The female traveler’s code of conduct for Iran

Here’s one for all the ladies out there interested in female travel in Iran: a list of women’s travel tips for Iran, covering everything from how to dress to the right way to board a bus.

 

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Are you a woman interested in traveling to Iran? Here's what to expect and what you should keep in mind when traveling as a female in Iran. Read on for all kinds of tips and advice!

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Setting foot in a new country is a thrilling moment, but it can also be intimidating.

A new country means new culture. A new set of unspoken rules that you’re expected to follow, yet can only learn by trial and error. Do I kiss two times as a greeting, or three? Is that banana a decoration, or part of the meal? If I wear shorts, will I be arrested?

Iran is no exception. Because of its seemingly strict Islamic nature, it can be particularly intimidating. Admittedly I was constantly on cultural tenterhooks during my first couple weeks in Iran.

I was worried I’d overstep boundaries when talking to men. Or break some religious rule unbeknownst to me. Or be arrested by the mythical morality police for being scandalous and flashing a bit of ankle in the streets (my god)! To make things worse—in my mind, anyway—I’m brown, and could easily pass as an Iranian. I can’t just slide by on the foreigner card at face value!

I need not have worried. The world didn’t end when I talked to men. Allah did not smite me the times my hijab fell off in the mosques. The morality police don’t actually exist, except for the occasional public holiday–gotta fill those police quotas, ya know.

I did, however, learn a female code of conduct (of sorts) during my two months in Iran. Here’s a roundup of what I learned about female travel in Iran so future ladies don’t have to worry about making the same mistakes I did!

Index: a guide to female travel in Iran

 

Women choosing fabrics in Kurdistan, Iran.

Time for some new threads!

What to wear as a woman traveling in Iran

There are a few official and unofficial rules about what to wear in Iran, such as….

Always wear a headscarf in public

You probably already knew this if you’re thinking of heading to Iran, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate it, just in case! You’d be surprised at the ignorance of some travelers. Shudder.

Don’t even try to enter the country without a headscarf

It’s not possible. You don’t want to be trapped at the border for something as trivial as a hijab! Keep a scarf or shawl ready in your bag for the walk through customs.

Follow other women’s examples when deciding whether or not to wear a headscarf in private areas

Some families are liberal in the home, others aren’t. All of them will say you should do what you find comfortable… which can be distressingly vague! Just do as others do.

Follow hijab, the dress code for women in Iran

Wear long pants and a sleeved shirt (or cardigan) that covers your butt. 3/4 length sleeves are fine, and skinny jeans are the norm for young girls in Iran.

If you want to dress like a local, “manteaus” are the most popular form of dress for girls in Iran, and can easily be purchased all over the country. If you’re still worried about upsetting the mythical morality police, Travel Geekery put together a post about what to wear in Iran.

Women's travel tips for Iran: manteau is the most popular form of dress.

Rocking my new manteau in the Rasht bazaar. Why go black when you can go rainbow?

If entering a mosque or shrine, wear a chador

Chador are long (often black) cloaks that some women wear over their clothes in Iran. Most mosques hand them out at the door, so no need to go and buy one for yourself. You’d get a lot of giggles if you wore one around outside of mosques as a foreign woman in Iran.

Women's travel tips for Iran: don't wear chador outside of mosques.

Getting the chance to try on a girl’s chador while teaching English in Iran.

If you want to lounge in your bikini on the beach, head to the women-only section

There are a few beaches in Iran, and on good days locals love ’em. There are men-only areas, women-only areas, and family areas. Want to get your tan on? Head to the women-only section, but don’t expect to see many women in bathing clothes. If you want to chat with the boys in the mixed gender area, you’ll have to cover up. Beware of strange tan lines!

 

Exploring the mountain village of Palangan in Kurdistan province, Iran

Exploring the mountain village of Palangan in Kurdistan province.

Out and about in Iran as a woman

If asking for help, approach a woman first

But, of course, if there aren’t any women around, just ask a man. The world won’t end.

If a tea house is filled with only men, don’t go inside

Many tea houses are men-only. Though it isn’t an official rule, you’ll probably be the first woman that’s walked in in the last century or so. Never fear, Iranians are tea addicts–you’re bound to find a female-friendly place if you keep on walking.

Women's travel tips for Iran: where to enter mosques and shrines.

The Shah Cheragh shrine in Shiraz. Men enter on the left, women on the right!

Keep an eye out when entering mosques and shrines—there’s often a separate women’s entrance

Lurk around the entrance if you’re not sure, or look for a chador station.

Enter city buses from the middle of the bus, and sit in the back

There are separate male and female areas in buses. Women in the back! Could be discrimination, but it’s handy for keeping frisky men from feeling up unsuspecting women. When it’s time to pay, exit the bus and lean in through the front entrance to pay the driver.

