Getting your Iranian tourist visa

Passport holders of certain countries are exempt from needing a visa to enter Iran; others require a visa but can get one on arrival; others need a visa and have to get it in advance.

Requirements change frequently, but currently, all UK, USA and Canadian passport holders must apply in advance, and have a fully booked itinerary and local guide before applying for a visa. It is presently difficult for Americans to attain visas.

At Burrows&Bird we recommend all passports that are not exempt from visas to get one in advance. The process takes at least two months, but recently it has taken up to three months.

Burrows&Bird takes no responsibility for delays or rejection of visas for any reason.

How to get an Iranian tourist visa

Getting a visa is a two-step process. We finalise your itinerary, and send you a visa authorisation number form. You return the form with a copy of your passport. We apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran to get a visa authorisation number for you. This takes at least one month, but sometimes up to two months.

As soon as we've received the number, you take this number plus a copy of your passport, two passport photos, a filled-in visa application form, and the visa fee to whichever Iran embassy you will be collecting your visa from. Make sure to download and fill in the visa application form as appears on the website of your local Iran embassy, and follow their particular guidelines. Fees vary greatly according to embassy and your nationality; some require cash payments, others accept payment by card, others expect a cash deposit at a bank. You will need to leave your passport at the embassy from anything to one day to two weeks, depending on your particular embassy. Many embassies offer an express service – sometimes the same day, sometimes the next day – for an extra fee. Once the visa is stamped in, you can collect it.

Burrows&Bird can get visa authorisation numbers for most nationalities residing in most countries. We can also help guests using the London Iran embassy to get the visa stamped into your passport. Please note, at London and some other embassies, all UK, USA and Canadian passport holders travelling to Iran for the first time need to apply in person to provide fingerprints.

Here's what else you need to know ...

WEATHER

Spring and autumn are the best times of year in Iran. From March to May, flowers bloom in profusion, and in April in Shiraz, the air is heavy with the sweet scent of orange blossoms. Most of Iran is hot in mid-summer. September and October are also good months to visit. November to February can be very cold; especially in the mountain regions and Northeastern and Western Iran, roads are often blocked by snow in winter.

 

MONEY

You cannot use foreign cards in Iranian ATMS; bring all the cash you need with you. US dollars are preferred, but Euros are also accepted. When you arrive, you can change your US$ into the local currency. Approved money changers in every town will exchange US$ and Euros. Limited, tourist-friendly shops will accept Visa and Mastercard credit cards, and some will accept US$ and Euros in cash for big purchases.

 

CURRENCY

The Iranian currency is the Rial. US$1 = approx. 30,000 Rial. As this usually means an endless number of zeros, locals talk in Tomans. 1 Toman = 10 Rial. When shopkeepers refer to 30 Tomans, they mean 30,000 Tomans, which is equivalent to 300,000 Rials.

Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.

 

HEALTH & HYGIENE

We recommend taking out travel insurance before travelling.

The World Health Organization recommends that all travellers, regardless of the region they are visiting, should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as well as hepatitis B; outbreaks of any of these are rare in Iran.

Iran’s health system is rated above average by Unicef.

 

FOOD & DRINK

Iranians eat a wide range of foods; meats include chicken, lamb, beef, fish and seafood. It is possible to travel to Iran as a vegetarian; as a vegan, you will struggle.

Locals drink the tap water, but we recommend drinking bottled water, which is readily available.

 

LOOS

Most Burrows&Bird hotels have Western-style loos. Most facilities at tourist spots, and all bathrooms at petrol stations, are squat loos. Public toilets tend to be clean, although sometimes not pleasantly scented. They do not provide toilet paper.

 

BRING WITH YOU

A few packs of tissues for public loos.

Suncreen – Iran is known for its big blue sky.

Sunglasses – as above.

Lip balm and moisturiser – Iran is mainly semi-desert and elevated, so it’s generally quite dry.

Adaptor – plugs in Iran are two pin, round pins.

Ear plugs – traditional hotels are shaped around a central courtyard, so there can be noise in the early mornings.

Mosquito repellent – most places are mozzie-free but certain regions, at certain times of the year, can have insects.

 

DON’T BRING WITH YOU

Alcohol or any illegal drugs – it is strictly against the law.

Salacious or overtly political reading matter, including books with suggestive covers.

Women's fashion magazines may be confiscated by Customs.

 

WHAT TO WEAR – MEN

No sleeveless vests.

T-shirts are fine, or go for long sleeves for sun protection.

No shorts.

Jeans, khakis or lightweight trousers.

Comfortable walking shoes with a good grip are a must.

Hat for sun protection.

Opt for cotton, or other natural fabrics that are breathable in warmer weather.

As the air tends to be dry, clothes can be worn more than once, so you can get away with packing lightly in Iran.

 

WHAT TO WEAR – WOMEN

Hijab, or modest dress: the hair, neck, arms and legs should be covered.

The classic women’s outfit is the manteau – a light, fitted overcoat – over trousers.

A headscarf must be worn at all times except in the privacy of your hotel room. You’ll soon get used to wearing a headscarf, and it will become routine.

When you land in Iran, you’ll need to put your scarf on so carry one on the plane.

Full-length, or at least three-quarter-length, sleeves are required.

Shirts, dresses, shifts, or kurtas should go down at least to mid-thigh. A long shirt left untucked, just covering the bottom, is not suitable.

No leggings, although you can get away with skinny jeans.

Open sandals are acceptable.

Comfortable walking shoes with a good grip are a must.

Clothing of any colour is fine.

Opt for cotton, or other natural fabrics that are breathable in warmer weather.

As the air tends to be dry, clothes can be worn more than once, so you can get away with packing lightly in Iran.

Most Iranian women wear plenty of makeup; although it's not strictly hijab, feel free to do the same.

Don’t even think about wearing a burka or chador. Wearing a chador takes years to master, and requires being held closed with a hand or the teeth, which is restrictive when you’re not used to it. Some mosques require women to wear a chador, but you can borrow one from the mosque cloakroom. Foreigners will usually be excused for any minor faux pas when it comes to dress.

You will find especially the younger generation pushing the limits of hijab, with 'revealing' outfits and headscarves pinned as far back on the head as possible, but as you’re a guest in Iran, at Burrows&Bird we recommend playing by the rules.