The wellspring of one of the world's great civilizations, Iran is a country of striking natural beauty and gorgeous tiled mosques. Once the centre of a pro-Western monarchy, it became an Islamic Republic in 1979, and since then, its history has been tumultuous.
Iran is a melting pot of different cultures, with Persians, Azerbaijanis, and Kurds constituting the largest ethnic groups. Shia Islam is the state religion, although there is a sizeable portion of Sunnis, as well as long-established Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities.
|Sistan and Baluchestan |
Home of the ethnic Baloch minority, and the poorest and most remote province in the country. Serves as Iran's gateway to South Asia.
|Caspian Iran |
Allows one the opportunity to experience the Caspian Sea.
|Central Iran |
The traveller's main entry point. The capital, Tehran is situated here as are many other major cities like Qom and Esfahan.
A great gateway to Central Asia, and home to Iran's holiest city. Many Turkmens and Afghans live here.
|Persian Gulf Region |
Home to many islands. It serves as Iran's main access point to the sea, and the Iranian Navy is headquartered here. Also the centre of Iran's oil and natural gas production.
|Iranian Azerbaijan |
Situated in the extreme northwest of Iran, this mountainous region serves as the country's access point to the Caucasus. This is also where much of the second largest ethnic group, the Azeris, lives.
|Western Iran (including Iranian Kurdistan) |
Home to the ethnic Kurdish and Arab minorities, it also served as a major battlefront during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Nine of the most notable cities are:
- 1 Tehran (Persian: تهران) – the vibrant capital and a beautiful city
- 2 Hamedan (Persian: همدان) – one of the oldest cities in Iran
- 3 Isfahan (Persian: اصفهان) – a former capital with stunning architecture, great bazaar, and tree-lined boulevards. Most popular tourist destination in the country. There's a Persian saying that "Isfahan is half the world."
- 4 Kerman (Persian: کرمان) – this south-eastern city is one of the five historical cities of Iran.
- 5 Mashad (Persian: مشهد) – the greatest city of eastern Iran, with an important Shi'a pilgrimage site, the shrine of the Imam Reza
- 6 Qom (Persian: قم) – one of the holiest cities in the Middle East, considered the Jewel of Iran
- 7 Shiraz (Persian: شیراز) – a former capital, home of famous Persian poets such as Hafiz and Sa'di; known for gardens, especially roses. Very close to the famous ruins of Persepolis.
- 8 Tabriz (Persian: تبریز) – a former capital with a great historical bazaar, now a provincial capital in western Iran; it's been suggested that this is the site of the Biblical "Garden of Eden"
- 9 Yazd (Persian: یزد) – a remote desert city – circumstance influenced special architectural themes where water streams run in underground rooms in houses and wind-towers to keep them cool, and the main center for the Iranian Zoroastrians.
- 1 Alamut (Persian: الموت), near Qazvin – castle of the legendary Assassins.
- 2 Dizin (Persian: دیزین) – one of the highest ski resorts in the world, two hours north of Tehran. Great powder snow, cheap prices and few international visitors makes this a great place for a ski holiday.
- 3 Kish Island (Persian: کیش) – a free trade zone in the Persian Gulf, it is regarded as a consumer's 'paradise', with numerous malls, shopping centres, tourist attractions, and resort hotels. There is also Iran's first marina on the east side of the island.
- 4 Qeshm Island (Persian: قشم) – Iran's largest and the Persian Gulf's largest island. Qeshm island is famous for its wide range of ecotourist attractions such as the Hara marine forests. According to environmentalists, about 1.5% of the world birds and 25% of Iran's native birds annually migrate to Hara forests which is the first national geo park.
- 5 Pasargad (Persian: پاسارگاد) – the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire, and home to the tomb of Cyrus the Great.
- 6 Persepolis – impressive ruins of a vast city-like complex built over 2,500 years ago, near the modern city of Shiraz. It was set on fire by Alexander the Great and further ruined by Arab invaders. Called TakhteJamshid in Persian, Persepolis is the symbol of Iranian nationality.
- 7 Susa (or Shush) (Persian: شوش) – 200 km north of Ahvaz, was Iran's most ancient city. The Ziggurat of Chughazanbil, Darius the Great's palace, the Jewish prophet Daniel's temple and Artaxerxes II's palace are among the historical sites.
|Currency||Iranian rial (IRR)|
|Population||86.7 million (2022)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|Time zone||UTC+03:30, Iran Standard Time Zone, Asia/Tehran|
|Emergencies||110 (police), 115 (emergency medical services), +98-125 (fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Humans have inhabited the area that makes up modern Iran since the Stone Age. There are paintings in Dusheh cave that date back to 15,000 BC.
The ancient Persians arrived about 1500 BC, one branch of the great movement of people that also brought northern India and most of Europe their modern populations. The name Iran is from the same root as "Aryan" which, until Hitler perverted it, was just an ancient name for those arriving peoples. Persian (natively known as Farsi) is an Indo-European language; ancient Persian was related to Sanskrit, ancient Greek, and all the others in that family. Persians are ethnically and linguistically unrelated to their neighbours on the west, the Arabs and Turks, but are related to various groups to the east and north.
Iran has many people other than ethnic Persians; there are substantial minorities with their own languages, Minorities with Indo-European languages related to Persian include Kurds in parts of the west and northwest, Baluchis in parts of the southeast, and Armenians in the north and in Isfahan where one of the Shahs transported them a few centuries back. Minorities with Turkic languages include the Azeris who make up much of the population of Iranian Azerbaijan in the northwest and the Qashqai, a nomadic people in the region around Shiraz. There are also Arabs, who are mostly concentrated Khuzestan province, Assyrians and, last but not least, Jews, who have been living in Iran peacefully for centuries. Despite being a minority, Iran's Azeri population is larger than that of independent Azerbaijan.
There are also two substantial communities of people of Iranian descent in India and Pakistan - Parsis who have been there for over 1,000 years, and Iranis who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries - both Zoroastrians who fled religious persecution in Iran.
Persia has always exerted a large cultural influence on its neighbors, especially Afghanistan, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Persian influence can be seen in the art, architecture and languages of these areas, and in the Indian Subcontinent.
The Persian Empire existed over most of the time period from about 500 BCE until the revolution of 1979, but its fortunes varied enormously over the centuries. During the Achaemenid Empire, Persia controlled most of what we now call the Middle East, and after Cyrus the Great's conquest of Ionia, Persia came close to conquering Greece in the Greco-Persian Wars of 499-449 BC. In the 330s BCE, Alexander the Great conquered (among other places) the entire Persian Empire.
Sassanid rule from 205 AD to 651 AD is considered to be the most influential period of ancient Persia. In 651 AD, immediately after the death of Muhammad, the brutal conquest of Persia by the Arabs brought an end to the Sasanian Empire. Persian and other languages of the region are still written with the Arabic alphabet. In 1221 AD, Persia was overrun by Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Marco Polo passed through later in that century, learned Persian, and wrote extensively of the region. Tamerlane conquered Persia in 1383, and after a revolt in 1387, killed hundreds of thousands of people and built a tower with their skulls.
The Safavid dynasty re-united Persia as an independent state in 1501, established Shi'a Islam as the official religion, and ushered in a golden age of Persian culture. The dynasty was overthrown in 1736 by Nader Shah, the last great Asian conqueror, who expanded the empire to again include Afghanistan and much of India. His short-lived dynasty and its successor, the Zand dynasty, lasted until 1795.
The Qajar dynasty ruled from 1795-1925. While many of the historic buildings in Iran are from this period, this era is considered to be one of decline for Iran, as the rulers were more interested in building their collections of art and jewels and succumbed to heavy pressure from foreign powers, notably the United Kingdom and Russia, which jointly occupied Iran during World War I. In 1906, Qajar rule became a constitutional monarchy and the Majlis (Persian for parliament) was established.
The last dynasty
In 1925, a military coup by Reza Shah established a new "Pahlavi" dynasty, named for the most ancient Persian dynasty around 500 BC. His rule was quite nationalistic; he changed the country's name from Persia to Iran, and built a strong military. He was also quite authoritarian; he built a powerful secret police and a propaganda apparatus, and did not hesitate to crush dissent. He also made considerable efforts toward modernization, and came into conflict with conservatives over some of it.
When World War II came, he refused Allied demands for guarantees that Iran would resist if German forces got that far. Iran was then invaded by Anglo-Indian forces from the south and Russians from the north, and a railway was built (largely by US Army engineers) to bring supplies from the Persian Gulf across Iran to beleaguered Russia. Reza Shah went off to exile in South Africa, abdicating on the steps of the aircraft in favour of his son.
The son, Mohammad Reza Shah, continued his father's nationalistic, authoritarian and modernising tendencies. As the Iranian ruler he couldn't choose Britain or Russia as allies. Being pro-German had not worked out well for his father and France wasn't strong enough at the time. That left the Americans, and he became one of America's most important allies in the region, seen as a "bulwark against Communism", a constitutional king, in some ways a progressive ruler — modernising, sometimes comparing himself to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who led Turkey's modernisation — and a protector of US and other Western interests. He was one of very few Middle Eastern rulers to extend diplomatic recognition to Israel and helped prevent Iranian nationalisation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. On the other hand, he was quite capable of putting Iranian interests before Western ones, as when he was one of the key players in creating OPEC.
While in some ways progressive, the Shah was also very much a traditional monarch. When the Soviets left Northwestern Iran after the war, they left behind something that claimed to be an independent socialist government of Azerbaijan. The first major conflict of the Cold War came as the Shah, advised by the CIA, brought in troops who crushed that government and the Communist Party (Tudeh in Farsi). Throughout his reign, his Savak secret police stomped hard on any opposition. His regime was also massively corrupt, with cronyism being widespread among ruling elites when much of the country was very poor. On the other hand, he did invest in infrastructure and initiate social welfare projects, including a program that sent new university graduates into the countryside as teachers.
In theory, Iran under the Shah was a constitutional monarchy. Mohammed Mosaddeq was elected Prime Minister in 1951 and instituted reforms that included nationalizing the oil companies and a land reform program, and also limited the power of the Shah as part of a constitutional monarchy. He was overthrown in a 1953 coup backed by the CIA, the British (who had large oil interests at stake), and the Shah. The Shah and the new Prime Minister reversed the oil nationalization, but continued with the land reform program. However, as well as giving land to the peasants, it worked out that the Shah's family and others with connections got a lot. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini went into exile at this time because of his objections to land reform taking land from the mosques. In 1971, the Shah organised an expensive celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire at Persepolis. The extravagant party resulted in harsh criticism and his popularity ratings never recovered.
In 1979, the Shah was overthrown and went into exile, dying a year later. The revolution involved many groups - Mosaddeq-style secular reformers, the tudeh communists, and various Islamic factions - but came to be led and dominated by a conservative Islamic faction under Ayatollah Khomeini. Partly in reaction to the Shah's policies and partly as rejection of non-Islamic influences, they were also strongly anti-Western and in particular anti-American.
Religious conservatives subsequently crushed Europeanization and also any liberal or left-wing influences. Iranian student protesters seized the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held hostages for 444 days - until 20 January 1981. Noticing the upheaval in Iran, Saddam Hussein seized Iranian oil fields in the south of the country and from 1980 to 1988, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq and in the end, the borders were turned back to their pre-war locations.
