Same as other touristic countries, in Iran, you can buy a prepaid Sim card for a call to your country and use the internet.
In this post, we will try to help you to find the best service with the best price in Iran.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has four GSM operators:
- Hamrah Aval (3G by MCI)
- Irancell (4G by MTN)
- RighTel (3G only)
In August 2014 history was made. After a long dispute amongst the religious leaders, the two prime operators MCI and Irancell were each given permits for a 3G and 4G network. Yet 3G was not new to Iran. In 2011 Rightel, had been granted exclusive rights to provide a 3G network. Despite this, RighTel never reached the popularity of Irancell and Hamrah Aval. In the end, high-speed mobile internet, while available, was not widely adopted in Iranian society. This changed in 2014. Beginning September 2014 Irancell started its 3G and in November 2014 its 4G network, MCI followed with their 3G network called Neutrino in 2015.
It’s possible for foreigners and visitors to buy prepaid SIM cards just by showing your passport and visa in an office of the providers. There, they will make photocopies, may take fingerprints, ask a lot of questions and do the paperwork which can take quite a while.
Iran has blocked Facebook, Twitter or YouTube in the past, but for now, all social media is wide open. Whatsapp has been unblocked and VoIP calls and messaging are not censored. With this general openness, a system of smart censorship has been introduced. So certain contents which are considered to be offensive are ‘phased out’. Be aware that the internet is under surveillance and be considerate on what you post online.
For your convenience, Irancell is the recommended provider here, as they have proven to be the least problematic for foreigners and they offer the best rates. They have a handy office at the airport where they can deal perfectly with tourists. Hamrah Aval is generally more expensive and harder to get hold of and Rightel has lost its 3G monopoly with inflated rates in 2014 which gives hardly any reason anymore to go to them. That’s why MTN Irancell is featured in detail and the other providers are only quoted for their rates.
Irancell (by MTN)
Irancell, partly state-owned and owned by South African MTN group has been established as the 2nd provider in the country. They started with 3G and 4G in late 2014 and already cover 427 cities with 36% of the population by 3G and 82 cities with 12% of the population by 4G/LTE in 2015 (coverage map). Thus more than half of the population has access to the fast internet now.
Availability and startup
MTN Irancell SIM cards are very easily available. They have an office on the internet. airport and in many towns (list of service centers). Their Pay AS You Go Starter Pack contains a SIM Card, registration form, and a user guide. These prepaid SIM cards are offered:
- voice, text, and data SIM card, 2G and 3G: 50,000 Rials with 20,000 Rials credit
- voice, text, and data SIM card, 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE: 100,000 Rials with 20,000 Rials credit
- text and data SIM card, no voice, 2G, and 3G: 40,000 Rials with 10,000 Rials credit
At their office, you should do the registration which is required by law to register the details of all its users. In order to register you need to complete the registration form, show your national ID card and a copy of it and take the following steps to submit the registration form together with a copy of your national ID card (on which you have written your MSISDN) to Irancell authorized dealer or Service Center Agent. When sending or submitting the copy of your proof of identity, make sure to have your fingerprint on them.
Your mobile number will be activated as soon as the registration is complete. Before you can make or receive your first call, you will need to dial *141*1# to initialize your account.
Topping up and expiry
Topping up can be done with recharge cards found all over the country. You can top up by *144*<voucher PIN># and get a ‘WOW’ bonus of about 10% of the voucher value.
Credit on these cards never expire. Your 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. You can check your account balance by dialing *141*1#.
Data feature packages
Default rate outside of packages is 0.75 Rials per KB.
Irancell mobile internet packages are provided without any speed limit and based on your location and coverage. For 4G/LTE you need a 4G SIM card and a device with LTE on 1800 MHz.
The weekly and monthly internet packages will be automatically renewed after the expiry dates. Dial *555*5*9# for a list of all packages with the auto-renewal feature. To deactivate this feature, you can simply dial the mentioned code and select the related item to cancel.
If you purchase two packages simultaneously, the auto-renewal will happen at the expiry of the second package.If you reorder another package before the expiry of the current one, the remaining credit (remaining kilobytes of traffic) of the previous period can be transferred to the new period. The long-term packs and the special packs of 2 am to 2 pm and 12 am to 12 pm, are excluded from this rule.
