5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Iran

Don't listen to everything you hear about Iran in the media. In a country steeped in ancient tradition, there is a surprising essence of modern flair. Here are five things to know before you go.

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Ancient village of Kharanaq, Yazd province, Iran Photo © Getty Images/Mekdet

Iran holds many surprises for visitors; like the climate which can fluctuate greatly, depending on the area and time of year, dispelling the long-held myth that Iran is nothing more than a vast, sweltering desert. While some surprises are nice when travelling, it's important to be as well prepared as possible.

Despite its tarnished reputation, Iran can offer a unique travel experience, especially for those with a love of ancient history. The people who live there are warm and eager to share their country and heritage with visitors and those who travel there are certain to leave a little richer from the experience.

Here are 5 things to consider when planning a trip to Iran:

1. Iran's Tourist Visa Process is Tricky

Give yourself plenty of time and apply for your visa early.

If you're an independent traveler from the UK, Canada or USA, unfortunately you have to travel on a guided tour. Your tour company will organize visas for you.

Iran has a liberal interpretation of dual nationality. They techincally do not recognize dual citizenship, and recognize dual citizens of Iran as Iranian citizens.

2. Don't Send the Wrong Message

Don't use the 'thumbs up' hand gesture when you have a language barrier and want to indicate 'good' or 'okay'. This gesture is the equivalent of the rude finger, or "up yours" in Iran.

3. Dress Modestly While in Iran

If you're a woman, make sure to have a plain colored scarf or two to cover your hair at all times. Bring a long sleeve mid length jacket to maintain modesty in public.

4. Embrace the Iranian Hospitality

In Iran you will be befriended by someone in the street, whose only wish is to show you his/her country (since hospitality to foreigners is ingrained in their culture), will often insist on paying for everything and/or inviting you to their house, and they ask for nothing in return. Be open to these experiences for the Iranian people are NOTHING like you would think from in the news!

5. Keep Your Hands to Yourself

No PDA (public displays of affection). Boyfriend/girlfriend, de facto couple, same-sex couple – it's important to know what's acceptable in Iran.

What do you wish you had known before you traveled to Iran?

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46 Comments

  • Erwin said

    Many things have changed in a positive way, from visa process to dress code, especially for women.
    I've just read a comment on two head scarf for women. You only need a scarf, no matter what color, even many Iranian women wear a thin loose scarf on their head.
    There are exchange offices where you can change your Dollar or Euro for Iranian currency. Even at the airport there is an exchange office. Change enough money for a couple of days until you change again when you are in the town.
    There are yellow airport taxis front of the exit. No matter where in Teheran you go, the price is 50.000 Toman = 500.000 R.
    If you go to restaurant or a café with Iranians, you might experience that they don't let you pay. This doesn't mean that you always have to accept their offer. You can always explain to them that each pay his coffee or meal. Unless you wish to pay for him/her. They would understand.
    There is a huge gap between urban and rural, educated and labour, traditional and liberal Iranians.
    They are a proud nation and they don't like to be associated with Arabs. Don't forget they are Persians.
    They do love foreigner, no matter you're American, Canadian, Australian, European, Chinese, Latino, Turk, Arab...etc. It matters to be honest with them.
    You might have the impression that many want to approach you, they don't wanna steal from you or harm you. They love to have a short chat to foreigners and ask how is in your country and what do you think about them.

    Reply

  • Reza said

    I am an Iranian citizen and live in Tehran. Please do not believe what TV and other media try to feed you. They have their own agenda. Iran is a very safe place for travelers and the people are very hospitable.

    Reply

  • Amir said

    well, where do I start? i'm 15 and I spent most of my life in Canada, in fact i'm not even an Iranian citizen anymore. but I visited iran for 3 months last summer and it blew my mind. first of all the people there are amazing. they will help you with anything and I mean ANYTHING. its not what they show you on fox news XD. there are no public executions or harsh police violence. you are free to follow any religion you want as long as you don't advertise it in public. in iran you can find jews, Christians and although most of the people are shiya muslims, you can even find some sunis here and there. oh, just make sure not to drink or eat in public during the ramazan month, its not like anything's gonna happen to you but its mostly a question of respect. oh and please, DONT CALL US ARABS. I swear to god, we hate being called arabs and to be fair, I don't even know why. its just a thing that has been engraved in our heads from a very young age. we are Persians, not arabs. it is normal to see police officers with heavy assault rifles such as AK-47s but don't be afraid, its more of a symbolic thing and I can assure you that its not for shooting people. keep in mind that iran has its own fair share of crime and Iranians don't like criminals, that's why sometimes you see heavily armed police officers in places you might not expect. the food is to die for, i'm not even joking, its amazing. and in a tourist's point of view, there's something for everyone. whether you're a 6 year old kid or a 30 year old man, you WILL have fun in a once considered "terrorist" state -,- .