Key current issues affecting the country include the pace of accepting outside modernising influences and reconciliation between clerical control of the regime and popular government participation and widespread demands for reform. Inflation and unemployment (particularly among youth) are major economic challenges.
Relations between Iran and the rest of the world, particularly Western countries, improved considerably with the 2015 nuclear agreement, which started a gradual lift of economical sanctions against the country. The United States pulled out of the nuclear agreement and proceeded to impose more punitive sanctions on Iran after a new president came to power in 2017, and relations between the two have deteriorated rapidly since then, with both countries often threatening to go to war with each other. This has certain consequences for visitors to both countries (see #Get in).
Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have also drastically deteriorated: the two countries are on opposite sides of the war in Yemen, and they support different factions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Nevertheless, there has been a thaw in relations in the early 2020s, and both countries agreed to restore diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies in a deal brokered by China in 2023.
All Iranian presidents since 1979 as well as both "spiritual leaders", Khomeini and Khamenei, have engaged in anti-Israel rhetoric (often refusing even to use the word "Israel", instead calling it the "Zionist state"), though there continues to exist an Iranian Jewish community that is guaranteed representation in parliament. Perhaps the case most noticed in the west was when President Ahmadinejad was translated (among other sources on his own English language website) as calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" garnering notable controversy and allegations of mistranslation. However, as Ahmadinejad himself pointed out, he was only paraphrasing a statement often made by Khomeini and Khamenei in various forms which is nigh-consensus among the highest echelons of the Iranian political and religious elite.
Sex segregation in Iran is practiced severely. After revolution, sex segregation was increased and it was embraced in different ways during different decades. As a general rule, individuals from opposite sexes and bachelors can not walk or talk with each other except inside family groups. In the early years after the revolution, public places like cinemas, restaurants, beaches — basically, anyplace other than shrines, mosques and other holy places — were segregated by sex. In succeeding decades, some places were no longer segregated by sex, but some female-only places were established, such as women's parks, beauty salons, female schools and female-only universities. As of 2020, many places are still sex segregated, such as transport vehicles (inter-city buses, inner-city buses, subways, trains, etc.). People from opposite sexes are not allowed to shake hands and men are not allowed to touch women, which is said to be for the sake of women's safety. Exceptions exist especially in regard to non-Muslim tourists.
The main divisions of Islam are Shi'a and Sunni. The split goes back to a time just after the Prophet's death; would the movement be controlled by some of his leading followers (Sunni), in particular his father-in-law Abu Bakr, or by his family, in particular by his son-in-law Ali? (Shi'a comes from Shīʻatu ʻAlī, i.e. the faction/party of Ali). There was a long, complex and bloody struggle over this. Today, Iran is one of a few countries that are predominantly Shi'a, and the only one where Shi'a Islam is the official religion. The Iranian government supports the Shi'a Hezbollah movement among others, and is therefore accused by America of fomenting terrorism.
One of the major events of Shi'a religious life is the Day of Ashura on the 10th of the month of Moharram; "ashura" means "10th". It commemorates the death of Ali's son Hussein at the Battle of Karbala in 61 AH (680 AD). This is not a joyful celebration, but a very sober day of atonement. Travellers should not play music or act remarkably cheerful in public at this time.
Traditional activities include parades in which people do 'matham' — chest-beating, self-flagellation, sometimes even hitting oneself with a sword — which is a way of remembering Imam Hussein who was martyred along with his half brother, cousins, friends, and two young sons. Dramatic re-enactments of the battle are also sometimes done.
While Shi'a Islam is without a doubt the dominant religion in Iran, there are several religious minorities. Sunni Islam in Iran is mainly practiced by ethnic minorities such as the Arabs, Kurds, Baluchis, and Turkmens. Non-Islamic faiths also exist in smaller numbers, the most notable being Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism, all three of which are recognized as minority religions by the Iranian constitution, and guaranteed representation in parliament. Despite Iran being an Islamic republic, fire temples, churches, and synagogues continue to operate legally in the country. Most Iranian Christians follow Oriental Orthodoxy or the Assyrian Church of the East, and are of Armenian and Assyrian ethnicity respectively. Iran also has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside Israel. While there are also a significant number of Baha'is in Iran, they are not recognized by the constitution and are instead branded as heretics of Islam, meaning that they continue to be persecuted to this day in spite of being Iran's numerically largest non-Muslim religion. One unique practice among Iranian men and women is the encounter of wedleases (temporary marriages) which locally are known as mut'ah.
Iran has a diverse climate. In the northwest, winters are cold with heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures during December and January. Spring and fall are relatively mild, while summers are dry and hot. In the south, winters are mild and the summers are very hot, having average daily temperatures in July exceeding 38° C (100° F) and can hit 50° C in parts of the desert. On the Khuzestan plain, summer heat is accompanied by high humidity.
In general, Iran has an arid climate in which most of the relatively scant annual precipitation falls from October to April. In most of the country, yearly precipitation averages 25 cm or less. The major exceptions are the higher mountain valleys of the Zagros and the Caspian coastal plain, where precipitation averages at least 50 cm annually. In the western part of the Caspian, rainfall exceeds 100 cm annually and is distributed relatively evenly throughout the year.
Rugged, mountainous rim; high, central basin with deserts, mountains; small, discontinuous plains along both coasts with humid unique jungles by Caspian sea. The highest point is Mount Damavand (5,610 m).
Desert: two great deserts extend over much of central Iran: the Dasht-e Lut is covered largely with sand and rocks, and the Dasht-e Kavir is covered mainly with salt. Both deserts are inhospitable and virtually uninhabited.
Mountain: the Zagros range stretches from the border with the Republic of Armenia in the north-west to the Persian Gulf, and then eastward into Baluchistan. Zagros is extremely hard, difficult to access, and populated largely by pastoral nomads. The Alborz mountain range, narrower than the Zagros, runs along the southern shore of the Caspian to meet the border ranges of Khorasan to the east.
Forest: approximately 11% of Iran is forested, most extensively in the Caspian region, and is densely populated. Here one finds the broad-leafed, vigorous deciduous trees, usually oak, beech, linden, elm, walnut, ash, and hornbeam, as well as a few broad-leafed evergreens. Thorny shrubs and fern also abound. The narrow Caspian coastal plain, in contrast, is covered with rich brown forest soil.
Dual citizens of Iran and a second country may only enter Iran on their Iranian passport, as the country does not normally recognize dual citizenships.
Your bags probably will not be searched for salacious material, but if any is found, it will be confiscated and will complicate your arrival. Don't try to bring in any magazines or books that might offend strict Islamic sensibilities or criticise the government.
Normally, all tourist visas issued by Iranian consulates have a "3-month" validity. The visa allows you to stay in Iran for up to 30 days (sometimes you can get the tourist visa up to 90 days), although the duration of your visa is at the discretion of the MFA. All tourist visas will be issued as a single entry, unless you request the approval from Tehran. Tourist visas must be used within 14 days from issue, but the maximum duration of your stay is still 30 days.
Rarely, you may be asked to provide a letter from your employer or proof of funds. Visas are generally valid for three months, so you must enter Iran within three months of issue.
Depending on your nationality, issuing a visa may take 30 days or more.
A valid passport and a visa are required for the citizens of most countries for travel through Iran. Citizens of many countries can get a visa on arrival. Citizens of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, China, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Syria, Turkey and Venezuela do not need a visa to visit Iran for tourism.
Citizens of the USA, UK, Canada, Somalia, Bangladesh, Jordan, Afghanistan and Pakistan must have their visa stamped in their passport in advance of their arrival in Iran.
As a notable exception, nationals of all countries are allowed to travel to the free economic zones of Kish, Qeshm and Chabahar without a visa for stays of 14 days or less. Kish and Qeshm are easily accessible from Dubai. See the Kish Island article for details.
For US, UK and Canadian citizens...
US, UK or Canadian citizens must be part of a tour group approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or have an MFA-approved guide to accompany them for the entire trip and must have an exact itinerary. This generally precludes crossing into Iran at any border, as your guide would have to meet you at the border. Tour guides, however, are generally friendly to Americans, Britons and Canadians, understand the process, and can work with you to set up a custom itinerary. US and Canadian citizens can apply for a visa through the Iranian Interest Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, DC. Britons can apply through the Iranian embassy [formerly dead link] in London.
The Iran tourist visa is issued for up to 30 days and is extendable. It must be obtained before travelling to Iran and valid to enter for 90 days from the issue date. Approved Iranian travel agents can apply and get visas for all foreign nationals (except Israeli and Afghanistan passport holders).
To apply and get your visa you must contact an approved Iranian travel agent, or go to an Iranian consulate. After receiving your personal data, they apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Your visa will then be authorised by the MFA and faxed to the Iranian consulate near you. Your travel agent gives you a visa authorisation number with which you can refer to the consulate to get your visa. The visa authorisation number, however, is valid only in the consulate you have asked them your visa to be issued in. The number they give you is just an "authorisation". This reference number means that your visa has been authorised and approved by the MFA but is not the visa. However, there is a new rule for getting an Iran visa. After applying for e-visa and receiving the authorization code online, you are going to have two options while receiving your visa in embassies or other places of visa issue. If you need an urgent visa, you can pay 50% extra money in the embassy/general consulate to get your visa in one day. It means if the visa fee costs you 50 Euro, you should pay 75 Euro to collect it there. However, if you do not want to pay the extra money, you can wait for 4 to 7 Iran business days, which is between Saturday to Wednesday to receive your visa.
Depending on your nationality, you may be required to present at the Iranian consulate in your country to have your fingerprints taken. British and American passport holders will be fingerprinted upon arrival.
After your travel agent tells you your visa authorisation number you should first get a visa application from the consulate and follow the requirements of the application form (you may either personally go to the consulate to get the application forms or, if the service available, download it from the web site of the Iranian embassy in your country). Then, you should refer to the consulate to lodge your passports and application forms with the visa number they gave you (it can be either a physical presence or by post). Then it might take from 1-5 days for the consulate to issue your visa.
You may also need to provide a letter of recommendation from your embassy if you are applying outside your home country, a photocopy of your air tickets in and out of Iran and any student or press card.
There are several types of visa: Entry, Transit, Business, Tourist and Journalist. Fee varies according to nationality of applicant, type of visa and the existing regulation between countries.
A visa cannot be issued for passports which have a validity of less than 6 months. Exit permits required by all (often included with visa).
Transit visas have a maximum of 10 days.
Transit visas are usually easier to get than tourist visas (usually for one or two weeks) and very useful for people travelling between Europe and South Asia. Various travel agents inside Iran help you obtain visas, often through their home pages.
You can get an extension for your transit visa usually valid for five or ten days, inside Iran easily but once for the same number of days as the original visa.
For foreign drivers carrying cargo to Iran or other countries, it's necessary to co-ordinate in advance with the diplomatic missions of Iran.
Tourist visas require a passport, an application form, four passport-sized photos, and a special authorisation in the form of a reference number issued by the Foreign Ministry in Tehran.
Extending a tourist visa is very easy and can be done in most cities. Some travel guides say not to do this in Tehran as it is very time consuming. This is no longer the case and the process of extending a visa in Tehran can be done in just 1 hour (including tea offerings and being the object of curiosity in the office). Extending a visa a second time requires the passport to be sent to a department in Tehran (no matter where you extend your visa from) and thus takes longer time than doing this the first time. The tourist visa can be extended once or twice at most, each time you can get 15 days more. The price of extending a visa is fixed rate 300,000 rial.
