Looking for an Iran SIM Card to contact friends, locals, or simply to browse the internet? Here we'll cover all you need to know about mobile in Iran, including:
a) Major Iran SIM Card providers:
b) Brief history of mobile data in Iran;
c) Summary of regulations and censorship;
d) General SIM card rates and coverage;
e) Our SIM Card recommendation:
F) Where to purchase and register your SIM Card; and
g) Topping up and expiry.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has 3 major GSM operators:
Other SIM card providers in Iran such as Taliya, MTCE and TKC are not recommended due to limited data and coverage across Iran.
These three largest SIM card providers feature the following technology bands:
In 2011 RighTel had been granted exclusive rights to provide a 3G mobile network in Iran.
Despite the first entry into the market, RighTel never reached the popularity of Irancell and Hamrah Aval. This was largely due to limited infrastructure across the country, but also because high speed mobile internet was not widely adopted in Iranian society.
This changed in August 2014, when after a long domestic dispute the two prime operators MCI (Hamrah-e-Aval) and MTN (Irancell) were each given permits for a 3G and 4G networks.
Beginning September 2014 Irancell started its 3G network, and in November 2014 its 4G network, MCI followed with their 3G network called "Notrino" in 2015 and later with 4G.
Currently the mobile data business is booming, with the younger generation sharing media and social content almost as much as the Chinese.
Hamrah-e-Aval (By MCI)
Hamrah-e-Aval, in Farsi: همراه اول, is owned by the Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran, better known as MCI. While one of the largest telecommunication providers in Iran, they lag behind Irancell in terms of 3G and 4G coverage.
Irancell (by MTN)
Irancell is partly state-owned and by a South African MTN group. Irancell covers over 1000 Iranian cities with 3G, and 240 Iranian cities with 4G/LTE as of 2016. Plus data is available for your SIM card on most major road networks between cities.
RighTel is the 3rd operator in Iran. RighTel works great in certain parts of large cities, but coverage is limited in smaller cities and many rural areas. The rates are generally higher than Irancell, and the speeds may be slower advertised.
Foreigners and visitors can easily buy prepaid SIM cards, just show your passport with your Iranian visa to the office staff. There they will make photocopies and complete the paperwork.
Iran has blocked social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the past. Apps like Telegram are popular and available in Iran, as with WhatsApp and most European VoIP messaging services.
Keep in mind Iran has introduced smart censorship. For example, certain websites and social media accounts that are considered offensive are often 'phased out'. Regardless the internet, especially social media sites are under close surveillance of the state, so consider what’s appropriate when you post online.
Locals often use VPN services to protect privacy and widen internet access.
Irancell prepaid SIM cards offer voice, text and data. As of 2017 these the SIM card would set you back 4,000 Tomans including 1000 Tomans credit. Generally, $15US lasts for 1-month worth of calls, SMS and data, charged at 0.06 Tomans/Kb (Approx 2c/ MB).
Example SIM Card data cost comparison:
MCI Hamrah-e-Aval: 3GB peak (+3GB off-peak), 30 days: US$15
MTN Irancell: 3GB, 30 days, US$10
RighTel: 3 GB, 30 days, US$20
SIM Card Coverage:
We recommend Irancell as the preferred SIM card data provider. This is because Irancell has proven to be the least problematic for foreigners and they offer the best rates, wide coverage, and easiest signup processes in English.
They have a handy office at the airport for easy communication for tourists to better understand SIM cards in Iran.
Hamrah Aval is generally has more limited mobile coverage for SIM cards than RighTel and Irancell.
To purchase your Iran mobile SIM card, you’ll need to visit the service provider’s sales office to register. As with most countries, registration details are required by law to record the details of all users.
As a foreigner:
You will receive a Starter Pack containing a SIM Card, registration form and a user guide.
In order to register you will need to complete the registration form, this generally involves:
The fingerprints are taken 5 times and signature 5 times, and then you’re DONE getting your Iran SIM card! Expect to spend around 90 minutes during the registration process, however if you bring an Iranian friend it is often easier.
Topping up your Iran SIM card can be done with recharge cards found all over the country. Refer to your SIM card starter pack for specific details, including balance checks, topup details and expiry details.
Though credit on these cards never expire. Your Iranian SIM card is "everlasting" as long as you make or receive at least one call or send or receive at least one SMS every 90 days for your SIM Card to remain active.
Website in Farsi only: http://www.mci.ir
Website in English: http://irancell.ir/portal/home/?27092/MTN%20%20Irancell
Website in Farsi only: http://www.rightel.ir/