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 Hassan Rouhani since 2013.
Last updated: 21 September 2019
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.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise all British nationals against all travel to:
- within 100km of the entire Iran/Afghanistan border
- within 10km of the entire Iran/Iraq border
- the province of Sistan-Baluchistan
- the area east of the line running from Bam to Jask, including Bam
Additionally, the FCO advise British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran.
There is a risk that British nationals, and a higher risk that British-Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained in Iran. All British nationals should consider carefully the risks of travelling to Iran. 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. If you’re a British-Iranian dual national and are subsequently detained in Iran, the FCO’s ability to provide consular support is extremely limited.
There have been recent military threats between Iran, the US and other countries in the Middle East. You should avoid military sites, follow the instructions of the local authorities at all times, and keep up to date with developments, including via this travel advice.
There are sporadic protests across the country about the economic situation in Iran. You should exercise caution and avoid any protests or rallies and follow the instructions of the local authorities.
Several provinces, particularly Khuzestan, Golestan and Lorestan, continue to suffer from damage to infrastructure, following severe flooding in March and April 2019. You should follow any advice given by the local authorities. Given the damage to infrastructure, take particular care when driving and walking, keep a stock of food and bottled water, and make sure your phone is charged.
It is possible to exchange GBP in certified exchange bureaux, though you may still experience difficulties in changing money. Official restrictions were placed on bureaux de change for some of 2018, but these have now been lifted.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Iran. Attacks could happen anywhere, including in places visited by foreigners. On 22 September 2018 there was an attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, capital of Khuzestan province. On 7 June 2017, there were 2 attacks in Tehran – one in the Majles (the Iranian parliament) in central Tehran and another at the Imam Khomeini Shrine near Imam Khomeini international airport.
Iran is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend.
British nationals need a visa to travel to Iran. You should make your visa application well in advance of your date of travel. The application process for an Iranian visa can be long and unpredictable. The Iranian Embassy has told the FCO that to get a visa you must either apply as part of an organised tour, or have a sponsor in Iran.
Consular support is limited in Iran. If you need consular assistance you should contact the British Embassy on telephone: +98 (0)21 6405 2000 to make an appointment.
Safety and security
The FCO advise British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran.
British nationals, in particular dual British-Iranian nationals, face greater risks than nationals of many other countries. The security forces may be suspicious of people with British connections. These could include individuals with links to institutions based in the UK, or which receive public funds from, or which have perceived links to, the British government. 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. If you have links to any organisation perceived as being anti-Iranian, either within Iran or elsewhere, you may be at even greater risk.
There is a risk that British nationals, and a higher risk that British-Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained in Iran. In such cases the FCO 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. If you’re a British-Iranian dual national and you are subsequently detained in Iran, the FCO’s ability to provide consular support is extremely limited.
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.
Visitors can drive in Iran on a foreign driving licence for up to 6 months, but it is advised to also carry an International Driving Permit (IDP). From 28 March 2019, UK licence holders driving in Iran will need the 1968 version of the IDP. 1926 IDPs previously issued by the UK may no longer be accepted for use in Iran after this date. From 1 February 2019, you can only get IDPs over the counter from 2,500 UK Post Offices. You will not be able to buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel.
If you’re planning to hire a car, check with your car hire company for information on their requirements before you travel.
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 Strait 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. Since May 2019, several commercial vessels have been attacked in and around the Gulf of Oman, and further vessels have also been seized in the Strait of Hormuz.
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 and 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
Consular support is limited in Iran. If you need consular assistance 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 FCO 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.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Iran. Attacks could happen anywhere, including in places visited by foreigners.
On 22 September 2018 there was an attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, capital of Khuzestan province. On 7 June 2017, there were 2 attacks in Tehran – one in the Majles (the Iranian parliament) in central Tehran and another at the Imam Khomeini Shrine near Imam Khomeini international airport.
Several bombings have taken place in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. These attacks are believed to have been carried out by Sunni extremist groups.
In 2010, a Sunni extremist group carried out a suicide attack against a mosque in Sistan-Baluchistan killing 39 people. Kurdish groups have carried out small scale attacks against Iranian security forces in the north-west of the country. Be vigilant and keep your security arrangements under review.
There is a threat of kidnap to foreign tourists in the border areas. The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking.
There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Local laws and customs
Iran is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan.
In 2019, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 6 May and finish on 5 June.
Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. In any public place 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-sleeve shirts.
There are additional dress requirements at certain 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 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.
Women should take extra care, particularly when travelling alone or with friends of the opposite sex. If you’re a woman travelling in Iran you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas. for women travellers.
Unmarried partners and friends of the opposite sex travelling together should be discreet at all times in public. Iranian hotel managers could insist on seeing a marriage certificate before allowing any couple to share a double hotel room.
