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Iran is brimming with over 5,000 years of history, with old ruins, museums, and magnificent mosques. It is an ideal destination for culture seekers and offers visits to some of the world's most incredible ancient wonders. As a former part of the Persian Empire, it's a centre of early civilisation.
Originally called Persia, Iran was one of the first countries to be occupied by the early Islamic armies that emerged from Arabia in the seventh century and thus, it is also a centre for early Islamic history and culture.
Although tourism is on the rise, some areas are still not considered to be safe. These include the country's borders with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, as well as the province of Sistan-Baluchistan. Additional unsafe areas are the cities of Bam and Jask, as well as the areas east of them.
However, the Iranian tourism industry is growing outside of these regions, especially since the British Foreign Office has lifted its warning against tourist travel and has re-established an embassy in Iran.
This culturally-rich nation has something to offer everyone, with plenty of sightseeing choices, wonderful shopping, and exciting cuisine. For the more adventurous, Iran offers desert trekking, rock climbing, and a few ski resorts all at affordable prices.
The mountains bordering the Caspian Sea are covered in deciduous forest, and the brown forest soils found along the coasts of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf are used extensively for farming, making for a richly diverse landscape. In addition, business travel is increasingly common and the country is extremely rich in mineral resources, especially petroleum and natural gas.
Tehran has a semi-arid, continental climate and the city separates the mountains to the north and desert to the south. Summers in Tehran, from June to August, are hot and dry with average high temperatures of 93°F (34°C) and occasional extremes of 104°F (40°C). During the summer months, Tehran experiences very little rain, with average precipitation levels of 0.1 inches (3mm) per month. However, relative humidity is low and evenings are cool.
Most of Tehran's rainfall occurs during the spring and autumn. Winters, from December to February, are very cold with temperatures falling below freezing and rarely peaking above 37°F (3°C), with light snow showers a common occurrence. It is important to note that due to the city's large size and the difference in elevation between districts, visitors will find that the weather is often cooler in the northern hills than in the southern lowland areas.
Spring and autumn are the best times to travel to Iran as the weather is not as hot as in June and July when the country scorches with occasional heavy rains. July is the hottest month with temperatures soaring to between 95ºF - 104ºF (35ºC - 40ºC). Autumn starts in September and is usually sunny, turning cold and damp by November.
Winter lasts from December through March and can include substantial snowfall depending on the region. January and February can be bitterly cold with temperatures plummeting to 32ºF to 23ºF (0ºC to -5ºC) though days can be mild in the southern parts of the country.
The unit of currency is the Iranian Rial (IRR) which is divided into 100 dinar, but the Toman is used by Iranians today as the equivalent of ten Rial. Most Iranians state the value of things in Toman instead of Rial. Prices are most often marked in Toman, with 1,000 or 1,000,000 Toman equivalent to 10,000 or 10,000,000 Rial respectively. It is best to travel with US Dollars, which can be exchanged upon arrival in the airport or banks in big cities or at street rate at street outlets. An increasing number of mid-range hotels and all top-end establishments accept Visa and MasterCard. Some of the more expensive Iranian hotels charge in US Dollars.
The official language of Iran is Persian, also known as Farsi. English is mostly spoken and understood by businessmen.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs are standard (Plug types C and F).
US nationals: United States nationals must have a passport that is valid six months beyond their intended stay. Visa required. All foreigners entering the country must report to the police within eight days.
UK nationals: British nationals must have a passport that is valid six months beyond their intended stay. Visa required. All foreigners entering Iran must report to the police within 8 days after arrival.
CA nationals: Canadian nationals require a passport that is valid six months beyond their intended stay. Visa required. All foreigners entering Iran must report to the police within 8 days after arrival.
AU nationals: Australian nationals require a passport that is valid six months beyond their intended stay. Visa required. Passengers with a normal passport traveling on business can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 14 days if holding an invitation letter issued by a government agency. The invitation letter must be issued at least 2 days before the arrival date. All foreigners entering Iran must report to the police within 8 days after arrival.
