With its distinct culture, hospitable people, and architectural marvels, Iran is one of the countries I most enjoy traveling to. However, unfortunately, due to its isolated (or rather, self-imposed) structure, trips to Iran are often met with great hesitation. Most of us know very little about Iran and tend to associate the country with war. In this article, I have prepared tips for traveling to Iran. This Iran travel guide for tourists consists of what to consider when traveling to Iran, drawing from my own experiences and the recommendations of my Iranian friends. I aim to provide information about what to keep in mind when traveling to Iran and to share insights about the country.
Iranian people are incredibly hospitable, and in my opinion, Iran is a safe destination. If you’re ready to embark on a journey to this wonderful country that I believe will captivate you with its many facets, it’s important to be well-informed about what you need to pay attention to. If you’re considering a trip to Iran, be sure to read this article. I’ll cover both what to consider when traveling to Iran and offer tips for a comfortable journey within the country.
You might also find this article interesting: 5 Must-See Cities in Iran
My Travel Experiences in Iran
This article contains notes from my three-month bicycle trip to Iran in 2016, as well as my backpacking journey to the country for a month in 2022.
During my first trip, I cycled around, occasionally hitchhiked, stayed through Couchsurfing and similar platforms, cooked my own meals, and managed a low-budget tour. In my 2022 visit to Iran, I used buses and taxis for transportation, enjoyed meals in nice places, stayed in hostels a few times, and had a much more comfortable travel experience compared to the first trip.
As someone who has experienced Iran in different ways, I believe that reading these notes before your trip will be beneficial.
What to Consider When Traveling to Iran? Tips for Travelling to Iran
In this article, I’ve divided the information about Iran into subheadings and questions, providing insights based on my own experiences. I hope this article, which offers tips for those traveling to Iran, proves to be useful and contributes to an amazing trip! Happy reading!
HOW TO GET TO IRAN?
There are several options for traveling to Iran. You can fly directly from your country, Istanbul, or Van in Turkey. If you prefer not to fly or are on a tighter budget, using buses is another option.
You can reach Tabriz and Tehran directly from Istanbul by bus. Additionally, you can take buses from Turkey, from Van and Doğubeyazıt to the border, and after crossing the border, you can reach cities like Khoy, Tabriz, and Urmia by taxis or minibusses.
For detailed information on this, I recommend reading the article “How to Get to Iran from Turkey?” In that article, I explained in detail how I traveled from Istanbul to Iran by bus.
DO YOU NEED A VISA FOR IRAN?
Turkish citizens do not require a visa to enter Iran. If you are a Turkish citizen you can enter Iran without a visa with a valid and sufficiently long passport, and you can enjoy entering a country without the hassle of obtaining a visa. Unfortunately, I do not know the rules for citizens of other countries.
DOES IRAN STAMP PASSPORTS?
If you might potentially visit a country that has not-so-friendly diplomatic relations with Iran (such as the United States), then make sure to prioritize this point at the top of your list of considerations when traveling to Iran. When entering Iran, you can request that they stamp a separate piece of paper instead of your passport. I heard from a few people that they do this at the airport but not when crossing the land border. Therefore, I talked to a passport officer when crossing the land border.
The officer said they could stamp a separate piece of paper instead of my passport. Another officer told my friend that they had to stamp the passport. So, it seems that this might depend on the person and your luck. If you’re fortunate and encounter an officer like I did while crossing the land border, you might be able to enter Iran without getting a stamp on your passport.
WHAT NOT TO BRING WHEN TRAVELING TO IRAN?
Iran is an Islamic republic and is governed accordingly. As a result, there are certain important prohibitions that tourists must abide by. When entering Iran, you absolutely should not have any alcoholic beverages or their derivatives with you.
WHAT TO BRING WHEN TRAVELING TO IRAN?
