Iran is a large county with so many different cultures and ethnic groups. To have a better understanding of a country you are going to visit, it is better to get acquainted with all the musts and mustn’ts. This article is a complete guide and we provide all the tips you must know before travelling to Iran.
1. So Many Best Times to Travel to Iran
Since Iran is a large company, there is no exact best time to travel to Iran. Surely, every season has its beauty but if you hate crowded places, Nowruz (New Year’s holidays) (March 21 to April fools’ day) is not recommended at all. The south of Iran is a wonderful destination in winters but the rest of the country may not be that great in winters. People mostly come in March, April, and May. October and November are also good times to both enjoy the beauties of fall and also the touristic destinations are not as crowded as in April and May.
Setting a suitable timing to come to Iran, totally depends on your personality. If you are a type of person who loves being with locals and experiencing religious ceremonies and does not care for the jammed religious rituals, Moharram might be a good time (especially on Tasua and Ashura). You can also check other dates in the calendar. But if you prefer to travel in more uncrowded places, we do recommend you to check local holidays before setting your time and not to come on those dates since some of the cities become so crowded. For sure, there so many great things to discover in other months as well.
2. You Need a Visa
Considering the hard process for getting Visa, in 2016 the Visa on Arrival (VOA) made everything so easy. Citizens from 180 countries can apply for VOA for a one-month-visa at international airports of Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz, Isfahan, Urmia, Bandar Abbas, Bushehr, Tabriz, Qeshm, Kerman, Kish, Ahvaz, and Larestan.
Getting Visa on arrival can be easy and quite fast for some countries but maybe a little bit risky and stressful. So what we recommend is applying for Visa before your arrival. In this way, you will pay much less money. The visa application form costs about $5-10 depending on the country, but VOA costs $25-150 for different nationalities. Here is an ultimate guide to getting a Visa in Iran.
People from these countries won’t need a Visa: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Georgia, Malaysia, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela. Things get a little bit complicated for people from Afghanistan, America, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, England, India, Iraq, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, Somalia and Sri Lanka. They can’t get a Visa On Arrival. The bad news for people from Canada, U.K., U.S is that they can only come to Iran with a tour and a tour guide accompanied by everywhere. Citizens of Israel cannot enter Iran at all.
In the article “Directory of Visa Categories” by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you can read about different types of Visas.
3. No more Stamp on Your Passport!
Don’t worry about going to America and Israel with Iran stamp on your passport anymore. The good news is that after entering the international airport, you can ask the authorities to stamp on a separate paper other than your passport. So there is no more being worried about Iran’s stamp on your passport. It is one of the tips you must know before travelling to Iran.
4. Which Airline to Choose?
Mahan and IranAir are two famous Iran airlines which fly overseas. Some other airlines like Pegasus and Ukraine International Airline also fly to Iran with a stop mostly at Kyiv or Istanbul. The good point is that the flights do not land in only Tehran and you can start your journey in Iran from international airports like Isfahan, Shiraz, and Mashhad.
5. Buy a Local Sim Card
Do not forget to buy a local Sim Card with data at the airport. Hamrahe Aval and Irancell are the two famous telecommunication companies in Iran. They offer tourist Sim Cards at international airports. For tourist Sim Cards, you need to register with your passport. To recharge the Sim Card, you can either use Mah Card to pay online or buy credit vouchers from mini-markets or newspaper kiosk and booths.
Almost every hotel and hostel have WiFi but for more comfort while out of those places, we do recommend having data. So you can check each place or word online and easily find the directions using Maps and etc. We DO recommend you using data packages for the internet offered by Irancell and Hamrahe Aval, they are much cheaper than the usual services.
6. Download an Updated VPN
Download a VPN before entering the country. Some websites and social media platforms (like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) are banned and you cannot access them unless you use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). There are different VPNs and time by time, good ones change. Right now, some free ones to suggest are Unseen Online or psiphon3 for androids and SetupVPN as an extension for chrome for windows. There also some paid VPNs that cost around $1 per month. Make sure to download the VPN before your arrival, because almost all the websites for downloading VPNs are banned in Iran.
