Iran (Persian: ايران) is a large country within the Greater Middle East and is part of the South-Central Asian Union, between the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea. It is bordered by Iraq to the west, Turkey, Azerbaijan's Naxcivan enclave, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to the northwest, Turkmenistan to the northeast, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east.
Known as Persia until 1935 in the western world, whereas the indigenous name has been Iran forever. Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling Shah was forced into exile. Conservative clerical forces subsequently crushed Westernisation and also any liberal or left-wing influences. Key current issues affecting the country include the pace of accepting outside modernising influences, reconciliation between clerical control of the regime and popular participation in government, and widespread demands for reform. Inflation and unemployment (particularly among youth) are major economic challenges.
Humans have inhabited the area that makes up modern Iran since the Stone Age. The ancient Persians arrived about 1500 BC, one branch of the great movement of people that also brought northern India and most of Europe their modern populations. The name Iran is from the same root as "Aryan" which, until Hitler perverted it, was just an ancient name for those arriving peoples. Persian (natively known as Farsi) is an Indo-European language; ancient Persian was related to Sanskrit, ancient Greek, and all the others in that family. Persians are the major ethnic group of Iran and make up 60% of the Iranian population. They are ethnically and linguistically unrelated to Arabs.
Iran is a multi-ethnic and multicultural country. The northwestern region, Azerbaijan, is largely populated by Iranian Azeris, who are a Turkic people closely related to the people of Azerbaijan republic and Turkey. The province of Kurdistan is mainly inhabited by ethnic Kurds who are related to Persians. There are also Armenians, Arabs, Lurs, Turkmens, Georgians, Assyrians, and last but not least Jews, who have been living in Iran peacefully for years.
While Shia Islam is without a doubt the dominant religion in Iran, there also exists several religious minorities as well. Sunni Islam in Iran is mainly practiced by ethnic minorities such as the Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. Other non-Islamic faiths also exist in smaller numbers, the most notable being Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism, all three of which are recognized as minority religions by the Iranian constitution, and each of these are guaranteed representation in the Iranian parliament (locally known as Majles). As such, despite being an Islamic republic, fire temples, churches and synagogues continue to operate legally in the country. Most Iranian Christians follow Eastern Orthodoxy, and are of Armenian or Georgian ethnicity. Iran also has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside Israel. While there are also a significant number of Baha'is in Iran, they are not recognized by the constitution and are instead branded as heretics of Islam, meaning that they continue to be persecuted to this day in spite of being Iran's numerically largest non-Muslim religion. Some locals practise wedleasing (temporary marriage) locally known as nikah mut'ah or sigheh.
There are also two substantial communities of people of Iranian descent in India and Pakistan — Parsis who have been there for over 1,000 years, and Iranians who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries — both Zoroastrians who fled religious persecution in Iran.
Throughout history, Persia has generally been an empire, one whose fortunes varied enormously. In ancient times, Persia controlled most of what we now call the Middle East, and came close to conquering Greece. A few centuries later, Alexander the Great, conquered (among other things) the entire Persian Empire. Later, Persia was conquered by the Arabs in the expansion of Islam in the centuries immediately after the time of Muhammad; Persian and other languages of the region are still written with the Arabic alphabet. About 1250, Persia was overrun by the Mongols. Marco Polo passed through just after that, learned Persian, and wrote extensively of the region.
At other times, Persia conquered many of her neighbours. Her empire often included much of what we now call Central Asia (Polo counted Bukhara and Samarkand as Persian cities), and sometimes various other areas. A few generations after the Mongols took Persia, the dynasty they founded there took all of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and most of India. The Indian term "Moghul" for some of their rulers is from "Mongol", via Persia. Even in periods when she did not rule them, Persia has always exerted a large cultural influence on her neighbours, especially Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The Safavid dynasty re-united Persia as an independent state in 1501, established Shi'a Islam as the official religion, and ushered in a golden age of Persian culture. They were overthrown in 1736 by Nadir Shah, the last great Asian conqueror, who expanded the Empire to again include Afghanistan and much of India. His short-lived dynasty and its successor lasted until 1795. Then the Qajar dynasty ruled 1795-1925, a period of heavy pressure from foreign powers, notably Britain and Russia who jointly occupied Iran during World War I. In 1906, Qajar rule became a constitutional monarchy and the Majlis (Persian for parliament) was established.
The last dynasty
In 1925, a military coup by Reza Shah established a new "Pahlavi" dynasty, named for the most ancient Persian dynasty around 500 BC. His rule was quite nationalistic; requested that the West would call the country by its endonym Iran, rather than Persia, and built a strong military. It was also quite authoritarian; he built a powerful secret police and a propaganda apparatus, and did not hesitate to crush dissent. He also made considerable efforts toward modernization, and came into conflict with conservatives over some of it. When World War II came, he refused Allied demands for guarantees that Iran would resist if German forces got that far. Iran was then invaded by Anglo-Indian forces from the South and Russians from the North, and a railway built (largely by US Army engineers) to bring supplies from the Persian Gulf across Iran to beleaguered Russia. Reza Shah went off to exile in South Africa, abdicating on the steps of the aircraft in favour of his son.
The son, Mohammad Reza Shah, continued his father's nationalistic, authoritarian and modernizing tendencies. However, coming to power in 1941, he had a problem; he needed powerful friends, but who? Given the history, no sane Iranian ruler would choose Britain or Russia. Being pro-German had not worked out well for dad and, in 1941, France did not count for much. That left the Americans, and he became one of America's most important allies in the region, seen as a "bulwark against Communism", a constitutional monarch, in some ways a progressive ruler — modernising, sometimes comparing himself to Kemal Ataturk who led Turkey's modernization — and a protector of US and other Western interests. He was one of very few Middle Eastern rulers to extend diplomatic recognition to Israel and helped prevent Iranian nationalization of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. On the other hand, he was quite capable of putting Iranian interests before Western ones, as when he was one of the key players in creating OPEC.
While in some ways progressive, the Shah was also very much the oriental despot. When the Soviets left Northwestern Iran after the war, they left behind something that claimed to be an independent communist government of Azerbaijan. The first major conflict of the Cold War came as the Shah, advised by the CIA, brought in troops who crushed that government and the communist party (Tudeh in Persian). Throughout his reign, his Savak secret police stomped hard on any opposition. His regime was also massively corrupt, with his relatives and various others getting hugely rich while much of the country was very poor. On the other hand, he did build infrastructure and start various projects to benefit the poor, including a program that sent new university graduates into the countryside as teachers.
In theory, Iran under the Shah was still a constitutional monarchy. Mohammed Mosaddeq became Prime Minister in 1951 and instituted reforms that included nationalising the oil companies and a land reform program. He was overthrown in a 1953 coup backed by the CIA, the British (who had large oil interests at stake), and the Shah. The Shah and the new Prime Minister reversed the oil nationalisation, but continued with a land reform program. However, as well as giving land to the peasants, it worked out that the Shah's family and others with connections got a lot. The Ayatollah Khomeni went into exile at this time, originally because of his objections to land reform taking land from the mosques.
The Islamic revolution
In 1979, the Shah was overthrown and went into exile, dying a year later. The revolution involved many groups — Tudeh, Mosaddeq-style secular reformers, and various Islamic factions — but came to be led and dominated by a conservative Islamic faction under Ayatollah Khomeni. Partly in reaction to the Shah's policies, they were also strongly anti-Western and in particular anti-American.
The main divisions of Islam are Shia'a and Sunni. The split goes back to a time just after the Prophet's death; would the movement be controlled by some of his leading followers (Sunni), or by his family, in particular by his son-in-law Ali (Shi'a). There was a long, complex and bloody struggle over this. Today, Iran is the only major country that is predominantly and officially Shi'a, though there are Shi'a minorities elsewhere and a Sunni minority in Iran. The Iranian government supports the Shi'a Hezbollah movement further west, and is therefore accused by America of fomenting terrorism.
One of the major events of Shi'a religious life is the Day of Ashura on the 10th of the month of Moharram; "ashura" means "10th". It commemorates the death of Ali's son Hussein at the Battle of Karbala in 61 AH (680 AD). This is not a joyful celebration, but a very sober day of atonement.
Traditional activities include parades in which people do 'matham' which is a way of remembering Imam Hussein who was martyred along with all his half brother, cousins, friends, and 2 young sons. Some terrorist groups also exploit the religious fervour of the day; Hezbollah's 1983 suicide bomber attack on the US embassy in Lebanon took place on Ashura.
