Western travelers in Iran will learn quickly, that the Persians are very open and curios people. Anytime and anywhere you will be asked where you come from, why you visit Iran, how you like it, etc. And people will offer their help, by giving you their phone numbers, email adresses, etc. In return, they are very interested in your contact details, become friends via facebook or follow your blog.
Arriving in Iran, you will also find, that most of the hotels are offering free (or cheap) internet access and WiFi. But you will also find out, that internet access is different to western countries: Social Media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and even a lot of blogs are blocked by the Iranian government. So if you want to stay connected during your time in Iran, be prepared and here is how:
1. Buy a local SIM Card
Using your own SIM card in Iran can get very expensive. Roaming costs for example for a EU SIM is €2,99 per minute for local and international calls. We don’t even want to talk about data roaming.
On the other side, local pre paid SIM cards, e.g. from IRANCELL or MCI are cheap, easy to get and even international calls are less then 10cents a minute. So just walk into the next phone shop and get yourself a SIM card. Top-up credit can be purchased anywhere: on the streets, in little shops, kiosks, etc. Bring your passport when buying your SIM card.
2. Mobile Data
When you have a local SIM card, you can also use mobile data for a few Rial per MB. Ask the vendor selling you the SIM card to register for data as well. Normally you just need to send a SMS to a certain number and you’re good to go. However so far there is only GPRS and Edge available in Iran, no 3G (06/2014). Still good for a quick email check or a tweet – but STOP – of course Twitter, etc. is also blocked in the mobile internet, so here is what you need to do:
3. Tweet, blog and like in Iran
As all your favorite social media sites are blocked by the government, here is what you need to do before you enter Iran:
– Enable the possibility to Tweet, blog and post via email. This is sometimes possible directly or via a 3rd party app (e.g Twittermail).
– register yourself at IFTTT.com (if this then that), a free service that enables you to automate things, e.g. blog, tweet and post with a single email.
– ensure that you get all updates in your social media channels via email. This way you stay connected even without access to the apps and websites.
4. Get yourself a VPN
But how do all the Iraniens get access to the blocked sites, because a lot of the people you meet will have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. accounts. The answer is they subscribe to a VPN service. As I found that a lot of VPN providers are also blocked in Iran, it is best to set this up in advance. There are free providers and providers you need to pay. I used www.privatinternetaccess.com. The service cost $6,99 a month and worked perfectly. It was fast and reliable and also available on my iPad and iPhone (however the mobile internet was to slow for the VPN service).
If you want to use your Iran visit as a Social-Media-Detox-Tour, then ignore tipps 2-3, but be sure to get a local SIM card. It helped us quite some time, when we could call one of our many friends to help with translations, find a good hostel or a mechanic.