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).
81,801,633 (UN estimate July 2016).
50 per sq km.
Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei since 1989.
President Ebrahim Raisi since 2021.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
FCDO advises against all travel to Iran
Your travel insurance could be invalidated if you travel against FCDO advice. Consular support is also severely limited where FCDO advises against travel.
If you’re a British national already in Iran, either resident or visitor, carefully consider your presence there and the risks you take by staying.
FCDO advises against all travel to Iran. British and British-Iranian dual nationals are at significant risk of arbitrary arrest, questioning or detention in Iran. Holding a British passport can be reason enough for the Iranian authorities to question you. If you are detained in Iran, you could face months or years in prison.
Find out more about why FCDO advises against travel.
Support for British nationals in Iran
Consular support is extremely limited in Iran. If you need consular assistance you should contact the British Embassy in Tehran.
The Iranian authorities do not recognise dual nationality. If you’re a British-Iranian dual national and you are detained in Iran, the authorities will not tell FCDO or grant FCDO access to see you. If you’re detained, your case will be in the hands of the Iranian authorities, who have shown a pattern of hostility towards the UK and British citizens.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:
- advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
- information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Iran set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Iranian Embassy in the UK.
There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Iran.
Passport validity requirements
If you visit Iran against FCDO advice, your passport should be valid for a minimum of 6 months from the date you arrive. It’s not possible for British nationals or dual nationals to apply for a UK passport in Iran.
Check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.
You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.
Previous travel to Israel
If your passport has stamps from Israel or other countries’ border crossing points with Israel, you may be refused entry to Iran.
You need a visa to enter Iran as a visitor.
Check the expiry date of your visa before travelling. If you overstay your visa, you may have to stay in Iran until this is resolved and you are at risk of being detained.
Women and girls aged 10 or over should wear a headscarf in their visa application photos.
If you’re travelling through an Iranian airport, check visa requirements with your airline and the Iranian Embassy in the UK.
Applying for a visa
If you choose to travel to Iran against FCDO advice, apply for a visa well in advance of your travel. The application process for an Iranian visa can be long and unpredictable.
If you want to travel to Iran with a British passport, the Iranian Embassy has told FCDO that to get a visa you must either apply as part of an organised tour, or have a sponsor in Iran. Check with the Iranian Embassy in the UK for more information.
Some British nationals have had problems getting visas from private online visa agencies.
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date you submit your visa application.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Iran guide.
Iran does not recognise dual nationality. Dual nationals are considered Iranian nationals by Iranian authorities. All Iranian nationals must travel to and from Iran using an Iranian passport.
You may also be required to demonstrate to the Iranian airport authorities that you have the right to enter the UK. You must be able to produce your British passport or a valid UK visa in your Iranian passport on request.
Holding a British passport can be reason enough for the Iranian authorities to question you. The Iranian authorities have shown a pattern of hostility towards the UK and its citizens.
Being considered an Iranian national
Even if you do not consider yourself Iranian, you may be seen as an Iranian national by Iranian authorities. For example, if your father is Iranian, or if you’re married to an Iranian man.
There are strict rules about goods that can be brought into and taken out of Iran. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
Importing pork products is illegal.
Children travelling without a male parent
In Iran, a female parent travelling with her children must have the father’s permission, usually verbal, to take them out of Iran. This is assumed to be the case by Iranian immigration authorities unless the father has petitioned the court, or the court has ruled to prevent the children travelling. For more information, contact the Iranian Embassy in the UK.
To enter Kish Island, you must arrange your visit through an Iranian travel agency. The agency must:
- inform the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about your visit at least 2 weeks before you travel
- have received confirmation that a visa will be issued on arrival
The nearest Iranian embassy or consulate can give you advice and a list of registered travel agents.
You must also have a hotel reservation before you travel. Your guide must:
- pass a copy of the hotel reservation confirmation to the Immigration Office at Kish Airport at least 48 hours before you arrive
- meet you at the airport when you arrive
Travellers have occasionally been denied entry to Kish without explanation. If you’re denied entry, follow the advice of your airline or travel agent.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
Terrorism in Iran
Terrorists are likely to try and carry out attacks in Iran.
Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by foreigners. Stay aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities.
