran are listed in Toman, banknotes are still in Rial. As a result, all prices listed in this article are in Rial. 1 Toman is 10 Rial. Let’s say you go to an Irancell store and see a package advertised for 5000 Toman, you are expected to pay 50000 Rial.
IMEI Registration in Iran
As of 2018, Iran implemented an IMEI registration process, which requires everyone to register their phones when using an Iranian SIM card. You need to pay 18% of the phone's value to the custom’s officials to get registered. However, those roaming with their provider or staying in Iran for less than 30 days do not have to register their phones because of the registration grace period. If you plan on visiting Iran multiple times, you would have to get a new SIM card (if allowed – I have not tried that yet).
Internet Censorship in Iran
Lastly, internet censorship is prevalent in Iran, like some other Middle Eastern countries. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have been banned together with some other apps and websites. You can, however, use WhatsApp and a few undisclosed VoIP apps.
Not only are some websites blocked, but the internet is under close surveillance by the authorities. Therefore, I would strongly urge you to use a VPN in Iran so that you do not get visited by… friendly authorities at night. I use NordVPN because I get high speeds with their servers and stay fully anonymous when browsing the web. They have around 5500 servers in 59 countries. They have servers in the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Turkey (there are many more, but these are the closest to Iran). You can get up to 70% off your NordVPN subscription if you get yours today!
With that out of the way, let’s see what Iranian operators have to offer to us.
Hamrahe Aval is Iran’s largest telecom provider with almost 50 million subscribers. It is owned by the Telecommunication Company of Iran. Hamrahe Aval is also the first operator of Iran. Although the largest, their 3G and 4G/LTE coverage is worse than the ones of Irancell (discussed below). 4G/LTE is available to less than 50% of Hamrahe Aval’s customers. SIM cards can be bought in official stores.
Hamrahe Aval, together with Irancell, offers more than 30 internet packages. Although having choice is lovely, having too much choice can make the decision process complicated. Packages are sold for 1 day, 7 days, and 30 days. I will mention 2 packs with both 1-day and 7-day validity, and 4 with the validity of 30 days:
- 15000 IRR ($0.40): 100 MB for 1 day
- 90000 IRR: 1 GB for 1 day
- 100000 IRR: 1 GB for 7 days
- 135000 IRR: 3 GB for 7 days
- 170000 IRR: 4 GB for 30 days
- 219000 IRR: 7 GB for 30 days
- 249000 IRR: 10 GB for 30 days
- 540000 IRR: 25 GB for 30 days
Irancell by MTN
Irancell is Iran’s second operator. It is mostly state-owned, 51%, while MTN, a South African company active in many parts in Africa, has a “minority” stake of 49%. Irancell’s coverage is good and is the preferred operator for travelers. It is relatively easy to get a SIM card from Irancell compared to Hamrahe Aval and RighTel.
An Irancell SIM card is sold for 100000 IRR at Irancell stores and international airports. Recharging should be done at MTN stores so that you do not have to pay a vendor’s surcharge.
Just like Hamrahe Aval, Irancell offers many data packs – I will list a handful of packages below. Packages are sold for 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, 15 days, and 30 days. 2 packages per validity will be mentioned, but you can always ask the salesperson about all the options they have:
- 15000 IRR: 100 MB for 1 day
- 30000 IRR: 500 MB for 1 day
- 50000 IRR: 1 GB for 3 days
- 70000 IRR: 2 GB for 3 days
- 100000 IRR: 2 GB for 7 days
- 110000 IRR: 2 GB for 15 days
- 165000 IRR: 4 GB for 30 days
- 180000 IRR: 6 GB for 7 days
- 190000 IRR: 6 GB for 15 days
- 325000 IRR: 10 GB for 30 days
- 700000 IRR: 18 GB for 30 days
Irancell is the only provider to sell Tourist SIM cards. They are sold at Teheran Imam Khomeini International Airport and are valid for 30 days. Unlike regular SIM cards, these cannot be extended. The following variants are sold:
- 200000 IRR: 1.5 GB and 20000 IRR credit
- 350000 IRR:3 GB and 140000 IRR credit
- 500000 IRR: 5 GB and 220000 IRR credit
RighTel is Iran’s third and last operator. It used to have a monopoly with its 3G network for a few years before the other providers caught on. RighTel has the worst coverage of them all. You should only consider going with RighTel is staying in large cities. But they are the most expensive provider, which is why you should not go with them. They have around 3 million subscribers, which is nothing compared to the other providers.
It is actually difficult to buy a RighTel SIM card as a traveler. You can only buy it at Sahid Navid-e Safavi Metro station (line 2). The office closes at 6 PM. The number of questions they will ask you will feel like an interrogation. Expect to spend at least an hour in the office.
If you manage to get a RighTel SIM card, you will have to pay 200000, which will get you 500 MN, 10000 minutes and SMS to RighTel numbers, all valid for 30 days. The following data packs can be added:
- 30000 IRR: 300 MB for 1 day
- 50000 IRR: 400 MB for 3 days
- 55000 IRR: 600 MB for 7 days
- 60000 IRR: 350 MB for 10 days
- 120000 IRR: 2.5 GB for 7 days
- 150000 IRR: 3 GB for 30 days
- 170000 IRR: 3 GB for 7 days
- 270000 IRR: 7 GB for 30 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Iran
The Preferred Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Iran
Getting a SIM card from Irancell would do you well when considering an Iranian SIM card.
Local Prepaid SIM Cards in Other Middle Eastern Countries
Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
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