Earth : Asia : Middle East : Iran
Iran (Persian: ايران) is a large country between the Middle East and Central Asia, 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 southeast.
Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling Shah was forced into exile. Conservative clerical forces subsequently crushed Westernization and also any liberal/left-wing influences. Iranian student protesters seized the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held it until 20 January 1981. From 1980 to 1988, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq over disputed territory. Key current issues affecting the country include the pace of accepting outside modernizing influences and reconciliation between clerical control of the regime and popular government participation and widespread demands for reform. Unemployment among youth is also an issue.
Ethnic groups and languages
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 (or Farsi) is an Indo-European language; ancient Persian was related to Sanskrit, ancient Greek, and all the others in that family. Modern Farsi is closely related to Dari, one of the two main languages of Afghanistan, and to Tajik, a major language of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Persians are ethnically and linguistically unrelated to their neighbors on the west, the Arabs and Turks. However there are many cultural similarities, especially with Turks.
Iran has many people other than ethnic Persians. The northwestern region, Azerbaijan, is largely populated by Azeris, who are ethnically and linguistically related to Turks. Other regions are mostly Kurds or Baluchis. There are also Armenians, Turkomans, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Arabs, and last but not least Jews, who have been living since a long time in Iran peacefully.
There are also two substantial communities of people of Iranian descent in India and Pakistan — Parsis who have been there for over 1000 years, and Iranis who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries — both Zoroastrians who fled religious persecution in Muslim 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 of Macedonia 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 Prophet; 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 neighbors. Her empire often included much of what we now call Central Asia (Polo counted Bokhara 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 neighbors, 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; he changed the country's name from "Persia" to "Iran" 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 modernisation, 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 Gulf across Iran to beleagured Russia. Reza Shah went off to exile in South Africa, abdicating on the steps of the airplane in favour of his son.
The son, Mohammad Shah, continued his father's nationalistic, authoritarian and modernising 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 modernisation — 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 nationalisation 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 government of Azerbaijan, of course communist. 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 off 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. Travellers should not play music or act remarkably cheerful in public at this time. Ashura is more-or-less the opposite of the Christian "Jesus died for your sins; you are forgiven", closer to "Hussein is dead and you did not save him; you must atone." Traditional activities include parades in which people beat themselves with whips, chains, even swords (safe if you are careful, and scalp wounds bleed beautifully). Some governments, including the Shah's and the Khameni regime in Iran, have forbidden the more extreme variants of this. Some terrorist groups also exploit the religious fervor 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 subfreezing 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 centimeters or less. The major exceptions are the higher mountain valleys of the Zagros and the Caspian coastal plain, where precipitation averages at least 50 centimeters annually. In the western part of the Caspian, rainfall exceeds 100 centimeters 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 (5,671 meters). 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 coastal plain, in contrast, is covered with rich brown forest soil.
Below is a list of nine of the most notable cities:
Getting a tourist visa to Iran is not always a simple procedure. Approved Iranian travel agents can apply and get visa for all foreign nationals (except Israeli passport holders). At present the Iranian Foreign Ministry does not allow American passport holders to travel to Iran independently. Americans are required to travel on escorted tours, either as part of a tour group, or a tailor made individual tour. An exact itinerary, to which you must adhere, is compulsory.
In order to apply and get your visa you must contact an approved Iranian travel agent. After receiving your personal data, they apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Your visa will then be authorized by the MFA and faxed to the Iranian Consulate near you. Your travel agent gives you a visa authorization number with which you can refer to the consulate to get your visa. The visa authorization 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 "authorization". This reference number means that your visa has been authorized and approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but it is not the visa itself.
Depending upon your nationality, you may be required to present at the Iranian consulate in your country to have your fingerprints taken.
After your travel agent announce you the visa authorization 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 one to five 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 2 months or more.
There are reports that it's possible to get a visa in 10 days in Istanbul consulate, especially for German passport holders, but this is not always possible.
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.
