Reduce your rates by using a local SIM.
Iran is one of the wealthier Arab nations, close to Kuwait and Qatar. Using your home phone network there can be expensive, so consider switching over to a local SIM card to take advantage of better deals and plans. Iran has some of the best prepaid SIM cards available, with deals that can reduce your bills. You can buy 1GB of data from Iran’s leading telco provider for as little as IRR6,000 (AUD$0.23). So, whether you’re planning a short trip, longer stay or tour of the Arab nations, check out the best SIM card options available.
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Telco providers in Iran
There are three main operators in Iran: Hamrah-e-Aval, Irancell and RighTel. All three providers go through a strict approval process before being allowed to operate, and each one competes with the others to offer the best deals. Their services have all been tried and tested by both locals and travellers, and each one can be trusted. According to OpenSignal’s network coverage map, Iran has a good or above-average signal along the shoreline, main cities and highways. Phone signals can become weak in some of the desert regions, but that will happen on any phone you use there.
About Iran’s operators
Iran’s operators offer good roaming rates and sell prepaid credit, which allows users to take advantage of cheap local offers and deals. All three providers offer customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services. Locals call their SIM cards “SIMs” or “chips”, and there are rules and regulations when purchasing them. Passports and visa stamps must be shown before the SIM cards can be registered for use. Please note that as in most Middle Eastern countries, there is a great deal of censorship that goes on. Many websites are not accessible, and there are also restrictions on some VoIP calls and messaging. Make sure you watch what you write on Facebook and Twitter while you are there, because it’s closely monitored by the government and you might be arrested and deported if you publish any inappropriate social media posts while you're there. We advise you to download a VPN onto your phone before you travel so that you can have your usual online access while in Iran.
Below, we have broken down each telco provider to highlight exactly what’s available during your visit to Iran.
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Hamrah-e-Aval (همراه اول in Farsi and “the first operator” in English) is the largest operator in Iran with highly competitive rates and a solid network coverage. It offers good 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on the GSM platform. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers. Credit can also be purchased from official outlets, approved resellers, corner stores, service stations and supermarkets.
Your passport and visa stamp will have to be shown before you can purchase the SIM card. SIM registration is a legal requirement in Iran, so make sure you follow the proper steps; otherwise you could land yourself in trouble. You must also fill out a lengthy registration form, and they may even request a fingerprint copy. However, you might need to explain to the retailers that your country doesn’t require you to hold fingerprint copies. Even so, they could insist on taking your fingerprints. Your prepaid SIM card will be active as soon as the registration process has been completed. Dial *141*1# as soon as you activate the SIM and follow the options to finish the registration process.
Hamrah-e-Aval’s Neutrino 3G/4G data service can be activated by sending an SMS to 8088 or by dialling *111*231# from your phone.
There are two data packages available, called “Alpha” and “Alpha+”. The following options are available:
Alpha+ (max. 8Mbps)
All of the above-mentioned packages auto-renew. To cancel, dial *100*#8.
APN: mcinet, and website: http://www.mci.ir
Irancell is the second-largest operator in the country and is partly state-owned. It offers good 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on the GSM platform. Please note that there are two different types of SIM card – one for 2G and 3G, and the other for 4G services. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers. Credit can also be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, as well as supermarkets, service stations and corner stores.
Irancell’s “Pay As You Go” prepaid SIM card starter pack contains a SIM card, registration form and user guide. The following packages are available:
- IRR40,000 – SMS and data SIM card on 2G and 3G, comes with IRR10,000 credit
- IRR50,000 – voice, SMS and data SIM card on 2G and 3G, comes with IRR20,000 credit
- IRR100,00 – voice, SMS and data SIM card on 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE, comes with IRR20,000 credit
Your passport and visa stamp will have to be shown to the cashiers so they can register the SIM card for you. As explained above, SIM registration is a legal requirement in Iran, so make sure you follow the steps. You must fill out a lengthy registration form, and they may even request a fingerprint copy. It’s highly unlikely that you will possess one of these because not many countries around the globe make their citizens carry fingerprint copies. If you have any issues with the fingerprint, the only way to avoid this is to just speak with the manager and explain that your country doesn’t require you to have fingerprints taken. They might do it for you if it’s a must. Your prepaid SIM card will be active as soon as the registration process has been completed. Dial *141*1# as soon as you activate the SIM and follow the options to finalize the registration process.
