Internet censorship in Iran is among the most sophisticated and restrictive in the world.
During 2012, Iran’s government was blocking an average of 27% of internet sites at any given time. The Iranian government also uses speed throttling as a tool to frustrate users by limiting their communications.
Internet censorship in Iran is on the rise. Iranian authorities block access to tens of thousands of websites. Blocked sites include international news sites, as well as those of human rights groups, ethnic and religious minorities, and more.
Luckily, there’s a way to avoid Iranian roadblocks.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts your internet connection, preventing Iran’s government and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from detecting and blocking your online activities. In this article, I list the top 5 VPNs to use in Iran.
Keep in mind that Iran is particularly harsh when blocking websites and online services. A little later, we’ll discuss best practices for using a VPN in Iran.
How to Use a VPN in Iran
The 5 VPN providers I’ve included in this roundup are proven to work well from inside of Iranian borders.
Please keep in mind that Iran blocks the websites of many VPN providers, making them unavailable to subscribe to from inside Iranian borders. That’s why I strongly recommend that you download your preferred VPN provider’s software before entering Iran.
Users who need to keep their internet activities safe from the prying eyes of the Iranian government can take advantage of the protection that a VPN offers by following these steps:
- Subscribe to the VPN provider that offers the best protection.
- Download and install your VPN of choice’s app(s) to your device(s).
- Log into the VPN’s server network.
- Select and connect to a VPN server located anywhere outside of Iran’s borders.
- Enjoy your internet freedom.
Important Note: It’s uncertain whether or not it’s legal to use a VPN in Iran, or what the possible legal repercussions could be. For more information, check out my “Are VPNs Legal in Iran?” section toward the end of the article.
Best VPNs for Iran
I tested all of my favorite VPN providers, and I found that these 5 VPNs will offer the best protection in Iran. Here’s a short summary:
- ExpressVPN: This provider delivers excellent security and privacy, which is just the thing to have when connecting to the internet from inside Iran. Kill switch protection, IPv6 leak protections and custom DNS servers add to the protection.
- NordVPN: Offers obfuscated servers, kill switch protection, custom DNS servers and blocking of malware and ads. Also offers a Double VPN option, which routes your connection through two servers, for further anonymity.
- IPVanish: The service delivers excellent protection from detection thanks to its kill switch protection, IPv6 leak protection, high-level encryption and other features.
- VyprVPN: Provides kill switch protection, an automatic-reconnect option, the ability to block malicious sites, custom DNS servers and much more.
- StrongVPN: This provider offers numerous security protections, including kill switch, auto-connect and IPv6 leak protection, as well as the ability to set the port for OpenVPN protection when faced with firewall restrictions.
I evaluated and ranked the top Iran VPNs using the following criteria:
- No user logs of any kind
- Highest level of encryption
- Automatic kill switch
- DNS leak protection
- Comprehensive multi-platform support
Here’s my list of the top 5 VPNs for use in Iran.
ExpressVPN is your best choice for protecting your internet connection from being monitored while inside Iranian borders.
The provider is located in the British Virgin Islands, where there are no logging requirements for VPNs, and ExpressVPN takes advantage of that fact by keeping no user logs.
You can pay for your VPN subscription using Bitcoin. If you use a disposable email address, there will be absolutely no traceable connection between you and your VPN subscription.
ExpressVPN’s fast connections are more than up to any popular internet activity you can think of, and they’re protected by military-level encryption and automatic kill switch protection.
The service also provides IPv6 leak protection to ensure that no IP address information leaks outside your encrypted connection tunnel, as well as DNS leak protection, with an option to force your computer to use the VPN provider’s DNS servers when connected to their network.
The provider offers native apps for the macOS, iOS, Windows, Linux and Kindle Fire HD devices. Browser extensions are available for the Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers.
ExpressVPN allows up to 5 simultaneous connections to their servers using a single username. If that isn’t enough, you can use the provider’s comprehensive router protection.