    Reply

  • Aaron said

    I really really want to travel to Iran - the culture, food and history fascinates me... Only issue is that I am gay and my partner would really want to come along. We would definitely not be obvious and would respect the culture so absolutely no PDoA... I have heard that it would be ok but can anyone confirm this? Iran is on my must see list of COU tries to visit!!!

    Reply

  • Behzad said

    Hi Aaron,
    Its okay for any one to travel to Iran apart of politic, for you as a gay couple if you do normal act like straight people on the public you should not have any problem enjoy the trip babe.:)

    Reply

  • Ehsan said

    Hi Aaron,
    I am a gay too in Iran. I think I can help you and give advice about whatever you want.

    Reply

  • marco said

    maybe stupid question, but how are the girls?
    Will I be arrested when I do some curtousy or is this acceptable.
    I am not some Thai sextourist but I do like to do my flirting, nothing more.

    Reply

  • safarme.com said

    hi dear
    I think I can help you and give advice about whatever you want from iran and tourism place
    please contact us .
    my web site : www.safarme.com

    Reply

  • yahya said

    Hi. I live in Iran and I'll be happy to help you and answer your questions for travel to Iran. It's completely safe and I can help you in many cases

    Reply

  • Sana Naz said

    Love the trip to Iran this is one of the amazing journey of my life http://www.ziyarats.co.uk/iran/

    Reply

  • Saba said

    Dear All
    I'm already happy to know people are coming to visit my beautiful country I'm a freelance tour guide and I enjoy answering your questions , and I work in a an office called Pintapin , we offer all the hotels and accomodation with good discount rate and you can also use your credit cards to book, (visa and master) .I'd be glad to help u out .
    en.pintapin.com

    Reply

  • kim said

    Iran is beautiful country with beautiful people
    But becurfull
    Iranian women and men are very strong minded,so we love jock and dance but we don't like racists.
    So pls no racists in Iran , because Iranian are not racists at all.
    And make sure u respect Iranian women a lot because they are not cheep.
    We do a lot make up but we are Persian women at the end.
    Visit Iran u will love it , Iran is a very picfull country with lots to see and experience.
    Iran is totally different with Europe countries, so old with great culture and history.
    We love freedom but not too much of it like Europ.
    Have lovely holiday

    Reply

  • Julia said

    Amazing report,
    I have traveled to Iran last year in Nowruz and I always call it my best trip.
    It was funny I had been spending my best days of my life and my parents were calling every day to ask Are you alive?
    I traveled with an agency which supported me all over the trip, they were such a friend and help me a lot during trip (http://iranstravel.com/)
    I recommend every body to visit this beautiful country and their friendly people.

    Reply

  • Phineas Hartson said

    I am a transgender woman of colour.
    I would love travel to Iran. But as a woman is it safe to travel alone to Iran?
    Email me on [email protected]

    Reply

  • tehranrentcar said

    Hi everybody
    car rental in iran we have an old car rental company in Tehran.
    Our company has more than 89 car for rent.
    I hope that we tell you.
    contact us:
    09122905020
    http://www.tehranrentcar.ir
    good price.

    Reply

  • Viz said

    Hi guys, my name's Viz I'm from New Zealand and will be travelling to Iran on my own next month

    Just wondering if anyone has any tips or (cheap ish) tours they did there? I have Persian ancestry and would love to see all the historic zoroastrian sites but can't afford to pay thousands of dollars to do so!

    Any info would be greatly appreciated especially as I'm a solo female traveller. Please email any suggestions at [email protected] thanks! :)

    Reply

  • Toiranvel said

    www.toiranvel.com
    Visit iran now

    Reply

  • carlo.carlos said

    and some slang tips to be cool in Iran:

    Hi: salâm
    Farewell: bedrood
    Much obliged to you: tashakor/merci
    Good: kheily khoobe (articulated hreily hroop – this will make any road nourishment seller laugh uncontrollably!)

    Delengo: cool!

    Reply

  • ali miri said

    If you want to experience Tehran at it’s best then come to this suite.

