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Do I always have to wear a headscarf as a female tourist in Iran? Can I pay by card? Will I get a stamp in my passport and can I still travel to the US afterwards?
Before you travel to Iran, you should inform yourself about few things to avoid nasty surprises. In my last blog post about Iran I named 10 reasons why a trip to Iran is worthwhile. This time I will tackle a more serious topic that is just as important. There are some rules and circumstances you should be aware of before you travel to Iran.
In this blog post, I’ll provide you with a few tips and tricks to make your trip as comfortable as possible.
Political situation & laws
You have probably heard of Iran’s nuclear deal or the current conflict between the head of state of the Islamic Republic and US President Trump. Frankly, I am usually not so interested in politics. I prefer to know the bare minimum. But what is the bare minimum in Iran’s case? Is it enough to know that Iran was somehow mentioned in various headlines with nuclear bombs, war and Islam? – Not when you plan on travelling to Iran.
Politics involves much more than just knowing the form of government and the head of state. Iran has strict laws that include, for example, stoning, flogging and discrimination against other forms of belief.
But do not panic! As long as you respect the laws, there is no danger. In China, for example, numerous death sentences are still carried out every year and this does not necessarily make the country more dangerous for tourists. However, it is important to know the laws.
The Dress Code
Part of the criminal laws in Iran includes the dress codes for women and men, which are quite different. Men are allowed some degree of freedom, whereas women are obliged to wear a headscarf and loose clothing at all times. Nowadays, not all women abide by the strict rules. Especially in the big cities you will see women wearing hats or cappies instead of hijabs. Some even wear tight-fitting pants or short tops. The headscarves are often very thin and are worn at the back of the head revealing a good amount of hair. The majority of women, however, consistently wear a long coat – the IT-piece in Iran.
For tourists, I would recommend to read the dress code carefully and to be a little more careful to avoid provocation. By the way – you will not be arrested immediately when your headscarf slips off. The police will warn you politely and as long as you obey, you’re safe.
In restaurants and hotels, sometimes we saw women without headscarves sitting at the table. However, we were once asked in a café to put it on, probably because the large windows offering a clear view from a crowded street. Make sure to be extra careful at religious places or crowded sights.
Jeans and T-shirt are best combined with a long cardigan or coat. Your bum should always be covered by a loose layer of clothing like a jacket over tight pants, a loose skirt or loose pants. Regarding shoes, makeup and jewelry, there are no limitations.
IMPORTANT: In Iran, you can’t pay by card.
This means: Take enough cash with you.
Some selected stores (e.g., carpet dealers) accept international credit cards for a small fee. We never paid by card but took enough cash and exchanged it for the local currency.
The exchange rate was probably the biggest surprise for us. The actual exchange rate is about 3 times higher than the value Google spits out. Therefore, inform yourself about both exchange rates (refer fo my other blog post for more info) before your trip and exchange only in official exchange offices. On the streets (especially at the airport), there are many scammers who try to trade for a bad rate.
Withdrawing money is not possible with international cards. So you must bring enough cash when you want to travel through Iran. In the end you will probably spend much less than expected. The Iranian currency is rather weak at the moment.
This brings us to the next important point. In order to calculate how much money you need for a trip, of course, you have to be able to estimate the prices in Iran. We calculated with 20 € cash per day and in the end we spent only half as much for 2 people. It is best to book all hotels and tour guides prior to your trip, so that you can calculate the exact amount. Ask Mostafa from Iran Free Tours to send you a quote. If you book a tour with the agency Iran Free Tours, you can simply pay by cash on the first day of your trip.
By the way, larger purchases can also be paid in euros or dollars – with a discount on cash payments (don’t forget to negotiate!).
Is it hard to get a VISA? How long does it take and how much does it cost? Will I get a stamp in my passport and can I still enter the US after my Iran trip?
Most Europeans have the following options:
- VISA on arrival: takes a long time, but you can get it directly the airport. You should get an International health insurance n advance. If necessary, you can buy an insurance at the airport, which can be a lot more expensive and slows down the whole process.
