Iran is one of the most beautiful yet most maligned countries in the world. The western media has caused some misbeliefs about Iran, making some travelers hesitate before deciding to visit this amazing country. In the following article we intend to clear these misbeliefs and give you some detailed information about the country, that every traveler needs to know before getting off the plane in Iran. Here are 25 things you need to know before travelling to Iran.
What to know before you visit Iran
Table of Contents
- Persians aren’t Arabs
- No hate towards Americans
- Confusing Currency and limited payment options
- Iran is safe and free of Islamic Extremists
- Driving and crossing the road
- Dress code
- Wi-Fi and VPN
- Prepare yourself for Squat toilets
- Iranians have various kebabs, stews and rice
- You’ll learn to have fun without alcohol
- Public affection
- Attention: Take of your shoes before entering
- Segregation in public transportation,gyms and pools
- Iranians are hospitable and welcoming
- Taxi in Iran
- Tap water is drinkable
- Many Iranians speak basic English
- Taarof , a confusing costume
- The weekend is on thursday and friday
- Ramadan, when restaurants and cafes are closed during the day
- You need a visa for Iran
- Don’t take photos of military settlements and equipment
- Hotels will keep your passport
- Any car can be a taxi
- You might need an electrical adaptor and power converter
1-Persians are NOT Arabs
Although Iran is located in the Middle East and is close to Arabic countries, Iranians are Persians not Arabs. Only 2 percent of the population of the country is comprised of the Arabic race. While both Iranians and Arabs are mostly Muslims, Iranians have different traditions, language, calendar and national celebrations dating back to thousands of years ago. Moreover, the official language of the country, Persian is not to be confused with Arabic, despite their share of script and similar words.
2-No hate towards Americans
The Iranian and American politicians have not had the best relationship since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. There have been few governmental protests since then. The Down with USA slogan sometimes heard in these protests is only aiming American politics and has nothing to do with its citizens. Despite the anti-America slogans and posters seen in some of the public areas in Iran,none of the Iranians even those participating in governmental protests have no negative feelings towards Americans and are kind and welcoming towards them. If you’re travelling to Iran as an American, you can be sure that Iranians will welcome you like any other traveler and won’t let politics get in the way of showing you their hospitality. You can also read former American travelers’ reviews on Trip Advisor and ask them about their experience in Iran. We also recommend you to see this & this video, made by an american tourist who has traveled to Iran several times.
3-Confusing Currency and limited payment options
The official currency of Iran is Rial; however, due to the dramatic decrease in its value in the last few decades the prices are now indicated in Toman. Each Toman equals 10 Rial. The bills and coins are still in Rial so in order to find out the value in Toman you just need to omit one zero. Nowadays the regular range of prices is in thousand Tomans so the locals don’t bother with all the zeros and sayToman instead of thousand Toman. To clear things more let’s see some examples:
The price of a pack of gum is usually around 50000 Rials or 5000 Toman . When asking for the price the seller will probably tell you 5 Toman, which equals one of these 50000 Rial bills:
Note: The price written on products or restaurant bills can be stated in Toman or Rial.It’s best to ask the seller to make sure.
Unfortunately, credit cards and international debit cards such as visa and mastercard are not supported in Iran. This leaves the travelers with two options.
Carrying all the money in cash
You can exchange money at the airport, banks and exchange offices available in cities. Avoid exchanging money in the street or paying for the things you’ve bought with euros or dollars as the exchange rate is constantly changing.
Buying an Iranian debit card
If you find carrying a large amount of cash hard and insecure, it’s possible to buy a debit card from the various companies available. You can then pay directly with the debit card at most shops all over the country or purchase cash from ATMs.
We at Cheetah-Adventures provide our travelers with a local debit card during their tour as a charge-free service.