Note: 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 traveling between Europe and South Asia. Various travel agents inside Iran help you obtaining visas, often through their home pages.  You can get an extension for your transit visa usually valid for five or ten days, inside Iran easily but once for the same number of days as the original visa. For foreign drivers carrying cargo to Iran or other countries, it is necessary to coordinate 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. The lonely planet advises 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 one 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 traveling 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. 
Business visas are extendable once, sometimes twice up to two weeks each without difficulty. One extension of one month may also be possible in some cases. Visitors from the Persian Gulf States don't need a visa to enter Iran. These states are: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. People from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and also 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 headquarter. 
Questions about sexuality are not asked on visa application.
A valid passport and visa are required for travel through Iran. Although in 2006 the rules had been eased, after presidential elections protests in 2009 the unofficial policy became subject to rapid changes. Theoretically speaking, the VOA (Visa On Arrival) is still available, but the safest way is to arrange visa in advance at Iranian consulate. There were several cases of deportation of people who applied for VOA at airports in 2010.
VOAs are issued at the Imam Khomeini and Mehrabad airports in Tehran, and also the airports at Mashad, Shiraz, Tabriz and Isfahan. The visa is valid for up to 17 days and costs US$50. You will receive the forms on arrival. You are advised to bring passport photos with you. However, in many cases they are not collected.
Visas are only issued at the airport for holders of ordinary passports from the states below:
Albania, Armenia, Austria, Australia, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Oman, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore (2 weeks), Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam.
It is generally not possible to get an extension for the one week visa. There is a large stamp on it which specifically states "non-extendable". If you wish to stay for longer than a week, or you are not resident of one of the countries listed above, you will need to apply for a Tourist Visa before you arrive in Iran.
As a notable exception, the beach resort of Kish Island, easily accessible from Dubai, does not require advance visas for visits of up to 14 days, including Americans. See the Kish Island article for details.
All international flights to Tehran land at the new Imam Khomeini International Airport  based 37km southwest of Tehran.. 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, and is therefore worth considering traveling 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 $100 to $250 for a return trip depending on your destination and time of booking.
Iran Air and Mahan Air 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 and Aeroflot. Here are some of the Middle-Eastern airlines: Saudi Arabian Airlines, Emirates, and Etihad. AirAsia also has flights to/from Kuala Lumpur beginning on August 2010. So finding a flight to Iran should not be hard.
Connections are also easily available via Manama, Bahrain using Gulf Air (Bahrain's national carrier). Additionally, Qatar airlines offers several flights to Iran and provides non-stop service to Doha from Washington DC (IAD). The following low-cost carriers also operate flights to Tehran or other cities in Iran: Pegasus Airlines, Air Arabia, Jazeera Airways and Air Bahrain.
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, 40Kms away, to get to your domestic flight. Allow at least 3-4 hours 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 traveling 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 from U.S.A or Canada at present due to sanctions, 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 traveling via Dubai or Abu Dhabi,or can use a combination of Iran Air and Malaysian Airlines to get from any major city in Australia to Tehran, via Kuala Lumpur.
In June 2009 a Bam-Zahedan link was completed, which connected Zahedan to rest of Iranian railway network. However there is no passenger train between Bam and Zahedan presently, so you have to take a bus or taxi.
Many people drive to Iran via Turkey. This requires a Carnet De Passage unless you wish to pay import tax. A Carnet can be aquired from your local drivers association (such as the RAC in the UK). An international driver's license is highly recommend with translation into Farsi very beneficial.
From Armenia here are daily, modern buses from Yerevan to Tabriz and even further to Teheran. Otherwise the only Iran/Armenia land border at Nuduz/Agarak is very badly served by public transport. On the Armenian side you can get as far as Meghri by one Marschrutka a day from Yerevan. In both directions the Marshrutka leaves quiet early in the morning. Kaplan 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 (around 10-15$) again is the only (commercial) choice. Expect to be asked a lot for all taxi rides, so hard bargaining is essential. Make clear (or pretend) that you have other choices (hitchhiking) to get fair prices.
The border is not busy at all, so when hitching you have to mainly stick with the truck drivers and Russian or Farsi 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 on 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 kilometers. 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.
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 (@ $50 USD) 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.
