Planning a trip to Iran takes preparation and patience. Read on to see exactly what to expect when planning your trip.
1- Visa applications
The only authority that issues visas is the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the first step is getting a visa permit from them. Once your application has been approved, an authorization code will be issued, normally taking two weeks.
You can then visit the Iranian Consulate to collect the visa stamp. For UK nationals, the visa desk is closed and you should refer to nearby Iranian Embassies in a European country or Turkey. Zohreh Majidian, who started the UK-based Iran tour guide company Magic Carpet Tours, provides a visa service via Berlin for those who cannot travel to get their passports stamped. Magic Carpet charges between £200 and £800 for the service.
Processing times can also vary widely – and slow down to a crawl around the March 21 holiday of Nowruz. Plan ahead!
2- Visa on Arrival
Don’t leave unprepared and expecting to get a visa when you land. There is a list of non-eligible nationalities for airport visas, which currently include the USA, UK, Canada and India. For EU passport holders, it is possible to get a visa on arrival for up to two weeks.
If you are a journalist, or an applicant with a previously rejected visa, or an Iranian using a foreign passport, you will also be denied an airport visa. Anyone in these categories should apply for a visa permit and visit an Iranian Embassy for a stamp before traveling.
3- Traveling Alone
“UK, USA and Canadian passport holders are required to join a fully escorted tour and cannot travel independently,’” Majidian says. They must join a tour group or have an official guide.
This requires a pre-arranged itinerary with hotels booked and paid for in advance. It does restrict freedom but it’s perhaps better than nothing. Majidian explains that there are two exceptions: British passport holders without any English origin who will be hosted in Iran and British men married to Iranian women. They can travel on their British passports without a tour guide – but they still need a visa.
4- Iranian Parentage
Your parents’ nationalities determine your visa eligibility. If you only have an Iranian mother, you are considered non-Iranian and can travel on a foreign passport; if you have an Iranian father, even if you have never lived in or been to Iran, you are considered an Iranian national and can only travel on an Iranian passport.
Men between 18-35 who have not completed military service and are traveling on an Iranian passport could be at risk. Military service is compulsory for all able-bodied men of these ages, including dual nationals. Iranian men visiting the country are allowed to stay for three months a year without enlisting; but if the visa is overstayed by even a day, they will not be allowed to leave until completing 21 months of service.
5- No Home Embassy
Often people feel at ease traveling to a new country when they know in an emergency they can turn to their embassy. For UK and American citizens traveling to Iran, this is not possible.
British citizens can contact the Swedish Embassy in Tehran on +98 21 2371 2200. Americans can turn to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran on +98 21 2200 8333.
The US government warns that American ability to help citizens in Iran in an emergency is extremely limited and they should make sure they have updated documentation at all times.
Having an Israeli stamp in your passport may pose an issue. Majidian claims that this is only a rumor but the UK Government foreign travel website states that passports containing an Israeli stamp or stamps from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt may not be granted access. If you have any of these it’s worth applying for a new passport. Israeli passport holders will be denied entry into Iran under all conditions and should not attempt entry.
7- Social Media & Technology
An internet security activist said travelers should ‘take a good look at their social media profile and online history before traveling to Iran.” He went so far as to suggest “de-publish[ing] some online content” and to avoid making “certain comments during the application process and visit.”
But he also warned that people didn’t always have full control over some of their online content, so you might not be able to completely remove it — a potential danger for people who work in the human rights sector, and for journalists. The security activist also suggested leaving laptops and smartphones behind and using local devices and VPNs to communicate outside of Iran.
For journalists traveling to Iran for work, a press visa is required by applying for a journalist visa application form. After getting a visa, apply in person to the Department of Foreign Media of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran for a journalist card. Working as a journalist in Iran without this card is a violation of Iranian law.
If you want to interview any state authorities, this request should be made before your trip. If you need to interview Iranian journalists or media outlets in Iran, make it clear which ones you want to speak to and do not attempt to interview others.
Foreign journalists are asked to contact any of the following three news agencies to register their arrival in Iran: Ivansahar Agency, +98 21 88 795 183; Resaneh Yar Agency, +98 21 88 735 273 or Nam Avaran Agency, +98 21 88 888 567.
Journalists traveling on a tourist visa should not mention their profession, according to a post on the Lonely Planet website, whose author was denied a visa based on their journalism work. But a contradictory Trip Advisor post says this shouldn’t be a problem.
It said that authorities require a letter stating no journalistic activity will be undertaken. It also warns that the Iranian government does not appreciate being lied to, so it is best to be honest about your occupation in your application.
A look on travel websites provides no clear single answer to this question and a presents a range of contradictory experiences. But for journalists going on holiday to Iran, visa restrictions may pose more of an issue than for other tourists.
9- Clothing & Behavior
Enright, creator of the travel blog Borders Of Adventure, suggests women pack a headscarf in hand luggage, as this needs to be worn as soon as you exit the plane and land on Iranian soil. Shorts and tight or revealing clothing are not permitted for both men and women. Alcohol and narcotics are illegal in Iran and you will be punished if found in possession of them.
Do not attempt to take either of these in your luggage and do not attempt to procure them in Iran. Either of these could cause you difficulty: remember, this is a country with strict Islamic laws.
Planning this trip takes patience and flexibility – but now that you know what to expect and how to apply, you are halfway there. Safe travels!
Thursday 04 February 2016 Amy Fehilly