To extend your visa in Tehran, the first or second time, you should go to the Passport and Immigration office situated on Parvin Street, at the crossing with 150 East Street and 123 Khovat Street, very close to Tehranpars metro station. Here is the OSM link: http://www.openstreetmap.org/?mlat=35.72822&mlon=51.53174#map=17/35.72822/51.53174&layers=N
Although it has become easier to get a tourist visa, whether the process takes one day or one month depends largely on your nationality and the staff of the embassy you are applying to. Your best bet is to apply to the Iranian embassy in your own country at least three months before your departure, but it is possible to obtain one while travelling in other countries, with varying degrees of difficulty. Women need to make sure they are wearing the hijab or a head scarf in their submitted passport-sized photos.
Business visas require a passport, an application form, 4 passport-sized photos, a special authorisation in the form of a reference number issued by the Foreign Ministry in Tehran, and a business letter. Business visas are extendable once, sometimes twice up to two weeks each without difficulty. One extension of one month may also be possible in some cases.
Visitors from the Persian Gulf States need no visa to enter Iran. These states are: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. People from Macedonia and Turkey can get a three-month tourist visa on arrival. People from Japan can get a three-month tourist visa at an Iranian embassy with no difficulty.
Places known to extend visas happily in Iran are Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz, Esfahan, Shiraz, Kerman and Zahedan. The extension process is normally handled at provincial police headquarters.
Citizens of most nationalities can get an eVisa, but you will have specify which airport you will be landing at as part of the application. You may not enter Iran through an entry point other than the one specified in your visa application. Processing usually takes about 2 days, though you may be asked to attend an interview at the nearest Iranian consulate should the authorities suspect something. The previous visa-on-arrival scheme has been scrapped. Citizens of Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States are not eligible for an eVisa.
All international flights to Tehran land at the new 1 [formerly dead link] Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA IATA) based 37 km southwest of Tehran. Pilgrimage flights to Saudi Arabia still fly from Mehrabad airport. There are 70 smaller regional airports, for example those in Shiraz, Mashhad, and Isfahan, and these have daily flights to many international destinations.
Dubai has scheduled flights to many Iranian cities, including Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Kerman, Lar, Mashhad, Tabriz, Kish Island, Bandar Abbas, Bushher, Zahedan, Kermanshah, Chah Bahar and is therefore worth considering travelling to Iran from. Flights are operated by Iran Air, Emirates (for Tehran), Iran Aseman Airlines, Mahan Air and other Iranian companies. Fares are relatively cheap on Iranian carriers, ranging from US$100-250 for a return trip depending on your destination and time of booking.
Iran Air and Mahan Air connect Tehran with some of the major European cities as well as destinations in Asia and Middle East. European companies landing in Tehran include Lufthansa, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Aeroflot and Middle-Eastern airlines: Saudi Arabian Airlines, Emirates, and Etihad. There are also frequent flights to Armenia's capital of Yerevan. So finding a flight to Iran should not be hard.
Qatar airlines offers several flights to Iran and provides non-stop service to Doha from to many US cities.
Low-cost carriers (LCC) also operate flights to Tehran or other cities in Iran.
- Pegasus Airlines has flights to Tehran via Istanbul.
- Air Arabia has flights to Tehran, Mashhad and Shiraz via Sharjah.
- Jazeera Airways has flights to Mashhad via Kuwait.
- Turkish Airlines has flights to Tehran, Kermanshah, Tabriz, Mashhad, Isfahan and Shiraz via Istanbul.
- Air Asia has flights to Tehran from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
If you are not staying in Tehran and planning to get to any city other than Tehran upon your arrival, you would have to change airports, from Imam Khomeini to Mehrabad, 40 km away, to get to your domestic flight. Allow at least 3-4 hr between the flights. If going to Mashhad, you may be able to avoid the plane change in Iran using Turkish Airlines, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways, Jazeera Airways, or Qatar Airways. If going to Shiraz, several flights from Persian Gulf States are available. For Tabriz, you can try travelling via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines or via Baku on Iran Air.
Sanctions have prevented airlines from buying new planes and the fleets of all airlines are mostly old.
Due to sanctions there are no direct flights from Canada or the United States, but you could travel via either Europe or Persian Gulf States. Non-stop flights from Dubai via JFK, IAD, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston or Toronto are good bets. Visitors from Australia or New Zealand can consider travelling via Dubai or Abu Dhabi, or can use a combination of Iran Air and Malaysian Airlines to get from any major city in Australia to Tehran, via Kuala Lumpur.
From Damascus in Syria there are charter flights to Tabriz, Tehran, Yazd, Isfahan, Mashhad. There are agencies in Seyyedeh-Zeinab district (a popular place with Iranian pilgrimages) that can sell you empty seats of these charter flights for less than US$100. Please refer to the article on Syria for information about safety and service disruptions.
A train runs once a week between Van, Tabriz and Tehran. Eastbound this leaves Van Tuesday 21:00, with lengthy stops at the border, to reach Tabriz by 05:15 Wednesday and Tehran for 18:20. To connect with this service by rail from Istanbul you'll need to set off on Saturday. Take the frequent fast YHT train to Ankara and stay overnight. From there, a train leaves around 11:00 Sunday (also Tuesday) taking 25 hours to reach Tatvan. An occasional ferry takes four hours to cross the lake to Van, or frequent dolmuses wind around by road; overnight in either Tatvan or Van. Then head onward Tuesday night to Tabriz and Tehran. So reckon four days; and they wonder why people prefer to fly.
Westbound is similarly laborious. Take the train from Tehran at 09:30 Monday, reaching Tabriz at 22:30 and Van at 08:00 Tuesday. As you arrive there, the onward train to Ankara is just departing from Tatvan on the other side of the lake. So either stay in the area for the Thursday departure (arriving Ankara by 08:00 Friday, and you'll reach Istanbul that afternoon) or lose patience and take a bus from Van.
All trains between Iran and Syria are suspended indefinitely. See also the article on Syria.
- The Mashad-Herat railway which is under construction is completed until the city of Khaf near the Afghanistan border. The cheap daily service from Tehran to Khaf is about US$5.
- The Khorramshar-Basra railway will connect Iranian railways to Iraq. There will be special train routes for Iranians going as pilgrims to Najaf and Karbala. There is another project that will be completed later going through Kermanshah to Khanaqin in Iraq.
- The Quetta-Zahedan line connects Pakistan and Iran by rail. A train leaves every 1st and 15th of each month from Quetta and the journey takes 11 hr and costs about €8. In opposite direction the train leaves every 3rd and 17th of each month from Zahedan.
There is no passenger service on the Bam-Zahedan link, so you have to take a bus or taxi.
The Quetta-Zahedan link was also suspended around 2014 for passengers. Local media reported that reinstatement was due as of September 2018 but no train on this route appears on timetables from Pakistan or Iran, and there are no reports of passengers crossing - it would be unwise to rely on such a service existing for now.
- The Nakhchivan-Tabriz service connects Nakhchivan (city) with Tabriz and crosses from the Jolfa border. Train continues until Mashdad and goes trough Tehran. The route used to be a part of Tehran-Moscow railway line which is closed due to Azerbaijan-Armenia conflicts.
- There is a railway from Baku to the border city of Astara. From there you can walk through the border to Iran. The railway is going to be joined to Tehran via Rasht and Qazvin.
- There is a daily service between Mashad and Sarakhs border every day. The train does not go further because of the gauge changes. At the other side of the border there is train to Merv and Ashgabat.
- A railway from Gorgan has been built up to the Inche Borun border which will continue to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
Iran has border crossings with all its neighboring countries. Many people drive a car to Iran via Turkey.
This requires a Carnet de Passage unless you wish to pay import duty. A carnet can be acquired from your local drivers association (such as the RAC in the UK). An international driver's license is highly recommended, with a translation into Persian very beneficial. There are also some car rental agencies in Iran that take online bookings.
From Armenia there are daily, modern buses from Yerevan to Tabriz and even further to Tehran. Tickets can be bought around Republic square in Yerevan, check Tigran Mets Street for signs in Persian. Tatev Travel on Nalbandyan also sells the tickets - 12,000 Armenian dram to Tabriz or 15,000 dram to Tehran.
The only Iran/Armenia land border at Nuduz/Agarak is poorly served by public transport. On the Armenian side you can get as far as Meghri by one marshrutka a day from Yerevan. In both directions the Marshrutka leaves quiet early in the morning. From Meghri it is around 8 km to the border and hitching or a taxi is the only option. On the Iranian side the closest public transport can be found around 50 km to the west in Jolfa, so a taxi for around US$10-15 is the again only commercial choice. Expect to be asked a lot for all taxi rides, so hard bargaining is essential. Make clear, or at least pretending that you have other choices may assist you to get fairer prices.
The border is not busy at all, so when hitching you have to mainly stick with the truck drivers and Russian or Persian helps a lot here. Consider for yourself whether this is a safe option.
- Dogubeyazit/Bazergan This Turkey/Iran border crossing is easily (and fast) done by public transport. Take a bus to Dogubeyazit and a frequent minibus (~5 Turkish lira, 15 min) to the border. Cross the border stretch per pedes, take the customs taxi (give the driver some 1,000 rials bakschis) to the next village and take a taxi (US$3-4) to the bus terminal in Bazergan. There could also be buses to Bazergan, but the taxi drivers approaching you at the border are not the right people to ask for that. From there you can easily get buses to major destinations in Iran. Check the security situation in the region, due to the unsolved Kurdish conflict. Make sure you get a clear idea about exchange rates if you want to change Turkish lira or rials as the official bank at the border does not exchange these currencies and you have to deal with the plentiful black market.
- There are also buses from Van to Urmia crossing from the Esendere-Sero border. The buses cost €13 and takes more than 6 hr to finish the 300-km route because of poor roads on the Turkish side and the many checkpoints on the Turkish side (more than 5) because of the Kurdish (PKK) insurrection.
- You can also take mini buses to the town of Yüksekova near the border and ask for taxis to bring you to the border. Cross the border check point on your own since the taxis won't cross into Iran.
You can also (depending on the political situation) enter from Pakistan via the border crossing between Taftan (on the Pakistani side) and Zahedan (on the Iranian side) as long as you have a valid visa for Iran. You can not get a visa on the border. Overnight buses leave from Quetta arriving in Taftan in the early morning, from there you can either hire a taxi to the border or walk a couple of kilometres. Once across the border (which can take some time on the Iranian side, you need to organise transport to Zahedan (the local town) where buses depart for destinations in Eastern Iran such as Bam, Kerman and Yazd. See the Istanbul to New Delhi over land 3.9 Iran-Pakistan border, for more details on the crossing.
You must be met by police on arrival in Quetta, who will arrange for you to apply for permit to travel through the region and escort you to purchase a bus ticket.
It is not possible to get a Visa on Arrival if arriving by boat. Therefore if you wish to enter Iran by this method you must get a visa in advance.
There are some scheduled services from Baku to Bandar Anzali on the Caspian Sea and from cities on the Persian Gulf to cities on the Iranian coast. They are usually of low quality.
High quality semi-luxurious ferry service is available between Kish Island and Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This service costs US$50, and the journey across one of the busiest stretches of water is sure to entertain. You should confirm what the Customs and Entry Visa process is like using this service however as the boats do not enter via the airport. While the entry/exit process at the airport is fairly well established, it is unknown if the process is as well managed when entering via the docks. It is likely to be more chaotic and visas may not be issued on the spot as is the case at the airport.