Iran’s climate varies significantly according to the seasons, so the timing of your trip is crucial in terms of what you need to bring along. Our seasons are quite similar to each other, so you can gauge based on that. In this section, I’ve attempted to provide information about what you should bring when traveling to Iran. I’ve also prepared a link to the products I personally use and recommend, so you can get an idea from them.
You can check out the products here: What I Bring When Traveling to Iran (This link is an affiliate link with Hepsiburada, a Turkish online bazaar. Clicking the link won’t burden you with any extra fees. By purchasing a product through my links, you’ll also be making a small contribution to my blog. Thanks in advance!)
If you’re traveling to Iran during the winter months, be sure to bring winter clothing, sturdy shoes, rain gear, and an umbrella.
Let’s start with clothing items. If you’re traveling to Iran in the summer, I highly recommend packing baggy pants, loose linen trousers, loose-fitting t-shirts, and long-sleeved loose shirts. Dressing this way makes exploring extremely comfortable. Since you’re required to cover your head in Iran, be sure to pack a headscarf as well. When choosing your clothes, ensure that the fabrics are light and breathable.
One headscarf will suffice for a week-long trip. (I managed a whole month with just one headscarf.) If you’re traveling to Iran by bicycle, you can use a bandana or a buff instead of a headscarf. I used these during my three-month bicycle journey around Iran.
Footwear: If you’re traveling to Iran in the summer, be sure to pack sandals and flip-flops. Especially opt for sandals that don’t alter the shape of your foot, don’t squeeze your feet, and are comfortable for walking.
Thermos: Since temperatures can be quite high during the summer months, I strongly recommend bringing a thermos with cold retention properties.
Sunscreen and Hat: If you’re traveling to Iran in the summer, be sure to pack sunscreen and a hat. Make sure you have a quality sunscreen to protect your face. (I included the items in the link as examples)
Travel Wallet and Money Belt: I suggest getting a travel wallet that keeps your money close to your body and instills confidence against thieves. (You can see an example in the link) A money belt is also very convenient while traveling, allowing you to keep everything in front of you visible.
Others: You might not be able to find the cosmetic products or personal hygiene items you’re used to in Iran. Therefore, be sure to bring these items with you. If you have a portable food thermos, you can use it to store excess portions of food for later consumption. (Especially for rice portions, which tend to be quite large, this was very helpful for me.)
If you’ll be traveling frequently on intercity buses, I recommend getting a portable travel pillow.
IS IRAN CHEAP?
Relatively, yes, but sometimes no. Whether Iran is cheap or not depends on certain parameters. For example, if you earn in dollars or euros, the answer to whether Iran is cheap would definitely be yes. However, if you earn in Turkish lira, I can’t say a definite yes, but I can still say that it’s cheaper in some categories compared to Turkey.
Especially due to the low cost of fuel, transportation is very cheap in Iran, which essentially cuts your travel expenses by almost half. However, it’s not so cheap to say that about food and accommodation. If you’re uncertain about how much budget to allocate for an Iran tour, make sure to review your specific needs. Because in Iran, you can have a nice trip with either 1000 Turkish liras or 10,000 Turkish liras.
If I give an example from my own budget: In 2016, I spent around $26 in about 3 months, including the visa I got for India. I think if I don’t count the expenses I made for the visa, the budget for a 3-month Iran trip was around $20 Turkish liras. However, as I mentioned, I traveled by bicycle on this tour, cooked my own meals, didn’t go to expensive tourist places, skipped most museums, and didn’t pay for accommodation.
For my Iran trip in 2022, I needed a slightly higher budget. I spent around $150 in one month. Considering the 6-year time difference, the fact that I mostly used buses and taxis on this Iran tour, ate my meals mostly outside, and considering inflation, we can say that this is quite a reasonable budget for a comfortable trip.
But I need to clarify that accommodation is not included in this budget because I only stayed in a hotel for one or two days. Otherwise, I stayed with friends. Considering hotel and hostel budgets in Iran, you should expect to pay around 10-15 dollars per night on average. You can do your calculations based on this. (There is detailed information about hotels in Iran below.)