Previous attacks include:
- in January 2024, at least 84 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in suicide bombing attacks in Kerman, southern Iran, carried out by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)
- on 13 August, 2023, one person was killed and 8 wounded in a terrorist attack at a Shia Muslim shrine in the Iranian city of Shiraz, southern Iran
- in 2022, 15 people were killed at a holy site in Shiraz
Military activity in the Red Sea area
Military activity is currently underway in response to attempts by Houthi militants to prevent movement of international shipping in the Red Sea. While the area of activity is limited to the Red Sea and Yemen, there is a possibility that Travel Advice for nearby countries could change at short notice. You should continue to monitor Travel Advice and follow any relevant instructions from local authorities.
On 18 January, Pakistan carried out air strikes in Iran’s Sistan-o-Balochistan province in the Southeast of Iran, targeting militant groups. Whilst the area of activity was limited, there is a possibility that the situation could change or affect a wider area. This could include renewed missile or drone attacks, protests or an increase in regional tensions and risk of associated violence. Monitor local news and follow instructions from local authorities as appropriate.
FCDO advises against all travel to Iran. If you’re a British national already in Iran, either resident or visitor, carefully consider your presence there and the risks you take by staying.
FCDO’s ability to provide consular assistance is extremely limited in Iran. In an emergency, for example if there is serious violence, unrest or a deterioration in the security situation, it is extremely unlikely that the British government will able to evacuate you or provide face-to-face assistance in Iran. In these situations, it may become more difficult to leave safely. Air, sea and land routes are under the control of the Iranian authorities.
Assume that no face-to-face consular assistance will be possible in an emergency situation and that the British government will not be able to help you if you get into difficulty in Iran.
Arbitrary arrest and detention
There is a very high risk of arbitrary arrest, questioning or detention for British nationals and British-Iranian dual nationals. Holding a British passport can be reason enough for the authorities to question you. If you’re detained in Iran, you could face months or years of imprisonment.
If you’re a British-Iranian dual national and you are detained in Iran, the authorities will not tell FCDO or grant FCDO access to see you. FCDO may also not be able to visit you to provide consular support for long periods.
British-Iranian dual nationals have been arbitrarily detained in Iran and made to serve long prison sentences. In January 2023, a British national was executed after receiving the death penalty. Iran has arrested and detained non-Iranian European nationals travelling on tourist visas. The criminal justice process in these cases falls below international standards.
If you’re detained in Iran your case will be in the hands of the Iranian authorities, who show a pattern of hostility towards the UK and its citizens. As a result, consular assistance to British nationals in Iran is extremely limited.
Iranian authorities have accused people with links to the UK of inciting protests. If you are in or near a protest, you are at serious risk of arrest. Mass arrests, including of bystanders, happen often. It is difficult to predict where protests will take place, and they may turn violent. British nationals arrested in connection with protests may come under added suspicion of espionage or working to undermine the Iranian government. This can increase the risk of lengthy detention, criminal charges or receiving the death penalty.
You may also come under suspicion if you are near sensitive sites, have contact with Iranians who are of interest to the authorities for any reason, or are taking photographs.
Even if you avoid protests and crowds, there is still a very high risk of arbitrary arrest, questioning or detention. In all cases of detention, FCDO has serious concerns that the judicial process falls below international standards.
Links to the UK
While having British connections can be reason enough for the authorities to be suspicious of your activities, you are at even greater risk if you are involved in:
- civil societies (including labour unions, human rights groups or political activist groups)
- any organisation perceived as anti-Iranian (either within Iran or elsewhere)
- any institution based in the UK that receives public funds from or which have perceived links to, the British government
- historic or current social media activism related to protest movements in Iran
You are more at risk during times of terrorist incidents, national unrest, or when there is an increase in tensions between Iran and the international community.
Border areas are sensitive. FCDO advises all British nationals already residing in Iran against all travel:
- within 100km of the Iran-Afghanistan border
- within 10km of the entire Iran-Iraq border
- to the provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan
- to the area east of Bam and Jask, including Bam
There is risk of banditry in the area east of Bam, Jask, and Sistan and Baluchistan. This 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 anti-government groups in Khuzestan, Kurdish-majority regions, and Sistan and Baluchistan. If you travel to these areas against our advice, stick to the main routes to avoid accidentally entering restricted or military zones.
