How to Travel in Iran

How to Travel in Iran

Traveling in an Islamic Republic can be challenging (especially for women) and confronting for Western tourists which often leads to people traveling in an organized tour group.

Here are our tips for successfully navigating your way through the Islamic Republic of Iran as independent travelers.

 

Planning

Planning a trip to a destination like Iran can take quite a bit of work and we would recommend:

  • Giving yourself a few months to plan
  • Reading travel blogs 
  • Connecting via social media with groups in Iran
  • DO NOT believe everything you hear or see in the media, check with various sources
  • DO check your Government’s travel recommendations
  • Use travel sites like Trip Advisor to find contacts and then email directly
  • Keep a copy of all your correspondence (electronically and printed)
  • Book your accommodation for your first night before you arrive, this may help with entry into the country
  • Ask your hosts and contacts for instructions and directions to accommodation in Farsi, print and take a copy with you
  • Get A VPN on electronic devices
  • Budget carefully and have some spare cash for emergencies
  • Learn a few words in Farsi- hello, please, thank you, how much does it cost?
  • Add an app for translating to your phone

Our favorite travel blog for planning and information about Iran is here.

 

Getting There

You might imagine that getting to Iran is difficult but it’s not. Getting to Iran is as easy as flying to anywhere else in the world.

We used Skyscanner  to book our flights, as we do for most flights.

FarecompareExpedia and other search engines also offer flights.

We flew into Shiraz in southern Iran with FlyDubai, a budget airline subsidiary of Emirates, as we were transiting through the UAE from the Maldives. 

We flew out of Tehran to Istanbul with Pegasus Airlines,  a budget airline subsidiary of Turkish Airlines.

 

Tourist Visa

When we traveled to Iran in January 2017 we were unable to apply for a tourist visa on line. It appears that this has now changed and you can apply for an application reference number on the Islamic Republic of Iran Foreign Ministry website here.

This site has English and Farsi options available.

(NB: we have not used this process and would welcome any feedback you have about it, for our future travels and to update this page. Thanks)

Traveling with Australian passports, we were able to get a visa on arrival at the airport in Shiraz, which cost us €290 each and took very little time.

It is best to check with your Government about travel in Iran before booking your trip and also check travel restrictions on the Iranian government website here.

At the time we traveled the Australian Government travel website did not recommend non essential travel to Iran, which admittedly (and obviously) we ignored.

For example when we traveled, those with UK or USA passports had travel restrictions which we did not.

Also note the Iranian visa in our Australian passports has led to some questions being asked by Border Authority Officials in subsequent countries where we have traveled. It is always best to be honest when questioned, we simply say it was a wonderful cultural experience and holiday. We have not had a problem.

 

Money

Due to sanctions on international banking and money transfers you cannot use your credit card, debit card or other banking (e.g. online money transfers) in Iran. You also cannot obtain Iranian currency, Rial, outside the country.

This is a weird and confronting situation for travelers who are used to the ease of “plastic”, but also we are attuned to not carrying large amounts of cash when traveling for safety reasons.

Our tips:
  • Plan your budget carefully before arrival
  • Book and pay for as much as you can before you arrive; this can be difficult and time consuming but it is worth the effort
  • Have an amount set aside for emergencies
  • Once in the country divide your cash up, we kept some in our suitcase and each of us carried some cash
  • Know how much accommodation is going to cost
  • Be prepared for the zeros, for instance $1 AUD = 24,660 Rials!
  • Do some research into the currency i.e Rial and Toman (see below)

The “toman" is no longer an official unit of Iranian currency, however Iranians commonly express amounts of money and prices of goods in "tomans".

For this purpose, one "toman" equals 10 rials.

You will see prices written in Rial but the seller will quote say “that is X Toman”. It is very confusing, so take your time and ask the seller to explain it in both Toman and Rial. We did this and most people were very helpful.

Wikipedia has more useful information about Iranian currency including the Toman, Rial and denominations here.

 

Budget

We budgeted $100 USD per day for two of us, which included:

  • Accommodation-$50
  • Food-$20
  • Entry into sites-$15
  • Transport-$15

We traveled in Iran for 10 days, so that meant $1000 USD.

We did however exchange $2000 USD when we arrived, just in case.

Be sure to exchange your left over Rial at the airport before leaving as you CAN NOT exchange Rial anywhere once outside Iran.

We have just recently found $6,000,000 Rial stashed safely in one of our suitcases, oops!  At least we can say we are millionaires in one currency.

$100 USD per day was enough for 2 people if you chose to stay in low cost accommodation, such as traditional houses or hostels, however we did end up spending $1200 all up, so we recommend you have a safety buffer.

Hotels can be quite expensive compared to home style accommodation.

Breakfast was included in the accommodation costs and we did not spend anywhere near $20 USD on lunch and dinner.

For lunch we grabbed as we were site seeing, from a street stall or kebab shop.

For dinner, we visited a restaurant or ate at the Traditional Houses, a great opportunity to try traditional home cooked Persian  food.

 

Accommodation

Airbnb and sites like it do not operate in Iran due to sanctions and legislative restrictions.

1`However new sites are popping up all the time as more people are interested in travel. Since we traveled in January 2017 a number of sites have appeared including:

Book Hotel Iran

Iran Travelling Centre

Orient Stay

We have not used these sites and welcome any feedback you have about them, please leave a comment or send us an email so that we can update this article.

We booked our first 3 nights accommodation by direct email with the host, which we found on Trip Advisor.

Once we were in Iran, we found that we could book online using either Trip Advisor to find a place and then contacting by direct email, or asking where we were staying for a recommendation.