4-Iran is safe and free of Islamic Extremists
We’ll start by rejecting one of the most common misbeliefs about safety in Iran. Despite being in the Middle East there are no traces of war or Islamic groups such as ISIS in any part of Iran. In fact, Iran is a safe country for traveling and besides regular pickpocketing seen in any other busy location in the world, there is nothing to worry about. This being said, it’s still important to take necessary precautions like locking the door to your hotel room, keeping an eye on your valuable belongings and avoiding walking alone in uncrowded streets at night.We recommend you to check other travelers’ reviews on Trip Advisor to be sure that none of them haven’t had an unpleasant experience regarding safety in Iran. Our Iran Safety article goes through the different factors of safety in Iran. You can also contact us on WhatsApp 24/7 for further information.
5-Driving and crossing the road
Iranians have their own way of driving. Although they may seem careless as first,their way of driving is safe for locals. However, the driving culture in Iran is rather different from what most travelers are used to,making driving a difficult task for foreigners. We recommend travelers to use public transport and taxis for their inner-city transportation rather than renting a car. Another thing that should be taken into account is that crossing the streets in Iran requires a bit of courage. The cars won’t stop until you start walking in the middle of the street and speed up at the sight of the yellow light to pass before it turns red. So don’t be afraid and start crossing the street instead of waiting for the cars to stop before that and avoid crossing the street at yellow light. You can ask a local to accompany you the first few times.
As Iran is an Islamic country, following a certain dress code is a law that applies to everyone including travelers. This dress code requires women to cover their hair with a scarf, wear long-sleeve shirts that reach below the waist and long pants. Men must also avoid wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts. Although it seems hard at first, the dress code for Iran is rather flexible and it’s even less strict for travelers.
Note : The dress code must be followed from the moment your plane lands in Iran.
You can read our complete guide to Iran dress code.
7-Wi-Fi and VPN
Unlike most European countries free Wi-Fi is not available in most restaurants, cafes and malls ;however,most hotels, hostels and homestays offer free Wi-Fi to their guests. Thus to make sure you can access the internet everywhere, it’s best to buy an Iranian SIM card and use its data package. 4G data is available throughout the country with Iranian SIM cards. In addition, it’s important to have a VPN (virtual private network) installed on your phone beforehand as many social media websites and some other ones such as YouTube, Facebook , Twitter, etc. are blocked by the government. WhatsApp is not blocked and is working fine.
We at Cheetah-Adventures provide our travelers with a portable modem with Wi-Fi during their tour as a charge-free service.
8-Prepare yourself for Squat toilets
Although western toilets are now available in many restaurants, malls and hotels, most of the homes and public areas still only have Iranian toilets or squat toilets, so prepare yourself for some extra effort. In addition, many of the public restrooms don’t have toilet paper, leaving you with two options: either having a roll of toilet paper with you all the time or adapt to the situation and use water instead (with a hose) like locals.
9-Iranians have various kebabs, stews and rice
Persian Kabab may be the most famous Persian food but Iranians have various delicious and healthy foods. Don’t restrict yourself to kebabs or fast food when traveling to Iran and try their various local homemade dishes. Most of the Iranian dishes are served with a large amount of rice or bread, so if you feel like you’d like your meal with less rice you can let the waiter know when ordering. Furthermore, aside from Kebabs Iranian dishes are usually stews or rice mixtures containing either beef or chicken and several vegetables and grains. If you’re a vegetarian make sure to ask the waiter or your guide to tell you the ingredients. See Iranian Cuisine articles here.
10-You will learn to have fun without alcohol
Being an Islamic country, Alcoholic drinks are banned in Iran and are not served in restaurants. There are also no bars in the country and alcohol is only found in the black market which can be risky to buy. There are plenty of other drinks offered in restaurants and bars, ranging from the typical coca-cola to juices, various types of coffee, tea, and several local drinks.
The rules of Islam forbid men and women who are not married or related to each other from touching in public; however, this rule is not strictly followed in reality. If you’re traveling with your partner, it’s ok to hold hands and hug but it’s best to save further affection for private areas especially in more religious cities such as Yazd and Kashan. Moreover, many men and women shake hands despite what is spread in the media but to avoid any further misunderstanding, it’s best to wait for locals to offer you their hand.
12-Attention: Take off your shoes before entering
Carpets are seen in almost all Iranian homes, mosques and hotel rooms, thus Iranians take their shoes off whenever entering their home or a mosque. It’s recommended to take your shoes off if you’re invited to somebody’s home or when entering the praying hall of a mosque, but it’s unnecessary when it comes to your hotel room.
