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.
Telecom Providers 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.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!
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
I have discussed the relevant providers in Iran in this article because using an Iranian SIM card would be much cheaper than roaming with your provider… in most cases. However, buying a local SIM card is not the only way to stay connected in Iran. You can buy an international SIM card, use a mobile hotspot, or use free WIFI connections. Below, I will discuss the alternative options to use your phone in Iran.
Roaming in Iran with Your Provider
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is Ooredoo Oman, then you would be roaming with Ooredoo Oman in Iran.
The issue with roaming is that it can be expensive. There have been many horror stories where people had to pay thousands in roaming fees when coming back from their holidays, which is just a shame, in my opinion. However, roaming does not always have to be expensive, especially when visiting a neighboring country.
Many providers offer roaming plans. Some allow you to roam for free in Iran, while others would offer you a roaming bundle with a set number of minutes, SMS, and data. Finally, several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee.
As you can see, there are many options out there, so be sure to explore the roaming options your provider has. Conveniently for you, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers (and many more to come) and discussed everything you need to know about roaming with your provider. If you are lucky, you may not even have to buy a SIM card in Iran and can roam for free there.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
One thing I would not recommend doing is to Roam As You Go. Just like prepaid cards where you can buy bundles or Pay As You Go (as in, charged per minute, SMS, or MB), Roaming As You Go can be insanely expensive (that is how people get expensive roaming bills). So far, there are a handful of providers I have reviewed that offer affordable Roam As You Go rates. But generally, avoid it. Get a roaming plan if you can or buy a SIM in Iran.
Using an International SIM Card in Iran
International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.
The number of international SIM card providers is too many to count, but international SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. A few providers I know are OneSimCard and SimOptions.
They allow people to call you at one number instead of five in case you are exploring multiple countries in one trip. Moreover, you do not have to deal with multiple SIM cards you will never use again. In short, international SIM cards have been made for the international traveler in mind.
Although this sounds fabulous, international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Iran. Some international SIM card providers charge ridiculous fees (sometimes, even more than roaming with your provider), while others offer awful service. It is, therefore, important to go with a reputable company so that you do not have to deal with surprised when traveling around the world.
On the other hand, international SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Many countries in the Middle East require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.
Using Portable Hotspots (Pocket WIFI) in Iran
Portable hotspots, also referred to mobile hotspots or pocket WIFI, are routers small enough to bring with you everywhere you go. They are portable, battery-powered wireless routers that allow you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.
Just like with the number of international SIM card providers, there are so many mobile hotspots out there that it is challenging to keep track of them all. Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
The first time I used a portable hotspot was when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, with my dad. He uses the Dutch telecom provider called KPN, which does not let you roam for free in Thailand. I was with 3 Denmark (3 Danmark), which also did not allow me to roam for free. The router was offered for free by our Airbnb host. Let me tell you how convenient that thing was!
I do not remember the exact brand router we used, but we could connect our phones to it, explore Bangkok, and upload highlights of our trip on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp without the need of connecting to unsecure and slow connections in Thailand.
That is why I often recommend those who are traveling in groups or with families to consider getting a pocket WIFI device so that each individual does not need to buy a local SIM card and data packages. In some countries, the cost of getting a local SIM card or packages is so low that it is not even worth getting a mobile hotspot. In others, it could save you money.
I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.
Connecting to Free WIFI Networks in Iran
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Iran, which is using free WIFI networks.
Using WIFI networks should not cost you any money (unless you are connecting to premium hotspots), which is why it is a popular option for travelers. Go to a local café, buy a coffee, connect to their WIFI, and post your pictures to Facebook or Instagram. Straightforward, right? Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.
First, you need to find hotspots. In some regions, they are readily available. In others, you cannot find any, require you to give your personal details (for commercial purposes), are restricted for those who are a subscriber of an operator’s, or are so slow that you wished you never connected to them.
In the case of Iran, you can find a few hotspots here and there, but they are not widespread like other destinations.
Public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now or learn more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Iran
Getting a SIM card from Ooredooe would do you well when considering an Iranian SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other countries in the Middle East? Check out my Middle Eastern SIM card buying guide, covering other Middle Eastern countries, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
What is next?
Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!
Book Your Flight for Iran
It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Iran. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Iran drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Iran
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Iran. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in an Iranian hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Iran
You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Iran, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.
Get a Travel Debit Card
Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to the currency of your destination for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.
Enjoy your trip!