Iran has a diverse climate. In the northwest, winters are cold with heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures during December and January. Spring and fall are relatively mild, while summers are dry and hot. In the south, winters are mild and the summers are very hot, having average daily temperatures in July exceeding 38°C (100°F) and can hit 50°C in parts of the desert. On the Khuzestan plain, summer heat is accompanied by high humidity.
In general, Iran has an arid climate in which most of the relatively scant annual precipitation falls from October through April. In most of the country, yearly precipitation averages 25 centimetres or less. The major exceptions are the higher mountain valleys of the Zagros and the Caspian coastal plain, where precipitation averages at least 50cm annually. In the western part of the Caspian, rainfall exceeds 100cm annually and is distributed relatively evenly throughout the year.
Rugged, mountainous rim; high, central basin with deserts, mountains; small, discontinuous plains along both coasts. The highest point is Mount Damavand (5,610m)that is the highest volcano of the world. Desert: Two great deserts extend over much of central Iran: the Dasht-e Lut is covered largely with sand and rocks, and the Dasht-e Kavir is covered mainly with salt. Both deserts are inhospitable and virtually uninhabited. Mountain: The Zagros range stretches from the border with the Republic of Armenia in the north-west to the Persian Gulf, and then eastward into Baluchistan. Zagros is extremely hard, difficult to access, and populated largely by pastoral nomads. The Alborz mountain range, narrower than the Zagros, runs along the southern shore of the Caspian to meet the border ranges of Khorasan to the east. Forest: Approximately 11 percent of Iran is forested, most extensively in the Caspian region. Here one finds the broad-leafed, vigorous deciduous trees, usually oak, beech, linden, elm, walnut, ash, and hornbeam, as well as a few broad-leafed evergreens. Thorny shrubs and fern also abound.The narrow Caspian subtropical coastal plain, in contrast, is covered with rich brown forest soil.
Below is a list of just nine of the most notable cities:
To enter Iran, a visa is required for citizens of all countries. The exceptions to this rule are Turkey (3 months visa-free), Armenia and Syria (90 days within 180 days visa-free), Georgia (45 days visa-free), Azerbaijan, Bolivia and Lebanon (30 days visa-free), Serbia (30 days within 1 year visa-free), Egypt (20 days visa-free), Malaysia and Venezuela (15 days visa-free),
Citizens of all countries except Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Somalia, UK and USA can obtain a tourism visa on arrival (VOA) for max. 90 days at the international airports of Gheshm Island, Mashhad, Esfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz and Tehran. As per April 2017, VOA is not issued at the Airports in Bandar Abbas, Ahvaz or others, altough wrongly claimed by several websites, neither at any land border. VOA costs between 30 and 148 Euros (75 Euros for EU passport holders (as of September 2018)) plus 16 US dollars for an Iranian health insurance, unless you bring an explicit proof of a health insurance valid in Iran (an insurer with an office in Iran). A confirmed hotel booking for the first night is required (you need to fill in the address and the phone number in the application form). Payment can only be made in cash at the "Bank" counter at the airport before a VOA will be issued at a separate counter, before proceeding to migration for entry stamp.
To apply for a visa in advance, one must contact an approved Iranian travel agent who applies to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Your visa will then be authorised by the MFA and faxed to the Iranian Consulate near you. Your travel agent gives you a visa authorisation number with which you can refer to the consulate to get your visa. The visa authorisation number, however, is valid only in the consulate you have asked them your visa to be issued in. The number they give you is just an "authorisation". This reference number means that your visa has been authorised and approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but is not the visa itself.
Depending on your nationality, you may be required to present at the Iranian consulate in your country to have your fingerprints taken. British, Canadian, and American passport holders will be fingerprinted upon arrival.
After your travel agent tells you your visa authorisation number you should first get a visa application form from the consulate and follow the requirements of the application form (you may either personally go to the consulate to get the application forms or, if the service available, download it from the web site of the Iranian embassy in your country). Then, you should refer to the consulate to lodge your passports and application forms with the visa number they gave you (it can be either a physical presence or by post). Then it might take from 1-5 days for the consulate to issue your visa .
You may also need to provide a letter of recommendation from your embassy if you are applying outside your home country, a photocopy of your air tickets in and out of Iran and any student or press card .
Normally, all tourist visas issued by Iranian consulates have a 3-month validity. The visa allows you to stay in Iran for up to 30 days, although the duration of your visa is at the discretion of the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
Rarely, you may be asked to provide a letter from your employer or proof of fund. Visas are generally valid for three months that is you must enter Iran within three months of issue.
Depending on your nationality, issuing a visa may take 5 days or more.
There are reports that it is possible to get a visa in 3 days in Istanbul consulate, especially for [germans]
Types of visa: Entry, Transit, Business, Tourist and Journalist. Fee varies according to nationality of applicant, type of' visa and the existing regulation between countries.
A visa cannot be issued for passports which have a validity of less than 6 months. Exit permits required by all (often included with visa).
Transit visas are usually easier to get than tourist visas (usually for one or two weeks) and very useful for people travelling between Europe and South Asia. Various travel agents inside Iran help you obtain visas, often through their home pages.
You can get an extension for your transit visa for foreign drivers carrying cargo to Iran or other countries, it is necessary to co-ordinate in advance with the Diplomatic Missions of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Extending a tourist visa is very easy and can be done in most cities. Some travel guides say not to do this in Tehran as it is very time consuming. This is no longer the case and the process of extending a visa in Tehran can be done in just 1 hour (including tea offerings and being the object of curiosity in the office). Extending a visa a second time requires the passport to be sent to a department in Tehran (no matter where you extend your visa from) and thus takes longer time than doing this the first time.
Although it has become easier to get a tourist visa in recent years, whether the process takes one day or one month depends largely on your nationality and the staff of the embassy you are applying to. Your best bet is to apply to the Iranian embassy in your own country at least three months before your departure, but it is possible to obtain one while travelling in other countries, with varying degrees of difficulty. Women need to make sure they are wearing the Hijab or a head scarf in their submitted passport-sized photos.
Visitors from the Persian Gulf States need no visa to enter Iran. These states are: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. People from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey can get a three-month tourist visa on arrival. People from Japan can get a three-month tourist visa at an Iranian embassy with no difficulty.
Places known to extend visas happily in Iran are Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz, Esfahan, Shiraz, Kerman and Zahedan. The extension process is normally handled at provincial police headquarters. 
All international flights to Tehran land at the new Imam Khomeini International Airport  based 37 km southwest of Tehran. Pilgrimage flights to Saudi Arabia still fly from Mehrabad airport. There are 70 smaller regional airports, for example those in Shiraz, Mashhad, and Isfahan, and these have daily flights to many international destinations.
Dubai has scheduled flights to many Iranian cities, including Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Kerman, Lar, Mashhad, Tabriz, Kish Island, Bandar Abbas, Bushher, Zahedan, Kermanshah, Chah Bahar and is therefore worth considering travelling to Iran from. Flights are operated by Iran Air, Emirates (for Tehran), Iran Aseman Airlines, Mahan Air and other Iranian companies. Fares are relatively cheap on Iranian carriers, ranging from US$100-250 for a return trip depending on your destination and time of booking.
IranAir and MahanAir connect Tehran with some of the major European cities as well as destinations in Asia and Middle East. European companies landing in Tehran include BMI, Lufthansa, KLM, Alitalia, Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Aeroflot and Middle-Eastern airlines: Saudi Arabian Airlines, Emirates, and Etihad. AirAsia has flights to/from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. ALso, Thai Airways serves a direct route to/from Bangkok starting from October 1, 2016 onwards. So finding a flight to Iran should not be hard.
Connections are also easily available via Manama, Bahrain using Gulf Air (but has stopped recently). Additionally, Qatar airlines offers several flights to Iran and provides non-stop service to Doha from to many US cities.
Low-cost carriers (LCC) also operate flights to Tehran or other cities in Iran.
Note that if not staying in Tehran and planning to get to any city other than Tehran upon your arrival, you would have to change airports, from Imam Khomeini to Mehrabad, 40km away, to get to your domestic flight. Allow at least 3-4h between the flights. If going to Mashhad, you may be able to avoid the plane change in Iran using Turkish Airlines, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways, Jazeera Airways, or Qatar Airways. If going to Shiraz, several flights from Persian Gulf States are available. For Tabriz, you can try travelling via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines or via Baku on IranAir.