ExpressVPN’s server network consists of 3,000+ VPN servers in 94 countries, providing protection no matter what part of the world you need to connect to.
- A little more expensive than some rivals
BEST VPN FOR IRAN:ExpressVPN is the best VPN for protecting your online activities while inside Iranian borders. The provider offers top-notch privacy and security, protecting you and your activities from being monitored. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
NordVPN offers excellent protection for your internet use while in Iran. The provider’s connection speeds make streaming and gaming content run smoothly while inside Iran.
Records of your VPN-protected activities will never be available for scrutiny, as there aren’t any records at all. The Panamanian VPN provider keeps no logs connected to your online antics.
A cryptocurrency subscription payment option will allow you to keep your payment information completely incognito.
While you’re connected to NordVPN’s server network, you won’t need to worry about having your online activities observed or traced thanks to the provider’s excellent encryption, connection obfuscation and kill switch protection. The provider allows you to use custom DNS servers to help protect against DNS leaks.
NordVPN also offers “Double VPN” protection, which routes your internet connection through two VPN servers, adding another layer of anonymity protection to your connection.
App support is well covered at NordVPN, with native apps available for the Windows, iOS, Android, macOS, Linux and Android TV platforms. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are available as well.
The provider allows up to 6 concurrent connections on a single username, and router support is available if you need to connect more than that.
NordVPN has over 5,200 servers stationed in 60 countries, providing above-average access to the rest of the world.
- Keeps no user logs
- Military-grade connection encryption
- Top-notch privacy protections
- Connection obfuscation switch
- App interface could more user-friendly
BEST BUDGET VPN:NordVPN is an excellent option for users looking to keep their Iranian internet activities undercover, and at a bargain price. The provider’s strict no-logs policy is just part of a set of a comprehensive privacy and security protection suite. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
This United States-based provider ignores its home country’s encouragement that ISPs and VPNs keep user logs. IPVanish does not collect or log any traffic or use of its VPN service.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t accept any form of cryptocurrency as subscription payment, so your payment info is not completely private.
The provider delivers connection speeds that can easily offer the horsepower needed for any of your online needs.
Military-level encryption keeps your activities and data secure, and the provider’s apps offer kill switch protection, auto-reconnect after a loss of VPN server connection, a “Scramble” feature (which better hides OpenVPN traffic) and IPv6 leak protection.
The option to use IPVanish’s DNS servers or third-party DNS servers is also available. Using the IPVanish servers helps prevent DNS leaks.
IPVanish owns and operates all of its server farms. This allows the provider to remove third-party operators from the mix, greatly reducing the possibility of any outsiders having access to any of your info.
IPVanish delivers support for most popular devices, including Android, Linux, iOS, Windows, macOS and the Amazon Fire tablet and Fire TV (available through Amazon) devices. No browser extensions are available from the provider.
If you need more than 10 concurrent connections, the provider’s excellent router compatibility can protect all of your devices, including any devices not found on the app list.
IPVanish has 1,300+ servers, located in over 50 countries around the globe, opening access to most parts of the world.
- 10 simultaneous connections
- Owns and operates its servers
- Keeps no logs of any kind
- Money-back guarantee is only 7 days
- No Bitcoin payment option
GREAT CHOICE FOR MULTIPLE DEVICES:IPVanish’s optimal connection protections make it an attractive option for Iranian users. The provider’s 10 simultaneous connections allowance makes it a good choice for big families or small businesses. 7-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of IPVanish.
Like IPVanish, VyprVPN also owns and operates all of its server farms, adding another layer of protection for their users. In addition, the provider offers kill switch protection, government-grade encryption and custom DNS settings.
This Switzerland-based provider does not record or retain any logs related to their users’ online antics. Sadly, your payment information isn’t totally anonymous, as Bitcoin is not accepted here.
While not the fastest in this lineup, VyprVPN provides connection speeds that are willing and able to handle your needs.