- The faster version: You request a reference number beforehand. Ask your tour operator for support here. With this number and a confirmation of our international insurance printed out, we only had to wait about 15 minutes at the airport to get our visa. It cost us only € 75 per person for 28 days.
- The fastest way: You request a reference number first and then get a visa at the Iranian consulate. If you do this, you can then go directly through the passport control at the airport. Since the consulates are located only in larger cities such as Frankfurt or Munich, option 2 could be fastest way after all.
Since the introduction of the electronic VISA, you don’t get a stamp on your passport anymore. So do not be confused when reading old travel reports. Since 2019 you get an electronic visa, which the officials at the airport can read out in their system. No stamp, no problem.
Even entering Israel before or after your Iran trip is not a problem. In Israel, the electronic visa has also been introduced. So you could travel directly to Iran after a holiday in Israel. The same applies to the US and any other countries with political differences.
Traveling as a UK, USA or Canada citizen
If you are a citizen of one of these three countries, taking a trip to Iran is a bit more complicated. The visa may be more expensive, but it should also be issued without any problems.
The major downside: As a British, American or Canadians citizen you can’t travel on your own. An organized tour like ours is not a problem. Our entire trip was planned and organized by Iran Free Tours. Sometimes we changed plans spontaneously and had plenty of free time in the evening. If you’re uncertain about your rights and possibilites, simply ask Iran Free Tours about their organized tours. Mostafa and Fatima are happy to answer all your questions.
Traveling in Iran is sometimes more difficult than in other countries. Most Iranians speak either very poor or no English at all. So if you ask for directions, it’s best to turn to young people. They usually speak English quite well.
Furthermore, we even had some tour guides or drivers who didn’t speak English so well. Even in restaurants, the communication was sometimes a bit complicated. Above all, there is a cultural barrier as well.
To be on the safe side, I recommend to travel with a tour guide or local. They can help you translate everything in Persian and make sure you always get what you want in restaurants.
SIM-cards and Internet
In Iran the Internet is fast and cheap. So it’s worth buying an Iranian SIM card. 1 GB costs about 1 € and you can always add data. The only problem: some websites and programs are blocked. Such as:
- Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop and Lightroom licenses can’t be checked)
But there is a solution for this: VPN clients. It’s best to download a VPN at home and install it directly on your laptop and mobile phone. This will save you time and nerves on your journey.
The best time to travel to Iran
Iran is a suitable destination any time of the year, depending on your interests. In winter, you could go skiing in the mountains or enjoy the pleasantly mild temperatures in the south of the country. As soon as spring arrives, the beautiful gardens and flower meadows bloom. In the summer months, northern Iran has a similar climate to Central Europe, making it an ideal destination for a summer holiday. Even in the hottest summer months of July and August, some tourists come to Iran.
The best time to travel, however, are the months of March to May and September to November. April is high season and most tourist spots are flooded. We traveled to 5 of the most popular cities February and the tourist crowd was manageable. Temperatures ranged from 5 degrees Celcius in Tehran to 21 degrees in Shiraz in the south of the country. Desert areas sometimes reach temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius.
The Iranian cuisine
Last but not least, a very important topic for all foodies: The Iranian cuisine. Can you eat vegan? Are there any gluten-free options? Yes, there are always vegan options. However, these are sometimes very limited. In some Persian restaurants, the only vegan option was an aubergine dish, which can be prepared on request without yogurt. The dish is always prepared gluten-free.
Rice and bread are usually included as a side dish. Sometimes instead of rice there was only bread. If you do not feel like eating eggplant over and over again, you could look for restaurants on Tripadvisor, Google Maps or HappyCow. On Google I have left a few reviews – maybe you can find them? 🙂
Tip: For raw vegans, I would recommend to travel there in late summer, when all fruits are ripe. The choice of fruits in winter is limited because they hardly import anything. So you can find almost only mandarins, dates and apples in winter.
Any questions left?
I hope you feel a little better informed now and can prepare yourself accordingly for your journey. If any questions remain, be sure to read my other blog post. In my story highlights on Instagram, I documented our entire trip to Iran.
Have fun traveling & thank you for reading!