Recharge top-up cards can be purchased in most stores across Iran. To add credit, dial *144*<voucher PIN>#, and on your first upload, you should receive a 10% credit bonus.
Prepaid SIM cards have no expiry date, so they will be active the entire time you use them. Dial *141*1# to check your balance.
The following data packs can also be added:
Dial *555*5*9# to check all prepaid SIM card data options, and select the relevant pack from the list to purchase. To cancel the pack (it will auto-renew), dial the same number and cancel the package already selected.
Irancell’s APN: mtnirancell, website in English: http://irancell.ir/portal/home/?27092/MTN%20%20Irancell
RighTel is the smallest operator in Iran with quite high prices and slow Internet speeds. It offers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on the GSM platform. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official outlets and approved resellers. Credit can also be purchased from official outlets, approved resellers, corner stores, service stations and supermarkets.
Your passport and visa stamp will have to be shown before you can purchase the SIM card. SIM registration is a legal requirement in Iran, so make sure you complete the process properly. As mentioned earlier, fingerprints may be requested, so you should explain if you don’t have a copy of your fingerprints, or agree to have your fingerprints taken. Your prepaid SIM card will be active as soon as the registration process has been completed. Dial *141*1# as soon as you activate the SIM and follow the options to finish the registration process.
The best place to purchase and register the RighTel SIM card is at its flagship store near Sahid Navvab-e Safavi Metro Station, Line 2. The office is directly next to the exit.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for IRR200,000, which comes with 500MB of data, 10,000 minutes to other RighTel numbers and 10,000 SMS to other RighTel users, valid for 30 days.
Top-up cards can be purchased in voucher form or by using your credit card online. Credit comes in varying amounts between IRR10,000 and IRR1,000,000.
|Voice and data prepaid SIM card|
RighTel’s APN: RighTel, and website in Farsi: http://www.rightel.ir/
- Persian is spoken in Iran, so if you don’t know the language, download Google Translate onto your phone before you travel. English is also widely spoken.
- Locals call a SIM card a “SIM” or “SimSim”.
- Ask the sellers to set up the SIM card for you because they will know how to do it. If not, follow the instructions we have highlighted above or go to the official operator website to get advice.
- It’s always better to get things done early before the shopping gets too busy, so head to the stores before they get crowded!
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
It’s well known for reviews, booking hotels, flights and holidays, but TripAdvisor also has many user comments that can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in Iran.
“There are two kiosks in Imam Khomeini international airport, one kiosk in Imam Hossein metro station, and one kiosk in Imam Khomeini metro station in Tehran that provide foreigners activated SIM cards. You just need to show your passport to the operator.”
“Iran has 3 major telecommunication companies. Usually these companies provide Free SIM Cards to those who visit but you will have to add packages to use them.”
“It's easy for tourists to buy a local SIM card. It doesn’t cost much for 3GB of data, SMS and local calls. Most people I know use Irancell due to wide coverage, easy to setup and cheap.”
Pros and cons of Iran’s top telco providers
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible international phone. To double check you have this phone, or whether it’s possible to unlock your device, contact your provider before you leave.
- Good value for money
- Iran has good coverage
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current phone
- Cheap handsets are sold in stores
- No devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
- Tough rules and regulations make buying a SIM card difficult
More questions about finding the best SIM?
Q: What do I do if I lose my phone in Iran?
A: Your phone is your lifeline, especially when travelling around the Middle East. Make sure you keep it safe and always make a note of where it is. The importance of having a direct link to family and friends via social media or through phone services can never be underestimated! If you do lose your phone, then retrace your steps and ask around. If you still have no luck, then cancel any plans or payment methods associated with the device, report it missing and make a note of the crime number to make a claim on your insurance.
Finally, find a cheap replacement to keep in touch with the outside world, and don’t let the new one out of your sight.