The female traveler’s code of conduct for Iran

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

Setting foot in a new country is a thrilling moment, but it can also be an intimidating one. A new country means a 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, and because of its seemingly strict Islamic nature, it can be particularly intimidating at first. I was constantly on cultural tenterhooks during our first couple of 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!

 

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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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 doesn’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, so future ladies don’t have to worry about making the same mistakes I did!

 

 

Women choosing fabrics in Kurdistan, Iran.

Time for some new threads!

Getting dressed

Always wear a headscarf in public.

You probably already know this if you’re thinking of heading to Iran, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate it, just in case.

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

It’s not possible, and you don’t want to be trapped at the border for something as trivial as a scarf. 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.

Many families are liberal in the home, others are not. 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 much more thorough 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.

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 will 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 foreigner.

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.

Alas, 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

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 in.

Many tea houses are men-only, and though it isn’t an official rule, you’ll probably be the first woman that’s walked in in the last century or so, meaning a lot of uncomfortable stares. Never fear, Iranians are tea addicts–you’re bound to find another 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.

Just do a little lurking 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 some of 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 for ice cream/tea/dinner at someone’s home/a wild romp through the wilderness, only go if there are other women present, or if you have a male travel companion.

It’s 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 minibuses. 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 our 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

Don’t instigate handshakes with men.

Instead, place your right hand over your heart, and nod your head a bit 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, just say you’re married.

Yeah yeah, I know, it’s bad that women have to say this to keep men away. 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!

In the same line of thought, if traveling with others, don’t give in to requests to take photos with only you, unless you want to.

It’ll give them the wrong idea, and again, feel free to slap them in the face if they’re being too forward. You’re allowed 😉

Posing for photos with men in Iran.

This guy gave us our weight in free melon, so I figured I could at least pose for a photo… or twelve. Anything for free food!

 

Last, but not least…

Remember that 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 their hijabs in the central squares. Respect the country and its customs while in Iran, and 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 our list of things to know before traveling to Iran.

Alex

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.

More about Alex

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

    Very interesting article and tips, thanks for sharing. Did you find it difficult to abide by the rules for women in Iran?

    Not at all! Iranians are very kind to foreigners–if you’re making an effort to follow the rules, it’d be hard to do anything that actually truly upset someone. The only real struggle was wearing a headscarf in the blazing summer heat!

    Very interesting – thanks for the info!

    The two women I was traveling with even disliked it in the cooler air. 🙂

    I wish I could have seen Shah Cheragh in the daylight. But at night it was fantastic too. Thank you for this post and letting me share it!

    lauraH says:

    Great post Alex. I’m travelling to Iran this October and am planning to wear tunics. They’re all fairly bright colours so seeing you in your lovely turquoise patterned top has made me feel more comfortable about that. From what I’ve read, the temperature in October can be quite variable so I was planning to layer under the tunics for warmth rather than carry around a bulky sweater. Does that make sense? And any advice about shoes? Thanks.

    Jess says:

    I go to Iran in 3 weeks! Thank you for the helpful blog post 🙂

    Sebastiaan says:

    You’re most welcome. Have fun!

    Jess says:

    My visa was actually declined! So im no longer going to Iran :'(

    Sebastiaan says:

    That’s shitty! Did they give you any reason?

    Jess says:

    Sadly no. Apparently they didn’t specify why they just told my tour company I hadn’t been accepted. But I think I know why – I had to send a CV with my application…and I’ve done a little bit of media work (although I’m not a journalist or reporter- I do a bit of acting and stuff) I feel so dumb now for keeping it on the CV but I honestly thought they’d be looking out for people who work for the government or are journalists!
    Another reason could be that they found my blog – but I’m a very small time blogger and earn no money from it. I didn’t send them my blog either. Such a shame- maybe I’ll go in future

    Alex says:

    Ah, bugger. Yeah, it’s probably the media work that did you in, not the blog. Hopefully being rejected once doesn’t affect future applications! Or even better, hopefully one day the visa process will be a little bit less finnicky for everyone…

    Fateme says:

    Hi
    May i correct and add some tips as an Iranian young girl?
    If you need help, ask the first person you see
    There’s no need to find a woman
    And about not sitting beside men, yes it’s better you don’t fo that. But there is no problem if you do.
    If a man is bothering you, tell someone
    If you can find a man who seems reliable tell him. If not, tell a young girl
    They will help you or find a man who helps you!
    Or you can simply slap them in the face! I agree with you so much about feeling free for slaping! And if someone being too obtrusive (espicially if they touch you) you can even punch them!
    Cause if you shout they’ll run but you have probably made them laugh
    If a man offers his hand to shake look at him and if he seems jackass don’t shake his hand! Your judgement about him may not be right but it’s ok.
    And men tourists should not offer their hands but women can. Cause most men have no problem with shaking your hand.
    And men who come after you and ask you for marrigeare kidding. But it’s counted as inconvenience and you still can ask for help or slap them.

    +this article is really good!

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