Advice on Visiting Iran
Whether it is delusional paranoia or their attempt to punish tourists for poor relations with their governments, the Iranian government enjoys having Americans, Brits, and Canadians jump through several hoops before receiving an Iranian visa. The trio are required to receive a Visa code from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With this Visa code, one must visit the local Iranian Embassy to process the actual visa. You need to work with a tourism company to process this paperwork on your behalf.
My tourism company estimated it would take 30 days to receive the Visa code. In my case, it took approximately 75 days to receive the code. With the code, I proceeded to the Iranian Embassy who processed the visa in 2 business days for an expedited fee.
The paperwork itself is simple and straightforward.
In addition, to the more laborious visa process, there are another set of rules that Americans, Brits, and Canadians must adhere to. These nationalities are required to be accompanies by a licensed guide at all times. This acts as a de facto tax on the tourists from these countries.
Since these nationalities’ visas are processed by a tourism company, your visa duration typically matches the length of your agenda. My visa was for 11 days while my itinerary was for 9 days, meaning I had two free days. My tourism company stated I needed to hire a guide for the 2 free days, or else I would not be able to leave my hotel room.
What I deduced is there no mechanism to enforce this rule. So for instance, I walked independently in Tehran for 2 days without a guide. During this time, I was not stopped by any government officials. Logically, if the government was to enforce this rule, they could easily station guards to check nationalities at top tourist sites. The government did not to do this.
As you are probably aware, Iran is off the international banking system. ATMs are ubiquitous in Iran, but your card will not work. It is only for the locals. And forget about your credit card as well. The cards will not work in Iran. So in other words, bring all the cash you think you will need during your stay. Dollars, Pounds, and Euros will do the trick (newer currency that is crisp and clean).
Currency exchanges are fairly common. But your average Iranian bank will not necessarily exchange your money. A pleasant surprise, XE.com stated the exchange rate is $1 = around 30,000 Rial, but at the currency exchange, I would receive approximately 34,000 Rial per dollar. The most common denomination is 1000 Rial, so expect to receive a giant stack of money when you exchange.
Toman verse Rial
This one could sometimes be a bit confusing. For instance, $20 = 600,000 Rial which is a big number. So, for attempted simplicity Iranians will sometimes state the price in Tomans. So $20 = 60,000 Toman. To me, this seems to create more confusion. They are dividing by a factor of 10, where a factor of 100 seems to make more sense.
Here is how the situation can be confusing. Ordering a bottled water in a restaurant – the staff quoted – 10,000. Was this 10,000 Toman or 100,000 Rials? Was the water 33 cents or $3? Conceivably it could be both prices. And sometimes, at the same restaurant, when quoting prices, the staff might quote in both Toman and Rials when reviewing the menu.
And finally, to create more confusion, in most cases, Iran does not utilize Arabic numbers (1,2,3, etc.). Many prices are shown in Persian numbers. It is probably worth spending a bit of time to learn the numbers.
Taxis in Tehran are ubiquitous. Your hotel can call them or you can waive them down on the street. Be ready to negotiate since taxis do not use meters.
To simplify the situation, I had my destination written in Farsi to show to the taxi drivers.
I didn’t notice this at first, but Iran does not have any urinals. I sort even started to miss them a little bit into my trip. In more modern, Western places, you will have your choice between a western toilet and a squat toilet. But in the more local places, get ready to squat. And if you like toilet paper, I suggest you bring your own.
Iran has a penchant for blocking websites, especially when it comes to social media. So if you want to stay in touch with your friends on Facebook you need to have to download a VPN. Some of my Iranian friends suggested VPN Master. I used it throughout my trip and it worked well and simply. Even better, it is free! In general, if you are fortunate to get internet access, expect it to be very slow.
Do you use WhatsApp? You won’t be able to in Iran. It is blocked. Again, my Iranian friends suggested using the messaging app, Telegram. So if you are planning on communicating with locals you should download this app.
Some of your friends might twist their heads in a circle out of shock or surprise when they learn about your pending trip to Iran. The danger, the terrorism! During my ten days in Iran I felt completely safe in regard to any sort of street crime. And for terrorism, there is none. This is in contrast to some of the messaging you might run across as you visit Iran. And to be arrested and detained as an American in Iran, you need to have incredibly bad luck or to have done something very stupid.
For some, this might be considered the biggest danger. There is no alcohol in Iran. It is forbidden. But you can enjoy all the non-alcoholic beer you can quaff. Zero point zero. But you may enjoy all the cigarettes you can smoke, and all the double-apple hookahs you can puff.
Enjoy your visit! Advice on Visiting Iran.