In spite of economic sanctions the majority of Iranian based airlines did not have high level of incidents during recent years. However sanctions resulted in inability to purchase new planes and the fleet of all airlines are old. Among Iranian based airlines Iran Air, Mahan Air and Aseman Airlines have been completely safe with no serious incidents during recent years. Due to safety issues flying with other Iranian based airlines is not recommended. The service and flying skill of Iranian pilots are fairly well known.
There are no direct flights at present from Canada or the USA, but you could travel via either Europe or Persian Gulf States. Non-stop flights from Dubai via JFK, IAD, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston or Toronto are good bets. Visitors from Australia or New Zealand can consider travelling via Dubai or Abu Dhabi, or can use a combination of Iran Air and Malaysian or Thai Airlines to get from any major city in Australia to Tehran, via Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. Air Asia and Thai Airways also has good deals from Australia and New Zealand to Tehran with a stop in Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok.
From Damascus in Syria there are charter flights to Tabriz, Tehran, Yazd, Isfahan, Mashhad. There are agencies in Seyyedeh-Zeinab district (a popular place with Iranian pilgrimages) that can sell you empty seats of these charter flights for less than 100$.
Iran is connected to Pakistan via the following air links:
There are no trains to Turkey. Until 2015 the Trans-Asia Express ran once a week between Tehran and Ankara, whilst another train ran once a week between Van and Tabriz. These services are suspended indefinitely.
This train service is suspended indefinitely.
In June 2009 a Bam-Zahedan freight line was completed, which connected Zahedan to rest of Iranian railway network. However there is no passenger train between Bam and Zahedan at present, so you have to take a bus or taxi.
Many people drive a car to Iran via Turkey.
This requires a Carnet De Passage unless you wish to pay import tax. A Carnet can be acquired from your local drivers association (such as the RAC in the UK). An international driver's license is highly recommended with translation into Persian very beneficial.
Some borders (Turkey notably) offer entry with an alternative "transit carnet", available for 150-euro. This lasts 3 days. A 60-euro fine is levied at the exit border if you overstay these 3 days.
From Armenia there are daily, modern buses from Yerevan to Tabriz and even further to Teheran. Alternatively you can take a marshrutka from the Kayakan bus terminal in Yerevan to Meghri or all the way to Agarak, which is the border town to Iran. In both directions the Marshrutka leaves quite early in the morning. Kapan and Karajan are more frequently served by marschrutkas but it is a long and mountainous (and therefore expensive) stretch to the border from there. From Meghri it is around 8 km to the border and hitching or a taxi is the only option. On the Iranian side the closest puplic transport can be found around 50km to the west in Jolfa, so a taxi for IRR80,000 (about USD3) is again the only commercial choice. Expect to be asked a lot for all taxi rides, so hard bargaining is essential. Making clear, or at least pretending that you have other choices may assist you to get fairer prices. Locals confirmed, that the taxi ride to Jolfa is 80000 Rial. Sometimes it's easier to bargain if the taxi drivers know that you know the price.
The border is not busy at all, so when hitching you have to mainly stick with the truck drivers and Russian or Persian helps a lot here. Consider for yourself whether this is a safe option.
You can also (depending on the political situation) enter from Pakistan via the border crossing between Taftan (on the Pakistani side) and Zahedan (on the Iranian side) as long as you have a valid visa for Iran. You can NOT get a visa at the border. Overnight buses leave from Quetta arriving in Taftan in the early morning, from there you can either hire a taxi to the border or walk a couple of kilometres. Once across the border (which can take some time on the Iranian side, you need to organise transport to Zahedan (the local town) where buses depart for destinations in Eastern Iran such as Bam, Kerman and Yazd. See the Istanbul to New Delhi over land 3.9 Iran-Pakistan border, for more details on the crossing.
This option is sometimes dangerous as Pakistani Balochistan has issues of sectarian violence linked with religious militants against the Shia minority. the earlier nationalist insurgency demanding independence for Balochistan has almost died down and situation is lot better though a caution must still be exercised. Earlier at least at three to four occasions in last five years buses coming to and from the Iranian border have been stopped on the outskirts of Quetta and the Shias have been shot dead. On one occasion, Pakistani travelers returning from Iran have also been attacked in Turbat.
The train from Zahedan to Quetta is a better option though lacks sophistication and luxuries. There is also a flight from Zahedan to Quetta via PIA.
There are some scheduled services from Baku to Bandar Anzali on the Caspian Sea and from cities on the Persian Gulf to cities on the Iranian coast. They are usually of low quality.
Starting in late 2007 and 2008; high quality semi-luxurious ferry service started between Kish Island and Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This service is of nominal fee (@ US$50) and the journey across one of the busiest stretches of water is sure to entertain. It is not currently known what the Customs and Entry Visa process is like using this service however as the boats do not enter via the airport. While the entry/exit process at the airport is fairly well established, it is unknown if the process is as well managed when entering via the docks. It is likely to be more chaotic and it is not know whether visas are issued on the spot as is the case at the airport.
There are also ferries from Bandar Abbas to Dubai and Sharjah in UAE, and also ferries from Bushehr to Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. These are operated by Valfajr Shipping Company . Rates depend on your exact journey, but as of January 2014, Bandar Abbas-Sharjah (UAE) was sold for IRR1,600,000 (about €40). Boats run three times a week (Saturday, Monday & Wednesday), departing Bandar Abbas around 21:00. Tickets can be bought from one of the agencies listed on the website. Expect to be the only non-Iranian on board. Plan loosely around the boat trip, as schedules are not strictly enforced.
While not as comfortable or fast as in Europe or North America, Iranian transport is of high quality, and is very affordable. There are few places the very cheap buses don't travel to, the train network is limited but comfortable and reasonably priced and travel by air is not expensive. The ticket prices are always fixed and you don't have benefits of early bookings.
For anyone on a tight deadline, affordable domestic air services are a blessing. The major national carrier Iran Air, and its semi-private competitors such as Iran Aseman Airlines - Aseman meaning "sky" in Persian , Mahan Air and Kish Air link Tehran with most regional capitals and offer inter-regional flights for no more than USD60.
Their services are frequent, reliable and are definitely worth considering to skip the large distances within Iran. Planes are ageing, and maintenance and safety procedures are sometimes well below western standards, but it still remains the safest way to get around Iran, given the huge death toll on the roads.
Tupolev Tu-154 and other Russian planes aren't used by some carriers and they change with MD82 or 83. However, the odds are you will board a Shah-era B727 or some more recent Fokker, ATR or even Airbus A310 if you're lucky. Busy domestic routes are sometimes flown by a B747SP, and the extra boarding and run-up time are worth the thrill of flying in one of the last of these shortened Jumbos still operating in the world. Saha Air, another internal Iranian airline, is also the last operator of the Boeing 707 in scheduled commercial passenger service. If you insist on flying, try getting some of the new planes leased from Russia.
Tickets can be bought at airports or travel agents dotted through the most major cities. Book early during the summer months of August and September since finding seats at short notice is virtually impossible. It is possible to pay extra to get onto a booked flight by bribing someone or paying them to take their seat on the plane. Some flights will auction off the last few seats to the highest bidder. For westerners, the conversion makes it easy to outbid everyone.
You can also find domestic tickets in some Iran Air offices abroad, such as in Dubai. Expect to pay a little more due to the exchange rate applied. Domestic tickets for other companies must be bought inside Iran.
Note if you are from a "western" country, some agencies are reluctant to let you book a domestic flight. Be prepared to argue, bargain and make sure you bring someone, who is able to translate for you.
The Iranian domestic bus network is extensive and thanks to the low cost of fuel, very cheap. In fact the only drawback is speed: the government has limited buses to 80 km/h to combat lead-footed bus drivers so long haul trips such as Shiraz to Mashhad can take up to 20 hr.
Most Companies provide two Classes of buses: VIP and Normal, with the VIP having more spacious seats (a single seat and a pair in each row) as opposed to the normal buses (four seats per row). Almost all buses are air-conditioned. Naturally, VIP buses are more expensive, usually about double the price of a normal ticket. Even so they are quite cheap; the Tehran-Esfahan service, for example, costs about 300000 Rls- or about 10 USD). Some newer VIP buses even have monitors attached to the seats, although they are still rare and are only offered by the major companies and operate from major cities.