Homosexual behaviour, adultery and sex outside of marriage are illegal under Iranian law and can carry the death penalty. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Women’s magazines and DVDs or videos depicting sexual relations are forbidden. There are occasional clampdowns. Satellite dishes and many Western CDs and films remain illegal.
The import, sale, manufacture and consumption of alcohol in Iran is strictly forbidden on religious grounds, with exceptions only for certain recognised Iranian religious minorities (not foreigners). Penalties can be severe.
Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited. Sensitive government buildings and facilities are often difficult to identify. Take extreme care when taking photographs in any areas that are anything other than very obvious tourist attractions.
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.
Penalties for importing and possessing drugs are severe and enforced. Many individuals convicted of drug offences, including foreign nationals, have been executed.
Importing pork products isn’t allowed.
The Iranian legal system differs in many ways from the UK. Suspects can be held without charge and aren’t always allowed quick access to legal representation. In the past, consular access has been very limited. The Iranian authorities don’t grant consular access to dual-nationals.
In some cases, we believe that individuals involved in commercial disputes with Iranian companies or individuals have been prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute.
As a representative of a British or western company, you may be subject to particular attention. British business people travelling to Iran should take appropriate steps to protect commercially sensitive information (including password protection of electronic devices (minimum 4 digits) and not taking unnecessary information with you). Electronic devices may be screened by customs officials on arrival and departure.
You should carry a photocopy of your passport for identification. Make sure you have included emergency contact details.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British nationals need a visa to travel to Iran. You should make your visa application well in advance of your date of travel. The application process for an Iranian visa can be long and unpredictable.
The Iranian Embassy has told the FCO 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 for more information and advice.
Check the expiry date of your visa before travelling. If you overstay your visa, you may have to remain in Iran until the situation is resolved. Some British nationals have experienced considerable difficulties trying to get visas from private online visa agencies.
If you’re transiting through Tehran airport, you should check visa requirements with your airline and the Iranian Embassy.
Women, and girls over the age of nine, should wear a headscarf in their visa application photos.
British citizens may enter and stay on Kish Island for 14 days or less by obtaining a visa on arrival. However, you must meet the following conditions, or you may be refused entry:
you must arrange for a certified escort/guide, through an Iranian travel agent. The Travel Agent must inform the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about your visit at least 2 weeks in advance of travel, and receive confirmation that a visa will be issued on arrival. Advice and a list of registered travel agents can be obtained from the nearest Iranian Embassy or Consulate.
you must have a hotel reservation prior to travelling. Your guide must pass a copy of the hotel reservation confirmation to the Immigration Office at Kish Airport at least 48 hours before your arrival, and meet you at the airport upon your arrival.
Some travellers have occasionally been denied entry to Kish without explanation. If you’re denied entry, you should follow the advice of your airline or travel agent.
Your passport must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date a visa application for Iran is submitted.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) aren’t valid for entry into Iran but are accepted by the local authorities for exit from Iran. If you’ve entered Iran on a British passport which has been lost, stolen or damaged the British Embassy may be able to issue an ETD. Before leaving Iran using an ETD you’ll need to get an exit visa from the Iranian Bureau of Alien and Foreign Immigrants Affairs.
Previous travel to Israel
If your passport contains an Israeli stamp or stamps from other countries’ border crossing points with Israel, you may be refused entry to Iran.
The FCO advise British-Iranian dual nationals against all but essential travel to Iran (except for areas where the FCO advise British nationals against all travel, as set out on the Summary page of this advice).
Under Iranian law, all Iranian nationals must travel to and from Iran using an Iranian passport. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be Iranian, you may be regarded as an Iranian national by the Iranian authorities – eg, if your father is Iranian, or if you’re married to an Iranian man.
In order to return to the UK you’ll need to demonstrate to the Iranian authorities that you have a right to return. At present the Iranian authorities are accepting the presentation of a British passport on departure if you don’t have a UK visa in your Iranian passport. However, the Iranian authorities could change their position on this and it’s officially illegal in Iran to hold two nationalities.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Travelling with children
Under Iranian law, a female parent travelling with her children must have the (usually verbal) permission of the father to take them out of Iran. This is assumed to be the case by Iranian immigration authorities unless the father has petitioned the court, and/or the court has ruled to prevent the children travelling. For further information contact the Iranian Embassy or Consulate nearest you.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Medical facilities are reasonable in the major cities but poor in remote areas. Many health professionals speak some English. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 115 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment
Most of Iran is prone to earthquakes. In 2003, a large earthquake hit Bam, in south eastern Iran, and around 30,000 people died.
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Accessing cash in Iran is difficult. Present currency volatility is making it even more so. Non-Iranian debit and cash cards will not work in Iran. No cash machines accept UK bank cards. It’s usually not possible to change travellers’ cheques.
It’s illegal to change money on the street. You should be clear before travelling how you will obtain enough rials for your visit legally, and, if unsure, you may need to reconsider your travel plans.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.