While not as comfortable or fast as 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 laughably cheap, especially by international standards (in fact one of the cheapest in the world). 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 ( Iran Aseman Airlines - Aseman meaning "sky" in Persian , Mahan Air, Kish Air, etc.) link Tehran with most regional capitals and offer inter-regional flights for no more than US $60.
Their services are frequent, reliable and are definitely worth considering to skip the large distances within Iran. Planes are aging, 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 are still used by some carriers (Iran Airtours notably). 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 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 operated 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 (Dubai for instance), but expect to pay a little more due to the change 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 hours.
There is little difference between the various bus companies, and most offer two classes: 'lux' or 'Mercedes' (2nd class) and 'super' or 'Volvo' (1st class). First class buses are air-conditioned and you will be provided with a small snack during your trip, while second class services are more frequent. Given the affordability of first class tickets (for example IR 70,000 from Esfehan to Shiraz), there's little financial incentive to opt for the second class services, espcially in summer.
You can buy tickets 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.
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 traveller. 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 IR 200, are sold from booths near most bus stops.
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 night's sleep while saving on a night's accommodation.
The rail network is comprised of three main trunks. The first stretches east to west across the north of the country linking the Turkish and Turkemenistan 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 "gatar" in Farsi; 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.
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, identifiable by some kind of orange paint marking, 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 all offer the same fare for every passenger. They usually run straight lines between major sqaures and landmarks, and their set rates (between IR 1,000 and IR 6,500) are dictated by the local governments.
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 intereseted, he'll slow down enough for you to negotiate the details.
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 five 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 IR 40,000 to 70,000 per hour, depending on your bargaining skills.
A large road network and low fuel costs of 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. Unlike in Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to drive in Iran.
Foreigners arriving in Iran with their own car will need to have a carnet de passage and a valid international drivers' license. 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 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways. Laws requiring car occupants to wear seatbelts is 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 tires. Afterward, a passerby will offer to replace your tire for $50 USD. 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 20 - 50 dollars 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.
Persian (called fārsi in Persian, فارسی), an Indo-European language, is Iran's national and official language. Although Persian is written with a modified Arabic alphabet, the two languages are not related but Persian does contain a very large number of Arabic loanwords, many of which form part of basic Persian vocabulary (See "Iranian Nationality" under "Respect" ).
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 memorising 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
Tombs of some famous people
Cyrus the Great in Pasargad near Shiraz. Avicenna in Hamedan. Khayyam in Neyshaboor (near Mashhad). Prophet Daniel in Susa (Shush). Mordechai and Esther in Hamedan. Saadi and Hafez famous Persian poets in Shiraz. To this list one may add the ornate shrine of "Imam Reza" the eighth of Shiite imams (the only one buried in Iran) in Mashhad.
Vank Cathedral in Isfahan. Saint Thaddeus Monastery in West Azerbaijan Province.
Desert Trekking and desert excursions
Though the northern part of Iran is covered by dense rain forests called Shomal or the Jungles of Iran. 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. There is a lot of activities that can be done in these deserts: Desert tracking, camel riding, bicycle riding and 4x4 tracks.
in Dizin piste (North of Tehran reachable via Chalous road) in winter.
Iran has coastline along the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. A popular place for its beaches is Kish Island in the Persian Gulf.
ATM's in Iran do not accept foreign (non-Iranian) cards except some which accept those from Arab state banks, so bring all the money you might need in cash, preferably in US dollars or Euros.
The rial (ریال) is the official currency of Iran, however to save time in a high-inflation economy prices are most commonly quoted in toman (تومان). One toman is equal to ten rials. In September 2010, US$1 and €1 can get you about 10,000 and 13,750 rials respectively.
Coins are issued in values of 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1000 rials with banknotes produced in 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000 , 50000 and 100000. If you remember that a green 10000 note is equal to a dollar you won't get confused. For large amounts you will see Iran Cheques being used, these are in 500,000 ($50) and 1,000,000 ($100)rial denominations. They are now used in the same way as cash.