VyprVPN keeps your connections undercover with government-grade encryption, kill switch protection and an auto-reconnect option after a loss of connection to the VPN servers.
You can also use either VyprVPN or third-party DNS servers. (VyprVPN DNS servers provide better DNS leak protection.) In addition, the provider offers “Chameleon” protection, which is a custom, proprietary OpenVPN protocol to mask your VPN traffic.
Just like IPVanish, VyprVPN owns and operates all of its servers, meaning third-party eyes are kept away from your data.
Amazon Fire, macOS, iOS, Android and Windows device users will appreciate VyprVPN’s native app support. If you need protection for other devices, or you need more than the provider’s concurrent connection allotment of 3, you can take advantage of the service’s router support.
You can connect to VyprVPN’s 700+ proprietary servers in over 70 countries.
- Great all-around connection protection
- Keeps no logs
- Owns and operates its server farms
- More expensive than many other VPNs
- No Bitcoin payment option
TIP-TOP SECURITY:VyprVPN’s self-owned and -operated server farms add an additional layer of security for your data. Plus, its Chameleon OpenVPN protection helps obfuscate your VPN activities. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read our full review of VyprVPN.
StrongVPN is a relative newcomer to the VPN game, but it has quickly gained an excellent reputation. The provider delivers speedy, well-encrypted connections, with kill switch and auto-reconnect protections.
While this provider may be located in the less-than-privacy-friendly United States, it follows a strict no-logs policy, so there’s no evidence of your online travels.
Unfortunately, they don’t accept any forms of cryptocurrency, so your payment information isn’t as well protected as it could be.
Strong connection protection is the name of the game when using StrongVPN to protect your online activities from prying Iranian eyes.
In addition to military-grade encryption, the provider also protects your security with kill switch protection, an auto-reconnect option, and IPv6 and DNS leak protection. Also included is an OpenVPN “scramble” feature that helps hide VPN usage.
App support is well represented here, with native apps available for the Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Amazon Fire platforms. For apps not represented, or if you require more than 12 simultaneous connections, you can take advantage of StrongVPN’s strong router compatibility.
The provider offers 650+ servers in 26 countries. While the country coverage is lacking, it should still meet your needs.
- Excellent app support
- Reliable connections
- Top-notch security and privacy protections
- No cryptocurrency payment option
- Server network is lacking
“SCRAMBLES” TO HIDE YOUR VPN CONNECTION: StrongVPN may be a relatively new provider, but it’s quickly become known for its top-notch connection security features. Kill switch and “scramble” protection make this provider a good option for Iranian use. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Is a Free VPN a Good Option for Use in Iran?
The answer to this question is a solid NO!
I would never recommend a “free” VPN for any use, but when you’re in an overly restrictive country like Iran, attempting to use a freebie VPN provider can be downright dangerous!
One of the main reasons to use a VPN while in Iran is to protect your online activities from being observed or investigated. A free VPN will not offer protection against monitoring.
Many “free” VPNs track their users’ online activities, log them and then sell them to advertisers and other third parties. If a VPN provider is willing to sell your personal information to advertisers, they likely won’t resist the Iranian government if it comes a-knocking at their door.
Oh, before I forget, you should also keep in mind that some free VPNs are also known to inject ads and tracking cookies into their users’ browsing sessions.
In addition to being a security risk, freebie VPNs also have a hidden cost related to your precious time. Some sans-charge VPNs will force you to wait in a queue before you’re allowed to connect to a VPN server.
Then, once you’re allowed to connect, you are likely limited to a selection of only a few servers, and you may not even be allowed to select which server you’d like to connect to.
Free VPNs may also throttle your connection, impose bandwidth limitations, and place monthly data caps on your VPN usage. The internet is slow enough in Iran, there’s no reason to limit its abilities even more.
Why Do You Need a VPN in Iran?
Freedom House gives Iran an aggregate 2018 Internet Freedom Score of 85/100 (0 = Most Free, 100 = Least Free), the same as the year before. This ranks as “Not Free” on the Freedom Score scale.