13-Segregation in public transportation, gyms and pools
If you’re the type to use public transportation for inner-city transport, it’s important to know that buses and subways have two separated sections. One of these sections is restricted to women only and the other is coed. This segregation is not taken very seriously in subways and men enter the women’s section very often during the rush hour.
Furthermore,Gyms and pools have separate schedules for men and women. They’re usually open to women from early morning till 4 5 pm and then for men till midnight. Even if you’re travelling with family, women and men aren’t allowed to use gyms and pools together.
14-Iranians are hospitable and welcoming
Iranians are famous for their unique hospitality and kindness towards travelers. While it might seem strange in other countries, people will approach you very often in Iran just to greet you and welcome you to the country. As a traveler you might also get invited to have a cup of tea or coffee many times. While travelling in Iran you’ll be greeted by locals everywhere and probably get invited to lots of homes. In addition, the locals are always ready to help if you’re lost or in need of any help.
15-Taxi in Iran
The taxi system in Iran is a little different from anywhere else around the world. There are three types of taxis in the country:
The calling taxi: These types of taxis are the most popular type among locals and the cheapest as the price is divided among the 4 passengers. How it works is usually the driver is waiting by a junction or in a taxi station, calling out its destination until the car is full. It also works vice versa and sometimes the passengers call out their destination to the taxis passing by until one of them stops. This type of taxi is not usually recommended to travelers.
The normal European taxi: This type of taxis work the same way a normal taxi in most European countries does. Just remember to be clear about your destination and agree on a price with the driver before getting in. It’s better to ask the locals about the usual cost of taxi for your destination as the taxis in Iran don’t have taximeters.
Iranian Uber: Using the Iranian Uber is the easiest and least time consuming way to get around inside the cities. The mobile application, named Snapp, can be installed from Google Play and app store and works just like Uber.You can download it from here too. The price is always stated in the application as soon as you mark your destination. Note that the driver may call you to ask where you are if so you can just respond with location and remember to mark your exact location on the map. Snapp is available in all major cities and many of the smaller ones. Tap30 (pronounced as Tap-si, just like taxi) is another application similar to Uber and Snapp. you can download it here.
16-Tap water is drinkable
The tap water is drinkable in most of the cities in Iran, but it’s necessary to ask the locals to make sure. There is also drinkable water available in most parks, subway stations and malls so we recommend having a refillable bottle with you throughout your trip in order to avoid buying numerous plastic bottles.
17-Many Iranians speak basic English
Persian is the official language of Iran and its various dialects are spoken all over the country. Many of the educated people in Iran speak basic English and among them people under the age of 30 speak it better. In spite of this, it’s recommended to learn basic Persian phrases like greeting, addressing and asking for prices to facilitate communication during your stay. It’s also beneficial to learn the written form of numbers in Persian as the prices are usually written on products.
18-Taarof, a confusing costume
Taarof is considered one of the strangest Iranian costumes. It’s usually done to show respect towards the other person. For example Iranians may often ask you to walk through a door before them to respect you. Another example of Taarof is Iranians, including shopkeepers, taxi drivers etc.tend to reject your payment at first but you have to keep insisting until they accept. If they don’t accept after 3 4 rounds of rejecting and insisting then it means they wanted to give you a complimentary service.
19-The weekend is on thursday and friday
The Iranian Calendar is a bit different from the rest of the world. The Persian week begins on Saturday and ends on Friday, with Thursday and Friday being the weekend. The shops are usually open from Saturday to Thursday and from 10 pm to 9 pm. However; grocery stores tend to open around 6:30-7 Am and close at 10-10:30 pm daily. Furthermore, malls and shopping centers usually open at 10-11 Am and are open until 11:30-12 Pm and they’re also open on Fridays. The restaurants and cafes in major cities usually have long opening hours with the cafes working from 8 AM to 12 PM and restaurants from 11 AM to 12 PM every day.
Note: During summer many local shops and bazaars are closed from 2 to 4 PM in hot cities.
