Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Iran
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Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Iran

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Iran Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

1,648,195 sq km (636,371 sq miles).

Population

80.8 million (2014).

Population density

49 per sq km.

Capital

Tehran.

Government

Islamic Republic.

Head of state

Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khameni since 1989.

Head of government

President Hassan Rouhani since 2013.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.

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.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 28 July 2015

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 members of tour parties or business people invited by the Iranian authorities or companies.

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, 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. Even if requested, adequate consular access isn’t always granted. You should therefore keep in close touch with family or friends back home.

During a demonstration on 29 November 2011 the British Embassy in Tehran was attacked and set on fire. The Embassy remains closed and is therefore unable to provide any consular services to British nationals in Iran. You should consider this carefully before travelling.

If you need routine consular assistance in Iran you should contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 20 7008 1500. If you need emergency consular assistance, including an emergency travel document, you should contact the Swedish Embassy or the Embassy of any other EU Member State in Tehran.

Border areas

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.

Crime

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.

Road travel

Iran has a high rates 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.

Air travel

The European Union has highlighted a number of concerns about air safety oversight in Iran. Since April 2010, the State carrier Iran Air has been subject to operational restrictions in the EU and only 14 Airbus A300, eight Airbus A310 and one Boeing 737 from their fleet have permission to operate to/from the European Union. The restriction was put in place because Iran Air had been unable to demonstrate that a number of aircraft in its fleet meet international safety standards.

The list of airlines banned within the EU is based on random inspections on aircraft of airlines that operate flights to and from EU airports. The fact that an airline is not included in the list does not automatically mean that it meets the applicable safety standards.

There is limited reliable independent expert information available about domestic airline safety in Iran and the International Civil Aviation Organisation has not audited those bodies responsible for air safety oversight in Iran. Aircraft operating domestic routes in Iran may not necessarily comply with international safety standards. There have been a number of fatal accidents.

Sea travel

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.

Political situation

The June 2013 Presidential Elections passed peacefully. However demonstrations are heavily policed with security forces deployed in large numbers and 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 these 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 Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 20 7008 1500. In an emergency, including if you need an emergency travel document, you should contact the Swedish Embassy or any other EU Embassy in Tehran.

Swedish Embassy

Address: 27 Nastaran Str, Boostan Ave, (North of Lavasani), Tehran

Telephone: 0098-21-2371 2200

Fax: 0098-21-222 964 51

Email: ambassaden.teheran@gov.se

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