BUDGET FOR IRAN TRIP | HOW MUCH BUDGET SHOULD ALLOCATE FOR AN IRAN TRIP?
I often get asked about the budget for an Iran trip. How much budget should you allocate for an Iran trip? The most important factors that will determine this are comfort, activities, duration, and needs. It’s difficult for me to give a definite answer since I don’t know your needs, what you want to do, and the duration of your trip. However, let’s do a small calculation for a rough idea.
Cost of accommodation in Iran: If you want to stay in a decent hostel or hotel near the center, you should budget around $10-20 per night. So, apart from transportation, museum entrances, and other expenses, consider that you will spend around $15-20 per day in Iran.
Cost of food and drink in Iran: You should budget around $5-10 for a meal. Let’s say you have three meals a day and occasionally balance the budget by eating street food, so let’s estimate a daily cost of $15 for food and drink in Iran.
Transportation costs in Iran: Just like they say “cheap as chips” for something very inexpensive, transportation costs in Iran are like that. You can travel an 8-hour bus journey for as low as $3. Even if you take taxis everywhere in the city and travel by taxi all day, you won’t exceed $15. Public transportation in Iran is equally cheap. So, I think it’s reasonable to allocate a daily budget of $5 for this.
Museum prices for foreigners in Iran: Museum and historical site entrance fees for tourists in Iran are around $10-20. Since you won’t be going to a museum every day, you can calculate this cost at the base price.
With the small calculation above, a person’s budget for a comfortable trip in Iran would be around $40-45 per day. If you want to have a comfortable and enjoyable Iran tour, your budget for a one-week Iran trip could be between $280-300.
However, as I mentioned, when calculating the cost of an Iran trip, keep in mind that you can easily travel with $100 a month in Iran. The most important thing here is your needs and your comfort preferences. Also, participating in package tours like Iran tours could help reduce these budgets.
IRANIAN FOOD CULTURE
Iranian cuisine is somewhat similar to Turkish cuisine, so you might not be surprised by the food here if you have traveled to Turkey before. Iranian cuisine has a great variety of flavors and unique dishes. However, unfortunately, it’s a cuisine that is predominantly animal-based.
You can easily find vegetarian dishes, but the same might not apply to vegan meals. You can find vegetable dishes, but finding a vegetable dish without butter might be difficult. However, you won’t go hungry because there are plenty of falafel vendors on the streets.
One thing that might surprise you about Iranian cuisine is the portion sizes for rice. While in our culture a portion of rice is about the size of a bowl, in Iran, each person gets about five times the amount of rice that we would typically have in a meal. When I visit a restaurant, I usually ask for rice and grilled vegetables on the side.
Since many types of kebabs are served with vegetables, there are usually prepared vegetables available. With the ample amount of rice, you can easily feel full. (Half of the plate in the picture was filled with rice.) You can do the same as I do. (I don’t know if there’s butter in the rice. But I assume there isn’t, and I’ve eaten it both ways.)
While food prices in Iran might not be extremely cheap, they can be considered more affordable compared to prices in Turkey. You can fill yourself up with a single main dish and pay almost half of what you would pay in Turkey. For instance, the dish in the picture was essentially a chicken kebab meal and cost around $3 (as of 2022). Moreover, I had this meal in a nice and frequently visited traditional restaurant. (The picture of the restaurant is also above.)
Lastly, the breakfast culture in Iran is quite similar to Turkish breakfast. For breakfast, they usually have tea, cheese, walnuts, tomatoes, cucumbers, jam, bread, and other similar items. The two pictures above are from breakfast menus I ordered in different cities. As you can see, it’s almost the same as a Turkish breakfast. The only difference is that instead of the bulky and large bread we have, they usually have thin flatbreads similar to lavash and pita. I paid around $3-4 for this breakfast.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION COSTS & RULES IN IRAN
With the price of gasoline even when it’s increased, equivalent to about 50 cents, there’s probably no need to emphasize how cheap public transportation is in a country like Iran. Public transportation is indeed very affordable. You can get intercity bus tickets for journeys lasting about 12 hours for roughly the equivalent of $3.