As a general guide, written prices are given in rials and prices quoted in conversation are in tomans. To confuse you even further, shopkeepers will often omit the denomination of high prices, so you may be told a jar of coffee costs 2 tomans (meaning 2,000 tomans or IR 20,000) and that a fine rug will cost 3 tomans (meaning 3,000,000 tomans or IR 30,000,000).
Most travellers spend the first few days of their trip coming to grips with this mind-boggling system, and money changers on the border will often exploit this confusion to rip you off. Be careful, and if in doubt, always ask a shopkeeper or moneychanger if they are quoting a price in rials or tomans.
A redenomination of rial is scheduled to start in 2010. New Iranian toman will be worth 10000 rials. After three years of even bigger currency chaos, this should make numbers smaller and life easier.
Iranians can not use major credit cards due to U.S. sanctions, so bring enough hard currency for the duration of your stay. US dollars and euros are the most useful, and new and large (USD 100 or EUR 100 or higher) bills in good condition are preferred and usually get a better rate. Trade embargoes mean that banks will not 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.
Travellers' cheques Although in theory central banks in provincial capitals are able to cash them, the paperwork and time involved make them impractical for tourist use.
There is a possibility to get a pre-paid ATM card from Bank Melli in Iran if you are concerned with carrying too much cash on you.
Money and daily life
There is little point in risking the black market moneychangers who loiter outside of major banks and only offer marginally better rates than the banks. Central 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. Although their rates are comparable to 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 currency is the US dollar ($), but euros(€) and UK Sterling Pound(£)are also widely used. Other currencies are harder to change. $100 unfolded notes attract the highest prices, and you will be quoted lower rates for any old or ripped notes.
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 IR 2,000 - 3,000 ($2-3). A discreet gift of a few thousand tomāns may help grease the wheels of Iranian society and serve to thank an extraordinarily helpful local, but bakhsheeh and bribing are not a major part of Iranian life.
You won't be able to escape the government-sanctioned dual pricing system that applies to accommodation and some tourist attactions in Iran; foreigners often pay up to ten 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 kabābis, you can get by in Iran on a minimum of around IR 100,000 (about $10) 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 IR 250,000 (about $25). If you want to eat and sleep in luxury and fly between major sights, you can easily chew through IR 700,000 (about $70)per day.
Meal times in Iran vary considerably from those in Europe and the US. Lunch can be served from 1:00 - 3:00PM. and dinner is often eaten after 9:00PM. 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 (سنگك) 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 15,000, while pizzas start at IR 20,000.
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 is also available in Iran, known as BFC or SFC
Sweets and desserts
The neverending demand for dentists in Iran lies testament to the country's obssession 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 travellers 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 vegetarian 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, but those seeking a kosher or other diet may have some trouble.
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 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, both international makes such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and their brand names including 7up, Sprite, Fanta, etc., and local makes such as ZamZam. Note that "Coca-Cola Original" and "Pepsi Original" etc. are NOT made of original The Coca-Cola Company's and PepsiCo's ingredients and taste exactly the same as ZamZam.
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, and if seen by police may be met with punishment. Of course, you will not find any place in Iran that openly sells alcohol. Drinking is, however, common among some of people especially during parties, weddings and is begrudgingly tolerated for use among the tiny Christian community provided it's not bought and sold for profit. An interesting item of trivia is that both wine and distilled spirits are believed to have first originated in Iran. Non-alcoholic drinks are widely available.
Accommodations in Iran range 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.
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 per cent above the normal hourly wage. There are allowances for shift work equivalent to 10, 15 or 22.5 per cent 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 90-day 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:
The employer may require the employee to be subject to a probationary period. However, the probation time may not exceed one month for unskilled workers and three months for skilled and professional workers. During the probation period, either party may immediately terminate the employment relationship without cause or payment of severance pay. The only caveat being that if the employer terminates the relationship, he must pay the employee for the entire duration of the probation period.
In general, Iran is much safer than Westerners might expect. Most people are genuinely friendly and interested to know about you and your country, so leave aside your pre-conceptions 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.
In particular, the tourist center 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 of your belongings.
