Are you asking yourself: “should I travel to Iran?” Then look no further amigo – you’ve found the ultimate list of things to know before you go.
[the_ad id=”14241″] Traveling to Iran is a bit like hanging out with the bad guys on the block. Your mum has warned you about it and you probably have no freaking idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
In reality, Iran isn’t as alien and scary as it might seem at first glance. After being cast as the dark, mysterious villain for decades, the country is now starting to peek its head through the door to the West. Although recent years have seen a surge in tourism and a relaxation of visa regulations, there still isn’t a lot of updated information out there on backpacking in Iran.
But fear not! We’ve put together a list of everything a budget backpacker needs to know before travelling to Iran. And by everything, we really do mean everything.
Lean back and prepare to have these 82 essential Iran travel tips served to you on a silver platter.
Further reading: All of our other posts about backpacking in Iran
The Iranian Visa Situation
1. Travelers who don’t need a visa: you don’t need to worry about a visa if you’re from Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Egypt, Georgia, Lebanon, Turkey or Syria. Iran allows the lucky citizens of these countries to stay in Iran for up to 90 days without a visa.
2. Travelers who need to get a visa at an embassy: if you’re from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Britain, Canada, Colombia, India, Jordan, Pakistan, the USA, or Somalia you’ll need to get your visa from an embassy before you go.
3. British, Canadian and American travelers need to have a guide: yep, strictly speaking, if you guys want to go to Iran you’ll need a guide to accompany on your entire trip. There are ways to get around this if you want to travel independently but do so at your own risk.
4. Travelers who can get a visa on arrival (VOA): if you’re from any of the remaining 180 countries in the world, you’re eligible for a 30-day visa on arrival. This is by far the easiest and cheapest option for getting into the country and the way we got our visa. If this sounds like what you want to do, read our guide for full instructions on how to get the Iranian visa on arrival.
5. Don’t worry about getting a letter of invitation (LOI): a few years ago it was all the rage in Iran for travel agents to have to get you a letter of invitation (LOI) before you could get a visa. You would still need to pick your visa up at an embassy or the airport and you would obviously have to pay the agents for the service. Nowadays, since Iran is trying to improve its tourism image, you don’t need a LOI to get a visa. Save your dollars my friends!
6. No travel to Israel: regardless of which visa you apply for, you’ll be turned down if you have any proof of travel to Israel. This includes passport stamps from Israel, stamps from neighbouring countries’ land borders with Israel and Israeli passports. As you can see, Iran and Israel are not the best of friends, and there really isn’t any way around this one.
7. You’ll need a visa to visit the US after going to Iran: as of 2016, if you’ve travelled to Iran since 2011 you’re no longer eligible for the US Visa Waiver Program and will need to apply for a regular visa through an American Embassy.
8. Iran is super safe: forget everything you’ve heard in the media. Iran is a stupidly safe place to travel and there’s little to no petty crime. Wait and see, you’ll soon find yourself letting down your guard much more than you would in most Western countries. As always though you should use travel insurance. We use World NOMADS while we travel and highly recommend them.
9. Iranians don’t hate Americans: we met several Americans travelling in Iran and none reported any issues with anti-Americanism. Sure, there are occasional protests and some interesting propaganda posters here and there, but this is fuelled by the government. The vast majority of Iranians are normal guys that drink Coca-Cola and watch Hollywood movies.
10. Crossing the road is terrifying: make sure you tell your family you love them before venturing into the Iranian streets.Traffic rules seem to be some sort of general guidelines and you can forget everything about pedestrian priority. Your best bet is to maintain eye contact and look like you know what you’re doing.
Internet Tips For Iran
11. Good luck finding fast internet: warn your mom that you won’t be answering many Skype calls while in Iran. We only managed to track down fast internet in private homes. If you do find a café with wi-fi, it’s normally frustratingly slow.
12. Get an Iranian SIM card: instead of constantly chasing wi-fi you can buy a prepaid data card for your smartphone. We got an Irancell card for €8 which worked like a charm for the whole trip. Here’s a quick guide on how to activate your Iranian SIM card.
13. Download Telegram (the Iranian WhatsApp): Iranians do use WhatsApp, but Telegram is the go-to messenger service. If you want to make staying in touch with your new Iranian friends as smooth as possible, it’s a good idea to download the Telegram Messenger app.
14. Western media is blocked: the Iranian government has set up a massive firewall to block the access to a large number of Western websites including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, BBC, NY Times, CNN, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and Gmail.
Use A VPN While In Iran
15. Download a VPN: fear not – the firewall doesn’t mean Iran is in a dark vacuum with no social media or news from the outside. All you need to access the blocked sites is to download a VPN or virtual private network. We recommend using PureVPN, which is the VPN we personally used in Iran (and have continued using ever since). Jump over to accessing the internet in Iran guide to learn more about the internet in Iran and find other recommended VPN brands.
16. Download your VPN before going to Iran: Obviously, the Iranian government does a good job of limiting the access to VPNs inside Iran, so make sure you have yours before you travel.
17. Don’t use a free VPN: be very careful with free VPNs when looking for the best VPN for you. Sure, free equals perfect for us budget backpackers, but when it comes to VPNs, the trouble you risk is so not worth the $5 saving.
The Money Situation In Iran
18. ATMs: Iranian ATMs don’t accept Western credit cards. Sounds like a hassle, we know, but it really just means you’ll need to bring all the money you plan on spending in Iran in cash.
19. We spent €18/day: since you can’t get money out in Iran it’s important to have a pretty good idea of how much you’re going to spend. We’ve compiled everything we spent and broken it down in this post about budgeting for Iran.
20. Run out of money? If you’re desperate to take out money in Iran, some shops are able to act as an ATM but they charge stupid fees (up to 30%!).
21. Don’t exchange money in the banks: there’s a thriving black market cu