    This area of Tehran is central, safe, and packed full of attractions such as museums, palaces, famous traditional restaurants, in addition, the famous Tehran Market along with beautiful huge park in nearby.
    https://iranfurnished.com/property/tehran-house-rent-short-term-cheap-suite/

    Reply

  • Gaurav Kumar Rathi said

    iran is a good country to visit for having a different kind of tour. there you can experience a different kind of thing you cant find in another country, like the old market, bathhouse, mosque you will enjoy your trip . if you need any kind of help , i would happy to help you

    Reply

  • Robin said

    Thank you for the great tips!

    Are the rate interesting at the exchange offices? At least from my experience in some other countries in Latin America or Asia, I always struggle to spend all the cash at the end of my trips and ends up in the airport with the unfavourable rate applied by the exchange offices.

    Just heard about one mobile application Fairswap to exchange cash.
    Widely, you can post your need in foreign currency and if there is someone nearby facing the reverse need, then he can contact you and you will meet him and make the swap.
    Could be a good way to change before travelling or get rid of some leftover after holidays.

    Reply

  • Ilyana said

    Great article mate. This is something worth reading while anyone wants to visit Iran. My father had visited Iran last year when he took help from his Iraqi friend who guided him well about the trip. Moreover the Company that took my Father to Iran was also very awesome and gave him an amazing service through out the tour. They are on top of their work and commonly known as Ziyarat Group works from USA, Canada & Pakistan. I suggest you all to visit them Online when ever you want to go on Ziyarat.

    Reply

  • Amit chaudhary said

    Actually i just to visit Iran but is there any trouble in language i meant to say that English is enough for me and the other problem is that
    That i am pure vegetarian so can i get vegetarian food overthere

    Reply

  • Sacha said

    So far the best article i have read today as I just Love traveling and want to explore as much countries as i can . Here i would like to appreciate you to share such amazing detailed informative post for bringing up the knowledge of your followers. Last time i visit Dubai desert Safari and it was such an incredible experience. This year wanna visit Iraq Iran and your article will help e out in different ways for sure.

    Reply

  • Samaneh Ghaedi said

    thanks for your tips. its good to add this Do not be afraid to ask any Iranian anything. If they speak English, they will endeavor to help you to the best way they can. They will not stray you or make up stories. If asking for directions, as in any other country make sure to ask a few people as you go along until you reach your destination.

    Reply

  • Diana said

    I am a single 54yer old woman from Australia, always wanted to go to Iran. I am a solo traveller, do I need to travel in a group tour, can I jut arrive on a plane to Tehran and freelance it, like I prefer to? I know that us/iran politics is tense at the moment,will affect anything seeing that Aust government always sides with th USA?

    Reply

  • Samaneh Ghaedi said

    Iran is a wonderful country with a lot of potential to visit

    Reply

  • iran tour magazine said


    How to get to Iran without a visa?
    Iran is a country of immense beauty, charm, and mystery of the old world. The number of trips to Iran is increasing steadily and more and more people are choosing to visit the country.
    Currently, more than 30 countries are allowed to enter Iran without a visa.
    https://irantour.tours/news/how-to-get-to-iran-without-a-visa.html

    Reply

  • RY said

    I'm from Iran and yea it's awesome! well, many people reckon that Iran is not a safe place for tourists(especially for women). But let me tell you It's not as dangerous as other countries like ... let me don't say... . and as usual like every country, Iran's got some pros and cons. And guys, plz don't beleive whatever u read in medias or hear...
    Overall, I love Iran from my soul:)
    All the bests
    & hope to see u in Iran after covid-19 pandemic! <3

    Reply

  • reza said

    You are lying a lot. I am Iranian and I have never heard of this.
    That was 30 or 40 years ago, not now.

    Reply

  • Amir said

    That's totally right

    Reply

  • mobin said

    I love Iran
    The best country in any thing special social security

    Reply

  • arman said

    non of dose matters when you aren"t in public place like street or airport and markets and only things is impotent is do not make aye contact with someone you don"t know and always take someone how can speech english no! one!!! dont know your language dont pay anything (because iranian
    Sales Expensive) without Consulting! your tour guy or someone you know speech English and can trust

    Reply

  • erga said

    Allah Akbar in Iran

    Reply

  • James said

    Hi. Bear in mind your not losing your wallet.Mobile. or any device at Khomainie Airport or city...Don't comment on Khamenie and shi'it otherwise you will ended up in Evin prison...If you are Academic make sure you don't mention it otherwise like Dr kylie moore gilbert they detaine you for 804 days and swipe you with any Iranian detainee in abroad

