20 things to know before going to Iran
Iran was one of the more exhausting countries to pre-plan a trip to. I was utterly confused in the beginning when applying for my visa. I read up everyday for weeks on the requirements, made countless failed attempts to the embassies in Turkey, and basically read more than 30 websites on how to obtain a visa. It was truly a hassle, indeed. But once that’s out of the way, it’s truly an enjoyable country to be in. People are beautiful and kind, the architecture of buildings are phenomenal and there’s so much culture to soak in. Hence, I’ve come up with a helpful list of things to know before heading to ~Persia~:
1. First off, there is NO need to take a passport photo wearing a hijab (for girls). A regular photo covering your shoulders would be sufficient.
2. As stated by the government, US, Canadian and UK citizens require a guide (both private or group) while traveling in Iran. Independent travel is not allowed, although I have met independent travellers from US traveling with their Ukrainian passports.
3. Applying for a visa in your home country is ideal and an easier procedure. For travellers that are currently on the road, applying for visas from Turkey is another common option.
4. If you know somebody in Iran, all the better. Obtain a letter of invitation and the visa should be free and less of a hassle to apply for.
5. Depending on your nationality, things like visa fees, procedures and requirements will differ. These also changes quite often so check for the MOST recently updated websites/blogs when researching.
6. The websites or agents providing online applications of visas are either a)not working b)really expensive c)frauds/fake d)takes too much time. It’s better to get the visa at the embassy.
If traveling overland through Turkey:
7. Don’t bother queueing up at the Iranian embassy in Istanbul for enquiries. Why? It’s extremely crowded and the queue could take hours, not just for application submission, but even if its for a mere enquiry. At the end of the day, you wouldn’t get much information out of them as you would from the internet.
8. The risky way is to apply it in Trabzon, Turkey, which some people have said takes 1 working day. Many might re-consider making the trip all the way to East Turkey just for a visa, but if it’s a success, crossing overland will be a breeze. But remember, factors like time taken and costs will still depend on one’s nationality and immigration rules at the moment.
9. The smart but long way (recommended for people who are traveling with no time constraint) is to apply for the visa in Georgia. Might as well stop by and hang out by the coast of the Black Sea during the boring visa application process. Once obtaining the visa, it’s easy. There are buses and trains to Iran from Georgia through Armenia, entering from Tabriz and further into Tehran.
10. The lazy but fast and (more expensive) way is to fly. It depends on luck to score cheap tickets from Air Pegasus, or the more costly alternative of flying with Turkish Airlines.
If traveling by air:
11. Iran offers visa on arrival to certain countries, which was the option I took. But visa fees aren’t necessarily fixed. As a Singaporean, I had to pay €60 for a 15 day visa which wasn’t the best value, but hey, I’ve spent a month of researching and fruitless attempts to obtain a visa for overland travel. So landing at the airport was the last resort and by that time it was practically a ‘take-my-money-and-let-me-in’ situation. However, visa on arrivals only allows a 2 week stay as opposed to a 30 day visa if applied beforehand. And Iran is big with lots of places to see so ideally this should be the last resort.
12. Having any evidence in your passport that you’ve travelled to Israel will risk entry into Iran. Plan properly beforehand and make sure to get any Israel/Jordan border stamps on a separate immigration form, or use an alternative passport if your home country issues multiple passports.
13. As a female, it was necessary to cover my head with a scarf as I travelled around and my shoulders and knees had to be covered at all times. At some hostels, even going around from the common bathroom to the dorms had that rule, so I practically had to wrap my towel over my wet hair while walking around. It depends on how strict the guesthouse owners are.
14. Males should always have their knees covered, and avoid offering a handshake to local women as it’s not in their culture to come into physical contact with the opposite gender.
15. Public buses have gender segregated sections.In larger buses, women generally occupy the rear section, while in small buses, seats in the front section are meant for ladies. There is a metal bar separating both sections between men and women. After paying for a ticket, make sure to check where people are seated to avoid sitting in the wrong section
16. Couchsurf if you can. Many young people, especially in Tehran are very accepting of travellers visiting their country and will open up their homes warmly. It’s also the best way to get to know the country!
17. Consumption of alcohol is illegal. Although it can be found on the blackmarket at exorbitant prices, if caught it could also land your sorry butt in jail
18. Certain social media platforms are banned. It’s highly recommended to download a proxy firewall software or application on laptops or smart phones beforehand to be able to access facebook or other sites. Somedays, google doesn’t even work too well! However, if shunning social media is the objective, inform your loved ones beforehand so they don’t think you’ve gone off the radar!
19. The currency CAN get confusing! Iranian currency consists of Riaals and Tomans. 1 toman = 10 rials. Double check what currency it is before paying for anything
20. Last but not least, when accepting dinner invitations into locals homes,be sure to take note of the culturally different etiquettes. It will certainly be a highlight of your visit to Iran.
موفق باشید (Good luck!)