Practical Travel Guide
Update August 2017: Although there has been much talk of a reciprocal travel ban for US citizens, and a warning by the US Department of State, there is no indication that Iran is cracking down on tourist from the US. US citizens are, however, still required to go with a licenses tour guide, and can’t get a visa on arrival.
- How we got our Iranian visas in the Netherlands, as Dutch and US/UK citizens
- How to travel independently in Iran as a UK citizen
Visas on Arrival (VoA)
Iran now issues visas on arrival at airports for citizens of 180 countries. Note that this does not officially apply at land border crossings, though there are reports of some people receiving visas at the Armenian and Turkish borders.
Note: Citizens of the United Kingdom, Canada, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Somalia, and Pakistan still need to apply for a visa ahead of time.
Getting a visa on arrival is about $130 in total, including visa and processing fees and mandatory health insurance.
LOIs (letters of invitation) are not required if getting a visa on arrival. However, if you don’t have one, be prepared to list phone numbers of the hotels/hostels where you’ll be staying for the entirety of your visit to Iran.
Want to know more about getting a visa on arrival? Our friends over at Rucksack Ramblings wrote a complete guide on the process.
If you’re getting a visa ahead of time, you sometimes need an LOI. Check with your embassy if this applies to you.
To apply for an LOI, an authorization number must be issued to you by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You can apply for one from an approved Iranian tour operator. Travelers from the UK/Canada have extra requirements regarding the authorization number (see below).
Authorization numbers usually take about 3 to 4 weeks to be issued, and are only valid for 30 days once issued. Be careful about when you apply! You don’t want to go through the process only to have your number expire before you apply for a visa.
When applying for the authorization number, you must specify which embassy you’ll pick up your visa from. Your visa application will only be valid for that embassy, so choose wisely! Once your authorization number has been issued, go to the embassy and submit your visa application. You can usually get your visa on the same day.
Authorization number for UK/Canadian travelers
Woe! Currently there are travel restrictions on tourists from the above countries, stating that they must travel as part of a guided tour or be accompanied by a private guide at all times. This is less than ideal for many independent travelers.
Either opt to bite the bullet and book yourself a tour and/or guide for your whole stay, or risk taking a workaround. Some tour operators are willing to organize fake tours and hotel bookings (for a fee) so you can apply for your visa under the guise of being part of a tour. You have to submit an itinerary for them to use when applying.
A sample Iran itinerary
30 days, entering by air:
Tehran (4) – Tabriz (3) – Ardabril (2) – Zanjan (1) – Tehran (1) – Kermanshah (2) – Shushtar (2) – Shiraz (3) – Persepolis (1 – day trip) – Kish (2) – Bam (2) – Yazd (3) – Isfahan (3) – Tehran (1)
- Entry: 90 days (3 months)
- You can enter Iran using your visa at any point up to 90 days after your visa was issued. This is the date that the visa was stamped, not the actual date you receive it.
- Duration: 30 days
- Once you enter the country you have 30 days, but this is easily extendable.
Authorization number (LOI)
- $50 (appx.)
Visa application fee
- UK: €180
- Australia: €100 – 180
- New Zealand: €100
- Japan: €40 – 75
- Korea: €40
- Finland: €40
- France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic: €40-60
- Spain: €75
- Belarus: €12
- Kazakhstan: €30
- China: €150
- 2x passport-sized photos. Women must cover heads for photos.
- Visa application form
- Authorization number (LOI)
- Original passport valid for at least 6 months
- Photocopy of passport information page
- Letter from employer (stating you are their employee)
- Flight itinerary (where applicable)
- Application fee
Visa extensions are straightforward. Procedures and ease of getting them can change from city to city, so it pays to ask around. We extended our visa in Yazd, which was super easy.
Though not the cheapest country in the region, Iran is perfectly doable on a budget. Check out our Iran budget report to see how much it costs to go backpacking in Iran!
The following overview is based on prices for one person. At the time of writing, €1 was 35,000 IRR and $1 was 32,000 IRR.
Food and drinks
- Tea or soda: 5,000 – 15,000 IRR
- 1 L of water: 5,000 – 10,000 IRR
- Breakfast: 25,000 – 35,000 IRR
- Lunch: 25,000 – 35,000 IRR
- Dinner: 50,000 – 100,000 IRR
- Budget hotel: 250,000 – 500,000 IRR
- Historical sights and famous mosques: 100,000 – 200,000 IRR
- Less famous mosques: free
Buses in Iran
Almost every city and town is connected by bus. Buses are cheap and relatively convenient. There are two types of bus: VIP and mahmooly.