Tickets for city transportation cost around 50 cents. The metro is just as affordable as buses. Moreover, in the metro, you can also use your card at the exit turnstiles to travel at a discounted rate. Especially the Tehran metro has such an extensive network that you can travel throughout the city using only the metro.
A small detail you should know about public transportation in Iran; some vehicles have designated sections based on gender. In city buses, men and women can ride the same bus, but men sit in the front and women sit in the back. In some cities, it’s the opposite. Such a rule doesn’t apply on intercity buses; only, as it is in our culture, foreign women passengers are not seated next to foreign men or vice versa.
There are also designated subway cars for women. These cars are the first and last two cars. Women are not obligated to travel in these cars. If they prefer, they can choose other cars, but if they want to travel more comfortably, they can use these cars. Men are not allowed in these cars, but during crowded hours, they also use these cars and no one says anything.
TAKING TAXIS IN IRAN | IRAN TAXI APP
Traveling by taxi in Iran is also quite cheap. You can travel a distance that would cost around $5 in Turkey for about less than $1 in Iran. However, as there’s no taxi meter in taxis, there’s a high chance of being overcharged as a tourist.
So, I recommend using the SNAPP application when taking taxis. This app allows you to easily call a taxi wherever you are and pre-mark your destination on the map, so you won’t have to explain it again. Moreover, after you select your location and destination on the app, it also tells you the amount you’ll pay. So, you don’t have to haggle anymore. The app is available in English as well. Of course, you need the internet to use the app, so getting an Iranian SIM card could be very beneficial.
Regarding this app, I should add the following: Having some basic Farsi phrases can be very useful when negotiating with taxi drivers. Because they might ask where you are or call you when they arrive at your location. At least learning basic things like “Where are you?”, “I’m here”, “I’m not there”, “Please come here”, “I’ve arrived”, “I’ll be there in a minute”, “I’ll get off here”, etc., might be a good idea. (I learned them, and it was quite easy.)
If you’re not using this app and are going to take a regular yellow taxi or a private taxi, always show the driver your destination and negotiate the price before getting in. Don’t get in the taxi without agreeing on a price that you think is fair and won’t result in being overcharged.
CAN YOU HITCHHIKE IN IRAN?
Hitchhiking in Iran is quite easy, but you’ll need some magic words in a country not accustomed to hitchhiking. One of these words is “pul nedaran,” which means “no money.” Since they’re not used to hitchhiking, they often ask how much you’ll pay before stopping for you. Instead of explaining in detail, you can just say “pul nedaran” whenever there’s a mention of money or fare.
If you want to hitchhike in Iran, it’s essential to explicitly state that you don’t have any money. Another thing that could help is preparing a sign with your destination written in Farsi before starting your journey; this makes a significant difference in the number of people who will stop for you.
If you’re hitchhiking within the city, it’s good to know that out of 10 cars, 8 will likely be taxis. Since there are no signs on the cars, it’s quite difficult to differentiate. During my low-budget trip in 2016, when I needed to hitchhike within the city, I would ask the cars that stopped if they were taxis. If they said they were, I’d use the magic phrase. Although those who heard I had no money usually preferred to drive off, some still stopped to help.
EXCHANGING MONEY IN IRAN & USING CREDIT CARDS IN IRAN
Iran has its own banking and payment system, so you can’t withdraw money or make purchases here with your Visa or Maestro cards. In short, you’ll need to carry cash in Iran.
So, which currency should you bring when you travel to Iran? When you arrive here, you can exchange Turkish liras, dollars, and euros. I only exchanged Turkish liras at the border, and after that, I mostly exchanged Euros and Dollars. Which one is better? I don’t know. Please don’t ask me, because I genuinely have no idea. 🙂
If you’re bringing Dollars or Euros, you can exchange them in any city. However, when exchanging money in Iran, you should be careful about a few things. First, your money should be in good cosmetic condition. If there’s a mark from a pen, a tear on the edge, or if it’s worn out, they might not exchange it or might offer a lower value.