From Qatar to Bushehr.
Ferries from Kuwait are operated by Valfajr Shipping Company[dead link]. Rates depend on your exact journey, but as of June 2011, Bandar Abbas-Sharjah (UAE) was sold for 795,000 rials (about US$80). Boats run twice a week (Monday & Wednesday), departing Bandar Abbas around 20:00. Tickets can be bought from one of the agencies listed on the website. Expect to be the only non-Iranian on board. Plan loosely around the boat trip, as schedules are not strictly enforced.
Iranian transport is of high quality, and is very affordable. There are few places the very cheap buses don't travel to, the train network is limited but comfortable and reasonably priced and travel by air is not expensive. The ticket prices are always fixed and you don't have benefits of early bookings.
However, train stations and bus terminals are often located on the outskirts of their cities. As an extreme example, Shiraz Station is located farther away from the city center than Shiraz International Airport. Since city transport is notably underdeveloped, the cost of an intercity trip could mostly consist of taxi fares.
For anyone on a tight deadline, affordable domestic air services are a blessing. The major national carrier Iran Air, and its semi-private competitors such as Iran Aseman Airlines - Aseman meaning "sky" in Persian, Mahan Air and Kish Air link Tehran with most regional capitals and offer inter-regional flights for no more than US$60.
Their services are frequent, reliable and are definitely worth considering to skip the large distances within Iran. Planes may be old as American sanctions have restricted the airlines' ability to renew fleets, and maintenance and safety procedures are sometimes well below western standards, but flying remains the safest way to get around Iran, given the huge death toll on the roads.
Tickets can be bought at airports or travel agents dotted through the most major cities. Book early during the summer months of August and September since finding seats at short notice is virtually impossible. It is possible to pay extra to get onto a booked flight by bribing someone or paying them to take their seat on the plane. Some flights will auction off the last few seats to the highest bidder. For westerners, the conversion makes it easy to outbid everyone.
You can also find domestic tickets in some Iran Air offices abroad, such as in Dubai. Expect to pay a little more due to the exchange rate applied. Domestic tickets for other companies must be bought inside Iran.
If you are from a "western" country, some agencies are reluctant to let you book a domestic flight.
The Iranian domestic bus network is extensive and thanks to the low cost of fuel, very cheap. In fact the only drawback is speed: the government has limited buses to 80 km/h to combat lead-footed bus drivers so long haul trips such as Shiraz to Mashhad can take up to 20 hours.
There is little difference between the various bus companies, and most offer two classes: 'lux' or 'Mercedes' (2nd class) and 'super' or 'Volvo' (1st class). First class buses are air-conditioned and you will be provided with a small snack during your trip, while second class services are more frequent. Given the affordability of first class tickets (for example 70,000 rials from Esfehan to Shiraz), there's little financial incentive to choose the second class services, especially in summer.
Buses start (and usually end) their journeys at sprawling bus stations, called "terminal" (ترمینال) in Persian. On important routes such as Tehran–Esfahan they don't stop along the route except at toll booths and rest areas. This probably shouldn't discourage you from leaving a bus before its destination because most travellers would take a taxi from the terminal anyway.
You can buy tickets from the bus terminals or ticket offices up to a week in advance, but you shouldn't have a problem finding a seat if you turn up to the terminal an hour or so before your intended departure time.
Most cities operate comprehensive local bus services, but given the low cost of taxis and the difficulties of reading Persian-language signs (which, unlike road signs, do not have English counterparts) and route numbers, they are of little use to the casual travellers. If you're cash strapped and brave enough to try, however, remember that the buses are segregated. Men enter via the front or rear door and hand their ticket to the driver before taking a seat in the front half of the bus. Women and children should hand their ticket to the driver via the front doors (without actually getting on) before entering via the rear door to take a seat at the back. Tickets, usually around 500 rials, are sold from booths near most bus stops. Private buses accept cash instead of tickets. There is also rechargeable credit ticket cards accepted in buses and metro stations (in Tehran, paper tickets are not accepted in buses).
Raja Passenger Trains[dead link] is the passenger rail system. Travelling by train through Iran is generally more comfortable and faster than speed-limited buses. Sleeper berths in overnight trains are especially good value as they allow you to get a good night's sleep while saving on a night's accommodation.
The rail network is comprised of three main trunks. The first stretches east to west across the north of the country linking the Turkish and Turkmenistan borders via Tabriz, Tehran and Mashhad. The second and third extend south of Tehran but split at Qom. One line connects to the Persian Gulf via Ahvaz and Arak, while the other traverses the country's centre linking Kashan, Yazd, Kerman and Bandar Abbas.
Departures along mainlines are frequent. 6 to 7 daily trains leave Tehran for Kerman and Yazd, with additional three bound for Yazd and Bandar Abbas. Mashhad and Tehran are linked by some ten direct overnight trains, not counting services to Karaj, Qom, Kashan, etc. Direct services between main lines are rare, if any. For example, Esfahan and Yazd are connected by one train running every second day.
A high-speed line connecting Tehran, Imam Khomeini Airport, Qom and Isfahan is under construction, but it is not known when construction will be completed..
Tickets can be bought from train stations up to one month before the date of departure, and it is wise to book at least a couple of days in advance during the peak domestic holiday months. First class tickets cost roughly twice the comparable bus fare.
Known as a "ghatar" in Persian; trains are probably the cheapest, safest, most reliable and easiest way to travel around the country. As an added benefit; you'll get to meet the people, sample food and see other tourists. You also avoid all the checkpoints you will encounter driving on the road. Trains are frequently delayed so leave plenty of time between destinations.
By metro (subway)
- Tehran has 7 metro lines. One of these is essentially a suburban line going to Karaj and beyond.
- Mashhad has 2 underground lines.
- Shiraz has one metro line.
- Isfahan has one metro line that connects Terminal-e Kaveh with northern parts of the city.
- Tabriz has one metro line.
Low fuel costs have made inter-city travel by taxi a great value option in Iran. When travelling between cities up to 250 km apart, you may be able to hire one of the shared savāri taxis that loiter around bus terminals and train stations. Taxis are faster than buses and taxis will only leave when four paying passengers have been found, so if you're in a hurry you can offer to pay for an extra seat.
Official shared local taxis or Savari, also ply the major roads of most cities. The taxis are generally yellow, and on busy routs there are green vans with a capacity of 11 passengers. They offer a lower fare for each passenger. They usually run straight lines between major squares and landmarks, and their set rates between 2,000-10,000 rials are dictated by the local governments.
Hailing one of these taxis is an art you'll soon master. Stand on the side of the road with traffic flowing in your intended direction and flag down a passing cab. It will slow down fractionally, giving you about one second to shout your destination--pick a major nearby landmark instead of the full address--through the open passenger window. If the driver is interested, he'll slow down enough for you to negotiate the details or simply accepts your route.
If you're in a hurry, you can rent the taxi privately. Just shout the destination followed by the phrase dar bast (literally 'closed door') and the driver will almost be sure to stop. Negotiate the price before departure, but since you are paying for all the empty seats expect to pay four times the normal shared taxi fare.
You can also rent these taxis by the hour to visit a number of sites, but you can expect to pay from 40,000-70,000 rials/hr, depending on your bargaining skills.
Most of the taxis have "taximeters" but only 'closed door' green taxis use it.
There are several popular ride hailing services available in the major cities similar to Uber. Snapp and Tap30 are the major applications which can be installed on iOS and Android devices for free. You can pay in cash or if you have an Iranian debit card, you may pay in the app as well.
A large road network and low fuel costs (10,000 rials/L for Iranians in Oct 2017) have historically made Iran an attractive country for exploring with your own car. However a government fuel tax on foreigners entering Iran by private car has somewhat dimmed the allure.
Foreigners arriving in Iran with their own car must have a Carnet de passage and a valid international drivers' license. You can also rent a car, usually for US$20–50 a day. Insurance and legal liability may make you think twice about renting a car, especially considering the fact that renting a car with a driver usually costs the same.
Do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Iran's traffic. The often ignored road rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic coming on to a roundabout. Watch out for motorcyclists or moped riders joining traffic from the pavement after having passed (part of) a traffic jam. Iranian roads and major streets usually feature traffic enforcement cameras, but drivers still frequently top 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways.
Watch out for large rocks in the middle of highways. These are often placed there in an attempt to burst your tires. Afterwards a passerby will offer to replace your tire for US$50. This is of course a scam that occurs mostly at nighttime but has diminished due to aggressive policing.
When driving outside cities, caution is advised, especially in the vicinity of military or other sensitive sites. Travelling by car at night should be avoided everywhere in Iran. The risk of accidents increases in the night, as there are many vehicles on the roads without headlights.
People are not allowed to carry their pet even in their private car and will receive driving penalties if caught by the Police. Laws requiring car occupants to wear seat belts for rear passengers are not always complied with.
If you are involved in a road accident, wait for the police to arrive and do not leave the scene. If you are a foreign driver, you must have an international driving licence.
Petrol stations can be found on the outskirts of all cities and towns and in car-filled Iran, a mechanic is never far away.
See also: Persian phrasebook
Persian (called fārsi in Persian, فارسی), an Indo-European language, is Iran's national and official language. Although Persian is written with a modified Arabic alphabet, the two languages are not related; however, Persian does contain a very large number of Arabic loanwords (that may differ in meaning), many of which are part of basic Persian vocabulary (see section on "Iranian nationality" under "Respect" ).
Many young Iranians in major cities, and almost certainly those working at international travel agencies and high-end hotels will know conversational English, but for the tourist knowing basic Persian phrases will definitely be of use, particularly in rural areas.
Road signs are often double signed in English, but few other signs are. As an extra challenge, most Persian signage uses an ornate calligraphic script that bears little resemblance to its typed form. This can make comparing typed words in phrase books--such as 'bank' and 'hotel'--to signs on buildings quite difficult. However it is still worth memorising the Persian script for a few key words such as restaurant, guesthouse, and hotel (see relevant sections below for the script).
Being able to recognise Persian numerals is extremely helpful in situations where one needs to deal with directions (e.g. finding a bus at a bus station) and sums (e.g. understanding what is written on a restaurant bill). The numerals are:
Kurdish, Azeri and Arabic are also spoken in areas of large Kurdish, Azeri and Arab populations respectively. There are also Armenians and Assyrians scattered around the country, who speak Armenian and Aramaic respectively. Most of these people are also able to speak Persian in addition to their native languages.
- Hegmatane (or Ekbatana) - The capital of the ancient Medes. In modern-day Hamedan.
- Persepolis - Probably the most important historical site in Iran. The capital of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire built by Darius. Near Shiraz.
- Pasargad (or Pasargadae) - The initial capital of the Persian Empire built by Cyrus the Great. Near Shiraz.
- Susa - Built by Elamites and then adopted by the Persian Achaemenid and Sasanid empires, it has three layers of civilisation within it. Located in the modern-day town of Shush in the Khuzestan province.
- Chogha Zanbil- A ziggurat built by Elamites. Near Shush.
- Na'in or '''Naeen''' or Naein is a small pre-Islamic city in central Iran with over 2000 years of history. It's a small pattern of an ancient desert town. The locals in Na’in still speak in ancient Zoroastrian dialect.
- Sialk Mount (Tappeh Sialk) - More than 7,000 years old, this is world's oldest ziggurat. In suburbs of Kashan.