ZA nationals: South African nationals require a passport that is valid six months beyond their intended stay. Visa required. Passengers with a normal passport traveling on business can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 14 days if holding an invitation letter issued by a government agency. The invitation letter must be issued at least 2 days before the arrival date. South African nationals have visa exemptions for 14 days if arriving at Kesh or Qeshm islands. All foreigners entering Iran must report to the police within 8 days after arrival.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport that is valid six months beyond their intended stay. Visa required. Passengers with a normal passport traveling on business can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 14 days if holding an invitation letter issued by a government agency. The invitation letter must be issued at least 2 days before the arrival date. All foreigners entering Iran must report to the police within 8 days after arrival.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a passport that is valid six months beyond their intended stay. Visa required. Passengers with a normal passport traveling on business can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 14 days if holding an invitation letter issued by a government agency. The invitation letter must be issued at least 2 days before the arrival date. New Zealanders are visa exempt for 14 days if travelling to Kish and Qeshm islands. All foreigners entering Iran must report to the police within 8 days after arrival.
Visitors require a passport (must be valid at least six months after period of intended stay). Visitors must hold return or onward ticket, all documents required for next destination and sufficient funds. Some nationalities requiring a visa can obtain it on arrival provided the visit is for tourist purposes, is for a maximum of 30 days, and that the passanger meets the specific requirements dictated by the Iranian government (the fee is between 50 - 150 EUR, subject to passenger nationality). 14 day visas for business travel (fee of 30 USD) are also available for purchase upon arrival, granted the passanger holds an invitation letter issued by a government agency that has been issued no more than two days prior to arrival.
All visitors must report to the police within eight days of arrival. Visitors should be aware that if their passport contains an Israeli stamp, or any evidence of an intended or past visit to Israel, entry into Iran may be refused even if in possession of a valid visa. All non-Iranian reporters, journalists, photographers and cameramen require a visa. Admission will be refused to women not wearing Islamic head cover, scarf, long sleeves or stockings. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are a few health risks to consider when travelling to Iran. Those intending to engage with animals or those going to rural areas should consider a rabies vaccine. Malaria is a risk in some parts of the country, and cholera outbreaks occur.
Yellow fever certificates are required for those arriving from an infected country in Africa or the Americas. Do not drink tap water, including ice in drinks, and food precautions should be taken. Healthcare in the cities of Iran is good, but insufficient in rural areas. Travellers are advised to have full travel insurance and to consult with their medical practitioner prior to travel.
Although there are many circumstances where small tips will do, waiters don't expect them. It's worth remembering that helpful Iranians probably deserve some extra appreciation to supplement their meagre wages. In most cases, tipping is an optional reward for good service. Fares in private taxis are always negotiable.
Travellers should exercise safety precautions throughout Iran and pay attention to media warnings and cautions, especially while in the country. In the south-eastern region, Westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband. Crime is relatively low in the cities, but there have been an increasing number of robberies by young men on motorbikes who snatch items from pedestrians.
Anti-Western sentiment among certain elements of the population has resulted in violent demonstrations outside foreign representations based in the country, such as those against the British Embassy in 2011. However, in 2015 the British Foreign Office rescinded its warning against tourist travel in Iran and has since made efforts to reestablish a British Embassy in Iran. Travellers are advised to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings. Travel within 60 miles (100km) of the Afghanistan border, six miles (10km) of the Iraq border, and 30 miles (50km) of the border of Pakistan is considered unsafe.
Dual Citizens should carefully consider their journey to Iran because the government has been known to detain American-Iranian and British-Iranian citizens in particular, refusing to acknowledge dual citizenship. It is best to avoid all political activity and some travellers could be profiled because of their political affiliations in their home country.
Because Iran is predominately Islamic, dress is extremely conservative. Travellers should take care not to offend codes of dress and behaviour, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. During this time, foreigners aren't expected to fast, but should refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum in public.
Behaviour that would be regarded as innocuous elsewhere can lead to serious trouble in Iran so it's always best to err on the side of caution. The possession and consumption of alcohol and drugs is strictly forbidden.
Contact between non-familial members of the opposite sex is forbidden and punishable by law. It's best to follow the lead of locals and it's easy to remain respectful of these traditions with this in mind.
Female visitors from the age of nine years old should wear headscarves in public, as well as dress modestly, cover arms and legs, and wear loose fitting clothing. They should also avoid looking into men's eyes too much, as this could easily be interpreted as an attempt to seduce.