Iranian traffic is congested and chaotic. Guidelines are lax and rarely followed. Pedestrians are advised to exercise caution when crossing the roads, and even greater care when driving on them - Iranian drivers tend to overtake along pavements and any section of the road where there is space. In general, it is not recommended for inexperienced foreigners to drive in Iran. 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.
Iranian Perceptions of Outsiders
Even though travellers may arrive with the image of a throng chanting "Death to America", this is a superficial media presentation of the Iranian people and your chances of facing anti-Western sentiment as a traveller are slim. Even hardline Iranians make a clear distinction between the Western governments they distrust and individual travelers 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. These kind of incidents are rare, but still the broader implications are worth considering and bearing in mind.
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 travelers should not encounter any major problems when visiting Iran, but will undoubtedly be the subject of at least some unwanted attention but a stern look should be enough to deter amorous locals. Contrary to popular belief, Iranian women typically differ little from those in the West, although differences may be more prominent in highly religious families. In Tehran and several bigger cities Western clothing and formality is accepted but wearing a hijab may be required in most of rural areas. Women by law must wear a headscarf in public.
Gay and Lesbian Travel
In public gay and lesbian travelers should also not engage in ANY homosexual activities in Iran at all. Though there are many gays and lesbians in Iran, under Iranian law, sodomy is punishable by death and sex by lesbians is punishable with lashes. This law, however, is rarely enforced and only applies to those who engage in such activities with Iranian citizens. While public displays of platonic affection between members of the same sex -- such as holding hands, arms draped over shoulders and kissing on the cheek -- are very common in Iranian culture, foreign visitors who are gay or lesbian probably should be VERY discreet about overtly romantic displays of affections considering the possibility of harassment by security forces. Many Iranians still have unfavorable views of same-sex relationships, but personal, violent attacks against homosexuals or homosexual couples are very rare.
Emergency services are extensive in Iran, and response times are very good compared to other local regions, 110 is the telephone number of the local Police control center, it is probably easiest to phone 110, as the local police have direct contact with other emergency services, and will probably be the only number with English speaking operators.Other Emergency Services are also available via 115 for Ambulances and 125 for the Fire and Rescue team (these numbers are frequently answered by the Ambulance or Fire crew operating from them, there is little guarantee these men will speak English). The international number 112 is available from cell phones, and will usually connect you to the Police. Iran has also "Iran Assistance" an insurance company specializing in international medical evacuation.
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:
The liberalisation in Iran is going backward and the legally-enforced Islamic codes of conduct dictate many aspects of public life. Respecting the dozens of unspoken rules and regulations of Iranian life can be a daunting prospect for travellers, 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 is a country of over 4000 years of written history and organized civilization. It was conquered three times by the Greek, Arabs and Mongols. "Persia" is a name of Greek origin attributed to Iran; hence, "Persian" incorrectly refers to Iranian, as Iran has several different ethnic groups, including Persian, Azeri, Kurd, Arab, Baluchi, Mazandarani, etc. Arab conquest was the most destructive of all as it banned public and official use of Parsi, the Iranian language, for about two centuries, and changed its alphabet. The ban resulted in the elimination of many basic Parsi words from the language.
Over 19th and 20th centuries, Iran was frequently subject to unfavorable political interference by Russian Empire and its successor the USSR, the UK and the USA. In 1980, Iraq under Saddam Hussain, supported by the global community, invaded Iran and caused the country to suffer a bloody eight-year war that drastically undermined its infrastructure and used up 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 Persian Gulf" that the Iranians, authorities as well as general public, are extremely sensitive about and insist that this internationally recognized name be used for the body of water. Do not, under any circumstances, use the expressions "the Gulf" and especially "the Arabian Gulf"; otherwise, you may encounter oppositions of various types, official and unofficial.
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 everything but their face, hands and feet.
The most common uniform consists of a head scarf (roo-sari, روسری) to conceal the head and neck, a formless, knee-length coat known as a roo-poosh (روپوش) and a long dress or pair of pants. In holy sites, you will be expected to dress even more modestly in a chādor, a full-length swathe of black cloth designed to cloak everything but your face from view.