- The World Heritage listed Persian Qanat; ancient underground aqueducts of which 11 have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Tombs of some famous people
- Cyrus the Great in Pasargad near Shiraz.
- Avicenna in Hamedan.
- Khayyam in Neyshaboor (near Mashhad).
- Prophet Daniel in Susa (Shush).
- Mordechai and Esther in Hamedan.
- Saadi and Hafez famous Persian poets in Shiraz.
- Imam Reza an ornate shrine to the eighth of the Shiite imams (the only one buried in Iran) in Mashhad.
- Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Amassed by the former Shah and his wife who were avid and ostentatious collectors, the museums collection, conservatively valued at US$2.5 billion, is one of the most important modern and contemporary art collections in the world. It includes collections from Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Jackson Pollock among many others. Much of it remains un-catalogued, officially because it is so numerous but also because it is taboo. No western works have been on display for many years although in late 2013 staff expressed hope that the authorities may grant permission for specific pieces to be displayed as part of a tourist drive. In the meantime art lovers can sigh as they leaf through a reference copy of some of the collection, available for viewing at reception. Nevertheless, the museum warrants a visit for a rare opportunity to explore contemporary Iranian art which although inventive and progressive in its execution, remains nonetheless true to established morals.
- Sadabad. A palace complex where Mohammad-Reza Shah and his family used to live. Some palaces converted to museums now. In Tehran.
- Falak-ol-aflak - Falak-ol-Aflak Castle is among the most important structures built during the Sassanid era.
- Forty Pillar Palace (Chehel Sotoun) literally: “Forty Columns”) is a pavilion in the middle of a park at the far end of a long pool, in Isfahan, Iran, built by Shah Abbas II to be used for his entertainment and receptions. In this palace, Shah Abbas II and his successors would receive dignitaries and ambassadors, either on the terrace or in one of the stately reception halls. The name, meaning "Forty Columns" in Persian, was inspired by the twenty slender wooden columns supporting the entrance pavilion, which, when reflected in the waters of the fountain, are said to appear to be forty.
- Ālī Qāpū (The Royal Palace) - Early 17th century. It is 48 meters high and there are seven floors, each accessible by a difficult spiral staircase. In the sixth floor music room, deep circular niches are found in the walls, having not only aesthetic value, but also acoustic. It is rich in naturalistic wall paintings by Reza Abbassi, the court painter of Shah Abbas I, and his pupils. There are floral, animal, and bird motifs.
Squares and streets
- Naqsh-e Jahan Square also known as shah square or imam square-1602. With two mosques and the bazaar. It is an important historical site, and one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era.
- Vank Cathedral in Isfahan.
- Saint Thaddeus Monastery in West Azerbaijan Province.
- Saint Stepanos Monastery in West Azerbaijan Province.
Parks and gardens
The world heritage listed Persian Gardens; designer paradise gardens of which 9 are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- Meymand (Meimand), Kerman province, Shahr-e-Babak (Persian Gulf high way). Meymand (Maymand, Meimand, Maimand) is a very ancient village located nearby Shahr -e- Babak city in Kerman Province. Maymand is believed to be one humanities earliest remaining places of habitation on the Iranian Plateau and dates back 12,000 years. It is still inhabited by around 150 people, mostly hospitable elderly citizens who live in 410 houses hand hewn into the rocks. 10,000 year old stone engravings surround the village. 6,000 year old potteries relics reveal a long history of the village. Living conditions in Maymand are harsh due to the aridity of the land and to high temperatures in summers and very cold winters. In 2005 Meymand was awarded the Melina Mercury International Prize for the safeguarding and management of cultural landscapes.
Desert trekking and desert excursions
Though the northern part of Iran is covered by dense rain forests called Shomal or the Jungles of Iran. The eastern parts consists mostly of desert basins such as the Dasht-e Kavir, Iran's largest desert, in the north-central portion of the country, and the Dasht-e Lut, in the east, and some salt lakes. There is also the Central desert which as can be understood from its name is located in the central regions. This is because the mountain ranges are too high for rain clouds to reach these regions.
There are a lot of activities that can be done in the desert areas including; desert tracking, camel riding, bicycle riding and 4x4 driving excursions.
- Norouz Eve, The beginning of Iranian New Year and the start of the Spring. On the 20th or 21st of March. It is rooted in the Zoroastrian religion.
- Chahar-shanbe Suri (Wednesday festival) - On the last Wednesday before Nowruz. People set up fires. The traditional festival involves jumping over the fire while saying a specific sentence. Nowadays it involves a lot of firecrackers although the government is against it and police usually disperse the young people's gathering!
- Shab-e Yalda, the last night of autumn, which is the longest night of the year, is celebrated in Iran, and has a history from long ago (Mithraism age). Families have traditional gatherings to communicate and eat the last remaining fresh fruits from summer. They read traditional Persian poems or stories.
- Ashura-Tasua is the most interesting and amazing days for tourists. Shia Muslims believe that Hussein, their popular leader and the grandson of their prophet Muhammad, was killed in the year 61 AH along with his family and 72 Muslims in the so-called battle of Karbala. He fought a king that he believed did not follow the real Islamic values. For Shia Muslims this was a very sad event and a period of intense grief and mourning. Therefore, Iranians throughout the country wear black clothes during the grieving month of Muharram and hoist black flags everywhere. On Ashura people do public carnival-like 'theater plays' in mosques (with horses, sometimes huge fires) in memorial of Husseins sacrifice. So far the city of Yazd is probably the best place to observe Ashura as a large group of volunteers organise several days of 'spiritual tourism': free shuttle buses bring tourists to the sides, catering and English speaking volunteers who explain everything - for free. During that time pretty much everything is closed including shops and tourist sites.
- Golabgiri, of Kashan city near Isfahan. During the spring some people go there to obtain the local rose water. It has very nice smell and many use it in traditional drinks.
There are five ski pistes around Tehran. They are at Dizin, Darbandsar, Tochal and Shemshak.
The longest one is the Dizin piste, this is north of Tehran and reachable during winter by using either Chalous Road or Fasham Road.
The more professional slope is at Shemshak and that is the one used for national and international tournaments.
The ski pistes near Tehran are all normally accessible by road in around 1-2 hr.
Iran has coastline along the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. A popular place for its beaches is Kish Island in the Persian Gulf that men can enjoy it all the year & women are limited to use only covered beaches.
Itineraries that are entirely in Iran:
There are also several for routes that pass through the country:
Exchange rates for Iranian rial
As of January 2023:
The rial, denoted by the symbol "﷼", "IR" or "R" (ISO code: IRR) is the currency of Iran. Wikivoyage articles will use rials to denote the currency.
Coins, which are rarely if ever used, are issued in values of 50, 100, 250, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000 rials. Banknotes are produced in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, and 100,000 rials and banknotes called "Iran Cheques" are produced in denominations of 500,000, 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 rials.
While the official exchange rate in May 2019 was 42,100 rials to US$1, the rate offered on the black market was 150,000 rials to US$1. Be sure to understand the risks of black market trading if you decide to exchange money this way.
In March 2019, the exchange offices at Tehran Airport were offering the best rates in that city: 151,000-153,000 rials for €1; 170,000-173,000 rials for £1; 139,000 rials for US$1 (dollar rate as of 26 Apr 2019) - at the airport, first floor (departures).
Due to the sanctions against Iran, Western credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club do not work in Iran. Using a foreign debit or credit card or checking your account on internet can get the card or account blocked.
All banks were nationalized after the revolution. However, during the past decade, the following private (non-governmental) banks have been founded, which usually provide better service:
Banks are generally open Sa Su M–W 07:30–13:30, and Th 07:30–12:00. Main branches are usually open to 15:00 (closed on Fridays). International airports have a bank open whenever international flights arrive or depart. All banks have boards in English and Persian.
Confusion with the currency is standard for a visitor, not just because of the large numbers but because of the shorthand routinely used. Prices of goods may be verbally communicated or written in toman (تومان) (sometimes denoted "T") instead of in rial. One toman is equal to ten rials. There are no toman notes - prices are quoted as such just as a shortcut. If it is not obvious, be sure to clarify in which currency the price is quoted.
Debit card and ATM
If you get a local ATM card, withdraw your leftover money in cards a few days before leaving Iran to avoid any problem which may be caused by a very rare network failure. ATMs often do not work 00:00–and 01:00 due to a database update. Be alert when using an ATM. Better to use it in not very quiet areas.
ATMs and merchants in Iran generally do not accept foreign (non-Iranian) cards due to the sanctions, so bring all the money you might need in cash, preferably in US dollars or euros. Debit cards and credit cards issued by an Iranian bank are widely accepted in most places, and most of stores and ticket offices have a point-of-sale machine, without any commission. If you don't want to carry a lot of cash, and feel panic about so many zeros in the prices, you can apply for a tourism debit card. Iranian banks cannot issue a debit card or tourism debit card to a foreign without a resident card. You should choose a tourism card company which cooperates with a bank to get a debit card.
- IntravelCard: You can receive your card at Imam Khomeini International Airport or any hotels in any city in Iran. You can convert your euros or dollars in some large cities of Iran, they will send a clerk to your hotel for that. The currency rate is based on the average price of black market which is much better than the official rate.
- Daripay: You can receive your card at Imam Khomeini International Airport or any hotels in Tehran. You can convert your euros or dollars in some large cities of Iran, they will send a clerk to you hotel for that. The currency rate is based on the average price of black market which is much better than the official rate.
- Mah Card: You can receive your card at Imam Khomeini International Airport or any hotels in Tehran. You can only convert your euros or dollars in Tehran, they will send a clerk to you hotel for that. The currency rate is based on the average price of black market which is much better than the official rate.
Another way to avoid carrying a lot of cash is to go to the nearest bank and get a gift card (Kart-e Hadiyeh کارت هدیه). They are exactly like ordinary ATM debit cards, but once they are emptied, they cannot be recharged. However, the two methods mentioned above are more recommended. A list of permitted Iranian banks can be found here[dead link]. Most banks now don't sell gift cards, and foreigners must have a resident card in order to be able to buy them.
There is no surcharge or service fee for purchasing gift cards, and you can withdraw or spend all the money you put on your gift card. Some of the gift cards have no ATM withdrawal feature and are only for use at point-of-sale in shops and stores, so make sure yours will be ATM enabled. There is a 2,000,000 rials daily withdrawal limit for most of the Iranian bank cards; purchasing several card lets you withdraw more money from ATMs per day. Gift cards are usually non-reloadable. Some are pre-loaded with a designated amount but some banks let you load them for your desired amount. As they are anonymous, there is almost no way to report a stolen card and get a duplicate. Always keep passwords and cards in a safe place. Having a couple of used empty cards with passwords written on them may help you in case of being mugged for money! There is no cash-back feature in Iranian points of sale, but in case of an emergency and having no access to ATMs you may ask a shop owner to give you cash-back. They may charge you a bank service fee (1–5%).
Bills in good condition and large bills (US$100 or €100) tend to be preferred at currency exchange offices. Small denominations can be useful for small purchases before you get to an exchange office, although many exchange shops will not exchange small bills. On arrival at Tehran International Airport, the maximum amount that may be exchanged at night is to €50 per person.
The best places to exchange money are the private exchange offices (sarāfi) scattered around most large cities and major tourist centres. Their rates are usually 20% better than the official rate offered by the banks, they are far quicker and don't require any paperwork, and unlike their black market colleagues, they can be traced later on if something goes wrong. Exchange offices can be found in major cities, their opening times are usually Sunday to Thursday from 08:00 to 16:00. Most are closed on Fridays and on holidays. There is little point in risking the use of black market moneychangers who loiter outside of major banks and only offer marginally better rates than the banks.