Women's travel tips for Iran: women in the back!

Buses in Iran: cool kids in the back! Watch out for the dude with the stares in the front.

If the back of the bus is packed, use the back seats in the men’s area

Waste not, want not! Don’t use the seats if there’s a guy already sitting in the row, though.

If you’re invited by a stranger, only go if there are other women present, or if you have a male travel companion

It’s usually not appropriate for lone women to accept invitations from men. Unless, you know, you’re trying to get into his skivvies (which is fair game).

Women's travel tips for Iran: where to sit on the Tehran metro.

Look for this sign if you’re aiming for the women’s section of the metro.

If taking the metro in Tehran, feel free to sit anywhere you want

The fact that there’s a women-only section doesn’t mean you have to sit there! It can be convenient during rush hour, though, when the men’s section is fit to burst.

Avoid sitting next to strangers of the opposite gender on any kind of transportation

This includes buses, shared taxis, and minibusses. People will usually shuffle around a bit to get the order right. If you’re a solo woman taking a taxi, sit in the front passenger’s seat of the taxi. If traveling as a couple or with a guy, sit wherever you please.

For more tips on taking taxis in Iran (and how to avoid being ripped off), check out my guide to taxis in Iran.

 

The male species in Iran.

Ah, the male species. I ran into these guys while I was walking on a mountain in Kermanshah by myself. They were insistently flirty and offered me money, hash, and their hands in marriage. However, I stayed firmly distant and managed to escape after 15 minutes and several photos, their shouted declarations of love following me all the way down the mountain.

The male species in Iran

Don’t instigate handshakes with men

Instead, place your right hand over your heart, and nod your head in greeting. If the guy is a bit more liberal, he may offer his hand for you to shake anyway.

Watch out for bum bandits

Unfortunately, random men groping your bum is somewhat common in crowded places. If it happens to you, or if someone is being even more forward, make a scene, or shout at the man. It’s a very severe religious offense for men to do so, and they’ll quickly back off in fear of getting caught. You’ll also probably rally a couple of other (more friendly) Iranians to come to your aid. 

Be polite but distant with single men

If you get too friendly, they may interpret it as sexual interest, regardless of whether or not you’re with another guy.

Women's travel tips for Iran: how to deal with men

Sometimes, no matter what you do, guys are going to be creepers. Despite the rest of the group being perfectly charming, the second from the right spent the entire evening not-so-sneakily filming me. Erm…

When in doubt, you can say you’re married

Yeah yeah, I know, it’s bad that women have to say this to keep men away (personally, I don’t these days). But things aren’t going to change overnight, and in the meantime, you don’t want Sir Creeps-a-lot following you down the street asking for your hand in marriage for the next hour… do you?

When posing for photos with guys you don’t know, don’t touch each other

An arm around the shoulder will lead to an arm across the back will lead to a pinch on the bum… which, in my humble opinion, should lead to a slap on the face. Feel free!

If traveling with others, don’t give in to requests to take photos with only you… unless you want to

Traveling with a group? Men might still ask you for a photo with you… and only you. Beware. It’ll give them the wrong idea, and they’ll probably say you’re their girlfriend when sharing the photo on social media. Again, feel free to slap them in the face if they’re being too forward.

Posing for photos with men in Iran.

This guy gave me my weight in free melons, so I figured I could at least pose for a photo… or twelve. Anything for free food! /glutton

 

Things to remember about female travel in Iran

Remember you’re a visitor in someone else’s country

There are many practices and mindsets in Iran that, as a woman, you might find frustrating or offensive. As a foreigner, it’s not your place to try and change them–change must come from within the country, not from a bunch of outraged female travelers burning hijabs in the central squares.

Respect the country and its customs while in Iran. You may be surprised to find how much of an effort people will make to respect yours in return.

 

 

Are you a woman interested in traveling to Iran? Here's what to expect and what you should keep in mind when traveling as a female in Iran. Read on for all kinds of tips and advice!

Pin this!

 

 

Looking for more general information about the country? Don’t miss my list of things to know before traveling to Iran.

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Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

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20 thoughts on “The female traveler’s code of conduct for Iran

    Z says:

    I kind of agree with your last paragraph, however I would like to add that it’s fine for non-Iranian women (especially activist figures and politicians) to protest against compulsory hijab, as said by a well-known Iranian feminist. Burning the hijab isn’t going to help, but standing in solidarity with protestors and waving the white cloth (with your head covered if you don’t want to risk charges) is fine. It’s supporting a cause without shifting the discourse and being disrespectful to the movement. And the cause is important: Iranian women who do not wear hijabs cannot get an education, and have gotten jail sentences for upto 20 years. They also have other liberties curbed, like their male guardians deciding whether they can pursue their studies or not.

    Dordaneh says:

    Thank you Alex. It was a useful blog!

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