Take sensible precautions to protect yourself from street crime and petty theft. Avoid carrying large amounts of money and keep your passport safe.
There have been some attacks and robberies targeted at foreigners and tourists, including attempted robberies by thieves posing as policemen, usually in civilian clothing. If you’re approached by anyone who claims to be a policeman, ask to see ID and request the presence of a uniformed officer or marked patrol car. Do not hand over documents or cash, or get into a vehicle.
Getting cash in Iran is extremely difficult. Non-Iranian debit and cash cards will not work in Iran. It’s usually not possible to change travellers cheques.
It’s illegal to change money on the street. You can exchange selected foreign currencies in some exchange bureaux, though you may have problems changing money. Euros and US dollars are more commonly accepted than British pounds.
Find out before travelling how you will get enough Iranian rials for your visit legally. If you cannot, you may need to reconsider your travel plans.
Surrogacy and adoption
If you’re visiting Iran to arrange an international surrogacy or adoption, consider the risks and challenges involved. Surrogacy is a complex, lengthy process. You should:
- make sure you’re aware of the facts and well-prepared before starting the process
- get specialist legal advice on Iranian and UK laws before making any arrangements
- read FCDO and Home Office guidance on surrogacy overseas
- research clinics and hospitals thoroughly to make sure they are safe and reputable
The British Embassy cannot get involved in surrogacy arrangements or recommend hospitals or clinics.
Commissioning a surrogacy will not automatically mean that the child holds British citizenship. To bring your child born through surrogacy from Iran to the UK, you must apply for a full British passport. You need an Iranian birth certificate for this. It’s not possible for British nationals or dual nationals to apply for a UK passport in Iran.
Laws and cultural differences
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. The dates vary by year and country. Ramadan in Iran in 2024 is likely start on 10 March and last for 30 days until 8 April. During this time, do not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public in the daytime, including in your car.
You should also:
- check opening hours of shops and restaurants
- be aware that if hotels and restaurants are providing food or drink in fasting hours, they may separate you from Islamic guests, for example with screens
- be aware that fasting can cause tiredness, particularly during the later afternoon and early evening
- be patient and show tolerance
Get more advice when you arrive from your tour guide, hotel or business contacts.
Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. In public places women must cover their heads with a headscarf, wear trousers or a floor-length skirt, and a long-sleeved tunic or coat that reaches to mid-thigh or knee. Men should wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts in public.
There are extra dress requirements at religious sites. Women may be asked to put on a chador (a garment that covers the whole body except the face) before entering.
Relationships between men and women
Adultery and sex outside marriage are illegal under Iranian law and carry the death penalty.
Relationships between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal, although few Westerners have been prosecuted. If a Muslim woman is found in a relationship with a non-Muslim man, she may be sentenced to be whipped.
Unmarried partners and friends of the opposite sex travelling together should exercise extreme caution. Sex outside marriage and same-sex relations are against the law in Iran, with the death penalty as the defined punishment.
Iranian hotel managers could insist on seeing a marriage certificate before allowing couples to share a hotel room.
Same-sex relationships are illegal under Iranian law and can carry the death penalty.
Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.
Women should take extra care, particularly when travelling alone or with friends of the opposite sex. Women face a range of issues, from enforced hijab wearing to harassment due to there being relatively few foreign women in Iran. Respect local customs and avoid isolated areas. See more advice for women travelling abroad.
Films and magazines
Many western streaming services including Netflix and Prime are illegal.
It is illegal to import, sell, manufacture or drink alcohol in Iran. This is on religious grounds, with exceptions only for certain recognised Iranian religious minorities. Drinking alcohol in public is not allowed, with no exceptions. Penalties can be severe.
Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited. You can be detained and charged with breaking national security laws. Sensitive government buildings and facilities are often difficult to identify. Take extreme care when taking photographs in any area.
Using a laptop or other electronic equipment in public places can be misinterpreted, especially if it contains photographs. You may be arrested and detained on serious criminal charges, including espionage. It’s better to ask before taking photographs of people.
It is illegal to import, sell, manufacture or consume drugs in Iran. Penalties for importing and possessing drugs are severe and enforced. Many people convicted of drug offences, including foreign nationals, have been executed.