The only major difference between the various bus companies is the frequency and availability of their VIP services. Major companies operating out of big cities usually provide more VIP services than Normal ones, and the biggest companies don't offer Normal tickets in major cities at all.
You can buy tickets online, from the bus terminals, or ticket offices up to a week in advance, but you shouldn't have a problem finding a seat if you turn up to the terminal an hour or so before your intended departure time, although you might not be able to find a ticket this way in major cities such as Tehran , especially on holidays or other travel-prone times. It is best to book tickets online, where you can choose your seat.
Most cities operate comprehensive local bus services, but given the low cost of taxis and the difficulties of reading Persian-language signs (which, unlike road signs, do not have English counterparts) and route numbers, they are of little use to the casual traveler. If you're cash strapped and brave enough to try, however, remember that the buses are segregated. Men enter via the front or rear door and hand their ticket to the driver before taking a seat in the front half of the bus. Women and children should hand their ticket to the driver via the front doors (without actually getting on) before entering via the rear door to take a seat at the back. Tickets, usually around IRR500, are sold from booths near most bus stops. Private buses accept cash instead of tickets. There is also rechargeable credit ticket cards accepted in buses @ metro stations (in Tehran since 2012 paper tickets are no longer accepted in buses).
Raja Passenger Trains is the passenger rail system. Travelling by train through Iran is generally more comfortable and faster than speed-limited buses. Sleeper berths in overnight trains are especially good value as they allow you to get a good nights sleep while saving on a nights accommodation.
The rail network comprises three main trunk lines. The first stretches east to west across the north of the country linking the Turkish and Turkmenistan borders via Tabriz, Tehran and Mashhad. The second and third extend south of Tehran but split at Qom. One line connects to the Persian Gulf via Ahvaz and Arak, while the other traverses the country's centre linking Kashan, Yazd and Kerman.
Tickets can be bought from train stations up to one month before the date of departure, and it is wise to book at least a couple of days in advance during the peak domestic holiday months. First class tickets cost roughly twice the comparable bus fare.
Known as a "ghatar" in Persian; trains are probably the cheapest, safest, most reliable and easiest way to travel around the country. As an added benefit; you'll get to meet the people, sample food and see other tourists. You also avoid all the checkpoints will driving on the road. Trains are frequently delayed so leave plenty of time between destinations.
Tehran has 6 underground rail lines.
Line 1 (red) runs from north to south
Line 2 (blue) runs west to east.
Line 4 (yellow) runs from west to southeast.
Line 5 [yellow] runs from north to west.
Line 6 [white] runs from east to north.
1-journey tickets cost 7000 rials and 2-journey ticket costs 12000 rials.(about USD0.25)
Mashhad has 1 underground line. It runs from vakil Abad to Hashemi Nejad International Airport.
Two further lines are to be added in the near future.
Low fuel costs have made inter-city travel by taxi a great value option in Iran. When travelling between cities up to 250 km apart, you may be able to hire one of the shared savāri taxis that loiter around bus terminals and train stations. Savari taxis are faster than buses and Taxis will only leave when four paying passengers have been found, so if you're in a hurry you can offer to pay for an extra seat.
Official shared local taxis or Savari, also ply the major roads of most cities. Recently the taxis are turning into yellow, also on busy routs there are green vans with a capacity of 11 passengers. They offer less fare for every passenger. They usually run straight lines between major squares and landmarks, and their set rates between IRR3,000-20,000 are dictated by the local governments.
There are also two services like Uber in Iran. "Snapp" and "Tap30" are like Uber and have more cheaper than Savari. You can download their applications from GooglePlay for android and Appstore for IOS.
Hailing one of these taxis is an art you'll soon master. Stand on the side of the road with traffic flowing in your intended direction and flag down a passing cab. It will slow down fractionally, giving you about one second to shout your destination--pick a major nearby landmark instead of the full address--through the open passenger window. If the driver is interested, he'll slow down enough for you to negotiate the details or simply accepts your route.
If you're in a hurry, you can rent the taxi privately. Just shout the destination followed by the phrase dar bast (literally 'closed door') and the driver will almost be sure to stop. Negotiate the price before departure, but since you are paying for all the empty seats expect to pay four times the normal shared taxi fare.
You can also rent these taxis by the hour to visit a number of sites, but you can expect to pay from IRR70,000-100,000/h, depending on your bargaining skills.
Most of the taxis have "taximeters" but only 'closed door' green taxis use it.
A large road network and low fuel costs has historically made Iran an attractive country for exploring with your own car. However a recent government fuel tax on foreigners entering Iran by private car has somewhat dimmed the allure.
Foreigners arriving in Iran with their own car will need to have a carnet de passage and a valid international driving permit (IDP). Petrol stations can be found on the outskirts of all cities and towns and in car-filled Iran, a mechanic is never far away.
Do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Iran's traffic. The often ignored road rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic coming on to a roundabout. Drivers frequently top 160km/h (100mph) on intercity highways. Laws requiring car occupants to wear seat belts for rear passengers are not always complied with.
Be aware also that motorcycles are sometimes seen transporting up to five people, sans helmets.
Avoid large rocks in the middle of highway. These are often placed there in an attempt to burst your tyres. Afterward, a passerby will offer to replace your tyre for $US50. This is of course a scam that occurs mostly at night time but has diminished due to aggressive policing.
You can also rent a car, usually for USD20-50 a day. Insurance and legal liability may make you think twice about renting a car, especially considering the fact that renting a car with a driver usually costs the same.
People are not allowed to carry their pet even by their private car & will receive driving penalties if caught by the Police.
Persian (called fārsi in Persian, فارسی), an Indo-European language, is Iran's national and official language. Although Persian alphabet looks like Arabic alphabet, the two languages are not related, Persian is a pluricentric language and its grammar is similar to that of many contemporary European languages. There are approximately 110 million Persian speakers worldwide, with the language holding official status in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. For centuries Persian has also been a prestigious cultural language in Central Asia, South Asia, and Western Asia. Persian is used as a liturgical language of Islam in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
Many young Iranians in major cities, and almost certainly those working in international travel agents and high-end hotels will speak conversational English but basic Persian phrases will definitely come in handy, particularly in rural areas.
Road signs are often double signed in English, but few other signs are. As an extra challenge, most Persian signage uses an ornate calligraphic script that bears little resemblance to its typed form. This can make comparing typed words in phrase books--such as 'bank' and 'hotel'--to signs on buildings quite difficult. However it is still worth memorizing the Persian script for a few key words such as restaurant, guesthouse, and hotel (see relevant sections below for the script).
Be aware that Kurdish and Azeri languages are also spoken in areas of large Kurdish and Azeri populations.
See also: Persian phrasebook
Squares and streets
Tombs of famous people
Desert trekking and desert excursions
Though the northern part of Iran is covered by dense rain forests called Shomal (meaning north in Persian) or the Jungles of Iran, though they would be considered as mostly forests and woods, rather than jungles.
The eastern parts consists mostly of desert basins such as the Dasht-e Kavir, Iran's largest desert, in the north-central portion of the country and the Dasht-e Lut, in the east, as well as some salt lakes.
There is also the Central desert which as can be understood from its name is located in the central regions.
This is because the mountain ranges are too high for rain clouds to reach these regions.
The desert in the upper picture is around Varzaneh. it's called Varzaneh moving sand dunes, where there are sand hills from 5 to 62 metres high that sometimes moves when the wind blows. These are the highest sand dunes in Iran.
There are a lot of activities that can be done in the desert areas including; desert tracking, camel riding, bicycle riding, safari and 4x4 driving excursions.
The longest one is the Dizin piste, this is north of Tehran and reachable during winter by using either Chalous Road or Fasham Road.
The more professional slope is at Shemshak and that is the one used for national and international tournaments.
The ski pistes near Tehran are all normally accessible by road in around 1-2h.
In addition to these, there are two ski pistes around Tabriz.
Payam or Yam Ski Piste , 65km north of Tabriz, is one of the oldest pistes in the country which is appropriate for Alpine skiing.
Sahand Piste which is a more recently built resort, is located 39km south east of Tabriz and is the largest ski piste in north west of Iran.