    Reply

  • Ab said

    Hello, I hope you are healthy and take care of yourself .. Well, four days have passed since the last comment, but I wanted to give you an explanation about Iran. I myself am Iranian and my country is very confident and has a good life together I am with my family. Well, the Iranian people are very hospitable. Each of the cities of Iran has its own customs and traditions. I am a Shirazi (which is the capital of Iranian culture and art). Shiraz Melli has places of interest such as Nasir Al-Molk Mosque or Saadiyeh or Hafeziyeh, and ... Of course, I must say that there are other very beautiful cities. Nowruz is exactly five days away (it is like Christmas) and I am very happy to do some research.The Iranians are of the Aryan race, and as you know, Iran had the oldest country in the world and the strongest civilization in the world, which was the civilization in the Achaemenid period (oh, you do not know who I mean who built Persepolis).And well, I do not want to talk too much, but I also want to say that the rules are that they do not drink alcohol there and they are not allowed, women must wear hijab (these are two of the most important laws). But I ask you not to believe the news and things it does about Iran. Of course, every country says bad things about another country, but I ask you, it is not what you think. And that we are happy to come to our country and that now that there is a corona, but take care of yourself, goodbye☺️👋🏻

    Reply

  • Mohammad said

    Iran is a very good destination for cosmetic surgeries such as rhinoplasty due to its weak economy and highly professional surgeons.
    Some Iranian companies are very active in this field, including Ariamdtor and Mediranco.

    Reply

  • Sarah said

    Hi I am from Australia but my parents are from Iran and Iran is the best place in the world. Don’t believe other people that say it’s not, because I know. The food there is absolutely amazing and delicious, you should go and try it I promise you will love it and enjoy it so much. Please go there you will always remember the good times.

    Reply

  • Jacqueline pollock said

    We’ve been all around the world, spent a lot of time in a lot of different countries, and if there’s one thing we can honestly tell you it’s that we’ve never felt as welcomed, fascinated and humbled as we did when we visited Iran.

    Iran is such an incredible country to travel. The architecture will amaze you, the friendliness of the people will leave you speechless, the culture is fascinating and the landscapes are out of this world.

    Reply

  • Brian said

    Do you need to declare your religion for the Visa application? Are Bahá’ís welcome?

    Reply

  • Jacqueline pollock said

    Iran is like no other country. From respecting the local culture to haggling in the right places to the tipping etiquette and how to use social media, there are many things to know before you travel to Iran.

    Travel to modern Persia without surprises and enjoy your trip with our tips on the local culture and soci

    Reply

  • Zoey Oliver said

    Iran is a wonderful country with a lot of potentials to visit.

    Reply

  • Anahid said

    Most people in Iran want to be free because in our country, protest equals killing people.
    Iran is the best place to travel just because of its sights and antiquities.

    Reply

    • An Iranian with originality said

      Iran is a wonderful country in terms of culture, history and literature, and everything else that a country needs to excel.
      Every human being anywhere in the world with any language has the right to decide with his muscle and knowledge and nothing affects him, so do not let hostile propaganda stop you from enjoying your trip to Iran.
      Iran is a good country for any person with any culture. Women in Iran feel safe and men to feel comfortable and like the hosts like their children.
      Enjoy Iran and its attractions. Its beautiful places ...

      Reply

  • Ava said

    Hi. I am Ava from Iran/Isfahan. If u want to come to Iran just text me I could help you.
    I also have a beautiful Iraninan house. [email protected]

    Reply

  • Stephan Morodov said

    Hi everyone. I am from Russia.I traveled to Iran 2 years ago with my patner Dominic (I am gay). We had no problem we could get a double bedroom in Shiraz Shamaran Hotel.we saw a lot of gay and transexual guys and to my wonder most of the young people could speak English and we had no problem with the language.
    Iran is a safe and cheap place to go.We saw no force no kidnapping and no danger.
    the weather was incredible in spring.I suggest you to visit Iran Specially the city Shiraz.It's full of historical places and beautiful gardens. people are so open-minded(mostly young people) happy warm and hospitable.They always want to take u to their homes and pay for you. selling alcoholic drinks are illegal but most of the people have homemade wines. so you can have some if u find a friend...
    At the end, I think we had a great Gay Honeymoon there.and we will try it again after COVID.

    Reply

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