Iranians are incredibly hospitable and guests should expect to be offered plenty of food and drink when visiting. Although it is not necessary to keep eating food, it is important to accept some. It is customary for a guest to bring a small gift to their host; sweets, pastries, tea, or other such gifts are always appreciated.
Travellers should be aware that homosexuality and adultery are crimes in Iran and are punishable by flogging and even death. Unmarried couples of the opposite sex travelling together should be discreet in public.
Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited; if caught taking photos or with photos, travellers may be detained and face serious criminal charges, including espionage, which carries the death penalty.
Many Iranian businesspersons speak English but translators can be hired if required. Business is based on the ability to effectively create personal relationships, as well as clear plans and presentation. Iranians are polite and conservative in their manner and the same respect is expected in return.
Exchanging business cards is normally restricted to senior business figures and it is advisable to have a Farsi translation of details on the alternate side. Appointments should be made and punctuality is expected for business meetings, but visitors may be kept waiting by local businesspersons or government officials. Dress is formal and conservative and though Iranians do not wear ties, it is not negative for foreigners to do so. Women should dress modestly and cover their hair.
Business gifts are quite acceptable and the same hospitality found in Iranian homes extends into the business environment. The concept of separating work and family is not rigid in Iran and in fact, many businesses are family run. Hence, familial value systems may enter the work place.
In other words, it is important to consult your legal department as to the boundaries of your relationships with potential partners, including the giving and receiving of gifts and bureaucratic favours, a common currency in Iran.
Friday is the Muslim holy day when everything is closed, and most businesses also close on Thursday; prayer times are also observed throughout the workday. During Ramadan, business hours may be shortened.
The international dialling code for Iran is +98. Although roaming is compatible with some international mobile service providers, it is far cheaper to buy a SIM card in Iran for the period of your stay.
Duty free allowances for visitors to Iran include 200 cigarettes (or the equivalent in tobacco products) and a reasonable amount of perfume/cologne for personal use. Alcohol is prohibited. All cameras and currency should be declared upon arrival. Medication should be in its original packaging with a signed letter from your doctor explaning your condition and the need for said medication.
Embassy of Pakistan, Washington DC, United States of America (Interest section for Iran): +1 202 965 4990.
Embassy of Iran, London, United Kingdom: + 44 207 225 4208 or + 44 207 225 4209.
Embassy of Iran, Canberra, Australia: +61 6290 7000.
Embassy of Iran, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 87 945 1307 or +27 87 945 0851.
Embassy of Iran, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 288 5881.
Embassy of Iran, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 386 2976.
Embassy of Switzerland, Tehran (also accredited for US citizens): +98 21 2254 2178.
British Embassy, Tehran, Iran: +98 21 6405 2000.
Australian Embassy, Tehran, Iran: +98 21 8386 3666.
South African Embassy, Tehran, Iran: +98 21 2270 2866.
Embassy of Ireland, Ankara, Turkey (assistance for Iran): +90 312 459 1000.
New Zealand Embassy, Tehran, Iran: +98 21 2612 2175.
There are plenty of transport options to get around Tehran. The city has a modern metro system connecting various parts of the city, serving as the best way to get around for newcomers as it avoids major traffic congestion. From Tehran's central railway station one can catch a train to other major destinations in Iran.
The Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) serves the buses in Tehran, with inexpensive travel possible to almost anywhere in the city. Saying this, it's difficult where and when to disembark without knowledge of Farsi or asking for help from locals. There is also gender segregated seating on trains, buses, and taxis.
Travelling by taxi is a comfortable way to get around the city but visitors should ask their hotel to book them one with a reputable company. It is also possible for female passengers travelling alone to request a vehicle with a female driver. It is best to negotiate fares upfront and they are also usually more flexible with gender-segregated seating.
Driving in Tehran will be a challenge for new arrivals as local driving is sometimes erratic and dangerous. However, visitors who decide to hire a car will have the option to have a local driver accompany them, which is advisable. There's also a bike-share scheme for cycling in Tehran, consisting of docking stations where commuters can pick up or return borrowed bikes throughout the city.
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