The government blocks apps and websites if they include links to websites of foreign governments (especially if those countries are the United States or Israel.) They even block domestic sites if they include criticism of the Iranian government.
State authorities continue to use intimidation and violence against internet users, arresting numerous individuals for their online activities during 2018.
On the “bright” side, it should be noted that convictions led to shorter prison sentences than those received in previous years.
The government also continues to throttle and shut down entire mobile and internet networks, as well as block access to apps, such as messaging app Telegram and photo-sharing platform Instagram, for periods of up to a week at a time.
A VPN allows users to keep their online activities undercover by hiding online activities inside an encrypted tunnel, making it impossible for authorities, ISPs and other interested parties to monitor a user’s online travels.
In a restrictive country like Iran, this allows access to censored services and websites, including social networking and video streaming sites.
How Does Iran Censor the Internet?
According to researchers Kyle Bowen and James Merchant, Iran takes a three-pronged, measured approach (PDF) to censoring the internet.
Preventative Measures: These measures are designed to prevent Iranians from accessing forbidden content totally, and are not geared toward monitoring or threatening users.
The measures include a URL blacklist, DNS redirection (which forwards illegal web requests to a censor-managed webpage), content-control software (which inspects and filters web content), HTTP and keyword filtering (which denies access to websites according to keywords included in URLs) and broadband speed limitations.
Interceptive Measures: These techniques are used to silently track and attempt to thwart users who have somehow gotten around the government’s preventative measures.
These measures include deep packet inspection (which is inspection of data in detail), man-in-the-middle attacks (where a computer inserts itself into a connection between a client and another server and poses as the server) and traffic analysis (analysis of the sites that are most frequently visited).
Reactive Measures: These measures are used to control and censor users after they have already accessed banned content.
They consist of traffic analysis and surveillance, the arrest of internet activists and developers, blocking of SSL (which forces users to connect insecurely to a website or service, allowing easier monitoring and enabling man-in-the-middle attacks) and connection throttling.
How to Maximize Your Privacy in Iran
Once you’re in Iranian airspace, before connecting to your VPN of choice, do the following.
Turn on every protection you can find for your VPN connection. If the OpenVPN protocol is available, use it. Turn on kill switch protection, auto-reconnect, obfuscation features, “scrambling” features, and anything else that can help hide your activities and the fact that you are using a VPN.
Are VPNs Legal in Iran?
While we strongly recommend using a VPN to protect your connection no matter where you are located, be careful when using a VPN in strongly restrictive countries like Iran. The country began restricting access to VPNs in 2013, and the restrictions continue to this day.
We cannot guarantee any user’s safety while inside Iran. Accurate information about the country and its laws regarding internet and VPN usage are difficult to come by.
While using non-government-approved technology like a VPN can reportedly lead to a sentence of 91 days to 1 year behind bars, actual arrests are quite rare. It’s mostly used as a tool to prosecute those who oppose the government, not folks looking to catch up with friends on Facebook.
Still, no one can be certain about the measures the Iranian government will take to track your activities, or what the penalty may be for attempting to get around their virtual roadblocks. Good luck.
What Else Can I Use a VPN For?
In addition to providing excellent protection for your internet activities while you’re inside Iran, a VPN can also offer additional advantages.
A VPN also prevents your ISP from throttling your connection speed just because you’re accessing non-approved sites and services.
Last, but certainly not least, the encryption that protects your online activities from Iranian eyes also protects your daily activities – such as paying bills, banking and online shopping – from the bad guys. That’s especially valuable when you’re using unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspots.
While Iran’s government may heavily restrict internet usage, there is a way to open access to an unrestricted internet when inside Iranian borders.
A VPN – like my #1 choice, ExpressVPN – is the best way to avoid Iranian internet censorship, protect your online travels from surveillance, and open up access to a world of content that might normally be out of reach.
For more information or to purchase a subscription, visit the ExpressVPN website.