A list of licensed sarraafis of the whole country, in Persian (Farsi), can be found here[dead link]. This list includes phone numbers, addresses, license numbers and dates.
The most widely-accepted currencies are US dollar and euros. Other major currencies such as the British pound, Australian or Canadian dollars and Japanese yen are accepted at a lot of money changers. Non-major currencies usually cannot be exchanged. US$100 and large euro unfolded notes tend to attract the best exchange rate, and you may be quoted lower rates or turned down for any old or ripped notes or small denomination notes.
Foreign credit cards are only accepted by select stores with foreign bank accounts such as Persian rugs stores but they will almost always charge an additional fee for paying by credit card rather than with cash. Most of these stores will be happy to forward you some cash on your credit card at the same time as your purchase. If you are desperate for cash, you can also try asking these shops to extend you the same favour without buying a rug or souvenir, but expect to pay a fee of around 10%.
Travellers' cheques: Cashing travellers' cheques can be hit-or-miss and it is advised not to rely on travellers' cheques issued by American or European companies.
Prepaid debit cards can be bought at Iranian banks and serve as a good alternative to carrying a large wad of cash around the country. Make sure that the card you buy has ATM withdrawal privileges and be aware of the daily withdrawal limit. The ATM network in Iran is subject to outages so make sure that you withdraw the entire balance well before you leave the country.
Large Iranian banks, like Bank-e Melli-ye Iran (BMI, National Bank of Iran), Bank -e- Sepah, Bank Mellat, Bank-e Saaderaat-e Iran (BSI), Bank-e Paasaargad and Bank-e Saamaan (Saamaan Bank), and Beank-e Paarsiaan all have branches outside the country that can be found at their websites. You can open a bank account abroad before arrival. This might be possible even in some European countries. You can find the addresses of these banks' websites using famous search engines; then you need to click the link to the English section of their sites which is usually shown using the word English or the abbreviation En.
While the shops offer a wide selection of quality goods, local items can be bought in the many bazaars. Purchases include hand-carved, inlaid woodwork, painted and molded copper, carpets, rugs, silks, leather goods, mats, tablecloths, gold, silver, glass, and ceramics. There are restrictions on which items may be taken out of the country and many countries restrict the amount of goods you can bring in due to sanctions.
Bargain ruthlessly when buying handcrafts, rugs or big ticket items and modestly when hailing private taxis. In most other aspects of life prices are fixed.
Tipping is generally not expected, but locals will generally round up the bill in taxis and add around 10% in restaurants. Porters and bellboys will expect 20,000 rials. A discreet gift of a few thousand tomāns may help grease the wheels of Iranian society and serve to thank an extraordinarily helpful local.
You won't be able to escape the government-sanctioned dual pricing system that applies to accommodation and some tourist attractions in Iran; foreigners often pay up to five times the price quoted to locals. However, prices tend to be very reasonable by Western standards.
Due to an extremely volatile exchange rate and high inflation, the prices estimated by many guidebooks and travel agencies are outdated immediately.
The "official" exchange rate is also much worse than the rate you will get in the country, so prices may seem higher than they actually are.
Meal times in Iran vary considerably from those in Europe and the US. Lunch can be served from 12:00-15:00. and dinner is often eaten after 20:00. These and other social occasions in Iran are often long, drawn-out affairs conducted in a relatively relaxed tempo, often involving pastries, fruit and possibly nuts. As it is considered rude to refuse what is served, visitors should accept the items offered, even if they do not intend to consume them.
As in most Muslim-majority countries, pork and pig meat products are illegal, though shops serving the Christian community are allowed to sell pork.
The good news for travellers is that Iranian cuisine is superb. A wide range of influences from Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia, Europe and the Middle East have created a diverse, relatively healthy range of dishes that focus on fresh produce and aromatic herbs. The bad news, however, is that Iranians prefer to eat at home, rather than in restaurants, so decent eateries are scarce and stick to a repetitive selection of dishes (mainly kebabs). An invitation to an Iranian home for dinner will be a definite highlight of your stay. When visiting an Iranian household for the first time or on a special occasion it is customary for Iranians to bring a small gift. Flowers, sweets or pastries are popular gift choices.
Fragrant rice (برنج, berenj) is the staple of Iranian food. Boiled and then steamed, it is often coloured with saffron or flavoured with a variety of spices. When served plain as an accompaniment it is known as chelo (چلو). The two most common meat and chelo combinations are kebab variations (chelo kabāb, چلو کباب) or rotisserie chicken (chelo morgh, چلو مرغ). Flavoured rice, known as polo, is often served as a main course or as an accompaniment to a meat dish. Examples include shirin polo flavoured with orange zest, young cherries and honey glazed carrots, the broad-bean and herb heavy bāghli polo and sabzi polo laced with parsley, dill and mint.
The rice and kebab dish chelo kabāb (چلو کباب) and its half-dozen variations are the most common (and often the only) items on Iranian restaurant menus. A grilled skewer of meat is served on a bed of fluffy rice, and accompanied by an array of condiments. You can add butter, grilled tomatoes and a sour spice known as somāgh to your rice, while some restaurants also provide a raw egg yolk. Raw onion and fresh basil are used to clear your palate between mouthfuls. Variations in kabāb dishes come from the meats they are served with. You will commonly see:
- Kabāb koobideh (كباب كوبيده) - a kebab of minced beef, shredded onion and spices.
- Kabāb barg (كباب برگ) - pieces of lamb sometimes marinated in lemon juice and shredded onion.
- Joojeh kabāb (جوجه كباب) - a skewer of chicken pieces sometimes marinated in lemon juice and saffron.
- Kabāb bakhtiāri (كباب بختیارِی) - great for the indecisive eater, this is a skewer of alternating chicken and lamb pieces.
At home people most often eat rice with a thick stew (khoresht, خورشت) containing a modest amount of meat. There are dozens of khoresht variations such as the sweet and sour fessenjān made from ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, most popular ghormeh-sabzi is based on fresh herbs, dried limes and kidney beans, gheimeh flavoured with split-peas and often garnished with French fries.
Hearty Iranian soups (āsh, آش) are meals in themselves. The most popular is the vegetarian āsh reshteh (آش رشته) made from herbs, chickpeas and thick noodles, and garnished with kashk (which looks like yoghurt but is another thing) and fried onions.
Flat bread (nān, نان) is another pillar of Iranian food. It is served at breakfast with herbs, feta cheese and a variety of jams, or as an accompaniment to meals. Sangak (سنگك) is a dimpled variety cooked on a pebbled oven while lavāsh (لواش) is a thin and bland staple .
There are several good international restaurants which offer Chinese, Japanese, Italian and French food as well as vegetarian menus in Tehran and other major cities.
Fast food and snacks
Most food outlets in Iran are either kabābis or fast food outlets serving a standard fare of burgers, sandwiches, felafels or pizza (پیتزا). As of May 2021, a burger and a soft drink at a regular snack shop will fill you up at lunchtime for around 500,000 rials; pizzas also start at 500,000 rials.
Many teahouses (see Drink below) also serve traditional snacks and light meals. The most common of these is ābgusht (آبگوشت) a hot pot made from lamb, chickpeas and dried limes that is also known as dizi, also the name of the dish in which its served. You will be given a bowl (the dizi) containing the ābgusht and another, smaller one. Drain the broth into the smaller bowl and eat it like a soup with the bread provided. Then pound the remaining meat and vegetables into a paste with the pestle provided and eat with even more bread, pieces of raw onion and wads of fresh herbs.
Sweets and desserts
The never-ending demand for dentists in Iran lies testament to the country's obsession with sweets and pastries, known collectively as shirini (شیرینی).
Iranian baghlava tends to be harder and more crystalline than its Turkish equivalent while the pistachio noughat called gaz (گز) is an Isfahan speciality. Sohan is a rich pistachio brittle popular in Qom, and freshly-baked pastries are often taken as gifts to people's houses. Lavāshak fruit leathers are delicious fruit leathers made from dried plums.
Honey-saffron and pistachio are just two local flavours of ice cream, while fāloodeh (فالوده) is a deliciously refreshing sorbet made from rosewater and vermicelli noodles made from starch, served with lashings of lemon juice.
Given that most travellers are stuck eating kebabs for much of their trip, vegetarians will have a particularly difficult time in Iran. Most snack shops sell falafels (فلافل) and garden salads (sālād-e-fassl, سالاد فصل) and greengrocers are common. Most āsh varieties are meat-free and filling, as are most variations of kookoo (کوکو), the Iranian take on the frittata. Also some restaurants make spaghetti with soya (soy). You can find pizzas like vegetarian pizza (Pitzā Sabzijāt, پیتزا سبزیجات) or cheese pizza (Pitzā Panir, پیتزا پنیر) or mushroom pizza (Pitzā Ghārch, پیتزا قارچ) almost everywhere and Margherita pizza in some restaurants which all are meat-free. Due to the increasing trend of vegetarianism, you may also be able to find some meat-free canned and ready-to-eat foods in grocery stores. The phrases man giaah-khaar hastam (I am vegetarian) and bedoon-e goosht (without meat) will come in handy.
It's a safe bet that most food in Iran is halal (حلال, ḥalāl, halaal) and will conform with Islamic dietary laws as specified in the Qur'an, the exceptions being some shops in districts with large Christian communities. However, those seeking a strict kosher diet may have to concentrate their efforts in the districts with higher numbers of Jewish inhabitants. If in Tehran look in areas such as older parts in the south of the city, like Udlajan or the Yusef Abad neighbourhood.
Black Tea (chāi, چای) is the national drink of Iran. It is served strong and with crystallised or cubed sugar (ghand, قند) which is held artfully between the teeth while tea is sipped through. You can try asking for milk in your tea, but expect nothing but strange looks or a long delay in return. Tea houses (chāi khāneh, چای خانه) are a favourite local haunt for men (and less commonly families) to drink tea and puff away on a water pipe.
Coffee (ghahveh, قهوه) is not as popular as tea and can only be found in big cities. Where available, it is served Turkish style, French coffee or espresso. Imported instant coffee (nescāfe, نسكافه) and instant Cappuccino are available also. Coffee shops (called "coffeeshop" in Persian, versus "ghaveh-khane" (literally, coffee house) which instead means a tea house) are more popular in affluent and young areas.
Herbal waters (araghiat, عرقیات) are widely found in traditional form as well as packaged in bottle. Herbal waters have been traditionally used in different parts of Iran and some places are famous for herbal waters like Shiraz and Kashan.
Fruit juices (āb miveh, آب ميوه) are available from shops and street vendors. Also available are cherry cordial (sharbat ālbāloo, شربت آلبالو) and banana milkshakes (shir moz, شير موز).
Soft drinks are widely available. International products such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and their brand names including 7Up, Sprite and Fanta have sold alongside local brands such as Zam Zam Cola ( زم زم كولا , Zam Zam Kola). The local cola has a taste not unlike "Coca-Cola Original" or "Pepsi Original". Coca-Cola and PepsiCo's concentrates entered Iran via Irish subsidiaries and circumvented the US trade embargoes. Zam Zam was launched in 1954 as a subsidiary of the Pepsi Cola company. As an intriguing outcome of the Iranian cola wars the real coke was generally sold in plastic bottles and the non-genuine coke, using a substitute syrup devised to overcome earlier Clinton-era U.S. embargoes, was distributed in the real thing bottles that the then syrup-less bottler was left stuck with at the time.