7. Your Insurance MUST Cover Iran
Unfortunately, some of the well-known insurance companies do not cover Iran. So be careful that the insurance you buy, covers Iran. Note that the insurance company must mention the Islamic Republic of Iran and general mentionings like Asia or etc. are not accepted and you must buy another insurance at the airport (which costs around $ 16). Some insurances also cover Iran but not all provinces. Some provinces like Kurdistan and Sistan & Baluchestan may not be covered. Bear in mind that tourists almost go to these places and confront no problem but it is good to be aware of it.
Bear in mind that having travel insurance is a must to get your visa issued. So either buy it before your arrival or buy form the airport insurance booth.
By the way, if you are an adventure seeker who looks for cultural diversities to find and attend some trekking and hiking in off-the-beaten-paths (for example if you are lucky enough to attend Kuch Tour 😉 ), be careful that some basic plans of insurances do not cover trekking and hiking and you should buy higher plans.
8. Bring Cash or Order a Mah Card
Since any foreign credit card is not accepted at ATMs in Iran, you should either bring all the cash you need or order a Mah Card.
If you choose to have cash with you, it is better to have USD; Euro and English Pond are also accepted. Be careful with the exchange rate, there are two exchange rates in Iran which have big difference. Iran Central Bank rate is the official rate but it is so low. Official exchange is 42,000 Rials for $1 (you can check updated official bank rates here). Open Market Rate is about 2 to 3 times more than the Iran Central Rate. Right now (September. 2019) it is 11,550 Rials for $1 (you can check the updated rate on bonbast.com). If you sell your money to the exchange booth, you will get the equivalent open market rate. Remember that there are two banks at Imam Khomeini International Airport open 24/7 in Tehran to buy currency with the open market rate.
If you prefer not carrying loads of cash with you, there is another option. With a €19 fee you can order a Mah Card before your travel and they will deliver the card to your hotel or any address. They take your cash in a foreign currency and convert it to Rials and you can take Rials with Mah Card from any ATM in Iran. Good news is that there are no ATM fees for using Mah Card. But for online purchases, they rate a 7% commission.
Iran Nomad Tours have a discount for Mah Card and you can use this code for ordering a cheaper card:
9. Don’t miss Traditional Guesthouses and Ecolodges
The recent trend in Iran tourism is the traditional houses where tourists can feel quite different. Houses at which you feel passed through time and get to an era which everything was much simpler and kind of more authentic. The good point about focusing on old houses is preserving the local community and cultural diversity. If you are into experiencing local lives, these houses can be a good and easy-to-find option for you.
10. Don’t mistake Iranians for Arabs
Iranians are Persian, not Arabs. There are so many people around the world that mistake Iranians for Arabs. It is not true at all and Zoroastrianism is the ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iran. Although Persian has Arabic letters, it is a whole other language.
11. Weekends in Iran
Weekends in Iran are not Saturday and Sunday. The official weekend in Iran is Friday. Some of the offices are also closed on Tuesdays, while others are open until noon. A few International companies’ weekends are like Europe are off on Saturdays and Sundays.
12. Be Careful about Dress Codes
Dress Codes are pretty important in Iran. Women must wear Hijab in public which entails covering hair, hands and legs. Women typically wear a scarf and long dresses or overcoats called Manteau. If you had a problem finding similar things in your country, no worries, you can find pretty ones with reasonable prices in Iran.
Men can wear short-sleeved shirts but must have long pants. Remember to consider the dress codes even on your arrival at the airport.
13. Women Must Wear Chador in Certain Places
Women must wear Chador for entering a few holy shrines and mosques. Considering buying a chador? No need to. Each mosque and holy shrine which asks women to wear Chador provide some Chadors for women who don’t have Chador with.
14. Avoid Displaying Affection in Public
Since Islam is the official state religion in Iran, do not display your affection to your significant other in public. Of course, holding hands and a goodbye kiss on a chick or goodbye hugs are not considered weird, but displaying affection in public is not common.
15. NO Shaking Hands with Every Opposite Sex
Well, it might be a little bit confusing but there are different types of beliefs and attitudes among Iranians. But remember that shaking hands and any kind of touching with theopposite sex is banned among religious people. So if you want to respect others beliefs, first understand if they are religious or not and then shake hand with the opposite sex.
16. Thumbs up is Considered Impolite
Despite other places, thumbs up in Iran mean like the middle finger. Not all Iranians consider it rude and most of the people are aware that in Europe and America, thumbs up means Ok; still, it is better to show your approval someway else.