Secondly, where you exchange money in Iran matters. In many cities, people approach you on the streets in touristy areas to exchange money. In urgent situations, you can exchange money with these individuals by bargaining well, but they usually offer very cheap rates. Except for emergencies, always exchange money at official exchange offices.
If you don’t want to carry cash with you and prefer not to, you can get a gift card from bank, transfer your money to the card, and then use it in the places you visit. You can use this card to pay for things like a taxi, even at street tea shops. Everywhere from a local teahouse to a taxi accepts card payments.
INTERNET AND BLOCKED WEBSITES IN IRAN
Internet in Iran is generally very slow. To put it into perspective, if you remember how in our country they sometimes restrict the internet to hide unfortunate events in the news, the speed in Iran is even slower than half of that. Additionally, access to many sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is blocked.
Therefore, it’s essential to use a VPN program. While Instagram is not a blocked site, using it can sometimes be challenging due to the slow internet speed. Among the things to watch out for when traveling to neighboring country Iran, dealing with the internet might be the most patience-testing aspect.
By the way, if you plan to stay in Iran for an extended period, I recommend getting a local SIM card. Depending on the plan you choose, phone lines usually come with a small amount of credit and cost around $2-3. Different SIM cards have various internet packages. For instance, I used Raitel, and I paid around $1.5 for a 20 GB internet package. You can get assistance from phone dealerships for this.
ACCOMMODATION COSTS IN IRAN AND HOTELS
During my 2016 Iran tour, I mostly used Warmshowers and Couchsurfing for accommodation. I easily found places to stay, especially in major cities. In 2022, although I stayed mostly with friends, I also stayed in hostels a few times.
In Iran, there are various options for accommodation, including guesthouses, hostels, and hotels catering to different budgets. Guesthouses are quite basic. While you stay in a private room, you share the bathroom and toilet facilities. (Similar to hostels)
If you want to make a hotel reservation in Iran, you can’t directly use sites like booking.com. You’ll need to be a bit more creative. I explained how to make hotel reservations in Iran in detail in my post: How to Make Hotel Reservations in Iran?
If you want to stay in a central location in a decent hostel, dormitory prices range from 2 to 8 dollars. If you prefer a private room with an en-suite bathroom, prices are around $12-25.
While Iranian citizens, unless married, are not allowed to stay in the same room if they are not married, this rule doesn’t apply to tourists. So, if you are not married, you can still share a room with your partner.
WORKING DAYS IN IRAN
Working days in Iran are a bit different from what we are used to. Thursday and Friday are generally days when work comes to a halt in Iran. (Think of Thursday as a half-day and Friday as a full day off)
Therefore, when making purchases or dealing with official matters, make sure to pay attention to the working days. Ironically, this has been the aspect I struggled with the most 🙂
HOW DO WOMEN DRESS IN IRAN? FEMALE DRESS CODE IN IRAN
The question of how women should dress in Iran is one of the top concerns on the list of things to consider when traveling there. There are strict rules about how women should dress in Iran. So, do tourists need to cover their heads in Iran, and do the rules about dressing apply to tourists too? You can read more here: Female Dress Code In Iran
Yes. In Iran, regardless of whether they are tourists or citizens, women are required to cover their heads and wear long-sleeved, long-bottomed clothing that covers their hips.
In short, when visiting Iran, your head, arms, and legs should be covered. You don’t need to cover your hair as thoroughly as women who are traditionally veiled, but it is still important to follow the dress code. (This dress code can be more lenient for tourists than for Iranian women.)
ARE THERE DRESS CODES FOR MEN IN IRAN?
None of these rules apply to men except that they cannot wear shorts.