Iran has coastline along the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. A popular place for its beaches is Kish Island in the Persian Gulf that men can enjoy all year & women can use only covered beaches. Kish Beach is famous for its sunshine and is therefore a pleasant place.
The Iranian rial (﷼ in Persian) but symbolised internationally as IRR is the currency of Iran; however prices are often quoted in toman (تومان). One toman is equal to ten rials. USD1 and €1 could get you about 30,000 and 40,000 rials respectively but inflation is extreme due to international economic sanctions.
Coins are issued in values of 50, 100, 250, 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 rials with banknotes produced in 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 , 50,000 and 100,000. If you remember that a yellow IRR50,000 note was approximately equal to a euro you wouldn't used to get confused. For large amounts you will see Iran Cheques being used, in IRR500,000 (c. USD15) denominations. They're now used in the same way as cash.
Although Iranians often express amounts of money and prices of goods in "Tomans", however despite the usage of "toman" verbally, amounts of money and prices of goods and services are frequently written in rials.
ATMs in Iran do not accept foreign (non-Iranian) cards except some which accept those from state banks, so bring all the money you might need in cash, preferably in US dollars or euros.
According to Google, the Rial exchange rate in May 2018 is about 42,000 Iranian Rial for 1 USD.
Credit and debit cards are useless in Iran due to US sanctions, so bring enough hard currency for the duration of your stay. US dollars and euros are by far the most useful, though other currencies can at times also be exchanged. Bills in good condition as well as large bills (USD100 and €100 or larger) tend to be preferred, but smaller denominations are also taken. It is advisable to bring small denominations as these may serve to pay hotel bills, taxi fares etc. On arrival at Tehran International Airport, the maximum amount that may be exchanged at night is limited to €50 per person. Rates in exchange offices, the so-called secondary market, are much more favourable than those in banks, and in opposition to the latter the procedure with them is quick and painless. The black, or so-called tertiary market, should be avoided. It may usually be found around exchange offices outside their opening times. Exchange offices can be found in major cities, their opening times are usually Saturday to Thursday from 08:00-16:00.
Trade embargoes mean that banks cannot forward cash advances on your foreign credit cards and they are only accepted by select stores for large purchases, such as Persian rugs. Most will be happy to forward you some cash on your credit card at the same time as your purchase. If you are desperate for cash, you can also try asking these shops to extend you the same favour without buying a rug or souvenir, but expect to pay dearly for the luxury.
Travelers' cheques: Banks do not cash travellers' cheques, so only bring hard cash, preferentially euros or US dollars.
There is a possibility to get a pre-paid no-name gift card from most of banks in Iran if you are concerned with carrying too much cash on you. These cards have no service fee and surcharge and you get exact amount of money you put in card. All ATM and POS terminals support Persian and English languages. Make sure the one you get has ATM Withdrawal Feature. Ask about ATM withdrawal and POS transactions daily limit in advance. Keep your receipts and treat your gift cards like cash as in case of missing them, it is less likely to get replacement even with paperworks. Paperworks may help you to receive new password in case of forgetting it but expect bureaucracy. Cash your left over cards one business day before your departure to avoid any problem caused by Iranian interbank network SHETAB failure. Some of Persian gulf Arab countries ATM cards may work in Iranian interbank network but nothing is guaranteed.
Money and daily life
There is little point in risking the use of black market moneychangers who loiter outside of major banks and only offer marginally better rates than the banks. Banks in most cities will change money for you, but the process can be a drawn out affair requiring signatures from countless officials and a fair deal of running around.
A better compromise are the private exchange offices (sarāfi) scattered around most large cities and major tourist centres. Their rates are much better than those of the banks, they are far quicker and, unlike their black market colleagues, they can be traced later on if something goes wrong.
The most widely-accepted currencies are US dollar ($) and euros (€). Other currencies are harder if not impossible to change. US$100 and large euro unfolded notes tend to attract the highest prices, and you may be quoted lower rates for any old or ripped notes (sometimes old notes are outrightly turned down).
Bargain ruthlessly when buying handcrafts, rugs or big ticket items and modestly when hailing private taxis. In most other aspects of life prices are fixed. Tipping is generally not expected, but locals will generally round up the bill in taxis and add around 10% in classy restaurants. Porters and bellboys will expect IRR5,000. A discreet gift of a few thousand tomāns may help grease the wheels of Iranian society and serve to thank an extraordinarily helpful local.
You won't be able to escape the government-sanctioned dual pricing system that applies to accommodation and some tourist attractions in Iran; foreigners often pay up to five times the price quoted to locals. However thanks to the government's recent commendable efforts to eliminate 'foreigner' prices from many tourist attractions, most notably Persepolis, low food and transport costs make Iran a cheap travel destination.
If you are prepared to stay in the cheapest guesthouses, travel only by bus and eat only at fast food outlets or kabābi, you can get by in Iran on a minimum of around IRR500,000 (about USD15) per day. If you want to eat a decent restaurant meal every now and then and stay in mid-range accommodation, a more realistic budget is around IRR1,000,000 (about USD30). If you want to eat and sleep in luxury and fly between major sights, you can easily chew through IRR3,000,000 (about USD90) per day.
While the shops offer a wide selection of quality goods, local items can be bought in the many bazaars. Worthwhile purchases include hand-carved, inlaid woodwork, carpets, rugs, silks, leather goods, mats, tablecloths, gold, silver, glass and ceramics. Bargaining is customary. There are restrictions on which items may be taken out of the country.
Meal times in Iran vary considerably from those in Europe and North America. Lunch can be served 12:00-15:00 and dinner is often eaten after 20:00. These and other social occasions in Iran are often long, drawn-out affairs conducted in a relatively relaxed tempo, often involving pastries, fruit and possibly nuts. As it is considered rude to refuse what is served, visitors should accept the items offered, even if they do not intend to consume them.
The importation and consumption of alcohol is strictly banned. Penalties are severe. Religious minorities, however, are allowed to manufacture and consume alcohol, but not to sell or import it. Pork and pork products are forbidden and, like alcohol, their import is illegal.
The good news for travellers is that Iranian cuisine is superb. A wide range of influences from Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia, Europe and the Middle East have created a diverse, relatively healthy range of dishes that focus on fresh produce and aromatic herbs. The bad news, however, is that Iranians prefer to eat at home, rather than in restaurants, so decent eateries are scarce and stick to a repetitive selection of dishes (mainly kebabs). An invitation to an Iranian home for dinner will be a definite highlight of your stay. When visiting an Iranian household for the first time or on a special occasion it is customary for Iranians to bring a small gift. Flowers, sweets or pastries are popular gift choices.
Fragrant rice (برنج, berenj) is the staple of Iranian food. Boiled and then steamed, it is often coloured with saffron or flavoured with a variety of spices. When served plain as an accompaniment it is known as chelo (چلو). The two most common meat / chelo combinations are kebab variations (chelo kabāb, چلو کباب) or rotisserie chicken (chelo morgh, چلو مرغ). Flavoured rice, known as polo, is often served as a main course or as an accompaniment to a meat dish. Examples include shirin polo flavoured with orange zest, young cherries and honey glazed carrots, the broad-bean and herb heavy bāghli polo and sabzi polo laced with parsley, dill and mint.
The rice and kebab dish chelo kabāb (چلو کباب) and its half-dozen variations are the most common (and often the only) items on Iranian restaurant menus. A grilled skewer of meat is served on a bed of fluffy rice, and accompanied by an array of condiments. You can add butter, grilled tomatoes and a sour spice known as somāgh to your rice, while some restaurants also provide a raw egg yolk. Raw onion and fresh basil are used to clear your palate between mouthfuls. Variations in kabāb dishes come from the meats they are served with. You will commonly see:
At home people most often eat rice with a thick stew (khoresht, خورشت) containing a modest amount of meat. There are dozens of khoresht variations such as the sweet and sour fessenjān made from ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, ghormeh-sabzi based on fresh herbs, dried limes and kidney beans, gheimeh flavoured with split-peas and often garnished with French fries, and the sweet sib-āloo which uses apples and plums.
Hearty Iranian soups (āsh, آش) are meals in themselves. The most popular is the vegetarian āsh reshteh (آش رشته) made from herbs, chickpeas and thick noodles, and garnished with yoghurt and fried onions.
