Travel to Iran: What You Need to Know and How to Prepare
Travelling to Iran will most appeal to guests who have an interest in Persian history, Iranian architecture and/or archaeology, or who have previously travelled to the Middle East and are looking for a more in-depth experience. Iran is a very welcoming destination filled with hospitable people. There are many opportunities for spontaneous interaction with locals.
One of the major worries that people have when thinking about travelling to Iran. The recent rise of groups such as ISIS have heightened those fears. However, Iran represents one of the safest places in the Middle East to travel to. This has been reflected in governments such as the Australian government reducing their travel warnings to Iran. Some areas of the country, particularly close to border areas with Afghanistan and Iraq, the Baluchistan province are seen as areas of higher risk by Western government and are generally not recommended as a travelling destination.
Those who travel to Iran tend to report that they feel most unsafe as a pedestrian, as particular norms that are followed in many western countries such as cars stopping automatically at pedestrian crossings are not generally adhered too in Iran.
Your participation in the program was approved by the Iranian government, based on your specific itinerary and guide. As such, you are not allowed to explore on your own before or after the completion of your scheduled itinerary.
Whether you need a visa depends on where you are from and where you are travelling to. Citizens of around 60 countries do not need a visa to enter Iran for travelling purposes for various amounts of times. Most other countries citizens can gain a visa on arrival from most of the major airports in Iran, although for peace of mind they can also apply for visas beforehand. Visas on arrival for most countries only allow for a stay of 15 days. For US and Canadian citizens due to lack of any consular services in Iran, must have prior approval of an itinerary and tour operator before applying for a visa from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most tour companies will take care of this for you. No citizens of Israel are permitted to travel to Iran. People who have an Israeli stamp in their passport will also be denied entry. All citizens except for Israeli can travel to Kish Island, a popular tourist island, without a visa for up to two weeks.
Since visa requirements are subject to fairly constant change, it is best for everyone to contact Iranian consular or embassies in their own country to find out what is required before entry.
Most visas will be approved in two to three weeks. Most people find it relatively easy if correct information is given. However, it is best to allow for plenty of time before applying.
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Due to the imposition of financial sanctions international credit cards are not currently accepted in Iran. It is advised for travelers to bring cash with them. The lifting of some sanctions, however, should see some progress on this front with Japan Credit Bureau as well as China UnionPay cards expected to be accepted by late 2016 and negotiations are ongoing between Iranian authorities and MasterCard and Visa about their cards being accepted in the near future.
The hotels have Internet access; however, it may not be reliable or up to the standards you are accustomed to at home. Please be aware some websites are not accessible in Iran. Some of the social sites and Messenger Apps like Facebook and twitter are blocked in Iran. WhatsApp, Instagram are not blocked in Iran. Please be aware the list of blocked sites is subject to change without notice.
In some places travel insurance for Iran will be as normal as travelling elsewhere. Just make sure to confirm that your policy will cover Iran. Due to some travel warnings to Iran in some countries, some companies may not cover Iran. It is best to look around to see if any companies do, otherwise there are travel insurance companies which specialist in insurance to areas considered ‘high risk’. Alternatively, you can purchase insurance of the Iranian government at the airport for a small fee.
All women while in Iran are required to follow the dress codes prescribed form women in Iran. This means wearing a headscarf and not allowing the skins on your arm or legs to be shown while in public. There is also gender segregation of public transport. Following these laws will mean women will generally have no issues when it comes to safety. Iranians are renowned for their hospitality and as a visitor you will be invited to many people’s houses for dinner or lunch. This isn’t as forward as it may seem in other countries and is generally a sign of respect to the guest. There is, however, no obligation to accept such offers.
US citizens will have to have their itinerary and tour guide approved beforehand. Sticking to the itinerary is part of the conditions of visa approval, so sticking to the itinerary and the instructions of the tour guide will ensure that there are no problems. The Iranian government is highly sensitive for historical and political reasons of any foreign involvement in the political process, in particular this applies to the United States. Avoiding political demonstrations and making any public political statements is another way to avoid any trouble.
Otherwise, Iranians will be keen to demonstrate their hospitality to US citizens and will offer to host them for lunch or dinner. Hostility towards particular actions of the US government, doesn’t stop the people of Iran having nothing but the warmest feelings for Americans themselves
Drinking alcohol is against the law in Iran and no shops are permitted to sell it. Anyone caught in possession of alcohol faces arrest and in the case of a tourist face deportation. People in Iran tend to drink tea, Sharbat (a cool, sweet drink known as the world’s first soft drink) or doogh (a savoury yogurt drink). Alcohol free beer is also available. Pork is not available. When it comes to meat most Iranians tend to eat chicken, beef or lamb, all of which are widely available.
Rules on photography depends on the place. Many mosques will allow photography inside and outside. Some museums will not allow photography inside but will outside. Generally, if it is not permitted, a sign will indicate. Restrictions are placed on photography of government and military buildings. For people, when taking photos of specific people, it is always better to ask for permission. Often this will led to a positive response, many Iranians like to pose for photos.
Yes, it is possible to buy Persian rugs or other souvenirs. Iran is known for having the best rugs and carpets in the world. However, caution is advised before spending lots of money to ensure you are getting the genuine item rather than a fake. When buying items in places like the Bazaar, bargaining for price is considered normal.
It depends on what you want to do! In most places in Iran summer is hot and winter is cold, with snow in some places. During the month of Ramadan it can be difficult for travellers as many food stores are close during the day. At times around the Iranian New Year which occurs on March 21, more people inside Iran go on holiday, so it can be more difficult to secure accommodation.
Tehran, the capital of Iran, has underwent a massive population increase over the past few decades. One of the side effects is air pollution, which can affect Tehran badly at times. Pollution control programmes, as well as more energy efficient cars and public transportation have been implemented, which is believed will have an impact into the future. Most other cities do not have major problems with pollution.
It depends on your preference. Travel tours will provide transport while you are on a tour. Major cities have public transportation, such as buses and in Tehran, a metro. Taxis are also very affordable. It is also possible to hire cars for travelling. Between cities buses are regular and affordable. There are also flights between cities, as well.