17. No Shoes in Houses and Mosques
Iranians mostly take off their shoes when entering houses and mosques. So, it is better to be careful about where you are entering and take your shoes off when everybody else does the same. It is not that all Iranians take off shoes entering houses, but most of the people do so.
18. Blowing your Nose in Public is Considered Gross
Unlike other cultures, blowing your nose is considered so gross in Iran. So, if you have to blow your nose, it’s better to go to a bathroom.
19. Alcohol is Illegal
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic establishment, the alcohol has been illegal in Iran though wine has a prominent role in ancient Persian culture. So alcohol won’t be served at hotels, restaurants or cafes. Due to the prohibition of alcohol, there are plenty of options in the black market. But we do warn you about that because there are so many fake alcohols like methanol and isopropanol that cause serious health problems.
20. No Knives on Tables
Well, Iranians mostly eat with spoon and fork and using a knife is not that common except in luxury restaurants or while serving Steak. If you can’t get along with not having a fork at the table, just kindly ask for one, they are quite understanding about it.
21. The Common Hot Drink is Tea, NOT Coffee
It is not that you cannot have coffee in Iran, but you can find tea everywhere. Actually Persian tea is a must-try. It has different flavours like cinnamon, rose, mint, ginger, lemon, etc. Do not also miss out on traditional herbal drinks called “Dam Noush”. By the way, you can, of course, find coffee at hotels, hostels, and cafes. But you cannot find good coffee everywhere. If you are too sensitive about having good coffee every day, we suggest you take some instant coffee powder from your home country. If you are not a fan of instant coffee, it is better to have your French press along with your coffee powder.
22. Being a Vegetarian in Iran?
Iran might be quite famous for Kebabs which may not seem so pleasant for vegetarians. But if you are a vegetarian, it is better to know that they are still good yet limited options for you with eggplant, lentil, etc. Do not miss trying Kashke Bademjan, Mirza Ghasemi, Adasi, Kuku Sabzi and some types of Ash.
23. Rial or Toman? Which one Finally?
Rial is the official currency. But locals use Tomans for their calculations. 1 Toman is equivalent to 10 Rials. The newest news is that Iran has officially announced Toman as the new currency and it has come into effect but the legal process and changing the bills take at least 2 years.
24. Iranians do not Hate any Nationality
There are so many political issues between Iran and some other countries. Even some nationalities like Americans think that Iranians may hate them. It may sound unbelievable but Iranians honestly do not hate any nationality and when it comes to tourists, they are so hospitable and friendly regardless of their nationality.
25. Asking for your Passport from the Hotel Receptionist is Common
If the reception asks for your passport, there is nothing to worry about it; they will give it back to you when you check out. It is better to have a copy of your passport in case you need it anywhere else.
26. Get Prepared for the Squat Toilet
An important tip you must know before travelling to Iran is that Iranians often use squat toilets. Well, maybe it is not the time “saying goodbye to flush toilet” but definitely time to say “you won’t be able to find flush toilet everywhere in Iran”. Most of the hotels and traditional guesthouses have a flush toilet and you can find it at some cafes and restaurants, but public toilets are a squat toilet. If you are too sensitive about this and can only use a flush toilet, you should probably check with the hotel you are going, to see if they have a flush toilet or not. No worries, they mostly have.
Or, maybe it is the time to give it a shot. It is not that difficult to use. Here is a guide for how to use a squat toilet. Bear in mind that you may not find toilet paper in every public place. So if concerned, take some toilet paper with you. You can find toilet paper in every mini-market in cities.
27. Don’t Throw Toilet Paper in the Toilet
In Iran, you should always throw your toilet paper in the basket, not in the toilet. Since the sewage system in Iran is not designed to flush toilet paper, you must throw the paper in the basket. It is a must-know tip you must know before travelling to Iran.
28. Tap Water is Totally Safe
In Iran, Tap water is totally safe and people often drink tap water. So you can easily fill your reusable bottle with tap water, and won’t need to buy water everywhere you go.
29. Be Careful when Crossing the Road
Unfortunately, driving in Iran is not good at all. So it is better to be careful about it. So, do not expect that everybody will obey the rules and look around when crossing the roads.
