15 things you should know before you visit Iran
Iran is a beautiful country with even more amazing people. Here are 15 things you should know before you visit Iran.
You could read this blogpost, or just watch the video I made, whatever you prefer.
- Do talk to strangers on the street
Contradictory to what you’ve been told, talking to strangers on the street is a good thing. Even better, they will just walk up to you and ask you where you’re from. In South East Asia my ‘they want to sell me something or scam me’ signals would be going off, in Iran out of approx. 50 times people asked me where I’m from on the street, just two told me they had a store. That’s it. No pushy things, nothing. Most people told me a warm ‘welcome to my country’.
- Take all the money you’ll need in cash
Thanks to Western sanctions, you can’t withdraw cash in Iran. Not from an ATM, not at a bank. And no creditcards. You will have to bring all the money you will need, in cash. Changing your cash into Iranian money was easy, is a bit harder now. Only not really legal on the street changing or at two kinds of banks. The good news, your money will go a long way in Iran.
Update: you can get a pre paid debit card you can load up with money before you go to Iran, then pay almost anywhere in Iran with this debit card. Super nice and convenient I’d think, I’m sure I’ll try it next time around. It’s called Mah Card
- Alternatively; get an Iranian pre paid creditcard
Relatively new, get a Tourist Credit Card in advance. You can load that up with money and pay with that card virtually everywhere in Iran. I haven’t tried it, but used a local debit card from a friend, but can vouch for the readily available pay-by-card options loads of stores and restaurants.
- Figure out what domination prices are listed in
A listed price in Iran can mean three different things. Officially they use the Rial. But that has too many 0s. So they use the Toman, which is the same as Rial, but one zero less. Still, the zeros are too many, so a lot a times a price like “17” will be listed. Which would mean 17000 Toman. Which is 170,000 Rial. Just so you know. Grab your phone, type in the number you think it is, show it to the person selling Rial? or Toman?
- Be polite and do pay for stuff (even if they tell you not to)
The people in Iran are ridiculously friendly. There is a phenomenon called “Ta’arof”, which is almost like negotiating who will let the other person go first/sit down/pay. It can go on for a bit. In a couple of taxis I had the driver do the Ta’arof thing when trying to pay for the ride. No you don’t have to pay! No that’s ridiculous, let me pay. No no my friend! Yes I’d like to pay? Sure? Okay then I’l;l accept graciously.
- Things change quickly, check right before you
Everything changes, sure, but in Iran things can change really quickly. A friend has visited Iran four times in two years, and every time the visa procedure was different. Internet situation changes constantly.
- Get a VPN and a local 4G sim
Iran blocks certain websites. No Facebook, no YouTube to name some. Right now WhatsApp and Instagram are allow, but that could change tomorrow. Iranians aren’t really fazed by that, they virtually all use a VPN. Get a VPN if you want all of the internet, and get it before you go to Iran. Once in Iran, getting a VPN will be harder.
Wifi is usually dreadfully slow, just get a 4G simcard with gigabytes of data for your phone. It’s cheap and way faster than wifi.
- Visit a mosque
Really you want to visit a mosque. Don’t just barge in there like it’s your right, just wait a bit and make eye contact with someone local. They will probably invite you in. Women go into a separate part of the mosque, as do men. Take your shoes off, and leave them in the shelves or plastic bags. Walking barefoot is fine. Enjoy the peace inside.
- Wear an appropriate outfit
For women it does mean cover up, including niqab. For men, no shorts, always long pants. Sandels are okay, although you hardly see anyone wearing them.
- Accept an invitation
It is likely someone on the street or elsewhere will invite you for dinner of a visit to their home. Of course first say a polite no (Ta’arof!), they will insist, you politely decline, and so forth. However, if they will keep inviting you after three or so declines, they probably do really mean it. And then you can accept and probably have an amazing experience.
- Dealing with officials
You’ll see a lot of officials in Iran. Most of them are people too. Nothing to be scared off usually. If you talk to them, are of the happy disposition, you might discover they can be very flexible in how strikt they are.
- Shaking hands (or not)
Men will shake a lot of hands with men. Very common. If you are a man and you meet an Iranian woman, you want to wait sticking your hand out to shake though. If she sticks her hand out, then obviously, shake it. If she doesn’t, don’t stick your hand out. She’ll probably do a hand on heart and little bow thing. Return this gesture of gratefulness/greeting and that will be a very positive culturally aware move on your behalf. Although, if you look like a foreigner, they totally will be relaxed about it if you make a ‘mistake’ in this or at Ta’arof.
- Friday is the day off
Things might be closed on a Friday. Just so you know.
- Visa on arrival
For some countries you can get a visa on arrival. For me, I had to bring €75 cash, and wait for an hour or so.
- Get the Snapp taxi (Uber, but different)
A taxi is dirt cheap in Iran, but if you want to be sure of rock bottom prices, the Snapp Car app is very handy. Tip; opt for the more expensive taxi option in Snapp, so you’ll be very much less likely to be sitting in a gas smelling headache inducing rickety car.