You will need a local SIM card for cheap local and pricey international calls. Your home SIM will not work.
Iran’s country code is 98. To dial out of Iran call 00; if calling from outside Iran, drop the initial 0 from all area codes. Phone numbers and area codes change with disconcerting regularity, but in general numbers include a three-digit area code and a seven-digit number. The exception is Tehran, where 021 is followed by an eight-digit number.
More than 90% of Iranians have mobile-phone access and most travellers buy a SIM card on arrival. If you need a payphone, cards are available in newsstands, though most are for domestic calls only. In our experience, every second card phone is broken. Local calls are so cheap that most midrange and better hotels, bus and airport terminals have at least one public telephone permitting free local calls.
International calls are also relatively cheap (US$0.20) per minute to most countries. These rates can be had at small, private telephone offices (usually open from about 7.30am until 9pm), where you give the number to the front desk and wait for a booth to become available. You’ll normally be charged a minimum of three minutes. In many cities international calling cards are available from newsstands, grocery stores and cafenets (internet cafes).
You can’t make reverse-charge (collect) calls to or from Iran.
Iran has several mobile-phone networks but only two – government-owned MCI and MTN Irancell (www.irancell.ir), which is owned by the Iranian government, and South African group MTN – enjoy wide coverage.
Irancell has a one-month tourist SIM card sold at a booth upstairs in Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport for IR500,000. The SIM gives IR200,000 worth of calls and texts (which should cover most eventualities over the course of a month) plus 5GB of data. Top up your credit at vendors displaying yellow and blue MTN signs; vendors will usually charge about 10% more than the card’s face value. Full pricing is available in English on Irancell’s website.
Irancell SIMs allow GPRS data transfer after a free registration process, and WiMAX has been rolled out in several cities. In our experience the GPRS service was unreliable and download speeds slow. As a general rule, 4G is available in big cities and 3G in mid-sized ones, while there's very basic pedal power in rural places, if at all.