Note: This is about getting visas for Iranian in the Netherlands as Dutch and British citizens. Every embassy has different rules, so before applying for your Iranian visa, always check to see what your local embassy requires. You can find more important travel information about Iran here.
Getting a visa for Iran is no walk in the park. To be fair, aside from visas on arrival (which Iran now has… for some countries), most visas are not a walk in the park. In fact, they usually involve lots of walking to and from embassies and your printer and that photo shop down the way that charges insane amounts of money for poorly lit passport photos. But, let’s not get sidetracked now.
Before applying: A Letter of Invitation (LOI)
Before even thinking about heading to the embassy, I (Alex) applied for a letter of invitation to Iran. LOIs are not specifically required by the Embassy of Iran in The Hague, but I figured it’s better to be safe than sorry. I have US and UK passports, and thus I get double points on Iran’s Country Shit List. More on that in a bit.
Sebastiaan, being from the Netherlands which is generally-not-disliked-by-anyone-because-it-is-tiny, did not bother to apply for an LOI. This was fine for the embassy in The Hague, but from what I’ve read, it’s best to get an LOI before applying for a visa in most embassies/consulates throughout the rest of the world.
What is an LOI?
The LOI is basically an authorization number assigned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran, stating that the applicant is officially welcome to apply for a visa. Only approved tour companies in Iran are allowed to apply for LOIs. As a visa hopeful, you must first apply for an LOI, then once you have received it, you must submit your visa application to the embassy of your choice within 30 days. If you don’t, your LOI will expire, and your life will end instantly.
(Just kidding. But really, don’t let it expire, that would be shitty and then your money and time and effort will be wasted.)
Keeping this in mind, and the fact that I wanted to get my visa sometime in January, I applied for my LOI around the end of November.
Who needs an LOI?
Check with your embassy to see what their requirements are. Most embassies require an LOI for visa applicants. The Hague does not require one, but they are not the norm.
LOIs for US/UK/CA Citizens
Here’s the tricky part: People from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada are all forbidden to travel independently through Iran. This is likely because these countries have pledged their allegiance to Israel, whom REF Iran despises. Petty country disputes ahoy! Politics aside, I had to do some digging to find a way to travel without having to blow my savings on a tour or a guide.
Eventually, I came across this awesome post from Hitchhiker’s Handbook (which, unfortunately, has since been removed) that explains how they found a way to get an LOI without booking a tour. They basically called loads of tour companies in Iran until they found one willing to issue LOIs for people that did not book a tour.
Note to authors: Guys, I am forever indebted to you! Thanks for your leg work! If we ever meet in person in a non-dry-country I will buy you all of the beers your livers could possibly desire.
I contacted the company through the form in the post, and things went smoothly. The person I communicated with was quick to respond and patient with my questions, and was good about never explicitly stating what we were up to 😉
To apply, I had to submit:
• A scan of my passport
• A customs-like form for Iran
• My intended dates for travel
• A statement of which embassy I will pick up my visa – be careful, you cannot change this after submitting!
• $80 for the LOI (via PayPal)
• $80 for a “guide” (via PayPal)
Exactly one month after submitting the payments, I received an email confirmation from my contact with my application number. The email said that I could head to the embassy in The Hague to collect my visa after 3 working days. WOOP WOOP step 1: success!
Heading to Iran and need some inspiration? Check out our two-week Iran itinerary!
Applying at the Embassy in The Hague
We had to be very careful about when exactly we applied for our visas. Once your visa has been issued, you must enter the country within 90 days, or else your visa will expire. We estimated that we would be entering Iran around the beginning of April after traveling a bit in March, so if we got our visas sometime in January, we would be fine.
The embassy is about 20 minutes’ travel from The Hague Central Station. You take tram 9 towards Scheviningen to Nieuwe Duinweg, then walk for 10 minutes down the road.
The embassy visit was short, as there were hardly any people waiting. There were forms there in case you forgot yours, but filling them out might be a struggle–everything in the embassy is in Farsi! The only non-Persian script I saw was the list of requirements for visa applicants tacked on the wall. Aside from the forms, there was also a passport photo booth (cash only), and a printer and laptop with internet in case you forgot something. Whether or not the printer actually works is another story.
Checklist for visa applicants in The Hague:
- Original passport and one photocopy of the information page
- Copy of health insurance card, front and back
- Copy of residence card (if applicable), front and back
- One standard-size passport photo (3.5 x 4.5 cm), head covering not required
- Copy of flight tickets (if applicable… but they didn’t ask)
- Visa form
- Visa fees, to be paid with PIN
For the record, neither of us submitted any flight tickets, despite saying that Tehran was our point of entry. We’ve also read that it’s acceptable to say that you’re entering the country over land at the Armenia (Meghri)/Iran (Nordooz) border crossing, not sure about how suspicious any of the other border crossings are.
- Netherlands: €50
- United Kingdom: €180
- Mailing passport: €10
The girl working the counter didn’t speak more than a word or two of Dutch or English, so our interaction was short. I handed over my stack of papers, she checked to make sure everything was there, I paid, and all was said and done. Easy in, easy out!
Sebastiaan: Picked up his visa one week after submitting his application. Despite saying we aimed to enter in April, Sebastiaan received a visa good for entry from March 8 until June 6, meaning he can enter up to five months from now (as long as it’s after March 8).
Alex: Received my visa in the mail on Friday, 5 days after I applied (Monday). Mine is valid from the day after I submitted my application (January 12) for 3 months. Not a clue why there’s a difference in our entry dates, but such is life.
Don’t want to go through all this hassle? Dutch citizens can get a visa on arrival. Our friends over at Rucksack Ramblings wrote a complete guide with everything you need to know to get a visa on arrival.