A report on crossing overland at the Armenia Iran border crossing of Agarak/Norduz, and getting to Jolfa and Tabriz afterwards. Includes what you need to prepare ahead of time, transport information to and from the border, and prices.
Crossing the border from Armenia to Iran via the Agarak/Norduz crossing was relatively relaxed, compared to reports we’ve heard for other borders. The only (small) issues are that the crossing is a bit time consuming, and there is no public transport that can take you all the way across the border and on to the next city if you’re leaving from Meghri or Kapan.
Before you go
Ensure that you have your Iranian visa organized ahead of time. Visas on arrival are only issued at airports, not at land border crossings. Also ensure that you have your US dollars/Iranian rials ready for your entire trip, as there are no international ATMs in Iran at the time of writing.
Ladies, make sure to be dressed modestly. That means:
- Closed shoes
- Long pants
- A shirt/dress/tunic/something that is loose-fitting and covers at least your butt
- Definitely absolutely no short sleeves or tank tops
- Bring your headscarf, and be prepared to put it on before entering Iran. You can show a bit of hair, just make sure it won’t fall off while you’re crossing!
Lastly, don’t take any pictures at the border crossing. This area is very sensitive, as there has been a lot of violence along the border areas due to the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. You’re not in danger, but they will be more suspicious of people with cameras than usual. Don’t try your luck.
Getting to Agarak and the Armenia Iran border crossing
We headed to Agarak from Meghri, the closest “major” town near the Armenian-Iranian border. There are no marshrutky or buses that go to the border from Meghri, so you’ll have to take a taxi. It’s a 15-minute drive, and we paid 2,000 AMD for two people. You might be able to get a ride for a bit less if you bargain harder, though the Lonely Planet quoted 4,000 AMD for the ride… so who knows?
Leaving Armenia was a more irritating process than entering Iran. The border station waiting area is filled with people lolling about doing nothing in particular, and the people “working” the desks were not much better.
After waiting for someone to show up to run our backpacks through the x-ray machine, we headed to the passport control desks, where there were several young girls and a boy hanging around outside of the booths. After blocking the gate and staring at us nonchalantly for a minute or two, they eventually returned to the booth and checked our passports (while making fun of us and lazily flipping through the pages over and over again).
Aside from the annoyance, there were no actual issues. You get your exit stamp, there is no exit fee, and then customs guard asks a few standard questions: where you’re from, where in Iran you’re going, what you do for your work, etc. Stick to major tourist sites for your Iran itinerary, and if you’re a journalist or in the media of some sort, come up with a different job title for yourself to avoid suspicion.
Then, outwards and onwards to Iran!
It’s about a half kilometer walk to the Iranian border checkpoint. Ladies, use this time to put on your hijab/head covering.
There are 3 checkpoints you must go through. The first is one man sitting in a booth outside to ask where in Iran you’re going. Just give him generic destinations: Tabriz, Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz. Don’t get too detailed, keep things simple and friendly.
The next points are inside. The second is a man who, after scrutinizing your passport for a very long time (in our case, he was definitely just struggling to decipher the front of the passport–“The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” is indeed a doozy), will give you a stamp without many questions.
The last point is a customs official who asks the standard questions again: where are you from, what do you do for your work, what is your father’s name, where in Iran will you be going? Again, just be friendly, and don’t be too complicated about things. Same rules apply as the interview when exiting Armenia. Though the people are moving slowly and seemingly deliberately, they’re not doing it to freak you out… they’re just slow.
A special note for US/UK/Canadian citizens: No questions were asked about where my (theoretical) guide was 😉 My nervousness was unnecessary!
There are money exchanges and some small food/drink vendors at the border, if you need them. The taxi drivers at the border will take US dollars, so technically there’s no need to exchange then and there.
Going to Iran? Make sure to check our article on things you need to know before going to Iran!
Leaving the Norduz border crossing
We took a taxi from the Norduz border crossing to Jolfa, as there are no buses of any sort to be found. After a bit of bargaining via an old Iranian man that spoke German (no one spoke any English), we paid $15 in US dollars for two people to Jolfa, and the ride was about an hour. We heard that if you walk completely outside of the border crossing complex, it might be a couple of dollars cheaper to get a taxi. Could be true, as there were some men with cars lurking outside the complex when we drove out.
Jolfa is another small border crossing town, which serves an Iran-Azerbaijan border crossing. There’s an Armenian church that you can visit, but we decided to pass, and head on to Tabriz, having already had our fair share of churches in Armenia.
Getting to Tabriz
To get to Tabriz, you must take a shared taxi from the taxi stand in Jolfa, as there are no buses from Jolfa. The taxi driver from the border dropped us off at the Jolfa taxi stand, where we waited for others to fill the taxi. We paid $10 for two people, and the ride was a little over 2 hours long.
Once in Tabriz, we were dropped off at a bus terminal outside of the city center, where we had to take another taxi. The driver quoted 105,000 rials, which we got down to 80,000. The ride to the city center was 10 or 15 minutes, and we were dropped off… somewhat close to the Darya guesthouse, where we were staying.
Have you recently crossed the border from Armenia to Iran or vice versa? What was your crossing experience like? Help us stay up-to-date!