It’s no secret that Iran maintains a vice-like grip on tech freedom in the country. Not only does the country censor reams of content that might be critical to the established government, but it also turns off the internet for citizens at will, especially during protests. Due to these factors, you’ll need a VPN in Iran if you hope to access censored content online, such as social media and major international news and information websites.
However, given the Iranian government’s strict monitoring and censorship methods, not any VPN will work. Below, we’ve provided a list of the best VPNs for Iran that will not only unblock Iranian censorship of the web but fully mask your identity to keep you safe within Iran’s digital borders.
What are the best VPNs for Iran?
If you plan to travel to Iran, you’ll need a VPN that completely unblocks the type of websites Iran censors. What’s more, you’ll need an option that’s robust and technically savvy enough to completely hide your identity while on the web, and with enough features to ensure your data won’t accidentally leak to internet monitors.
Best VPNs for Iran:
- NordVPN Our #1 choice for an Iran VPN. Needs some manual configuration to set up for use in Iran, but worth the effort as it achieves the highest levels of security, detection avoidance and obfuscation on this list. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- ExpressVPN A reputable, high-speed provider with excellent security credentials and a huge server network.
- IPVanish Solid security features including their custom Scramble feature. Vast array of IPs and servers to chose from. An uncongested network that has good speeds.
- StrongVPN Solid kill-switch and scramble features. Very good at getting around blocked content, but we’d prefer a kill-switch feature for detection avoidance.
- VyprVPN Strong security and privacy features. Logging policy may be OK for visitors, but permanent residents and citizens should consider other options.
- Hotspot Shield A secure service with very fast speeds and excellent unblocking potential.
Note that not just any VPN will work in Iran. Even more so, some VPNs will work to unblock content, but won’t exactly keep your identity safe.
As Iran’s content filtering and blocking methods are fairly extensive, you’ll want a VPN that fits all of the following criteria (and we do mean all):
- No logging of any kind: While every major VPN operates outside of Iran, it’s possible for the country to still get its hands on VPN user data if that VPN logs user data. It’s important to use a VPN that has a strict no-logs policy and completely avoids keeping any information that could be used to identify users.
- Obfuscation: A good VPN service should be able to completely mask your identity. Obfuscation techniques help remove metadata from your VPN’s traffic and make that internet traffic look like regular unencrypted traffic. This technique helps evade data sniffers designed to intercept encrypted data and is essential to avoiding VPN blocking in Iran.
- Highest level of encryption methods: Military-grade encryption standards are necessary to prevent brute-force cracking of a VPN’s encrypted data. The industry standard is AES 256-bit encryption. Anything at or above that offers the most security.
- Automatic kill switch: Sometimes, VPNs fail. Whether because of a software error or external issue, if your VPN fails and your internet traffic becomes unencrypted, a kill switch will automatically shut off your data connection to prevent you from sending more data until the problem is resolved.
- DNS leak protection: Every time you visit a website, your computer’s browser sends a request to your ISP’s DNS resolvers to determine the exact IP address of those websites. This information can also reveal your own IP address, revealing your true location. Some VPNs do not protect against this data leak properly. If you’re using a VPN in Iran, you’ll need one that employs methods that shore up this type of leak.
Best VPN for Iran – Our top choices for 2020
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN has everything you’re looking for in a VPN for Iran. AES-256-SHA encryption, kill switch, a no-logs policy, DNS leak protection, and obfuscation methods. Nord does take a bit of a different approach on some of these than other services.
Their obfuscation method, for example, is not their own homegrown method. Instead, NordVPN supports Obfsproxy to deliver this method. They provide a walkthrough for how to set this up. It can be a bit complicated for newcomers, so that is something you’ll want to consider when thinking through your options. Additionally, NordVPN provides a Tor over VPN option. Earlier we mentioned that Tor is one of the few anonymity tools that work in Iran, although speeds get throttled when the systems in place detect it. You may find NordVPN gets around this with a combination of Tor and Obfsproxy. Nord informed us that Obfsproxy and L2TP, PPTP and SSTP all work in Iran. However, you’ll want to avoid PPTP as it’s not secure.
NordVPN also utilizes a DNS leak resolver that operates a bit differently than other services. It detects individual leaks, but also utilizes a process-specific kill switch. This way it does not shut off the entire internet connection if you don’t want it to. To top it all off, this service uses a “double VPN” option which is admittedly going to be slow but provides an added level of anonymity necessary for anyone in Iran.