Doogh (دوغ) is a sour drink made from yoghurt, salt, and water (sometimes gaseous) and sometimes flavoured with mint or other plants. It takes some getting used to, but will rehydrate you quickly in the heat of Iran's summer. It is the same as Turkish Ayran. It can be purchased at almost any establishment and is often consumed in the afternoon while eating kababs. It comes in two main varieties fizzy (gaz-daar) and non-fizzy (bigaz).
Alcohol is illegal to drink for Muslims, and if seen by police may be met with punishment. Import is strictly banned. Penalties are severe. Therefore, you will rarely find places in Iran that openly sell alcohol – but drinking is common among some people, especially during weddings and other parties, and alcohol is tolerated in a few rural and poorly regulated areas. Registered religious minorities, such as the small Christian and Jewish communities, are allowed to produce small quantities of wine for sacramental use. There is no legal drinking/purchasing age for non-Muslims.
Accommodations in Iran range from luxurious, if a little weary, five star hotels (هتل) in major cities to the small, cheap mosāferkhaneh (مسافرخانه) and mehmānpazir (مهماﻧپذیر) guesthouses that are littered about most centres. Moreover, staff in mosāferkhuneh often are so happy to provide room for non-Iranians, as these facilities have a recommendation from local governments to serve all tourists. For longer stays, villas with all facilities (including central air conditioning, pool and Internet connection) can be rented in Tehran and all other major cities at reasonable prices.
A man and woman cannot share the same hotel room unless they can prove their relationship (as a married couple or siblings). Foreign tourists are usually excepted from this law.
Also, you can find traditional hotels in central Iran including Isfahan, Shiraz and in particular Yazd.
Education is taken extremely seriously in Iran, and is highly valued and accessible.
As a result of the high value placed on education, Iran has a high literacy rate and a large number of highly educated individuals. However, there's a downside to this: there is an oversupply of skilled labor.
Iran has a large network of private, public, and state affiliated universities. State-run universities of Iran are under the direct supervision of Iran's Ministry of Science, Research and Technology[dead link] (for non-medical universities) and Ministry of Health and Medical Education[dead link] (for medical schools).
Employment opportunities remain a highly sensitive matter in Iran. An oversupply of educated labour, insufficient investment in Iran's economy, low salaries, the nature of Iran's government, and the effects of international sanctions against the country have prompted many Iranians to seek opportunities abroad.
Foreigners with special expertise and skills have little difficulty in obtaining permits. Work permits are issued, extended or renewed for a period of one year. In special cases, temporary work permits valid for a maximum period of three months may be issued. An exit permit must be obtained for a stay longer than three months.
The maximum working week is 44 hours, with no more than eight hours any single day unless overtime compensation is provided. Overtime could not exceed four hours per day. Friday is the weekly day of rest. Overtime is payable at 40 per cent above the normal hourly wage. There are allowances for shift work equivalent to 10, 15 or 22.5 per cent of a worker's wage, depending on working shift (e.g. evening, morning and night)
Workers are entitled to public holidays and a paid annual one-month leave. For workers with less than a year of employment, annual leaves are calculated in proportion to the actual length of service. Furthermore, every worker is entitled to take one full month of paid leave or one month of unpaid leave (if no leave is available) once during his or her working life in order to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.
The employment of workers less than 15 years of age is prohibited. Young workers between 15 and 18 years of age must undergo a medical examination by the Social Security Organisation prior to commencing employment. Women are entitled to a 9-month maternity leave.
There is a minimum national wage applicable to each sector of activity fixed by the Supreme Labour Council. Workers and employers have the right to establish guild societies. Collective bargaining is allowed. Membership in the social security system for all employees is compulsory.
To have a valid contract concluded under the law, the following provisions must be included:
- 1. Type of work, vocation or duty that must be undertaken by the worker;
- 2. Basic compensation and supplements thereto;
- 3. Working hours, holidays and leaves;
- 4. Place of performance of duties;
- 5. Probationary period, if any;
- 6. Date of conclusion of contract;
- 7. Duration of employment; and
- 8. Other terms and conditions required may vary according to the nature of employment. An employer may require the employee to be subject to a probationary period. However, the probation time may not exceed one month for unskilled workers and three months for skilled and professional workers. During the probation period, either party may immediately terminate the employment relationship without cause or payment of severance pay. The only caveat being that if the employer terminates the relationship, he must pay the employee for the entire duration of the probation period.
- Iranians are very formal and it will take several meetings before a more personal relationship can be established. This is particularly true for government officials, representatives of state controlled companies and foundations. You will need that relation before being able to get deals.
- Negotiations will be long, detailed and protracted.
- Exchange of gifts is a tradition among private sector business people.
- Proper business attire need not include a tie in Iran and officials of the Islamic Republic are not allowed to wear one. It is still very common for visiting foreigners to do so.
- Women must adhere to the Islamic dress code referred to below. Most officials will not shake hands with a member of the opposite sex, especially in public. It is highly recommended not to create an awkward situation by extending one's hand.
- Along with the social customs, certain additional business etiquette should be realised prior to interaction with Iranian businessmen.
Iran is still a relatively low-crime country, although thefts and muggings occur. Keep your wits about you, and take the usual precautions against pickpockets in crowded bazaars and buses.
Although its strict Islamic moral code is well known, Iranian laws are not as strict as those of Saudi Arabia. Respecting the dozens of unspoken rules and regulations of Iranian life can be a daunting prospect for travellers, but don't be intimidated. As a foreigner you will be given leeway and it doesn't take long to acclimatise yourself.
Perceptions of outsiders
Even though travellers may arrive with the image of a throng chanting "Death to America", the chances of a Westerner facing anti-Western sentiment as a traveller are slim. Even hardline Iranians make a clear distinction between the Western governments they distrust and individual travellers who visit their country. Americans may receive the odd jibe about their government's policies, but usually nothing more serious than that. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid politically-oriented conversations, particularly in taxi cabs. In addition, a few Iranian-Americans have been detained and accused of espionage, as were three American hikers in 2009 who allegedly strayed across into Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan. These kind of incidents are rare, but still the broader implications are worth considering and bearing in mind.
There are a lot of military and other sensitive facilities in Iran. Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited. Any transgression may result in detention and serious criminal charges, including espionage, which can carry the death penalty. Do not photograph any military object, jails, harbours, or telecommunication devices, airports or other objects and facilities which you suspect are military in nature. Be aware that this rule is taken very seriously in Iran.
Female travellers should not encounter any major problems when visiting Iran, as long as they obey the local laws – including those on dressing. You will undoubtedly be the subject of at least some unwanted attention.
If you are married to an Iranian, you are subject to Iranian marital laws: you cannot leave the country unless your (former) husband approves. Divorces that have taken place in other countries are not recognised by Iran.
Relationships with Iranian nationals
Adultery carries the death penalty in Iran.
Relations between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal. The penalty for a Muslim woman being in a relationship with a non-Muslim man is whipping, and the man will receive the death penalty.
If you happen to find romance here (which is highly unlikely), you and your partner should be discreet at all times.
Iran is notorious for its extreme intolerance of the LGBT community and LGBT solidarity. Iran's cultural and legal systems view homosexuality with absolute abhorrence and consider it immoral.
No political party in the country is allowed to support or promote LGBT rights and anti-LGBT vigilante executions are not uncommon.
Iranian dual citizens
If you are an Iranian citizen – being a dual citizen of Iran, being married to an Iranian man, having a non-Iranian parent who was born in Iran, or having an Iranian father – possessing another passport will not exempt you from mandatory military service (applicable to men only) and grant you consular access and protection in the event you get detained or arrested.
If you haven't completed mandatory military service (which normally lasts 21 months), or if you are thought to be a critic of the government, you may not be allowed to leave the country.
The Iranian government, without prior warning, often revokes passports of and restricts the movement of political dissidents. If you are concerned about your safety, it would be better to not go in the first place.
Emergency services are extensive in Iran, and response times are very good.
You might want to call the police in most cases, as they have direct contact with other emergency services, and will probably be the only number with English-speaking operators.
- Local police control centre, ☏ 110.
- Ambulance, ☏ 115.
- Fire and Rescue team, ☏ 125. These numbers are frequently answered by the ambulance or fire crew operating from them; there is little guarantee these men will speak English.
- Ambulance, ☏ 115.
- Rescue and Relief Hotline of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, ☏ 112.
- Road status information, ☏ 141.
Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world; therefore, Iran is prone to earthquakes. Since the whole country is situated on major fault lines, earthquakes regularly occur and they can be destructive. Do not despair though; most of these earthquakes have magnitudes less than four.
Iranian building standards are far below Western building standards, and many buildings are ill-equipped to deal with the aftershocks of a huge earthquake.
If you plan on staying in the country for long, it is strongly recommended that you utilise the following resources:
- A seismic map[dead link] that is updated every 24 hours, maintained by the Iranian Seismological Centre.
- A detailed record of all the earthquakes that have happened, likewise on the IRSC[dead link]
Other safety issues
In particular, the tourist centre of Isfahan has had problems with muggings of foreigners in unlicensed taxis, and fake police making random checks of tourists' passports. Only use official taxis, and never allow 'officials' to make impromptu searches of your belongings.
Iranian traffic is congested and chaotic. Guidelines are lax and rarely followed. Pedestrians are advised to exercise caution when crossing the roads, and even greater care when driving on them – Iranian drivers tend to overtake along pavements (especially moped and motorcycle drivers) and any section of the road where there is space. In general, it is not recommended for inexperienced foreigners to drive in Iran. Watch out for joobs (جوب), the open storm water drains that shoulder every road and are easy to miss when walking in the dark.
Travellers should avoid the southeastern area of Iran, particularly the province of Sistan va Baluchistan. The drug trade thrives based on smuggling heroin from Afghanistan. There is plenty of associated robbery, kidnapping and murder. Some cities, such as Zahedan, Zabol and Mirjaveh are particularly dangerous, while some others are quite safe. Chahbahar, which is close to the Pakistani border, is a very calm and friendly city.
Iran has state-of-the-art medical facilities in all its major cities. However, due to U.S. sanctions, there is a severe shortage of medical supplies, and you may need to be evacuated to another country in order to get satisfactory treatment for more serious cases; ensure that your travel insurance covers this.
Apart from being up to date with your usual travel vaccinations (tetanus, polio, etc.) no special preparation is needed for travel to Iran. For minor ailments, your hotel can contact an English-speaking doctor. In case of serious illness or accident, you can ask to be taken to a hospital with English-speaking staff (such as Milad Hospital, Atiyeh Hospital, Mehrad Hospital, Day Hospital or Khatam ol-Anbia Hospital in Tehran). Make sure that your health insurance covers illness or accident on holidays since free medical service is not available in Iran.
Tap water is safe to drink in most of the country (and especially the cities), although you may find the chalkiness and taste off-putting in some areas (mainly Qom, Yazd, Hormozgan and Boushehr provinces). Bottled mineral water (āb ma'dani) is widely available. Also, on many streets and sites, public water fridges are installed to provide drinking water.
While you may have heard a lot of negative stories about Iran in the media, the reality is that many of the issues the country faces are not as bad as they are made out to be.
In general, Iranians are warm, friendly and generous individuals with a strong interest in foreigners and other cultures.
