The “Quirks” of traveling to Iran: Everything you need to know
As a person with a passport from a third world country, I understand the many barriers to traveling. From expensive visa costs to mounds of paperwork to language barriers to currencies you can’t afford to exchange your money into… believe me I GET IT.
But when your barrier to travel stems from a lack of knowledge or fear of the unknown, ask yourself if that’s really a worthy reason not to travel. People told me that the reason they are scared to travel to Iran is because they are scared of the rules; scared of the visa; scared of a lack of safety. So this post aims to quell some of those fears and answer some of your questions.
First things first… the visa
Iran is slowly opening itself up to tourism hence the fact that MOST countries that can get visa on arrival. With the exception of the countries listed below, everyone can get their visa at the airport and the requirements are all the same with the exception of the visa fee.
What you need for visa on arrival:
-A return ticket showing when you will leave Iran
-Proof of accommodation for the first night at least
-Some cash (not rials) for the visa fee (about 100 euros maximum- I paid 70)
- You’ll land and go to the visa counter where they will ask you where you will stay and how long you will stay for. They may ask for proof of both these things (your return ticket and accommodation confirmation) but they did not ask for mine.
- They keep your passport and send you to the bank counter where you can pay your visa fee in euros or dollars. The amount is based on your nationality.
- You head to the travel insurance desk (if you don’t have any that specifically covers you in Iran) and purchase some for 15 euros.
- You head back to the visa counter to retrieve your passport. Depending on how busy they are, you may wait. The entire process took me 17 minutes in total.
After which, you will head to a fairly empty passport control (not many foreign visitors- my plane from Dubai was full of Iranian citizens), get stamped in and go through without problems.
That is right, you don’t need bank account statements, proof of employment, a liter of blood and a pound of flesh like you do when you want to go to the U.S., U.K. or Schengen Zone!!
EASIEST VISA APPLICATION EVER.
Secondly, the dress code…
Men need to wear long sleeves and long trousers. Although I did see men in Shiraz wearing t-shirts, I would play it safe especially if you plan to visit religious sites.
Women need to wear clothing (of any colour) that covers them completely including legs and arms. Clothing should be loose and your hair should be covered.
Long flowing tops over jeans/leggings is fine. Long sleeved dresses are fine. Long jackets over t-shirts and pants are also fine. These are the things I saw Iranian women wearing and who better to take style advice from than the locals?
Although a headscarf is mandatory, it doesn’t need to cover all your hair. In fact, most local women had more hair out the scarf than in! As long as some of your hair is covered, you’ll be fine.
To save yourself embarrassment especially at mosques where people will definitely ask you to keep your scarf on your head, buy a scarf that will stay on your head. If you are heading to a hijab shop, ask for elasticated and stretchy scarves. These are made of a heavier fabric and will stay put for long periods of time without tying it or using pins. Chiffon scarves slide right off the head unless they are tied/ pinned securely which can be very claustrophobic for someone not used to wearing a headscarf. I always prefer to tie my headscarf in a turban style but refrained from doing so in Iran because I wanted to keep my neck unexposed.
You can wear make up, nail polish and sandals. All the local women do and I followed suit with no problems.
Thirdly, this is a country closed off to the world so…
A country without much influence is a country that has retained its culture, cuisine and most importantly, moral values. There is no need to bargain in Iran- you will pay the same price as the locals. They don’t see a point in ripping you off and believe in a fair price for everyone. Iran is clean as everyone believes in cleaning up after themselves. There are no cleaners walking along the streets picking up rubbish in the park after everyone has finished their picnic. They don’t hate tourists- in fact they are THRILLED that you have come to visit them and will help you see as much of their beautiful country as they can. If you don’t know how to do something, where to go, how to eat a dish, they will illustrate with demonstrations, information and examples. They will phone someone who can explain to you in better English than they can even if that person happens to be an 8-year-old boy. This is a nation of people whose humanity has progressed beyond any advancement globalization has brought the rest of the world.
The availability of English is scarce in Shiraz with the vast majority of people not speaking too much of English beyond the basics. You will be able to communicate but it will be slow, there will be misunderstandings and for prices its best to write down the numbers or use a calculator. Be prepared! Also know that most forms of social media (including blogs) are banned and can’t be accessed freely from within Iran (with the exception of Instagram). Iranian citizens do access them via VPNs so if you have one, you’ll be fine.
Speaking of money, Iran is a cash-only society. Owing to international sanctions, they can’t have associations with foreign banks and credit companies. So as a foreigner, you cannot access your personal funds from within Iran. You have to carry with you in cash enough money for all your foreseeable travel expenses. Fortunately, things like mugging, pickpocketing and robbery are non-existent, which helps ease a little of the anxiety of carrying around so much cash. Another tip is to exchange money as you need because Iran is extremely cheap and your money will take you very far; you’d rather go home with dollars or euros than Iranian rials.
Don’t expect things to taste the same, look the same or be the same. Fast food in Iran will taste different to fast food in other parts of the world due to a lack of imported ingredients. The cars are from the late eighties and early nineties- mostly French or Korean- with some car brands you have never heard of. You may not be able to get your preferred brand of cigarettes and I doubt you will be able to find any familiar clothing brands… What you can expect is family run, homey restaurants serving Iranian cuisine, small coffee shops and locally produced goods. Sounds good to me!
Lastly, the accommodation saga…
Will you believe me if I tell you that there are hotels around every corner in Shiraz?
Which is ironic because this is all I could get when I searched online:
Although that did worry me a bit, I stayed at the Karim Khan Hotel which was a good budget option recommended to me by another blogger. If I had found this site earlier, I would’ve probably stayed at the 5 star Shiraz Grand Hotel just to treat myself. I also found this website which has a variety of options. Whatever your budget is, there is something to suit everyone’s accommodation needs in Iran.
Almost everything that everybody ever told me about coming to Iran, turned out to be terrible advice. Most of the media reporting I continue to read about Iran, well, it’s heavily biased at best, and deceivingly inaccurate at worst. On the ground, in a country that has the most remarkable number of attractions for the body and the mind, perhaps the best thing about Iran is this: it’s made me seriously question, or even ignore, everything I’ve ever been told – not just about Iran – but about life, the universe, and everything else.
The truth about visiting Iran is the exact opposite of what is generally reported.
Iran is safe and welcoming. They love all foreign tourists. Iranians love Americans. Iranians respect women. Iran is vibrant, increasingly modern, and ridiculously safe. When travellers visit Iran, even the shortest journey becomes an inspiration to go back home and hold a photographic exhibition, write a novel, poem, or a simple blog post, or, just to continue dreaming about that incredible vacation for years into the future, always longing to return.
Travellers become voluntary ambassadors for Iran, encouraging as many people as possible to visit, dispelling myths, and spreading the stories of their fascinating and life-changing positive experiences.
And those paragraphs, filled with positivity about Iran, will annoy so many people.
Because it’s the truth.