If you are taking an overnight bus, and you want to sleep, take a VIP bus. They are comfortable, with reclining seats and decent leg space. VIP buses are about 500,000 IRR ($15) for a 10 hour drive.
For day travel, mahmooly buses will suffice. They aren’t as comfortable… but not terrible either. A 10 hour drive is about 250,00 IRR ($7.50).
Finding intercity bus terminals
Bus stations are called terminals. Big cities usually have several terminals. Ask your guesthouse or hotel which terminal to use for your next destination.
Taxi drivers usually know, too— just tell them terminal and the name of the city you want to go. Make sure they understand you don’t want them to drive you to the next city, though! When at the terminal, follow the sound of hawkers shouting the name of the city you want to go to.
Be sure to buy your ticket beforehand, either at the terminal or through an agency. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes they will try to overcharge you if you get a ticket on the bus. If this happens, report it to the traffic police. All buses have to stop at a police station every 100 km.
Almost all cities have innercity buses. They can be convenient if you know which one to take—ask your guesthouse or hotel for help. Journeys on these buses cost 5,000 IRR, regardless of where you get on and off.
Trains in Iran
Iran has decent rail infrastructure, and railway travel is extremely popular. It’s therefore important to book tickets well ahead of time.
A good place for information is iranrail.net. This is the unofficial homepage of the Iranian railways, and has all the information you need.
Taxis in Iran
The taxi system in Iran can be incredibly confusing. There are private taxis and shared taxis, open doors and closed doors. The worst part? None of the taxis have meters. The system is too intricate to explain here, so we’ve written a post explaining everything you need to know about taxis in Iran.
If you’re too lazy to read the post (shame on you), a quick reference for you: intracity rides are usually around 10,000 IRR per person, often less. 40,000 if a private taxi.
For innercity rides, price varies based on distance and whether or not the taxi is shared. The pricing also varies greatly between regions in the country, so ask around first, or check out some of our how-to posts below.
Getting around within Iran
You can get to most destinations by intercity bus or train. Below are guides for some less accessible places.
Entering and exiting
Norduz-Agarak (Iran) border crossing
Bound to pick up since Iran is opening up, this is currently a quiet border crossing. An exception is the Noruz holiday period, when many Iranians come to Armenia. Here’s our report on crossing from Armenia to Iran via the Norduz-Agarak border crossing.
Mirjaveh-Taftan (Pakistan) border crossing
Perhaps the longest border crossing in the world. It’s not for the faint of heart, and we don’t recommend it. However, we crossed it ourselves.
Tipping in Iran
Tipping is not a big deal, and we were never asked for a tip. If you charter a taxi for a day or take a private tour, it’s nice to tip if you are satisfied, but it’s not expected.
If you do tip, don’t give more than 5-10%—you don’t want to raise expectations for future travelers.
Forget whatever you might have seen on FOX News. Iranians are among the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world! You’ll be welcomed on every corner, people will want to take pictures with you, and it is not uncommon to be invited to a total stranger’s house. Say yes!
Tarof is a Persian form of civility. It usually involves someone offering to pay for you or giving you something for free when they actually want payment.
As a rule of thumb, offer to pay three times. If the person still resists, it is not tarof, but rather a genuine act of hospitality. Tarof can be tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. In our experience, when tarof is involved, most people give in after one try. We’ve encountered more acts of genuine hospitality than tarof.
Girls: Dress modestly in public is mandatory. This means a headscarf, loose fitting clothes and a shirt or dress that covers the butt. Absolutely no tank tops, skirts that show leg, or cleavage. Colorful clothing is allowed, but in some places, such as Qom, it is advisable to wear darker colors. See our post on female travel in Iran for more tips.
Boys: No shorts. If you want to visit an active mosque as a non-Muslim, ask first if it’s okay to look around.
Iran is an Islamic republic, and still run by hard-line clergy. Don’t do anything that could be construed as criticizing the Supreme Leader, and stay clear of political discussion with locals unless they start the discussion (chances are high they will). Even then, be cautious about what you say.