TRADITIONAL TAAROF CUSTOM IN IRAN
There’s a unique tradition that is still practiced throughout Iran. It’s called “taarof.” Taarof is on the list of things to consider when traveling to Iran because this tradition can be quite confusing. So, what is taarof? In short, taarof is when people offer something or say something, but they actually mean the opposite.
For example, when you’re about to pay the bill at a restaurant, buy something from a shop, or pay a taxi fare, people will first politely refuse the money. They say, “No need at all.” However, they actually want the money, and when you insist by saying something like “Oh, please, I insist,” they will accept the payment. This is what taarof means.
If you encounter this, a couple of polite insistences are usually enough for them to accept the payment. If they still don’t accept it after a few rounds of insistence, then they genuinely don’t want it. The same principle applies when someone invites you to their home.
If you’re unsure whether an offer is taarof, you can directly ask, “Is this taarof? I can’t tell.”
LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN IRAN
The official language of Iran is Persian (Farsi). If you know Persian, you can communicate with everyone throughout Iran. Additionally, a significant portion of the population speaks Turkish. This Turkish is similar to Azerbaijani Turkish (referred to as Iranian Azerbaijani) and is quite understandable for someone who speaks Istanbul Turkish. (There are some words that are the same but have different meanings, but these can be resolved with careful attention.) Especially in Tabriz, everyone speaks Turkish. If you’re traveling to this city, you won’t encounter a language barrier.
In some parts of Tehran as well, you might come across people who speak Turkish. Don’t be surprised if a taxi you take or a shop you enter starts conversing with you in Turkish when they realize you’re Turkish. While English isn’t widespread throughout the entire population, many young people do speak at least basic English.
If you plan to stay in Iran for an extended period, I recommend learning some Persian. Persian is a beautiful language, and since it shares many similarities with Turkish, learning it can be quite enjoyable. At the very least, knowing enough Persian to express yourself and read the alphabet (which is similar to Arabic but not exactly the same, with some different letters) can greatly enhance your ability to communicate with locals.
CONDITION OF ROADS AND TRAFFIC IN IRAN
The list of places to visit in Iran seems endless, but whether you’ll explore these places or not depends on your tolerance for Iranian traffic. Traffic in Iran is truly chaotic. I honestly don’t know how people navigate this traffic without accidents, as it seems to me that the probability of an accident here is even higher than a bumper car ride at an amusement park. The country has a traffic structure where people disregard rules both within cities and on intercity roads.
We can confidently say that Iranians are good drivers because there’s no other choice but to be skilled drivers to navigate this traffic without causing accidents. My only advice in this regard is this: If you’re concerned about speed, it’s recommended to avoid Iran’s intercity buses.
Unfortunately, the roads in Iran are not very suitable for cycling. Apart from the chaotic traffic, another reason why cycling is challenging in Iran is that there’s almost nothing on intercity roads. No villages, no gas stations, no rest stops… If you’re lucky, you might come across a small rest stop on a 200-kilometer road. Additionally, due to the climate and terrain, finding a suitable spot for camping is very difficult. The landscape is dotted with small hills that resemble deserts. Nonetheless, the south of Iran, especially in spring, is a bit more favorable for cycling.
In this post, I’ve done my best to share what you should consider when traveling to Iran. The information is based on my own trips to Iran and my research. Please remember that your experiences may differ from what I’ve described. I also want to remind you that you can potentially reduce your Iran travel costs by participating in package tours like Iran tours.
I hope this information proves helpful for your upcoming trip to Iran. If you have any questions that aren’t covered in this post, feel free to leave a comment, and if I’m knowledgeable about the topic, I’ll try to assist. If you’ve read this far, please leave a comment; that way, I can gauge whether the article has been useful, and if necessary, I can make additional additions. Thank you in advance for your contribution!
OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT IRAN
- For Tabriz, please click.
- For Tehran, please click.
- For İsfahan, please click.
- For Yazd, please click.
- For Bandar Abbas, Hormuz and Qeshm please click.
- For Shiraz, please click.
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