20-Ramadan, when restaurants and cafes are closed during the day
Muslims all over the world fast for a month each year, meaning they avoid eating, drinking and smoking from sunrise to sunset. This month is called Ramadan and it’s the ninth month of the Islamic( Arabic) calendar. As most restaurants, juice bars and cafes are closed from sunrise to sunset, it’s best to avoid traveling to Iran during this time.
21. You need a visa for Iran
Most of the countries around the world, with the exception of a few, require a visa to enter Iran. For most nationalities both visa on arrival and visa in advance are available; however, a few are not eligible for a visa on arrival and some can only apply for a visa through a travel agency. The process of obtaining an Iran visa is a rather easy one and travelers are usually granted a visa that is valid for 3 months and allows them to spend up to 30 days in Iran. Even though many nationalities are eligible for a visa on arrival, it’s recommended to apply for a visa in advance to avoid long waiting lines at the airport. You can apply for an Iran visa using the official website of the ministry of foreign affairs or through a travel agency such as Cheetah-Adventures. For a complete guide on how to get Iran visa check out the Iran Visa Application page.
22. Don’t take photos of military settlements and equipment
As a traveler, you will definitely find many things interesting and take many photos but you should be aware that photography is banned in some locations. Taking photos of military settlements, police stations and forces, factories, power plants and other strategic buildings such as ministries is legally banned due to national security matters. It’s best to pay attention to no photography signs and ask permission before taking photos if you’re not sure.
23. Hotels will keep your passport
Some of the hotels may keep your passport for the duration of your stay; however, there’s no need to worry as they will be kept safe. As your passport may be your only identification document during your trip, it’s recommended to have a copy of your passport with you. You can also ask the hotel reception to make copies of your passport and return the original.
24. Any car can be a taxi
Taxis are usually yellow or green all around the world but things are a little different here in Iran. In addition to the normal green or yellow taxis, many of the taxis are normal( private) cars, especially the ones working in Snapp (Iranian Uber). This type of taxi is very common and is usually safe; however, it’s better to try to find yellow taxis as they have a valid work permission.
25. You might need an electrical adaptor and power converter
The standard voltage of the electricity in Iran is 220 V and the frequency is 50Hz, thus you’ll need an adaptor to use electrical appliances working in a different voltage range. In addition, the plugs in Iran are the European type (type c) and you’ll need a converter for other sockets.
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Iran Travel FAQ
Can females drive in Iran?
Yes. women are allowed to drive in Iran given that they have a driver’s license like in any other country.
What is the full face veil called? (Burqa)
The face veil that some Muslim women wear is called Burqa.
Is wearing Burqa Mandatory in Iran?
Absolutely not! Wearing Burqa or Chador is not obligatory in Iran but women are required to wear hijab in public areas. Wearing Chador is only obligatory when entering holy shrines.
Read all about Iran dress code.
Can Tourists buy alcohol in Iran?
Not Legally. Alcoholic drinks are banned in Iran but they can be found on the black market.
Is dating allowed in Iran?
Of course it is. Iranians date each other like people living in any other country but public physical affection such as kissing is frowned upon especially in religious cities such as Yazd and Kashan.
What should I buy from Iran?
Iran has a variety of arts and handicrafts specific to each city. The most popular ones are carpet, enameled glass, khatam, etc. You can also buy various local sweets such as Baklava, Qottab, Halva, and fruits such as pomegranate and pistachio. All souvenirs related to Iran cities are introduced in Iran Destinations Page
How much is saffron in Iran?
The price may vary but normally it’s about 2 dollars per gram.
Is saffron cheaper in Iran?
Saffron is generally cheaper in Iran as it is one of the top countries producing it.
What is Iran famous for producing?
Iran produces a variety of foods from sweets to Kaviar and pistachio. There are also many beautiful handicrafts such as carpet, clay pots, and enameled glass found in different cities.
Got questions? We’ll be glad to answer!
About Cheetah Adventures
Cheetah-Adventures is an Iran tour operator & Iran travel agency aiming to provide services for travelers from around the globe who aim to visit Iran. Cheetah-Adventures is named after the Iranian Cheetah, a critically endangered cheetah subspecies surviving today only in Iran.