A guide on how to access Facebook in Iran, as well as other blocked websites such as Twitter, Google, and Pinterest. A must for any digital junkie planning on traveling to Iran!
Update on May 27, 2016: We’ve spent another month using these VPNs with a new mobile carrier, Irancell (the most popular in Iran). We found that PureVPN was more reliable than Cyberghost, due to having more server options to choose from if one is blocked. However, both work fine, especially if you’re an iPhone user.
This article is about using VPN’s to circumnavigate Iranian online censors. We recommend you always use a VPN, though, traveling or not. Check our article here to find out why.
There’s a saying that Iran is faster at blocking websites than it is at improving its own internet connections. Its government works around the clock to censor the Internet by blocking websites that it considers “dangerous”, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
Of course, it being the internet and all, people have found ways to get around these blocks. All you need is a VPN–a virtual private network. Here’s a quick explanation on what VPNs are, and how you can set one up before traveling to Iran.
What VPN can I use to access Facebook in Iran?
The answer to this can be tricky. The government regularly goes through and blocks well-known VPNs, so things like TunnelBear and HideMyAss often don’t work. And, of course, each VPN has its pros and cons. But, after doing some research, we’ve settled on using three VPN services in Iran: PureVPN, Cyberghost, and Psiphon.
If you’re in a rush: We recommend using PureVPN for accessing Facebook and other blocked websites in Iran.
The cheap “group” option: PureVPN
Works on: iPhone, Android, Mac, Windows
Cost: $9.95 for 1 month | $49.99 for 1 year ($4.16 per month)
- Cheapest legitimate VPN option
- Loads of servers in different countries to choose from
- Works on 5 different devices
- Nice user interface (I like nice design, so sue me)
- Handles mobile data connections better
- Works better with Irancell, the country’s leading telecom
- Can be slow to connect to servers
- Meaning of connection options is confusing
- Have to manually reconnect when signal is lost on some versions
What we like about PureVPN is that it’s one of the cheapest options for legitimate VPN services–yay backpacker budgets!–and it works on 5 devices right out of the box. When you’re chained to the internet for travel blogging purposes, being able to connect all of your devices on one plan is a great deal, even better when it covers all of the devices for two people.
If having a VPN for all your devices sounds good, you can buy a PureVPN subscription from their site with a 30-day money back guarantee.
The fast and easy option: Cyberghost
Works on: iPhone, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux
Cost: 1 device – $6.99 for one month, 5 devices – $10.99 for one month
- Faster to get connected to a server
- Faster internet use overall
- Good about automatically reconnecting after signal is lost
- Helpful customer service team
- Extra options for ad-blocking, security, data usage reduction
- Need a premium plan to use on 5 devices
- More expensive
- Can get confused with spotty Iranian mobile data connections
- Android version had connectivity issues
We like Cyberghost because connections were slightly faster, and it was very good about reconnecting automatically after recovering from a loss of signal. As an added bonus, there are extra options for things like blocking ads, and their customer service team was very friendly and helpful.
The downside was that it’s more expensive than PureVPN if you want to use it on multiple devices.
If fast connections are your heart’s desire, you can buy a Cyberghost subscription from their site with a 30-day money back guarantee.
Iranians like: Psiphon
Works on: Android, Windows
Cost: $2.99 for 1 month
- Cheap, cheap, cheap
- If the locals use it, it must be okay, right?
- Unlimited free trials for 60 minutes (though not sure how you would buy it once the trial is done…)
- Because Iranians use it, it’s on the government’s radar, and has problems often
- Limited availability for devices
- Can’t choose which country to browse from
Though not as slick as Cyberghost or PureVPN, Psiphon is a common VPN choice for Iranians. It’s quite straightforward to use, and gives you the options of only using a VPN for your internet browser, or for your entire phone (so you can use blocked apps, too). The free version lets you use it in batches of 60 minutes, after looking at ads, which can be quite annoying. Another downside is that since so many Iranians use it, the government regularly blocks it. Of course, the developers find ways around this periodically, but it takes time.
If Psiphon seems like a fit for you, you can download the Psiphon app from the Google Play store here.
Setting up the VPN on your devices
Do this ahead of time, before going into Iran. Internet in Iran is slow, and VPN websites and app stores will be blocked. You won’t be able to download the software once in Iran without a VPN.
Steps to setting up the VPN
- Order a VPN service.
- Download the relevant versions of Cyberghost/PureVPN/Psiphon to your devices. The mobile versions can be downloaded from their respective app stores.
- Use the login credentials from your order to access your premium account.
- Select your location. You can either let the app automatically choose a location, or manually select one yourself (useful if you use location-dependent services). If location isn’t an issue, use a location close to where you are. Closer servers usually mean a slightly faster connection.
- Once you see that the app is connected, internets away!
Keep in mind: using a VPN will slow down your Internet connection. It’s inevitable, and the price you must pay for
BEING A REBEL circumnavigating the government’s e-blockade.
What is a VPN?
I won’t go too deep into things, as I assume you’re just here for quick answers! Basically, what a VPN connection does is trick the internet into thinking that you’re in different country. For example, while flicking through Facebook in Tehran, your internet service provider might think that you’re visiting the web from a city in the Netherlands. Most VPN services will also encrypt your data, making surfing the web safer. Easy enough, right? You might be familiar with the concept–lots of people would use VPN services to access things like Netflix (<3) while abroad.
What about free VPN services?
Please, please be careful with free VPN services. You may be saving because they’re free, but people often build malicious software into these services that scrape your data while you use it–the price you pay for using their “free” app. We really don’t recommend using free services, due to the security risks.
Yay transparency: this post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase one of the services linked here, we’ll get a small commission–at no extra cost to you! Never fear, we actually did use these services for the entirety of our time in Iran, we ain’t lyin’ here. It’s commissions like these that help us cover the costs of running a blog, so we’ll love you forever if you get a subscription through our site!