“Iran sounds like a dangerous place!”
“Is Iran even safe?!”
“What if you got kidnapped?!”
“How could Gan allow you to go Iran by yourself?!”
Without a doubt, I followed my heart and plan for my one-month trip in Iran!
I weren’t with any tour group nor speak the local language. I took public transport, wandered the streets on my own, and even followed strangers to their homes when got invited for a meal – basically everything you shouldn’t do if you’re in a “dangerous” country.
And guess what? I am still alive and writing this post to share my experiences in this awesome country!
Getting In / Out
If you come by flight, Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport would be the most obvious choice as it is well-connected to various international destinations from Europe and Asia. Shiraz has an international airport too and there are daily cheap flights from Dubai. I flew from Doha to Tehran with a direct flight through Air Arabia.
If you happened to be in the neighboring countries, traveling to Iran by land can be an adventurous and unique experience. Common land border crossings into Iran are Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Iraq.
Iran has a well-developed network of intercity buses that connect various cities and regions. Buses are also the preferred choice for locals as they are a more affordable option compared to air travel. Getting a bus ticket from the terminal can be intimidating with men coming to you shouting random city’s names. Intercity buses range from basic to more luxurious options, offering different levels of comfort and amenities for passengers. The 13-hours “VIP” bus I took from Tehran to Shiraz cost less than US$9 came with complimentary snacks and drinks! Regular buses are about 70% cheaper but you wouldn’t want to have a cramped seat on a long journey.
In Iran, it is common for men and women to sit separately on buses, unless they are a couple. The front section of the bus is usually reserved for women, while the back is for men.
Iran has an extensive railway network that serves both domestic and international travel. Long distance trains provide sleeper’s cabins which are much comfortable than buses. Unlike buses, train tickets has to be purchased in advance especially during holiday seasons to be sure of a seat.
There are two main types of taxis in Iran: licensed taxis and “shared” taxis. Licensed taxis are registered and are usually painted in specific colors such as green, yellow, or blue. They offer point-to-point service, and the fare is calculated with the equipped meters. Shared taxis are often private vehicles that operate fixed routes and pick up passengers along the way until the taxi is full. The fare is typically lower than that of licensed taxis. To play safe as a tourist, you may consider downloading apps like “Snapp” and “Tap30” which operate similarly to services like Uber.
There was very little information online on Iranian’s visa in 2016. Since it was a less-travelled country then, I assumed it would be a complicated process. To be on the safe side, I paid US$78 for a 30-days visa application online which surprisingly took about a week to get approved. At the immigration counter, I was informed that I am allowed to enter Iran with a 15-days visa-on-arrival for free! On top of that, I can easily extend the visa to 20-days for only US$12! I wondered why did they not inform me about it when I submitted my application to the Iranian embassy.
Note: You’ll be turned down from entering Iran if you have any proof of travel to Israel. This includes passport stamps from Israel, stamps from neighboring countries’ land borders with Israel and Israeli passports.
Iran is a vast country with diverse geographical features, so its weather can vary widely depending on the region and the time of year. The country experiences a range of climates, from arid deserts to mountainous regions. Generally the best time to visit Iran is during the Spring and Autumn. If you are planning to venture the mountainous regions like Alborz and Zagros mountain ranges, the temperatures are cool year-round. During the winter months, the regions are popular for winter sports due to heavy snowfall.
I visited Iran in the hottest months of Summer. Being a shorts-and-sundress type of girl, it was utterly uncomfortable for me to be all covered up and with a headscarf. Summers can be hot, often exceed 40°C or more in low-lying desert regions like central and southern Iran.
Internet and Mobile Data
SIM card can be bought once you exit the terminal. Wi-fi is not common in Iran. Even if you stay in hostels where wi-fi is provided, the speed is intolerable slow. So, do consider getting a SIM card if you need regular internet access. You may check this out on different package of SIM card in Iran here.
Similar to China, Iran cannot access to popular social media such as Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Youtube, etc., so you will need to download VPN app to bypass the network in order to use those apps. Make sure to download a few VPN apps before entering the country.
The official currency is the Iranian Rial (IRR), but you might also hear or see prices quoted in “Toman.” Toman is an informal unit of currency in Iran, where 1 Toman is equivalent to 10 Rials. So, if you see a price of 10,000 Toman, it’s equivalent to 100,000 Rials.
