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Where to buy and how to activate a SIM card in Iran?

With a country as big as Iran, with 30 days ahead as we had to enjoy it and with the idea of doing it hitchhiking and with tent, we were clear that we had to buy a SIM card to be connected always that we wanted to. We spoke with our Couchsurfer from Tehran and he recommended us Irancell, the one that he had. As a good Iranian, we had not even finished talking that he was already putting on his jacket and saying ‘come on guys, let’s go. I’m going to buy it with you’.


    Buying your SIM card

You can buy your SIM card at any of the official stores of the company or in common mobile stores that have cards from all companies.

In my case, it was different because we arrived in Nowruz (the Persian New Year) and all the official stores were closed and they would be closed during the following two weeks. So the small shops that had them all took the liberty to raise a little their prices.

Usually, a SIM card costs about two or three dollars but it costed us 15,000 toman (4 USD) plus 5,000 toman (1.5 USD) for the activation, that if you do it from the same official store it is free.

With the purchase of this card came 2.500 toman (around 0,7USD) in national calls and a 1GB of 4G.


    Activating the card

To activate the SIM card that you have just purchased, all you have to do is fill a piece of paper with your personal data and give them your passport so they can photocopy your Iranian visa.

Once this is done, you will have to wait between 24 and 48 hours to get the card activated.

Do not insert the SIM card in your phone until it is activated! And then, how will you know if the card is activated if you can not put it on the phone to check it? Easy: Calling from another phone to your new number. If they tell you that that phone number does not exist, it is still inactive. If they tell you that it is off or out of coverage, you can insert it on your phone and start using it!


    How to charge balance for calls and Internet

You can buy balance in many of the small mobile stores that you will find everywhere in any medium sized city or town.

If you have an Iranian credit card, which I imagine you do not, you can recharge the phone directly by code. So what you can do if you do not find any open shop in the place that you are, is to ask a local to recharge your mobile and pay the surcharge. And when you go to pay him, even if he says several times that he does not want the money, insist. It’s tarof, but we’ll talk about it better in another post.


    Important: remember to activate the data package!

To consume 4G data you have to understand that there are two ways to do it. Or consuming and spending per MB, which comes out very expensive, or by getting a data package.

To contract a data package you have to have the minimum balance that costs that package. In case you want to get 1 GB, you have to have or recharge 3,500 toman (1 USD) and write and send the code “*555*5*3*5#”. That will return a pop-up, where you must type “1” and send it, and another question will be asked that you must answer with a “2”. I have no idea what it meant, since it’s all in Persian, but it is like this.

In our case, when getting the card we were told that there was 1GB of data and that they would activate the packages themselves, but I guess they forgot because when we had used around 500MB it had finished the entire balance. So very important, if you want to go strong with the mobile data, always hire an Internet pack.


    My experience using it

After having used it for a month at all sorts of places I can say that I am left with a slightly bittersweet taste.

When we were in big cities, we had full coverage and the Internet was certainly superfast, many times faster than the same Wi-Fi networks that we connected to. When we traveled between cities we used to have phone coverage but the connection usually used to be quite slow. In smaller towns such as Abyaneh, which lies between mountains, we had low coverage and the internet went quite slow. But hey, it still worked to use WhatsApp and check some things.

However, already on the lost (and unbelievable) island of Hormuz, we almost never had connection and when we had it was very intermittent. Finally, in the Maranjab desert we did not have any kind of coverage whatsoever (although we were told that those who had TCI company card had full coverage).

So to finish, I’m going to tell you that before buying it, you should think a little about which route you will take more or less and how much you will want to use it. For example, if you plan to take the route of the most typical cities and want to be connected on the trips, I recommend it. If you want to take a route by smaller sites and have connection from time to time to show signs of life, I recommend it as well. However, if you want to go to smaller sites and use quite a lot the mobile data, as it was a bit our case, maybe I do not recommend it as much as we sometimes ended up wasting more time (and battery!) waiting for it to be connected than using it.

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