Flat bread (nān, نان) is another pillar of Iranian food. It is served at breakfast with herbs, feta cheese and a variety of jams, or as an accompaniment to meals. Sangak (سنگک) is a dimpled variety cooked on a pebbled oven while lavāsh (لواش) is a thin and bland staple.
There are several good international restaurants which offer Chinese, Japanese, Italian and French food as well as vegetarian menus in Tehran and other major cities.
Fast food and snacks
Most food outlets in Iran are either kabābis or fast food outlets serving a standard fare of burgers, sandwiches, felafels or pizza (پیتزا). A burger and a soft drink at a snack shop will fill you up at lunchtime for around IR 100,000, while pizzas start at IR 150,000.
Many teahouses (see Drink below) also serve traditional snacks and light meals. The most common of these is ābgusht (آبگوشت) a hot pot made from lamb, chickpeas and dried limes that is also known as dizi, also the name of the dish in which its served. You will be given a bowl (the dizi) containing the ābgusht and another, smaller one. Drain the broth into the smaller bowl and eat it like a soup with the bread provided. Then pound the remaining meat and vegetables into a paste with the pestle provided and eat with even more bread, pieces raw onion and wads of fresh herbs.
KFC style food is also available in Iran, known as BFC or SFC.
Sweets and desserts
The never ending demand for dentists in Iran gives testament to the country's obsession with sweets and pastries, known collectively as shirini (شیرینی).
Iranian baghlava tends to be harder and more crystalline than its Turkish equivalent while the pistachio noughat called gaz (گز) is an Isfahan speciality. Sohan is a rich pistachio brittle popular in Qom, and freshly-baked pastries are often taken as gifts to people's houses. Lavāshak fruit leathers are delicious fruit leathers made from dried plums.
Honey-saffron and pistachio are just two local flavours of ice cream, while fāloodeh (فالوده) is a deliciously refreshing sorbet made from rosewater and vermicelli noodles made from starch, served with lashings of lemon juice.
Given that most travelers are stuck eating kebabs for much of their trip, vegetarians will have a particularly difficult time in Iran. Most snack shops sell felafels (فلافل) and garden salads (sālād-e-fassl, سالاد فصل) and greengrocers are common. Most ash varieties are meat-free and filling, as are most variations of kookoo (کوکو), the Iranian take on the frittata. The phrases man giaa-khaar hastam (I am vegetarian) and bedoon-e goosht (without meat) will come in handy.
It's a safe bet that all food in Iran is halal (حلال, ḥalāl, halaal) and will conform with Islamic dietary laws as specified in the Qur'an, however those seeking a strict kosher diet may have to concentrate their efforts in the districts with higher numbers of Jewish inhabitants. If in Tehran look in areas such as older parts in the south of the city, like Udlajan or the Yusef Abad neighbourhood.
Black tea (chāi, چای) is the national drink of alcohol-free Iran. It is served strong and with crystallised or cubed sugar (ghand, قند) which is held artfully between the teeth while tea is sipped through. You can try asking for milk in your tea, but expect nothing but strange looks or a big delay in return.
Tea houses (chāi khāneh, چای خانه) are a favourite local haunt for men (and less commonly families) to drink tea and puff away on a water pipe.
Lovers of coffee (ghahveh, قهوه) have little to cheer in Iran but their choices have increased recently. Where available, it is served Turkish style, French coffee or espresso. Imported instant coffee (nescāffe, نسكافه) and instant Cappuccino are available also.
A wide variety of fruit juices (āb miveh, آب ميوه) and drinks are available from shops and street vendors including cherry cordial (sharbat ālbāloo, شربت آلبالو) and banana milkshakes (shir moz, شير موز).
Soft drinks are widely available. International products such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and their brand names including 7up, Sprite and Fanta have sold alongside local brands such as Zam Zam Cola ( زم زم كولا , Zam Zam Kola). The local cola has a taste not unlike "Coca-Cola Original" or "Pepsi Original". Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo's concentrates entered Iran via Irish subsidiaries and circumvented the US trade embargoes. Ironically ZamZam was originally launched in 1954 as a subsidiary of the Pepsi Cola company. As an intriguing outcome of the Iranian cola wars the real coke was generally sold in plastic bottles and the non-genuine coke, using a substitute syrup devised to overcome earlier Clinton era US imposed embargoes, was distributed in the real thing bottles that the then syrup-less bottler was left stuck with at the time.
Doogh (دوغ) is a sour drink made from yoghurt, salt, and water (sometimes gaseous) and sometimes flavoured with mint or other plants. It takes some getting used to, but will rehydrate you quickly in the heat of Iran's summer. It is the same as Turkish Ayran.
Drinking alcohol is illegal for Muslims only, and if seen by police may be met with punishment. Therefore, you will not find any place in Iran that openly sells alcohol. However it is legal for Non-Muslims to produce alcohol for their consumption. Drinking is, however, common among some people, especially during parties and weddings, and is officially tolerated for use among the small Christian and Jewish communities but only for religious purposes (e.g., wine for holy communion). There is no set legal drinking/purchasing age for Non-Muslims. The Iranian Government allows Non-Muslims to bring alcoholic beverages into the country.
Accommodation in Iran ranges from luxurious, if a little weary, five star hotels (هتل) in major cities to the small, cheap mosāferkhuneh (مسافرخانه) and mehmānpazir (مهماﻧپذیر) guesthouses that are littered about most centres.
Moreover, staff in mosāferkhuneh often are so happy to provide room for non-Iranians, as these facilities have a recommendation from local governments to serve all tourists.
For longer stays, villas with all facilities (including central air conditioning, pool and Internet connection) can be rented in Tehran and all other major cities at reasonable prices.
Note that a woman and a man may not share a hotel room unless they can prove their relationship (married couple or siblings) although foreign tourists are usually exempt from this law.
Also, you can find traditional hotels in central Iran includes Esfahan, Shiraz and in particular Yazd.
Iran has a large network of private, public, and state affiliated universities offering degrees in higher education. State-run universities of Iran are under the direct supervision of Iran's Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (for non-medical universities) and Ministry of Health and Medical Education (for medical schools).
Foreigners with special expertise and skills have little difficulty in obtaining permits. Work permits are issued, extended or renewed for a period of one year. In special cases, temporary work permits valid for a maximum period of three months may be issued. An exit permit must be obtained for a stay longer than three months.
The maximum working week is 44 hours, with no more than eight hours any single day unless overtime compensation is provided. Overtime could not exceed four hours per day. Friday is the weekly day of rest. Overtime is payable at 40% above the normal hourly wage. There are allowances for shift work equivalent to 10, 15 or 22.5% of a worker's wage, depending on working shift (eg. evening, morning and night)
Workers are entitled to public holidays and a paid annual one-month leave. For workers with less than a year of employment, annual leaves are calculated in proportion to the actual length of service. Furthermore, every worker is entitled to take one full month of paid leave or one month of unpaid leave (if no leave is available) once during his or her working life in order to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.
The employment of workers less than 15 years of age is prohibited. Young workers between 15 and 18 years of age must undergo a medical examination by the Social Security Organisation prior to commencing employment. Women are entitled to a 9 month maternity leave.
There is a minimum national wage applicable to each sector of activity fixed by the Supreme Labour Council. Workers and employers have the right to establish guild societies. Collective bargaining is allowed. Membership in the social security system for all employees is compulsory.
To have a valid contract concluded under the Law, the following provisions must be included:
In general, Iran is not the safest countries in Middle East. But Iran can be safer than Westerners might expect. Most people are genuinely friendly and interested to know about you and your country, so leave aside your preconceptions and come with an open mind. Iran is still a relatively low-crime country, although thefts and muggings have been on the increase in recent years. Keep your wits about you, and take the usual precautions against pickpockets in crowded bazaars and buses. Using international credit or debit cards in Iran is not possible everywhere, except Isfahan and Shiraz and some hotels who accept credit cards, but you can buy Iranian banks' prepaid no-name Gift Cards to enjoy money withdrawal from more than 11,000 ATMs around Iran for free. Purchasing gift cards has no surcharge or service fee, and you can withdraw or spend all the money you put in your gift card. Some of the gift cards don't have an ATM withdrawal feature and are only for using in shops and stores POS, so make sure you get ATM enabled gift card before purchasing it from bank. There is a 2,000,000 rials (65USD) daily withdrawal limit for most of Iranian bank cards, so purchasing several card lets you withdraw more money from ATMs per day. Some gift cards usually are not re-loadable. Some are pre-loaded in designated amounts, but some banks let you load them for your desired amount when you purchase. As they are no-name, there is almost no way to report stolen card and get a duplicate. Always keep passwords and cards in a safe place. Having a couple of used empty cards with passwords written on them may help you in case of being mugged for money!! There is no cash-back feature in Iranian POSs, but in case of emergency and having no access to ATM, you may ask a shop owner with POS to give you cash-back. Withdraw your leftover money in cards few days before leaving Iran to avoid any problem which may be caused by SHETAB Interbank Network failure (very very rare). It is common that ATMs do not work for an hour between 12:00AM - 01:00AM for database update. When using ATM be alert. Better not to use it in very quiet areas.