In Tehran we stayed in hostel accommodation provided by the See You in Iran group. The See You in Iran group are a collective of artists, travelers and students in Tehran. We would recommend becoming a member of this group for tips about Iran, but also to make some contacts before you go. It is a member only group and you will need to request to be admitted to the group; simply explain that you are traveling to Iran and you will be accepted.

 

Getting Around

Iran has an extensive road network and it is possible to hire a car but the traffic in the cities is incredible and we certainly were not game enough to test our driving skills whilst there.

The public transport network is extensive and reliable, with buses being the quickest, easiest and cheapest option between most destinations.

The buses are modern and comfortable with air conditioning, lots of leg room and you will be provided with a snack box for longer trips. On our trips, the snack box consisted of fruit juice, a cake and sweet biscuits.

On longer trips there are usually road side stops where you can purchase food and drinks. Locals often got a hot meal, like a kebab box and brought it back on the bus at these stops.

It was easy to get information about the buses from our chosen accomodation. In Shiraz they phoned ahead for us and told us how much to expect to pay.

You should pay no more than $10 USD for a bus ticket and most of the time $6 USD was enough.

Tickets are purchased on the bus.

We found the Iran traveling website helpful for information about transport options in Iran.

In each destination we found that at least one person spoke enough English to understand where we wanted to go, would take us directly to the bus and ensure that our luggage was stowed and we had a seat. We did not tip on buses and it appeared not to be expected.

The bus timetables appeared to be quite flexible, with buses often leaving earlier than scheduled, however there were usually multiple buses per day between major destinations so it was not much of an issue for us.

The overnight train from Yazd to Tehran was a comfortable, safe and economic way to travel and we saved on a nights accommodation. We booked a 4 berth cabin for 2 of us via the Iran Rail website. This site has great information about train travel in Iran but when booking, be aware that the booking page is in Farsi which can be challenging. As always, it may help to ask at your accommodation for some assistance.

We booked this trip about a week in advance with no issues.

We did however encounter a minor issue when collecting the tickets. We had a digital copy of the receipt and confirmation which, as instructed we presented at the ticket counter, where the man at the desk requested money to print the ticket. After a number of refusals from us, he handed over the printed and stamped ticket. Our advice in this situation is to firmly but politely insist that you have paid the fare, show the digital receipt and wait. Had this gone on for any longer, we would have approached the security officers and requested assistance.

Note it is advisable to take your own food and water on the train, but as with the bus, you will be offered tea and a snack pack on board.

Taxis were a cheap option when traveling within cities, from bus or train station to accommodation, but the drivers had limited English and we found it difficult to communicate where we wanted to go and what the price would be. Interestingly we found that communication was easier in Shiraz than in Tehran, with more drivers speaking English in that city.

 

A 10 day Itinerary to see ancient historical, cultural and religious sites

3 days- Shiraz (including 1 day in Persepolis, Necropolis, Pasagardae)
3 days Esfahan
2 days Yadz
2 days Tehran

See our Travel Tales for our experiences.

 

Food and Drink

Alcohol is banned in Iran and whilst we read that you may be able to access alcohol in private homes, we simply didn't bother.

The tap water in Iran is drinkable and tastes fine however we did find that our accommodation provided bottled water in Shiraz.

As we chose to stay in hostel or traditional home style accommodation, breakfast was included in the overnight price. 

Most days for lunch we grabbed a bite to eat whilst we were out site seeing. This is low cost, usually less than $2 USD each and very tasty.

We spoilt ourselves for dinners in Iran and ate out in a restaurant every night. We normally try to save money by cooking ourselves, but as this was our first time in the Middle East, it was easier and as prices were so cheap, we doubt you could do it cheaper anyway.

 

Customs

Iran is an Islamic Republic and enforces strict dress and behavior codes in line with that culture.

As always when traveling ensure that you are respectful of the people and their beliefs; take your cues from the local people around you and there will be few if any problems.

We have all read the horror stories about police enforcing dress and behavior codes but that was not our experience.

For men:

  • Long pants
  • Polo style shirts
  • Socks for visiting the mosque as you will need to remove your shoes.

For women:

  • Loose fitting clothes
  • Shirts to cover to wrists
  • Pants to cover to ankles
  • Head scarf when in public

When visiting religious sites women will need to wear the Chador, full body covering. These were provided at the site and as you will need to remove your shoes, take or wear socks.

Women and men do not touch casual acquaintances i.e. shake hands on greeting in general but we found that this varied, depending on where we were. For example in Isfahan many of the traders in the market shook both of our hands.

We had been informed that couples do not show affection to each other in public and as a rule this true. However in Isfahan and Tehran we observed many couples out strolling in the evenings holding hands and did likewise whilst we were there, this was not the case in more conservative Shiraz or Yazd.

 

Technology in Iran

We are all reliant on technology now and more than ever when we travel we use our phones, tablets and laptops to stay in touch with family, plan next steps, make bookings and check out what to do in our current locations.

We are also international news and politics junkies, so it is a must that we have an internet connection to read the paper before getting out of bed.

To communicate with friends and family whilst traveling we use:

  • Facebook Messenger
  • Whats App
  • Email
  • Facebook

Strictly speaking VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are not legal in Iran, however we were advised to have a VPN on our devices before traveling, which we did.

It worked very well and we were able to send email and share photos on Facebook, as well as read whichever website we chose.

We found the internet speeds to be a little slow in some places and did not attempt video or voice calls as we normally would.

Naturally when you travel with all this stuff you need chargers, Iran uses the European style plug. We travel with a power board and one travel adaptor to save room.

 

Travel Insurance

Always have appropriate travel insurance BEFORE you travel and check that is covers you for travel in Iran. We used World Nomads.

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