NordVPN is one of the cheapest VPNs we’re happy to recommend, it is good value at full price but occasionally runs deals bringing prices down even further.
- Strong encryption and no logs make for top security and privacy
- Support the Obfsproxy method for obfuscating traffic and combating censors
- Kill switch keeps data safe even if your connection drops
- DNS leak protection comes built-in
- Operates over 5,500 servers in 59 countries
- Round-the-clock chat support
- Only able to select a location, not a specific server
BEST VPN FOR IRAN:NordVPN is our #1 choice. Has a vast range of servers dotted around the globe. Hard to beat on privacy and security features. Allows up to 6 devices to be used simultaneously from one account. Includes a 30-day money back guarantee so you can try them risk-free.
Find out more in our full NordVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN is a speedy provider boasting access to more than 3,000 servers in an unparalleled 94 countries. It’s great at unblocking tricky streaming services like Netflix, and this same ability gives it an edge when it comes to bypassing censorship and evading deep-packet inspection. In fact, since ExpressVPN works reliably in China, Iran’s internet blocking doesn’t pose too much of an issue.
There are all kinds of security features, too. For instance, you’re protected from IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC leaks and the built-in kill switch keeps you safe following sudden connection drops. There’s also 256-bit AES encryption, a local traffic blocker, and a special Lightway protocol specifically designed to enhance your privacy. ExpressVPN doesn’t keep any identifiable logs and allows you to pay in Bitcoin.
ExpressVPN has apps for iOS, Android, Linux, Windows, and MacOS, plus custom firmware for select routers.
- High speed connections
- More than 5,000 servers
- Tough to beat on security and privacy
- Impressive unblocking ability
- 24/7 support
- Slightly more expensive
FAST AND PRIVACY-FOCUSED:ExpressVPN puts your privacy first, but it doesn’t compromise on speed or unblocking ability to do so. Offers round the clock support over live chat and email, plus a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read the full ExpressVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
IPVanish utilizes the best privacy features we were looking for with our list. AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, obfuscation through OpenVPN, a strict no-logging policy and leak protections.
Perhaps one of the larger benefits to IPVanish for an internet user in Iran is the extremely large number of servers and server locations. IPVanish offers up over 40,000 shared IP addresses to be utilized with its 1,300+ servers and 75+ server locations across the globe. This provides anyone in Iran with a lot of options.
Notably, IPVanish allows you to toggle their obfuscation method on or off. This option is known as “Scramble”, which you can find in the application’s preferences section. Scramble will allow you to get past network traffic monitors by masking your connection to the VPN service as if it’s a standard HTTPS connection. This may help with the speed throttling that is common in Iran when the system detects the use of a VPN.
- Provides obfuscation via OpenVPN
- AES-256 encryption, kill switch and no logging policy
- Scramble obfuscation toggle helps get around bandwidth throttling
- Operates a network of more than 1,300 servers in over 75 countries
- Technical support ticket may take up to a couple of days to resolve
BUDGET CHOICE:IPVanish can connect any number of devices. Uncongested network achieves good speeds. Good privacy and security options. 30-day Money back guarantee.
Find out more in our full IPVanish review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
A relatively new service, StrongVPN may be a great option for those looking for a high amount of security. In particular, our testing of this service found that their kill switch and scramble features were the absolute highlights for the service. You’ll also find the standards that anyone looking for security and privacy (i.e., anyone in Iran) is looking for: a no-logging policy and multiple forms of extremely strong encryption, from AES-256 to 2048-bit SSL.
StrongVPN does not advertise DNS leak protection, although this can be compensated with the kill switch and scramble functions. StrongVPN also gets past the “Great Firewall of China”, meaning it’s likely strong enough to get past Iranian government and ISP filtering methods. That said, remember that the biggest concern for Iran is getting caught, not just getting past.
Your biggest concern for this system, perhaps, will be the fact that some servers lack adequate encryption methods. You’ll want to make sure you’re paying attention to which servers you utilize.
- High-grade security considerations; AES-256-2048-bit SSL encryption
- Scramble and kill switch survived rigorous testing
- Even bypasses China’s Great Firewall indicating robust anti-filtering is in place
- No logs policy protects your privacy
- Some users might find minimalist design limiting
VERY RELIABLE:StrongVPN confidently overcomes geo-blocking. Good on privacy and they retain no internet browsing logs. Ample security. Manual configuration can challenge some users. 45-day money back guarantee.