30. Transportations; Getting Around Iran
Public transportation is pretty common in Iran. Tehran and Mashhad have metro and you can buy one-way or two-way tickets or a metro card. If you are going to travel a lot by metro, it is better to get a metro card and charge it once in a while; it is also a bit cheaper than the tickets. Each trip will cost you about 8000-12000 Rials according to the distance. Besides, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) is another option for your transportation in Tehran. You can use the metro cards for BRTs as well.
One unusual thing about taxis in Iran is that shared taxis are pretty popular and there are taxi stations in different parts of the city for taking a shared taxi. You can also get on a shared taxi in almost every place. Maybe the taxi driver asks you in Persian “Dar Bast?” which means “Do you want private taxi?”. If you are in a hurry, you can say yes and get on the taxi, it costs from 150,000 to 60,000 Rials or even more for long distances. Be aware that other cars (like Pride & Peugeot) rather than the yellow taxis will also take for rides.
What we recommend you is installing a ride-hailing application on your phone which you can choose your current and destination location and a driver will accept your ride. Within a 2 to a maximum of 10 minutes, the driver is at your location to pick you up. Since you choose the destination before the ride, the driver will know how to get there and you won’t be worrying about how to tell the driver where to go. It is much easier and also cheaper. There are a number of ride-hailing applications like Snapp and Tap30. But remember that you cannot use it in every city you go to. Snapp is available in 130 cities of Iran and Tap30 is available in some main cities.
There are much cheaper than private taxis. Don’t forget to have the internet on your Sim Card to be able to use these applications anywhere. If you have an android, you can download Snapp and Tap30 via Play Store. But if you have an iPhone smartphone, you can not download it via App Store and you should download Snapp and Tap30 directly from the website (No worries, we have linked to Play Store and website). Private rides with these applications will cost around $1-4 and if you ask for a very long ride it may reach to $10.
31. Different Sections for Woman and Men in Buses & Metros
Women section in BRT (-Bus Rapid Transit- long red ones) busses are in front. But in usual buses, women seat in the back. While the first and last cabin of the metro is female-only. Remember that women can enter to men section in metros but if it is so crowded and you are an alone woman travelling, you will feel more comfortable in the women-only section.
32. Give VIP Busses a Chance
Travelling between cities with buses is pretty common in Iran and is remarkably safer than cars. VIP buses are pretty comfortable and the price is reasonable ($2-12) too. In long distances, tourists go on a VIP bus at night to sleep the night in the bus and enjoy the day in the city.
33. Get Prepared for the Traffic
Traffic in Tehran and some other big cities is something common. You must prepare yourself not to get mad about it. You can also set timings in which you confront minimum traffic. It is good to know that in the morning 7-10 a.m is the school and work start time and in the afternoon between 4 to 7 p.m. is work and school end time. So it is when you confront the maximum traffic. Accordingly, it’s better to manage a plan in which you’d be confronting the minimum traffic.
34. Have a Translation App on your Phone
The good point about locals is that finding people who know English in Iran is pretty easy, but for sure having google translate or any app on your phone can be quite helpful and you may not need a translator with you.
35. Get acquainted with Ta’arof Concept
There is this hospitality trait among Iranians who refuse being paid or gotten back for their service. They may say that you can have it for free or anything like that. Remember that they may be so kind or even they mean it but mostly they are trying to be polite and they do not mean. Got a little bit confused? Well, you must be. But NO worries. In case they offer anything for free to you, try for two to three times to insist, hopefully, you get the chance to pay and pass the Ta’arof process. For a better understanding, you can check this YouTube video:
36. Last but not least: IRAN IS SAFE
Despite all the media orientation to showcase Iran as an unsafe country, things are quite safe. There are so many travellers coming each year to Iran, you can ask for their experience and see how they see Iran. For having a more peaceful mind, it’s better to watch Drew Binsky’s video:
Lonely Planet also puts Iran safety this way:
Iran is generally a very safe place to travel, so much so that many travellers describe it as the ‘safest country I’ve ever been to’, or ‘much safer than travelling in Europe’. Violent crime against foreigners is extremely rare and, indeed, if you do your best to fit in with local customs, you are unlikely to be treated with anything but courtesy and friendliness – that applies to Americans, too.Dangers and Anooyances section in Lonely Planet
We at Iran Nomad Tours try our best to provide all necessary information for travelling to Iran. We would be happy to hear your ideas and experiences. If you have any question in mind, please let us know.