Iran travel guide
Iran ought to be one of the world’s most treasured travel destinations, blessed as it is with extraordinary historical sites, exquisite landscapes and a fascinating culture. But international tensions and a tough domestic regime have prevented that from being the case – it has remained a destination for the intrepid.
Things are changing, though. Since the election of a moderate president in 2013 and the gradual thawing of relations with the West, this once out-of-bounds country has started to open up. No one’s pretending that its current leadership can’t be shockingly hard-fisted in matters of civic law. But most foreigners are likely to find their preconceptions shattered. They will find Iranians warm and friendly, keen to practice their English and quick with the tea invites.
Rich Persian heritage dating back 3,000 years is evident throughout the country. Historical sights like the ancient ruins of Persepolis and the still-glorious former capital of Isfahan are abundant. Iran has a distinct cultural identity too, with its predominately Shia-Muslim population, which sets it apart from most nations in the Islamic world.
Parts of the country are very conservative, but Tehran will strike many visitors as extremely modern. Despite the image perpetuated of religious dogma, in the capital women walk around in skinny jeans and make-up, while couples openly hold hands. There’s a lively café culture and a youth culture comparable to Mediterranean countries. Persian cuisine can be sampled in countless traditional and more contemporary restaurants.
Ancient Persia has the potential to attract millions of tourists per year, but it’s the modern reforming Iran that could be of as much interest. Flashpoint travel advice should be heeded and tourists still won’t be flocking to the country on a whim. But those who do travel will find street-level Iran to be almost unrecognisable from the Iran making headlines around much of the world.
1,648,195 sq km (636,371 sq miles).
80,043,146 (UN estimate 2016).
49.6 per sq km.
Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei since 1989.
President Hassan Rouhani since 2013.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
British nationals – including dual British/Iranian nationals – face greater risks than nationals of many other countries. The security forces may be suspicious of people with British connections. The risks are likely to be higher for independent travellers or students than for people travelling as part of an organised tour or business people invited by the Iranian authorities or companies.
There’s a risk that British nationals and British/Iranian dual nationals could be arbitrarily detained in Iran. In such cases the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has serious concerns that the subsequent judicial process falls below international standards. The Iranian authorities don’t recognise dual nationality for Iranian citizens and therefore don’t grant consular access for FCO officials to visit them in detention.
Any behaviour that doesn’t have an obvious explanation can put you at risk, no matter how innocent you believe it to be. This may include travel off the beaten track, being present near crowds or sensitive sites, having contact with Iranians who are of interest to the authorities, taking photographs (except in major tourist sites), or behaviour that could be perceived as contrary to official Iranian interpretations of Islam. The threat to travellers is likely to be higher if there’s any national unrest, terrorist incident or an increase in tensions between Iran and the international community.
You should consider carefully the risks of travelling to Iran. If you choose to travel, you may wish to keep a low profile.
The Iranian authorities have in many cases failed to meet their international obligations to notify embassies when foreign nationals have been detained. If a dual-national is detained the Iranian authorities won’t notify the embassy as they view dual nationals as Iranian citizens. Even if requested, adequate consular access to foreign nationals isn’t always granted and is never granted for dual-nationals. You should therefore keep in close touch with family or friends back home.
Border areas are particularly sensitive. The FCO advise against all travel to: areas within 100km of the Iran/Afghanistan border; within 10km of the entire Iran/Iraq border; the province of Sistan-Baluchistan; and the area to the east of Bam and Jask, including Bam. This area is notorious for banditry and is the main route for drug-traffickers from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The towns of Zahedan, Zabol and Mirjaveh are particularly insecure.
Some Iranian officials and media reports have falsely alleged a UK connection to separatist groups in Khuzestan and Sistan-Baluchistan. If you travel to these areas against our advice, stick to the main routes to avoid accidentally entering the numerous restricted or military zones.
There have been some attacks and robberies against foreigners. Young men on motorcycles or in cars have snatched bags from individuals either on the street or through open car windows/doors.
There have been attempted robberies by bogus policemen, usually in civilian clothing. If you are approached by anyone who claims to be a policeman, ask to see their ID and request the presence of a uniformed officer or marked patrol car. Don’t hand over any documents or cash, or get in to any vehicle.
There have been incidents of motorcycle taxis taking tourists to quiet locations where they are then robbed.
Take sensible precautions to protect yourself from street crime. Avoid carrying large amounts of money and keep your passport safe. Pre-booked taxis are safer than those hailed from the street.
Iran has a high rate of road accidents. Take great care when travelling by road, including by public transport and when crossing streets. If you’re involved in an accident, no matter how minor, don’t leave the scene. Wait until the police arrive to make their report.
The Iranian authorities sometimes set up informal roadblocks both in cities and on main highways. They are often staffed by young and inexperienced officers. You should always carry your identification with you and avoid getting into disputes.
If you wish to drive your own vehicle into Iran, you may be subject to Iranian customs and other regulations. There are special requirements for travellers wishing to bring motorcycles into the country. Women aren’t allowed to drive a motorcycle on public roads. Contact the Iranian authorities for details well before you travel.
In 2010 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Iran.
You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
All aircraft operated by Iran Aseman Airlines and some aircraft operated by Iran Air have been refused permission to operate services to the EU.
Many areas of the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf are highly sensitive politically. The waters around the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Persian Gulf are particularly sensitive and are militarised. In 2005 a British couple who anchored at Abu Musa were detained and French and German nationals were imprisoned for entering the waters near the island. In November 2009 a group of British sailors were detained for a week, along with their yacht, after accidentally sailing into Iranian waters in this area.
Mariners should not attempt to dock at all or sail into waters around these islands without express permission from the Iranian authorities.
You should maintain a high state of awareness and be alert to local and regional tensions which may affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.
In April 2015, a container ship with an international crew was detained by Iranian forces while transiting the Straits of Hormuz, following what the Iranian authorities said was a court order relating to a commercial dispute; the ship and crew were released 9 days later.
The Majeles elections in February 2016 passed peacefully, despite accusations of electoral fraud and discrimination. However demonstrations continue to be heavily policed with security forces deployed in large numbers and there have been reports that protestors have previously been taken into custody. You should stay away from demonstrations, rallies, large crowds and areas where police and security forces are deployed. International news events can sometimes trigger anti-western demonstrations.
Western diplomatic missions have been the focus for previous protests. There is the potential for protests or demonstrations to occur on Fridays after prayers. If you are unable to leave the immediate vicinity quickly, you should find a place of safety off the street, preferably indoors.
Consular assistance services
If you need routine consular assistance in Iran you should contact the British Embassy on telephone: +98 (0)21 6405 2000 to make an appointment.
In an emergency, including if you need an Emergency Travel Document, you should contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on telephone: +44 20 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HM Passport Office) is the sole issuer of British passports. Since 2014, British passports are only issued in the UK and are no longer issued by Embassies or High Commissions overseas. At present, you can’t apply for a British passport from Iran.
HM Passport Office is working to provide a service for customers in Iran. In the meantime, if you’re in Iran and need to apply for a British passport, you should apply in a neighbouring country of your choice. You can find details of the application process on the GOV.UK website. If you need further information and advice, you should contact HM Passport Office.
If you’re a dual national and are arrested and detained, the British Embassy won’t be able to provide routine consular assistance as Iran doesn’t recognise dual nationality.