Find out more in our full StrongVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
We want to give an initial warning for VyprVPN: the company informs us that their service does indeed work in Iran. However, VyprVPN has a logging policy, which places a mark against it for anyone in Iran. This makes it a somewhat dubious choice for our list, but one we’ve included as it does hit the other main points, and the logging policy may be an acceptable thing to ignore for anyone spending only a limited time in Iran. The website of Golden Frog (the company behind VyprVPN), is blocked within Iran, however, their .biz site is not so you can sign up within Iran if you haven’t done so out of the country.
VyprVPN offers up solutions to the other concerns for anyone using a VPN in Iran. The service utilizes AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, and DNS leak protection. The service includes entirely necessary obfuscation methods. For Vypr, this function is accessible through their aptly-named Chameleon protocol. The Chameleon protocol is VyprVPN’s proprietary obfuscation method which maintains AES-256 encryption.
As stated, VyprVPN is a workable option, but primarily for those who may be in the country for a short amount of time. Their logging policy leads us to not recommend this service for anyone from Iran or anyone staying in Iran for the long term.
- Utilizes AES-256 encryption, kill switch and DNS leak protection
- Obfuscation is achieved through its proprietary Chameleon protocol
- Fast, reliable connection
- Logging policy may suit visitors to Iran, but not residents
- Other VPNs have more options for advanced configuration
- Slightly more expensive than some VPNs
UNLIMITED DATA USAGE:VyprVPN has easy to use apps. Good speeds and uptime as all servers are owned by VyprVPN. Great privacy and security. Not the cheapest option. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Find out more in our full VyprVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
Hotspot Shield has been busy improving its service in recent months and now claims to work anywhere in the world where you have an internet connection, including in Iran. It has servers in more than 70 countries, with the total network size surpassing 3,000 servers. If you’re looking to stream your favorite content while in Iran, you’re in luck, as Hotspot Shield easily unblocks some of the most stubborn sites, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu.
This provider has your back on the security and privacy front. It maintains no logs of user-identifying details and employs strong encryption. Additional features include perfect forward secrecy, protection against leaks, and a kill switch.
Hotspot Shield doesn’t require that you change your settings to work in restrictive countries, but you can contact customer support 24/7 via live chat if you run into issues. All connections use the VPN’s proprietary “Catapult Hydra” protocol, which is also utilized by the likes of McAfee and Bitdefender.
- Great speeds for streaming
- Secure, private VPN
- Generous money-back guarantee
- No Linux app
- Doesn’t accept bitcoin
EXCELLENT SPEEDS:Hotspot Shield will give you a speedy, secure connection wherever you are in the world. It’s great at unblocking and has a five-connection limit. Plans come with a 45-day money-back guarantee.
How Does Iran Block Content?
Very little information exists on how Iran actually conducts its content filtering. As noted by the Washington Post, the citizens who “probe the network from inside the country risk reprisals from the government.”
As Iran is known to jail and kill dissidents and lawbreakers, most citizens are unlikely to attempt to run afoul of Iranian laws or the country’s filtering efforts. Indeed, circumnavigating Iran’s content blocking is more an activity for the bold. Still, we do at least know a little bit about Iran’s filtering methods, most of which are home-grown or copied from Iran’s closest allies, China and North Korea.
According to researchers Kyle Bowen and James Merchant, Iran employs three layers (pdf) to their filtering: preventive, interceptive and reactive. They explain this best in the below screenshot:
And provide more detail on what each of these entails here:
As you can see, Iran’s content filtering methods are extremely sophisticated and multi-layered, designed, effectively, to shut off all known attempts to get around the filtering process and cut users off at the heels when they do find a method.
We get into some detail on each of the VPNs that we have selected for this list, but if you are not able to read the whole thing, here are our top choices:
Iran’s ISPs and government work together to filter content
Filtering exists at two primary levels in Iran. The first level exists through the internet service providers themselves. There are a handful of ISPs in the country operating independently from the government. All employ filtering methods that block content based on keywords.
In 2013, two anonymous Iranians and University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman worked together to examine Iran’s content filtering methods. They discovered that half of the websites on Alexa.com’s top 500 websites list were blocked. They also found the majority of those blocked websites, and the majority of search terms automatically filtered, were pornographic in nature. Art, society (e.g., politics), and news websites were also heavily blocked.