Iranian culture, like most other Islamic cultures, has a strong tradition of hospitality. Guests are often treated extremely well. On the other hand, there is some insularity; any foreigner may be regarded with suspicion.
In Persian for Mr, Ms they say “Aghaye [name], Khanoome [name]” and out of respect they use plural verbs and pronouns. They often greet by raising hand to shake or/and give a hug which is a common Middle Eastern tradition. And they will tell you: Kheili Khosh Amadid. (Welcome! for greeting.) But if you are a man, do not attempt to shake hands with a woman unless she voluntarily raises her hand. When you greet someone sitting, s/he will stand up.
Perhaps the most visible mark of Iran's Islamic leanings is the conservative dress expected of its citizens. Although normal Western-style clothing is acceptable in private homes, when in public women are required to cover everything but their face, hands and feet. In Tehran and several bigger cities Western clothing and formality is accepted but wearing a hijab may be required in most of rural areas. Women by law must wear a headscarf in public.
The most common uniform consists of a head scarf (roo-sari, روسری) to conceal the head and neck, a formless, knee-length coat known as a manteau (مانتو) and a long dress or pair of pants. In holy sites, you will be expected to dress even more modestly in a chādor, a full-length swathe of black cloth designed to cloak everything but your face from view.
Women are expected to cover their hair and body except the hands and feet. More tolerance tends to be shown towards foreigners over the detail of the dress code than towards Iranian women. However, this does not include leaving one’s hair fully uncovered under any circumstance. "Acceptable" outfits may include a long, loose dress or shirt worn over loose skirt or trousers and a scarf in the summer, and a full-length woollen coat and scarf in the winter (calf-length is acceptable if worn over trousers). All colours and modest designs are acceptable. Even when undertaking sporting activity in public (such as tennis or jogging), the dress code described above must be maintained.
In October 2022, many women choose not to cover their hair, as part of the protest against the brutality of the religious police, repression of women and other issues. If you join in the protest, be aware of the risks and carefully follow the developments.
Men are required to abide by the following dress code: Short-sleeved shirts and t-shirts are acceptable for daily wear. Shorts and three-quarter length trousers are only acceptable on the beach. Dress attire for men is similar to that in Europe. Neckties are better to be avoided when visiting one of the more conservative government bodies, as they are regarded as a sign of imperialism and a reminder of the pro-Western kingdom era by the authorities. It is quite acceptable in the areas outside, though it denotes indifference toward or opposition against state regulations and values. Jogging in tracksuits (not shorts) is acceptable for men.
Iran is routinely regarded as one of the most authoritarian countries in the world. Thousands of Iranians have faced persecution, harassment, and mistreatment by the Islamic government.
Regardless of what opinions you hold, criticism of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, and the government is dangerous and can quickly put you in legal hot water; people have been imprisoned for criticising them.
It is generally advisable to exercise caution and avoid bringing material critical of the Iranian government to Iran.
Those who have fled Iran are more likely to be open to having political discussions.
Greet people of the same sex with a handshake, three kisses or both, but avoid physical contact with people of the opposite sex in public. Wait for them to introduce themselves instead; or just introduce yourself normally. Bowing with a hand over your heart may be seen occasionally. In private, only shake hands with a member of the opposite sex when he or she holds out their hand first.
Tarof (Persian: تعارف ) is a genuine Persian form of civility emphasising both self-deference and social rank. The term encompasses a range of social behaviours, from a man displaying etiquette by opening the door for another person, to a group of colleagues standing on ceremony in front of a door that can permit the entry of only one at time, earnestly imploring the most senior to break the deadlock.
The prevalence of tarof often gives rise to different styles of negotiation than one would see in a European or North American culture. For example, a worker negotiating a salary might begin with a eulogy of the employer, followed by a lengthy bargaining session consisting entirely of indirect, polite language -- both parties are expected to understand the implied topic of discussion. It is quite common for an Iranian worker (even one employed in an Iranian neighbourhood within Europe) to work unpaid for a week or two before the issue of wages is finally broached. Likewise, a shopkeeper may initially refuse to quote a price for an item, suggesting that it is worthless. Tarof obliges the customer to insist on paying, possibly several times, before a shopkeeper finally quotes a price and real negotiation can begin.
Tarof also governs the rules of hospitality: a host is obliged to offer anything a guest might want, and a guest is equally obliged to refuse it. This ritual may repeat itself several times before the host and guest finally determine whether the host's offer and the guest's refusal are real or simply polite. It is possible to ask someone not to tarof (tarof näkonid), but that raises new difficulties, since the request itself might be a devious type of tarof. The best approach to handle Tarof is to be politely direct. Accept or reject as soon as you wish to, and be sure that Iranians will not be offended. Even though Tarof is purely about the art of civility, your engagement in Tarof might enter you into a vicious cycle of hypocrisy that may ruin your entire stay. The exception to this may be with food; as mentioned above, guests are expected to accept food they are offered at dinner, regardless of whether they intend to eat it.
The thumbs up gesture is rude in traditional and rural parts of Iran, almost equivalent to raising the middle finger in Western countries. However, it is becoming more and more acceptable, especially among the youth and in the big cities. Try to accompany it with a smile and you'll be fine.
Hitchhiking is rare in Iran, and the country has a good public transportation system. If you do hitchhike, do not use a thumbs up signal. Instead, hold your hand outstretched, palm downwards and, using a stiff arm, move it up and down below the waist in a motion similar to a British driver hand signaling that he is slowing for a pedestrian crossing. Like in Japan, if you are an obvious occidental you are likely to make rapid and friendly progress. Also, be aware that drivers will generally expect to be paid and, unless you are an expert haggler, hitchhiking will often be more expensive than taking a bus.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Iran during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
Contrary to popular belief, public observance of other religions, except the Baha'i faith and Ahmadiyyah, which are considered heretical, is officially tolerated in Iran.
There is a sizable Christian community, most of whom are ethnic Armenians or Assyrians/Chaldean, and a small Jewish community (which is nevertheless, the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel). In addition to the Abrahamic faiths, there are also significant numbers of Zoroastrians who are basically free to practise their own religion.
Remember that this is an Islamic theocracy — speaking negatively about Islam is illegal and can close many doors for you. Islamic dress codes also apply to non-Muslims.
Religious site etiquette
Some mosques and most holy sites require women to wear a chādor. If you don't have one, a kiosk by the door of the site may provide you with one. Although it's not mandatory, it is recommended for men to wear long-sleeved shirts before entering. The following shows other etiquettes that should be respected in religious premises:
- Do not bring your shoes to prayer areas; it is considered disrespectful. Leave your shoes outside.
- Do not take photographs inside a mosque; many will find it disrespectful.
- Try to avoid mosques on the holy day of Friday as they will usually be packed and busy during Friday prayers.
- Some holy sites are closed to non-Muslims. If you're in doubt, always ask.
- In Zoroastrian fire temples, the innermost sanctum is closed to non-Zoroastrians.
Western music and dancing in public is banned. However, the visitors may notice that even shared taxis openly play the music of their choice. Still, customs may confiscate any music tapes or CDs brought in as some western music is considered un-Islamic, degrading towards women and corrupting for the minds of the youth. However, many Iranian youth have widespread access to all kinds of music. Women are not allowed to sing in public (even the traditional music); they may sing indoors for other women only.
Do not assume that all Iranians dislike the West. The vast majority of Iranians have nothing negative to say about the West and other countries. Only a small handful of people (ardent supporters of the Iranian government) have negative things to say about other countries. Remember that there's a big difference between Iranian people and those in power.
Most Iranians are not Arabs. Referring to Iranians – other than the Arab minority – as "Arabs" may result in puzzled looks.
An Iranian phone number is of the form
+98-XXX-XXX-XXXX where "98" is the country code for Iran, the next 3 digits (or 2 in the case of Tehran and some big cities) is the area code and the remaining 7 digits (eight in the case of Tehran and some big cities) are the "local" part of the subscriber number that can be called from within that particular code area using abbreviated dialing. From other areas within Iran You will need to dial "0" in front of the area code.
Mobile numbers in Iran must always be dialed with all 11 digits (including a "0" prefixing the "9nn" within Iran), no matter where they are being called from. The 9nn is a mobile prefix, not an "area code"; the second and third digits denote the original mobile network assigned.
These are the area codes for major cities: Tehran (021) - Kashan (0361) - Isfahan (031) - Ahwaz (061) - Shiraz (071) - Tabriz (041) - Mashad (051) - Kerman (034) - Gorgan (0171) - Na'in (0323) - Hamadan (081) - Kermanshah (083) - Sari (011)
When making international calls from Iran, the prefix to be dialled prior to country code is 00.
Irancell (MTN), MCI, Iran Taliya, and Rightel offer pre-paid SIM cards for international travelers at a very modest cost. It is possible to buy recharge cards from all newsstands and supermarkets for 20,000 rials. 3G and 4G coverage is very good and services are also available at very low prices, specially at night, for surfing the web or checking your email. With a copy of the information page of your passport and a copy of the page with Iranian visa and entrance seal, you can buy SIM cards and access the internet with GPRS, EDGE, 3G and 4G technologies. SIM cards are available in places like post and government e-services offices (Persian: singular: Daftar-e Pishkhan-e Khadamat-e Dowlat دفتر پیشخوان خدمات دولت; plural: Dafater-e Pishkhan-e Khadamat-e Dowlat دفاتر پیشخوان خدمات دولت), in big shops and at the Imam Khomeini airport.
In September 2016 at IKIA an Irancell SIM card cost 100,000 rials and a 3 Gb Internet plan cost 200,000 rials. Some shops refuse to sell SIM cards to British nationals.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Post Company[dead link] has 209 central post offices which supervise all the 275 urban and 1,153 rural post offices. The company provides many of the internationally available post services. Parcel sending is very cheap and reliable. Bring your items unpacked to the post office. International courier companies such as DHL, Skypak etc. have offices in Tehran and accept documents for foreign destinations.
You can readily access Wi-Fi internet services (depending upon network availability) in many areas, and in all provinces. However, some websites, including Facebook and YouTube, are blocked in Iran.
Iranians commonly use VPNs to get around blocks, even though Iran is among the few countries that ban VPN use.
You can expect to pay 150,000 rials per hour to access a computer and an Internet connection in these places. Despite their name, no food or drinks get served there. Internet speeds range from acceptable in small cities to very good in major ones.
- Bus company. Offices at the terminals in larger cities open daily from early morning until the evening more or less without a break. In smaller cities they may keep smaller or less regular hours.
- Foreign embassies. Consulates and Embassies follow the Iranian working week, closing on Friday and often on one other day of the week, usually Saturday, as well as their own national holidays. However, to make sure on all cases, it is advisable to call first before visiting.
- Government offices. Generally open Sa-W 08:00-14:00. Some offices, especially ministries in Tehran, are closed completely on Thursday and others open only 08:00-11:30 or 12:00. In general, Thursday is not a good day for conducting official business.
- Principal businesses. Open from 09:00-13:00 and 15:00-21:00 weekdays and closed on Fridays. The bazaar and some shops close on Thursday afternoon, too.
- Museums. Each museum has its own visiting hours. It is better to check the timings before visiting.
Hours may change during Ramadan, the month of fasting. During that month, Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink while the sun is in the sky. Restaurants are closed all day, opening at sundown and perhaps remaining open very late. Other businesses may adjust their hours as well.