In particular, the tourist centre of Isfahan has had problems with muggings of foreigners in unlicensed taxis, and fake police making random checks of tourists' passports. Only use official taxis, and never allow 'officials' to make impromptu searches when crossing the roads, and even greater care is advised for those driving on them - Iranian drivers tend to overtake along pavements and any section of the road where there is space. In general, watch out for joobs (جوب), the open storm water drains that shoulder every road and are easy to miss when walking in the dark.
Travellers should avoid the southeastern area of Iran, particularly the province of Sistan va Baluchistan. The drug trade thrives based on smuggling heroin from Afghanistan. There is plenty of associated robbery, kidnapping and murder. Some cities, such as Zahedan, Zabol and Mirjaveh are particularly dangerous, although not every place in this region is dangerous. Chahbahar, which is close to the Pakistani border, is a very calm and friendly city. If staying in the capital Tehran, always avoid the southern part of Tehran. Due to high poverty these areas are often dangerous and should not be visited unless necessary. Avoid areas like Javadieh, Shush, Robatkarim and Ambarnaft. Otherwise Tehran is a reasonably safe city.
Iranian perceptions of outsiders
Many Iranians dislike and distrust westerners. But, even hardline Iranians make a clear distinction between the Western governments they distrust and individual travellers who visit their country. Americans may receive the odd jibe about their government's policies, but usually nothing more serious than that. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid politically-oriented conversations, particularly in taxi cabs. In addition, a few Iranian-Americans have been detained recently and accused of espionage, as were three American hikers in 2009 who allegedly strayed across into Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan. These kind of incidents are rare, but still the broader implications are worth considering and bearing in mind. Americans should do well remembering that they are always under surveillance by the Iranian Intelligence service.
There are a lot of military and other sensitive facilities in Iran. Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited. Any transgression may result in detention and serious criminal charges, including espionage, which can carry the death penalty. Do not photograph any military object, jails, harbours, or telecommunication devices, airports or other objects and facilities which you suspect are military in nature. Be aware that this rule is taken very seriously in Iran.
Female travellers will typically not encounter problems when visiting Iran. Contrary to popular belief, Iranian women typically differ little from those in the West. Women by law must wear a headscarf in public.
Gay and lesbian travel
Same-sex relationships in Iran are Illegal and are punishable by death. While public displays of platonic affection (holding hands, draping arms over shoulders, greeting someone with a kiss on the cheek) are very common in Iranian culture between members of the same sex, LGBT foreigners should avoid romantic displays of affection. Additionally, some religious Iranians have unfavorable views of same-sex relationships.
Emergency services are extensive in Iran, and response times are very good compared to other local regions.
Other Emergency Services are also available.
Iran has state-of-the-art medical facilities in all its major cities.
Apart from being up to date with your usual travel vaccinations (tetanus, polio, etc) no special preparation is needed for travel to Iran. For minor ailments, your hotel can contact an English-speaking doctor. In case of serious illness or accident, you can ask to be taken to a hospital with English-speaking staff (such as Milad Hospital, Atiyeh Hospital, Mehrad Hospital, Day Hospital or Khatam ol-Anbia Hospital in Tehran). Make sure that your health insurance covers illness or accident on holidays since free medical service is not available in Iran.
Tap water is safe to drink in most of the country (and especially the cities), although you may find the chalkiness and taste off-putting in some areas (mainly Qom, Yazd, Hormozgan and Boushehr provinces). Bottled mineral water (āb ma'dani) is widely available. Also, on many streets and sites, public water fridges are installed to provide drinking water.
In general, Iranians are warm, friendly and generous individuals with a strong interest in foreigners and other cultures. In dealing with Iranians, the following tips relating to customs and etiquette may prove useful:
Although its strict Islamic moral code is well known, Iranian laws are not as strict as other countries such as Saudi Arabia. Respecting the dozens of unspoken rules and regulations of Iranian life can be a daunting prospect for travelers, but don't be intimidated. As a foreigner you will be given leeway and it doesn't take long to acclimatise yourself.
The culture, like most others in the Middle East and Central Asia, has a strong tradition of hospitality. Guests are often treated extremely well. On the other hand, there is some insularity; any foreigner may be regarded with suspicion.
Iran has over 4,000 years of written history and organized civilization. Iranians are very proud of their history, nationality and country and are highly sensitive about it.
Iranians are not Arabs though there is a sizable Iranian Arab minority. The primary language of Iran is Persian (natively known as Farsi [فارسی] or Parsi [پارسی]). "Persia" is a name of Greek origin attributed to Iran. Use "Iran" and not "Persia" in your communication with Iranians. Use "Iranian", and not "Persian" to refer to the people of Iran.
Throughout its history, Iran was conquered 3 times: by the Greeks, Arabs and Mongols. Note that for many Iranians, reference to Arabs is, among other things, a reminder of negatively deep cultural impacts of occupation of Iran by Arabs in AD 650 and the decline of Iran as a world power. In this respect, referring to Iranians as "Arabs" is likely to irritate them.
After the Arab Muslim conquest, public and official use of the Persian language was banned for about two centuries, and its alphabet was changed to an Arabic-based one. Indeed the word "Farsi" itself is an Arabic articulation of the word "Parsi", the original word for the language, meaning "Persian". Today Persian is the official language of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan and is an important segment of identity and culture for the Iranians as well as other Persian-speaking people in the world.
Over the 19th and 20th centuries Iran was frequently subjected to unfavorable political interference by the Russian Empire and its successor, the USSR. The UK and then the USA also sought to influence and control the politics, resources and destiny of Iran. In 1980, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, supported by most of the global community, invaded Iran, causing the country to suffer a bloody 8-year war that drastically undermined its infrastructure and consumed its resources.
Given the above, the Iranian people feel that history has frequently not been on their side and that the global community owes them respect and sensibility.
The Name of the Persian Gulf
The Iranian authorities as well as the general public are extremely sensitive about this internationally recognized name, and insist that it should be used for the body of water. It is considered to be highly inappropriate to use the expressions "the Gulf" and especially "the Arabian Gulf" when referring to the Persian Gulf. If you do so, you may possibly cause deep offense and may encounter strong opposing reactions, both official and unofficial.
Azeri people and Azerbaijan of Iran
Azeri people are a very powerful and influential ethnic group in Iran which are spread all over Iran, mainly in the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, Ghazvin, Alborz and Tehran. Interestingly, the present-day country of Azerbaijan, lying to the north-west of Iran, was as a whole detached from Iran by Russia in 1828 as a result of Russian victory in Russo-Persian Wars. Nowadays, the country of Azerbaijan is sponsoring separatist sentiments aiming at detaching the rest of Azeri parts of Iran, which it calls "South Azerbaijan" in this respect. Never use this name when communicating with Iranians, even if they are Iranian Azeris. Many Iranian Azeris, given their influence and importance in Iran's politics and economy, not only do not favor separatism, but they are also very sensitive about the integrity of Iran.
Iran has a very divided society. On one extreme there are supporters of the ruling Islamic Republic and Muslim fanatics who are haters of Israel, the West, Democracy and Human Rights and may enjoy power and influence; on the other extreme, there are liberals and nationalists who think quite the opposite and do not hold much power and influence. Therefore, you are advised not to enter into political debate and let just Iranians talk about it unless you know your hosts and surroundings well.
Perhaps the most visible mark of Iran's Islamic leanings is the conservative dress expected of its citizens. Although normal Western-style clothing is acceptable in private homes, when in public women are required to cover their hair.
The most common uniform consists of a head scarf (roo-sari, روسری) to conceal the head , a formless, knee-length coat known as a maanto (مانتو) and a dress or pair of pants. In holy sites, you may be expected to dress more modestly in a chādor, a cloth to cover you.