- APN: mtnirancell
- Website in English: http://irancell.ir/portal/home/?27092/MTN%20%20Irancell
Hamrah-e-Aval (by MCI)
Hamrah-e-Aval, in Farsi: همراه اول, in English: the first operator, is still the market leader in Iran. It is owned by the Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran, better known as MCI. In 2015 they began with their 3G network, that they call Neutrino. Though is still number one in the country they lag behind Irancell in 3G coverage, haven’t started with 4G yet and offer slower speeds at higher prices.
For availability, start-up, activation, topping up and expiry sees Irancell as this is very similar. To activate the Neutrino service send a blank SMS to 8088 or dial *111*231#.
Data feature packages
They offer two lines of internet packages called Alpha and Alpha +. While Alpha is limited to 196 kbps only, Alpha plus offers 8 Mbps download speed.
- Alpha (max. 196 kbps)
- 150 MB, 1 day: 1000 Rials, activation: *100*11#
- 800 MB, 7 days: 5000 Rials, activation: *100*12#
- 2.5 GB, 30 days: 10000 Rials, activation: *100*13#
- 800 MB night traffic 23pm-8am, 7 nights, 1000 Rials, activation: #14*100*
- Alpha + (max. 8 Mbps)
- 100 MB + 100 MB at night:
- 1 day: 1500 Rials, activation: *100*21*1#
- 7 days: 2500 Rials, activation: *100*22*1#
- 30 days: 4000 Rials, activation: *100*23*1#
- 300 MB + 300 MB at night
- 1 day: 3500 Rials, activation: *100*21*2#
- 7 days: 5000 Rials, activation: *100*22*2#
- 30 days: 7000 Rials, activation: *100*23*2#
- 1 GB + 1 GB at night
- 1 day: 9000 Rials, activation: *100*21*3#
- 7 days: 10,000 Rials, activation: *100*22*3#
- 30 days: 13,000 Rials, activation: *100*23*3#
- 3 GB + 3 GB at night
- 1 day: 10,000 Rials, activation: *100*21*4#
- 7 days: 13,500 Rials, activation: *100″22*4#
- 30 days: 17,000 Rials, activation: *100*23*4#
- 100 MB + 100 MB at night:
Night time bonus on the Alpha + packages is from 2am to 7am. All packages auto-renew. To stop, dial *100*#8.
- APN: mcinet
- Website in Farsi only: http://www.mci.ir
RighTel is the 3rd operator in Iran. It was granted a 3G license in 2011 and it had a monopoly on 3G 2011-2014 in the country. Rightel works great in certain parts of large cities but has horrible (or nonexistent) coverage in smaller cities and many rural areas. Many people thought its prices were too high, and the speeds given were much slower than what was advertised. High-speed internet also caused some cultural controversies, leading RighTel to restrict selling its SIM cards to those 18 and older.
Nowadays Irancell and MTC have surpassed their coverage. They are still on 3G only and do some roaming for voice and text on Irancell in 2G (coverage map in Farsi) charging very high prices.
As a foreigner, you can only buy the RighTel SIM card at the office located at Sahid Navab-e Safavi Metro Station, Line 2 (Exit: Azarbayejan Street West, the office is right next to the exit), closes at 6 pm.
You will have to show your original passport with a valid Iranian visa, a photocopy will not be accepted. They will also ask you lots of personal info, your name, your father’s name, your education, occupation, address in Teheran and postal code (a hotel address is accepted, better check out the postal code first). Fingerprint 5 times, signature 5 times. Done! Expect to spend around 90 minutes there.
A SIM card starter packs are sold for 200,000 Rails with 500 MB, 10,000 minutes to RighTel and 10,000 SMS to RighTel valid for 30 days.
Data feature packages
Their prices seem to be totally inflated compared to their new competitors:
- on the voice and data SIM card:
- 200 MB, 7 days, 30,000 Rails
- 1.5 GB, 30 days, 125,000 Rails
- 3 GB, 30 days, 199,000 Rails
- APN: RighTel
- Website in Farsi: http://www.rightel.ir/
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