TRAVELLING TO IRAN — ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
Is it safe to travel to Iran now?
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. There has been no terrorist attacks in Iran in the last eight years, nor has there been any significant political unrest that has posed any threat to foreigners. 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.
Can you travel to Iran as an unmarried couple?
Yes! This is an often more assumed problem than a real one for most travellers. Travelling to Iran will not be a problem. Most hotels, like everyone else, won’t ask or care about your relationship status. In the case that they do, it is up to individual travellers to decide how they respond but no proof of marriage is required. In the very worst scenario, you may be required to take separate rooms but this is almost unheard of, particularly for foreign travellers. But remember unmarried Persian couples are not able to get a hotel room. If you’re married to an Iranian we advise you to carry your marriage certificate with passport as proof of marriage.
Best Islands to visit in Iran?
It depends on what you are looking for. For luxury travel with all modern amenities, then Kish Island is the best one to travel to. It is a resort island filled with hotels, shopping centres, malls, as well as beaches. For natural beauty, Qeshm is generally considered the best, as there has been less impact on the island by tourism and wildlife flourishes more there. This makes it the ideal location for Scuba Diving, amongst other things.
Can you backpack in Iran?
Backpacking, as a concept, is not as well known in Iran as in Europe or Australia, so specific backpacker hostels do not exist but this does not making backpacking impossible, in fact some of the conditions make backpacking ideal. For 20 to 40 US dollars a night you can get rooms at budget hotels, which include breakfast, transport is inexpensive between cities, as is food. As a guest, you can also expect to be offered food. So, a traveller on a budget can expect to have a bit more comfort in Iran than in a lot of other places. Hitchhiking is not common in Iran, however, so don’t expect people to know what you are looking for and remember the thumbs up sign in Iran is like giving someone the middle finger in other countries, a sign of disrespect.
Can you use a credit card in Iran?
Due to the imposition of financial sanctions international credit cards are not currently accepted in Iran. It is advised for travellers 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.
How can I get a travel insurance coverage to Iran?
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 specialise in insurance to areas considered ‘high risk’. Alternatively, you can purchase insurance of the Iranian government at the airport for a small fee.
Do I need a visa for Iran? And how hard is to get an Iranian visa?
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.
Is it safe for women to visit Iran?
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.
Is it safe for US citizens to visit Iran?
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
Can I travel independently to Iran? Do I need a guide to travel Iran?
Most people are able to travel independently within Iran, without any guide or official guidance whatsoever. US and Canadian citizens, however, need to have their itinerary and tour group approved beforehand, which will require an officially sanctioned guide. However, as part of the itinerary it is possibly to include free days, which if approved, will allow for free travel.
Many people, however, prefer to go on guided tours, as much of the population, including those who work in tourism do not have proficiency in English, making some experiences more difficult.
Iran Politics and religion — What if I do not agree?
It is not a requirement to agree with any particular political decision or religious ideology to visit Iran. While in Iran, you will hear a lot of different views from different people about politics and religion, and inevitable all travellers will have their own thoughts. However, the Iranian government is very sensitive to any foreign involvement in internal political affairs, so any political activity inside Iran, particularly directed against the Iranian government, could lead to arrest. At least while in Iran, it is best to keep your views private on political and religious matters.
Can I drink alcohol and eat pork in Iran?
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.
Is it permitted to take photos of historical sites and people in Iran?
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.
Can I buy souvenirs like Persian rugs in Iran?
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.
When is the best time to visit Iran?
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.
Travel to Iran — How much will it cost?
It depends on what you want to do. In general, though, in comparison to most countries, travelling to Iran will be less expensive, with accommodation, food, internal travel being affordable for most travellers. Most entrance fees for sites will be less than one US dollar and a meal will cost around 5 to 10 US dollars at a restaurant
Are there any cultural norms in Iran?
There are many cultural norms in Iran, one of the strangest to foreigners, is the concept of Ta’arof, which governs rules of social interaction and hospitality. It is form of exaggerated politeness. For instance, restaurant owners or taxi drivers as a sign of respect will often say there is no charge, and in return you will show your respect by insisting on paying until they accept. This also applies to hospitality at the home, where hosts are obligated to offer their guests as much as they can and guests are supposed to reject, sometimes several times, before accepting.
What’s budget accommodation like in Iran?
There aren’t many hostels in Iran, which many associate with budget travel. However, hotels in Iran tend to be considerably cheaper than in many other countries. So, you may find 4 star hotels priced in what would be considered budget range in other countries. With an expected increase in tourism to Iran, it is expected that a wider range of accommodation options will be available in the near future.
Is it polluted?
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.
How do I get about?
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.
Are the locals friendly?
Just about everyone who travels to Iran comments on how friendly the people are. Hospitality will be extended to all visitors in just about every part of the country and on a regular basis. Many will start conversations with you about where you are from, why you are in Iran, your job etc.
What books should I read about Iran?
For those interested in ancient history, this book is a must read. A mixture of myth and truth it traces the history of the Persian empire until the Arab invasion of the 7th century
Iran Between Two Revolutions by Ervand Abrahamian
This provides a comprehensive view of Iranian modern history between 1905 till 1979. It looks at the changing nature of society and politics in this time.
A historical overview of the coup in 1953 against elected leader Mohammed Mossadeqh with the support of the CIA and how that laid the basis for hostility between Iran and the US
Poetry has played a larger role in Iranian life than literature and there is a great of love for the classics of Persian poetry. Hafiz is amongst the most popular, with his tomb visited by millions in Shiraz.