As a foreigner, a female traveller is officially expected to cover her hair and body excluding hands and feet. 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 under any circumstance. "Acceptable" outfits may include a long, loose dress or shirt worn over loose skirt or pants and a scarf in the summer, and a full-length woolen coat and scarf in the winter (calf-length is acceptable if worn over pants). All colors and modest designs are acceptable. Even when undertaking sporting activity in public (such as tennis or jogging), the dress code described above must be maintained.
Men also require to abide the following dress code: Short-sleeved shirts and t-shirts are acceptable for daily wear. Shorts and three-quarter length pants are only acceptable on the beach. Dress attire for men is similar to that in Europe. Neckties are better to be avoided if visiting one of the more conservative government bodies. Regarded by the authorities as a sign of American imperialism and a reminder of the pro-western kingdom era, wearing neckties by the authorities and office workers of state-run companies is forbidden. It is quite acceptable in the areas outside though it denotes indifference toward or opposition against state regulations and values. Jogging in tracksuits (but not shorts) is acceptable for men. Jeans should also be avoided as they are seen as a sign of Americanisation.
Iran is a publicly segregated society. Many facilities such as transport and mosques are segregatated and extended social interaction between men and women who are not related or married is eyed with suspicion.
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. Place your hand over your heart and bow slightly to greet them instead. In private, only shake hands with a member of the opposite sex when he/ she holds out his/ her hand first.
Be careful of initiating political discussions. The relative political freedom of ex-President Mohammad Khatami's era is fading quickly and vocal opposition can be more trouble than its worth, even if your Iranian companions get engaged in it. It's best not to discuss topics such as the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict or the role of Islam in society regardless of what opinion you hold.
Tarof (Persian: تعارف ) is a genuine Persian form of civility emphasizing 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 neighborhood 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 above.
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 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.
Unlike some other fundamentalist Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, public observance of other religions, besides the Baha'i faith, is officially tolerated in Iran. There is a sizable Christian community, most of whom are ethnic Armenians, and a small Jewish community. In addition, to the Abrahamic faiths, there are also significant numbers of Zoroastrians who are basically free to practise their own religion. However, remember that this is still a fundamentalist Muslim country and 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.
Western music and dancing in public is banned in Iran. However, the visitor 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.
Embassies and Missions
These are the area codes for major cities Tehran(021) - Kashan (0361) - Isfahan(0311) - Ahwaz(0611) - Shiraz(0711) - Tabriz(0411) - Mashad(0511) - Kerman(0341) - Gorgan(0171)
When making international calls from Iran, the prefix to be dialled prior to country code is 00.
Irancell (MTN)  offers relatively cheap (IR 60,000) pre-paid sim-cards for international travelers. It is possible to buy recharge cards from most newsstands (IR 20,000 or IR 50,000). The cheap prices is outweighed by the infamously poor network coverage but it works quite well in most major cities. GPRS is also available at very low prices, specially at night, for surfing the web or checking your email with your mobile phone (Gmail has an excellent mobile application and Opera Mini is a very good mobile web browser).
MCI is another popular operator that covers all Iranian territory. Even in villages or border, MCI has coverage and GPRS and MMS available. The cards are 5000 rials or 10,000 rials in value. The thrid main operator in Iran is Taliya. Kishcell and Isfahancell are operating in some region/locally only.
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.
Conservative forces within the Iranian government have been wary connecting their country to the adult content and politically dissident views of the Internet. After a clampdown on unlicensed internet cafes a few years ago, cafe-net (کافی نت) facilities have popped up across all major cities and tourist centres. Some, but not all, are double-signed in English, so you may want to memorise 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, although savvy coffee net users may be able to show you how to circumvent these restrictions. You can expect to pay between IR 8,000 - IR 15,000 per hour and speeds range from acceptable in major cities, to the infuriatingly slow in small towns and rural areas. More recently, some facilities in major cities use broadband wireless or DSL connections. Most coffee net places will also have a DVD burner for downloading photos from digital cameras.
You will also find Internet connectivity in most middle-class Iranian homes.
Banks are generally open from 07:30 to 13:30 Saturday thru Wednesday and 07:30 to 12:00 hrs on Thursdays. 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 Farsi.
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.