As a foreigner, a female traveller is officially expected to cover her hair. Usually more tolerance tends to be shown towards foreigners over the detail of the dress code than is the case for Iranian women. However, this does not include leaving one’s hair fully uncovered. "Acceptable" outfits may include a, loose dress or shirt worn over loose skirt or pants and a scarf in the summer, and a woolen coat and scarf in the winter (calf-length is acceptable if worn over pants). All colours and modest designs are acceptable.
Men are also required to abide by the following dress code: Short-sleeved shirts and t-shirts are acceptable for daily wear. Shorts and three-quarter length pants are acceptable on the beach. Dress attire for men is similar to that in Europe. It is quite acceptable in the areas outside though it denotes indifference toward or opposition against state regulations and values. Jogging in tracksuits is acceptable for men.
Greet people of the same sex with a handshake, three kisses or both, but avoid physical contact with people of the opposite sex in public. Wait for them to introduce themselves instead; or just introduce yourself normally. (Bowing with a hand over your heart has been outdated since the 70s and is rarely done.) In private, only shake hands with a member of the opposite sex when he/ she holds out his/her hand first.
Tarof (Persian: تعارف ) is a genuine Persian form of civility emphasising both self-deference and social rank. The term encompasses a range of social behaviours, from a man displaying etiquette by opening the door for another person, to a group of colleagues standing on ceremony in front of a door that can permit the entry of only one at time, earnestly imploring the most senior to break the deadlock.
The prevalence of tarof often gives rise to different styles of negotiation than one would see in a European or North American culture. For example, a worker negotiating a salary might begin with a eulogy of the employer, followed by a lengthy bargaining session consisting entirely of indirect, polite language -- both parties are expected to understand the implied topic of discussion. It is quite common for an Iranian worker (even one employed in an Iranian neighbourhood within Europe) to work unpaid for a week or two before the issue of wages is finally broached. Likewise, a shopkeeper may initially refuse to quote a price for an item, suggesting that it is worthless. Tarof obliges the customer to insist on paying, possibly several times, before a shopkeeper finally quotes a price and real negotiation can begin.
Tarof also governs the rules of hospitality: a host is obliged to offer anything a guest might want, and a guest is equally obliged to refuse it. This ritual may repeat itself several times before the host and guest finally determine whether the host's offer and the guest's refusal are real or simply polite. It is possible to ask someone not to tarof (tarof näkonid), but that raises new difficulties, since the request itself might be a devious type of tarof. The best approach to handle Tarof is to be politely direct. Accept or reject as soon as you wish to, and be sure that Iranians will not be offended. Even though Tarof is purely about the art of civility, your engagement in Tarof might enter you into a vicious cycle of hypocrisy that may ruin your entire stay. The exception to this may be with food; as mentioned above, guests are expected to accept food they are offered at dinner, regardless of whether they intend to eat it.
Visiting holy sites
Although no trip to Iran would be complete without a glimpse at the stunning architecture and sombre environments of its mosques or holy shrines, many travellers are daunted by the prospect of walking into the foreign world of a mosque. Don't let these fears stop you; Iranians are welcoming and will understand any unintended breach of protocol.
Some mosques, and most holy shrines, require women to be wearing a chādor before entering the complex. If you don't have one, there are sometimes kiosks by the door that lend or hire chādors. It is better for men to wear long-sleeved shirts inside a mosque or shrine, though this is not mandatory.
Shoes are not worn within prayer areas of a mosque or shrine. Busier mosques have free shoe repositories where you trade your shoes for a token. Also try to avoid mosques on the holy day of Friday as they will be much busier and don't photograph a mosque while prayers are taking place.
The thumbs up gesture is extremely rude in Iran, roughly equivalent to raising the middle finger in Western countries.
Hitchhiking is rare in Iran, and the country has a good public transportation system. If you do hitchhike, do not use a thumbs up signal. Also, be aware that drivers will generally expect to be paid and, unless you are an expert haggler, hitchhiking will often be more expensive than taking a bus.
There is a sizable Christian community, most of whom are ethnic Armenians or Assyrians/Chaldean, and a small Jewish community (which is nevertheless, the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel). In addition to the Abrahamic faiths, there are also significant numbers of Zoroastrians who are basically free to practise their own religion. However, Iran is still a conservative Muslim country. Do not do or say anything which can be perceived as an insult to Islam. Also note that the Islamic dress codes still apply even to non-Muslims. Please further note that, if not many of the people, the regime dislikes believers in the Bahai faith.
Western music and dancing in public is banned . However, the visitors may notice that even shared taxis openly play the music of their choice. Still, customs may confiscate any music tapes or CDs brought in as some western music is considered un-Islamic, degrading towards women and corrupting for the minds of the youth. However, many Iranian youth have widespread access to all kinds of music. Women are not allowed to sing in public (even the traditional music). They may sing indoors.
Embassies and missions
British embassy in Tehran +9821 64052000 with very helpfull consular assistance 24 hours diel number and get help
These are the area codes for major cities Tehran (021) - Kashan (0361) - Isfahan (031) - Ahwaz (061) - Shiraz (071) - Tabriz (041) - Mashad (051) - Kerman (0341) - Gorgan (017) - Varzaneh (0314) - Na'in (0323)- Rasht(0131)
When making international calls from Iran, the prefix to be dialled prior to country code is 00.
The country code is 98, if dialing from a cellphone +98
Rightel and Mci and Irancell are most powerful networks in iran,[www.mci.ir] MCI,[www.rightel.ir] Rightel and Mci offer relatively cheap (20,000 tomans:7USD) pre-paid SIM cards for international travelers. It is possible to buy recharge cards from all newsstands and supermarkets and internet for 20,000-10,000 tomans [7USD&4USD].These networks specially MCI and Rightel, works quite well in all cities and rural areas even in villages or borders. now all networks in Iran have [3G and 4G <E] all over the country, Kishcell and Isfahancell are operating in some region/locally only.
As the provider of Iran’s internet network, RighTel has enabled its subscribers to access the high speed internet in form of 3G/4G mobile internet and LTE service. The details of each service are seen in rightel.ir
4G & LTE networks works only in city centers but 3G, GPRS and MMS is always available everywhere at very low prices, specially at fridays, for surfing the web or checking your email. WiFi with your mobile phone or tablet is a good option in Iran and you can readily access WiFi internet services (depending upon network availability) in many places like resturants, coffee shops, malls, shopping centers, airports and commercial centers.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Post Company has 209 central post offices which supervise all the 275 urban and 1,153 rural post offices. The company provides many of the internationally available post services. Parcel sending is very cheap and reliable. Bring your items unpacked to the post office. International courier companies such as DHL , Skypak etc have offices in Tehran and accept documents for foreign destinations.
Iran has very large cover of high speed internet access by companies, other wireless internet access from providers such as Sabanet and Mobin net, Parsonline, shuttle. The networks are widespread and offer wireless high speed internet access. Conservative forces within the Iranian government have been wary of providing internet users in their country with the adult content and politically dissident views available on the Internet. Some, but not all, are double-signed in English, so you may want to memorize the Persian script. If in doubt, any young Iranian should be able to point you in the direction of the nearest coffee net. Iran is the fourth largest country of bloggers.
Some websites are blocked based on words appearing in their URL, however savvy coffee net users will be able to show you how to circumvent these restrictions. These include but are not limited to social networking websites. You can expect to pay between 3,000-15,000 rials/hr [less than 1 USD] and connection is high speed in all cities. More recently, some facilities in major cities use broadband wireless or DSL connections. All coffee net places will also have a DVD burner for downloading photos and videos from digital cameras.
You will also find high speed internet connectivity in all middle-class houses.
All banks were nationalised after the revolution. However, during the past decade, private (non-governmental) banks have been founded, which usually provide you a better service: Parsian, Saman, Eghtesad Novin, Pasargad
Banks are generally open Sa-W 07:30-13:30 and Th 07:30-12:00. Main branches are usually open to 15:00. (Closed on Fridays). International airports have a bank open whenever international flights arrive or depart. All banks have boards in both English as well as Persian.
Hours may change during Ramadan, the month of fasting. During that month, Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink while the sun is in the sky. Restaurants are closed all day, opening at sundown and perhaps remaining open very late. Other businesses may adjust their hours as well.