The second filtering layer exists at the government level. Some websites completely block any IP addresses originating from Iran, resulting in connection attempts that simply time out. Even more interestingly, the aforementioned testing revealed Iran’s content filtering includes connection speed throttling. The throttling is so extensive and sophisticated as to actually block VPN tunneling efforts, including those with obfuscation methods. The research notes that this includes Tor’s obfsproxy protocol.
Halderman and the two anonymous Iranians showed that attempts to connect through these proxy methods resulted in connection throttling that slowed speeds down to practically zero, making the connection effectively useless. The blocking of obfuscated SSH tunnels and Tor led the researchers to suggest that Iran’s ISPs and government do not utilize blacklists, but whitelists, meaning unrecognized protocols are even completely disallowed as a standard practice.
Additionally, many HTTP hosts are blocked and DNS hijacking is also employed for a number of websites, a filtering method that Halderman found occurs at the national level. The government also utilizes “man-in-the-middle” attacks and Deep Packing Inspections (DPI) to intercept and prevent users from connecting to content.
Iran’s content blocking is counterproductive
Of course, good luck getting Iran’s leadership to understand that one. Because Iran blocks all forms of social media apps popularly used around the world, citizens have a particularly hard time communicating with each other quickly and efficiently. Just this year, major flooding overtook the country, but recovery and rescue efforts were severely hampered due to the blocking of messaging apps like WhatsApp and others. In fact, one Persian BBC reporter called Iran’s censorship a “deadly phenomenon”.
Can Iranians or travelers access banned content while in Iran?
This is a bit of a tricky subject. Based on Halderman’s findings, it’s reasonable to assume that SSH tunneling, proxies, and even Tor would not work in Iran. Unfortunately, there’s also no real way to test this either. You are about as likely to find VPN servers located in Iran as you are to find ones located in North Korea (hint: no chance at all).
What Iran can’t effectively block, they speed throttle into uselessness. However, Bowen and Marchant note that some Tor users found a few methods to get around the throttling by using a “bridge” to a wider network through a secret tunnel. The method works but is not without its faults. Given Iran monitors usage behavior, they may not be able to detect what individuals are looking at, but they can often detect when users are utilizing encrypted methods, something that would raise red flags.
Additional advice for anyone using VPNs in Iran
Install a VPN service before you leave
As we’ve detailed above, Iran is an extremely unfriendly place for anyone trying to get past content filtering. Indeed, it’s more than just unfriendly — it’s hostile and potentially dangerous. Iran is known to lock up dissidents and even kill many people who show a propensity to hit the wrong websites too often. And while there can certainly be a good amount of plausible deniability involved when you’re connecting through a VPN with no logging, we can’t guarantee anyone’s safety even then. Iran’s legal system is not known to be fair in the Western sense.
If you do plan on traveling to Iran with the desire to connect to banned or filtered websites, make sure you download your VPN first. In fact, you may want to download and install more than one VPN service. Given the ISPs and government’s method of whitelisting instead of blacklisting websites, chances are likely that you will not be able to access VPN service websites after getting into Iran. This being the case, ensure you have a VPN installed before you go.
Don’t hesitate to use the kill switch and obfuscation methods
It’s hard to emphasize how important the kill switch and obfuscation methods are going to be for anyone using VPNs in Iran. Given Iran’s current methods, it’s not inconceivable that anyone whose IP address consistently ends up on a watchlist will find themselves in some trouble. Only use VPNs with obfuscation methods, and only use VPNs with a kill switch. Make sure both are turned on at all times.
Consider multiple VPNs
If you plan to be travel to Iran and need access to various types of content Iran is blocking, make sure you have multiple VPNs installed and ready to go, just in case one or more stops working. Iran runs a constant battle against VPNs, meaning some options may go down, long before we’re able to detect these blocks and update our article accordingly. To effectively cover your bypass needs, have a few VPN options ready to go, as any VPN site you may want to use will be unavailable for download once you’re in the country.
*Disclaimer: We took care to thoroughly research Iran’s filtering methods. Our goal is to provide users with useful information. However, we cannot guarantee anyone’s safety while using VPNs in Iran. Iran is among several countries where accurate information is difficult to obtain, especially from the outside. We are not experts on Iranian law, and no one outside of Iran knows for certain the extent of their monitoring process or how actively they pursue those who attempt to get past these methods.