As Iranian banking system is completely excluded from European and American ones, Mastercard, VISA or American Express are kinda useless in this country. Therefore, it is important to carry enough cash with you when traveling in Iran. Exchange offices give better rates than the government-controlled banks. If not labeled “Exchange”, look for small shops similar to jewelry stores that have foreign banknotes in the window. There is also the “black market”, where some locals are willing to buy your currency. It is fine to exchange with them but just make sure to count your money twice, as some of them might try to trick you.
My budget of US$200 were spent mainly on transportations and attraction fees which was more than enough for the whole month. Foreigner price for attractions is usually 6-8 times the local price (i.e. 200 000 Rials for foreigners vs 3000 Tomans for locals). Most of the time I were able to blend in with my CS hosts without much of an issue. Otherwise, you may try mingling with locals, and have them help buy your tickets.
Couchsurfing is technically illegal but actively used by the locals throughout the country. Staying with locals allows you to truly experience the Persian’s culture and save you a lot of money as there wasn’t much hostels around. Hotels will ask to keep your passports during your stay with them. However, you are also required by Iranian law to always have your passport on you. Make a few copies of your passport and pass it to the hotel when requested.
Read More: Esfahan – The Hidden Jewel of Middle East
Iranians are ridiculously friendly; they are some of the most genuinely hospitable people I’ve ever met on my travels. You will be welcomed on every corner, people will want to take pictures with you, and it is very common you will be invited to a total stranger’s house. I think I’ve visited more homes in Iran than I did in my home country! However, don’t be surprised having to sit in a house for hours waiting as Iranians eat lunch around 14:00, and dinner can be anywhere between 21:00 and midnight!
Iranians are not Arabs. As gracious as an Iranian can be, call them Arab and they will get offended. Iranians are Persians and is totally different ethnicity from the Arabs.
Everything closes between 13:00 and 16:30 in Summer. During this time people go home to lunch with the family, nap, and avoid the heat.
Friday is the holy day of the week, and many stores are closed for the whole day. For restaurants and tourists attractions, they will only be opened after 16:00 on Fridays. Mosques are close to non-Muslims as well on Fridays.
The workweek is from Saturday to Wednesday in almost all public and governmental offices, and the weekend is Friday. Banks and other governmental offices are generally open half-day on Thursdays, from 07:30am to 1:00pm, and in larger cities, shopping malls and department stores will be open on Thursdays and Fridays.
When drinking tea, put a sugar cube in your mouth first, then take a sip. This is the Iranian way of drinking tea. I enjoyed having a cube for every 2 sips, imagine the amount of sugar intake I had in Iran!
Water is free! Tap water is safe to drink unless stated otherwise. There are plenty of water fountains on the streets in cities, so you can actually save money from buying bottled drinks. (and save the Earth too!)
Being an Islamic country, it is a common knowledge that man and woman do not touch, not even a handshake. So, for a lady to greet the man, just place your right hand over left chest and do a small bow. For lady to lady, you can do handshake, or even hug and give pecks on both cheeks.
Dancing is not allowed in public. Although dancing has been considered as an inseparable element of Persian history and tradition, Islamic law has announced public dancing illegal in Iran. Furthermore, the strict dance laws are based on an individual’s gender and women are not allowed to dance in the presence of men not being their immediate family members. Having said that, Zumba classes have been banned in any shape in Iran since 2017. The government’s authorities declared Zumba classes are contrary to Islamic ideology.
Women are not allowed to ride bicycles. And can only ride motorcycle as a pillion. The official reason for the ban is to further minimize the exposure of women’s bodies as if the hijabs and chadors weren’t already doing a pretty good job.
Dress modestly in public is mandatory. Ladies travelling in Iran need to dress according to the rules of hijab:
- A headscarf to cover your head. Big cities like Tehran and Esfahan can show your hair, whereas places like Kerman and Hamadan it’s better to cover your head completely.
- Long-sleeved loose fitting top that covers the bottom. Cardigan and 3/4 length sleeved shirts are fine.
- Pants or dress that go down to your ankle. Skinny jeans and thighs are fine as long as your top covers the bottom.
- Sandals are allowed.
- It is perfectly fine to take off Hijab at people’s house. You can always follow the women in the house if unsure.
Is Iran Safe?
Iran is a very misunderstood country, with many people believing whatever propaganda they hear on the media about how dangerous or difficult it is to travel there. I would agree that Iran is relatively safer than some of the countries I had been to.
To be fair, like many other countries, solo female travellers attract a fair amount of attention in Iran too! Nevertheless, Iranians are well known for their incredible hospitality so you are never really alone! Whenever I appear to be lost, the locals are helpful and eager to offer assistance. Even when walking around the bazaars, the vendors treated me with respect and I’ve never felt pressurized to buy anything.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram.