Being able to connect to the internet and make phone calls is a must when visiting another country. While some visitors manage with just the WiFi provided it hotels, cafe’s and restaurants, others prefer to have their own network at all times. Especially in Iran, it can be quite convenient; to plan your next activities during long-distance bus rides, find your way in unknown cities, call a guesthouse to make a reservation on the go or to keep your friends and relatives updated at all times. This blog post covers everything you need to know to buy a SIM card with data in Iran.
* December 2018 Edit; Unfortunately its become increasingly difficult to register a local sim card on your name. Especially first time visitors have difficulties getting their sim card registered. And often need an Iranian friend to do the registration process for them. Because some travelers do manage to get a sim card by their selves it’s still worth a shot! The information about mobile operators, packages, coverage and (re)-charging are still the same.
Hamrah-e Aval and Irancell are the two largest phone operators in Iran. Both companies offer SIM card services to foreign visitors and have an extended network coverage in Iran. I mention extended as most cities, highways and popular tourist destinations are covered, but connection might get lost once you wander deep into the desert, the Kurdish mountains or the Mazandaran jungle. Basically, coverage will be guaranteed if you stay within reasonable distance from, and in between large cities.
Also known as the ‘Mobile Telecommunication Company’, is Iran’s first telecom provider and has been operating since 1992! Although they have an extended network and good service, only limited information is available in English.
Visitors to Iran can get a registered prepaid SIM card. Depending on the location the price of the SIM card varies between 5000 and 1000 tomans. The SIM card comes with 800MB free data and gives you 5000 tomans extra charge when you re-charge for the first time. Airtime and data can be bought separately according to your needs. Price for phone calls per minute is 67T for Hamrah-e Aval numbers and 93T for other providers.
Buy the SIM card directly at the Imam Khomeini airport after arrival or at one of the Hamrah-e Aval service centers in the cities. In order to activate your SIM card, you need your passport with valid visa for registration. For questions about your SIM card in English, you can also call 9990 (for Hamrah-e Aval customers) or 09129990 (for other numbers)
The SIM card will only expire once it’s unused for three months and has less than 5000 tomans credit on it. So unless you come below this credit, you can keep your SIM card and use it again for your next visit to Iran.
There are several re-charging options, with the one for MahCard users being the easiest and most convenient. Below a description of the several ways to re-charge your Hamrah-e Aval SIM card.
Users of MahCard can easily dial the USSD code *1# and follow the menu to buy both airtime and data packages as desired. Simply follow the process and enter your MahCard details to make the purchase.
Travelers who don’t have access to the Iranian bank system can buy credit vouchers from newspaper shops or (mini) markets everywhere in the city. Vouchers can be bought from 1000 tomans to 20.000 tomans. In order to re-charge; scratch the silver seal open, dial *140*#15 digit pin number# and press OK. You can now use this credit as airtime or to purchase a data package as described below.
Hamrah-e Aval offers different data-packages from one day to one week, one month, three months, six months and one year. Dial *100*2# to check the price of your desired data package, top it up with the vouchers, dial *100*2# again and make your purchase. You are now ready to surf online.
Iran’s second largest telecommunication company is part of the MTN group. (you will see the MTN sign everywhere!) Irancell also has a good coverage and offers better service in English, making it overall easier in use compared to Hamrah-e Aval.
Irancell offers visitor three different SIM card packages as shown in the photo below. The price for phone calls are between 67 and 92 tomans per minute.
You can buy the SIM card directly at the Imam Khomeini Airport or at one of the MTN/Irancell service centres in the cities. In order to activate the SIM card, you need to register with your passport.
For questions about your SIM card in English, you can also call 09377070000 or 09377000000.
The visitor SIM packages will expire automatically after one month. If your trip is longer than one month you can buy a regular prepaid SIM card at the airport or at the MTN/Irancell service centers. The price for a regular prepaid SIM card is 5000 tomans plus the regular cost for airtime and mobile data.
Irancell offers similar re-charging options as Hamrah-e Aval, with the one for MahCard users being the easiest and most convenient. Apart from the different USSD codes and menu’s, the process is exactly the same.
Users of MahCard can easily dial the USSD code *7# and follow the menu to buy both airtime and data packages. Simply follow the process and enter your MahCard details to make the purchase.
Travelers who don’t have access to the Iranian bank system can buy credit vouchers from newspaper shops or (mini) markets everywhere in the city. In order to re-charge; scratch the silver seal open, dial *141*15 digit pin number# and press YES/OK. You can now use this credit as airtime or to purchase a data package.
Irancell offers different data-packages from one day, three days, to one week, one month up to several years. Dial *555*5# to check the price of your desired data package, top it up with the vouchers, dial *555*5# again and make your purchase. You are now ready to surf online.
For other convenient USSD codes be sure to check this page out.
Interested in Data only? Read this blog post about three ways to access the internet in Iran.
Did you get a SIM card in Iran? Was it a smooth or difficult process?! Your experience could be of great help and resource for other travelers to Iran. We’d love to hear about them through the comment section below.
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Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m hoping you might be able to advise me?
I’m arriving in Tehran on April 5 to join an organised tour, and departing on April 22. 18 days. I’m wondering what kind of Irancell sim card I should buy to cover that period? I will hardly use it but must rely on it for any urgent messages to or from Australia, and perhaps to send short messages. Would you have any idea of how much I should spend on such a card?
Thanks for your message :)! I would get an Irancell sim card upon arrival at the Imam Khomeini Airport. Their tourist sim is valid for one month, so that fits well within your visiting time. Given that you’ll use the sim card only for urgent messages I would say the ‘Tourist Sim 1’ pack, that comes with 1.5 GB data should be sufficient for your stay. At the time of writing the price for that sim was 16.000 tomans (which equals 160.000 Rials) In case it turns out you need more internet or minutes, simply dial #7 and follow the instruction menu. If you don’t have a MahCard you can purchase re-charging vouchers at any (mini)market to top up the balance. So even if you are without charge, you can re-charge it easily and fast. I hope that answers your question. Wish you a wonderful time ahead! If there’s anything just let me know 🙂
Kind regards, Priscilla Versteeg
Hey there Priscilla,
Is it worth the hassle of getting a sim card, not from the airport but through an Iranian as it is literally half the price that is stated at the airport?
Would the local have to go through a lot of registration or is it not that big of a deal.
I am not sure on what to do.
Look forward to your response 🙂
Thanks for your message. Both options would work. I’ve had Iranian friends help me purchase and activate a sim card for me. They do need to show their ID and register the card in their name. The main downside is that when something happens (like a defect or dysfunction) you need that same friends ID again to work out the problem. For me that meant registering a new card on my own passport. So I ended up with two cards. Getting the card is not the issue, but when it malfunctions it’s easier to solve the problem when it’s registered in your own name.
Hey again 🙂
Cheers for the response! now I have some more questions to ask…..which hopefully you’ll be able to provide some more insight.
If I do get a local friend, do we both have to go to a cell provider’s centre, wait and register or is it possible to pick one up at lets say, a convenience shop etc (like how it is in Australia).
Secondly, how often does a defect/dysfunction occur?
I know that I’m coming across as very pedantic, just trying to figure out if its worth the “extra” hassle to save “some” money.
Once again, your take and insight will be of great value to me 🙂 Really appreciate your time!