You must carry copies of your passport photo page and visa for identification. Make sure you have a copy of the emergency contact details.
Satellite phones and drones
You need permission from the Iranian authorities to import or use equipment like drones or satellite phones. Using them without permission is illegal and you could be arrested.
Mobile phones, internet access and communications
Iranian authorities have blocked, significantly slowed or shut down landline, internet and mobile services without warning in the past. This can be nationwide or localised. This can affect communication and location services on smartphones and other devices. You should:
- not rely on mobile data, non-Iranian mobile apps or international calls for personal safety
- always keep an alternative means of communication and navigation with you
- make sure friends and family know where you are
Individuals involved in commercial disputes with Iranian companies risk being stopped from leaving the country until disputes are resolved.
Representatives of British or western companies may receive particular attention. British businesspeople travelling to Iran should take steps to protect commercially sensitive information, including password protection of electronic devices and not carrying unnecessary information. Electronic devices may be screened by customs officials on arrival and departure.
You need a 1968 international driving permit (IDP) when using a UK driving licence to drive in Iran. You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. You can buy an IDP in person from some UK post offices – find your nearest post office branch that offers this service.
If you’re planning to drive in Iran, see information on driving abroad.
Iran has a high rate of road accidents. Take great care when travelling by car or public transport and when crossing streets. If you’re involved in an accident, no matter how minor, do not leave the scene. Wait until the police arrive to write their report.
Iranian authorities sometimes set up informal roadblocks both in cities and on main highways. These are often staffed by young and inexperienced officers. Always carry identification with you and avoid getting into disputes.
It is not widely accepted for women to drive motorbikes on public roads and there is a risk of being arrested.
Motorcycle taxis should not be used as they have sometimes taken tourists to quiet locations and robbed them.
Pre-booked taxis are safer than taxis hailed from the street.
The UK Air Safety List (ASL) lists all known airlines in Iran that do not meet international safety standards and are banned from operating commercial air services to, from, and within the UK. Check the UK Air Safety List when considering which airlines to fly with. The list is maintained by the Department for Transport, based on advice from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
Many areas of the Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman are very politically and militarily sensitive, with increased military activity including seizures and attempted seizures, boardings and harassment of maritime vessels.
The waters around the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Persian Gulf are particularly sensitive. British national mariners should not dock or sail into waters around these islands.
When in the region, maintain a high state of awareness and be alert to local and regional tensions which may affect your route. Vessels may be at increased risk of maritime attack and harassment if they operate in the:
- Gulf of Oman
- Northern Arabian Sea
- Persian Gulf
- Strait of Hormuz
Commercial vessels have been attacked by unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly referred to as military drones) off the coast of Oman, with one attack in 2021 resulting in the deaths of a British and Romanian national. Vessels have also been seized in and around the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz in recent years resulting in detention of the vessels and crew.
If your vessel is hailed, provide the vessel name, flag state, and confirm they are exercising navigation rights and proceeding in accordance with international law, as reflected in the UNCLOS Convention. Vessels and mariners should maintain high levels of awareness when they are operating in the area and report into UKMTO. They should document footage of all incidents wherever possible.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
Many parts of Iran are at risk of earthquakes and tremors. These can be high magnitude, cause damage to infrastructure, and put lives at risk.
Some provinces can suffer from floods in spring, particularly:
- follow advice given by local authorities
- be adequately equipped with waterproofs, thermals, hiking boots and rations when driving and walking
Before you travel check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Dial 115 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check:
- the latest information on vaccinations and health risks in TravelHealthPro’s Iran guide
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
Healthcare facilities in Iran
In general, medical facilities in Iran are reasonable in the major cities but poor in remote areas. Many health professionals speak some English.
In 2022 there were shortages of some basic medicines in Iran.
If you’re a British national in Iran having medical or cosmetic treatment, you may not get adequate care in an emergency.
FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Iran.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in Iran
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- finding English-speaking lawyers, funeral directors and translators and interpreters in Iran
- dealing with a death in Iran
- being arrested
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you’re affected by a crisis, such as a terrorist attack
Help abroad in an emergency
If you’re in Iran and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Tehran.
You can also contact FCDO online.
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)