Why? Why would you go to Iran? It is dangerous. How are you, an opinionated Aussie chick going to put up with Iran?
These are the things we heard for months from friends and family, when we announced we were travelling through Iran on our world trip. It may not have helped that we were referring to our year of travel as “The year of living dangerously”, which we thought was a bit of a joke. Mum was not amused!
Seriously, Why Iran?
8 Good reasons to travel to Iran
- Ancient Culture
- Persian Food
- New Tourism Market
- Persian Hospitality
- An opportunity to learn and see for ourselves
Planning a trip to a destination like Iran can take quite a bit of work and we would recommend:
- Giving yourself a few months to plan
- Reading travel blogs
- Connecting via social media with groups in Iran
- DO NOT believe everything you hear or see in the media, check with various sources
- DO check your Government’s travel recommendations
- Use travel sites like Trip Advisor to find contacts and then email directly
- Keep a copy of all your correspondence
- Book your accomodation for your first night before you arrive, this may help with entry into the country
- Ask your hosts and contacts for instructions and directions to accomodation in Farsi, print and take a copy with you
- Get A VPN on electronic devices
- Budget carefully and have some spare cash for emergencies
- Learn a few words in Farsi- hello, please, thank you, how much does it cost?
- Add an app for translating to your phone
Our favourite travel blog for planning and information about Iran is here
You might imagine that getting to Iran is difficult but it’s not. Getting to Iran is as easy as flying to anywhere else in the world.
We used Skyscanner to book our flights, as we do for most flights.
Farecompare and other search engines also offer flights.
We flew into Shiraz in southern Iran with FlyDubai, a budget airline subsidiary of Emirates, as we were transiting through the UAE from the Maldives.
We flew out of Tehran to Istanbul with Pegasus Airlines, a budget airline subsidiary of Turkish Airlines.
When we travelled to Iran in January 2017 we were unable to apply for a tourist visa on line. It appears that this has now changed and you can apply for an application reference number on the Islamic Republic of Iran Foreign Ministry website here.
This site has English and Farsi options available.
(NB: we have not used this process and would welcome any feedback you have about it, for our future travels and to update this page. Thanks)
Travelling with Australian passports, we were able to get a visa on arrival at the airport in Shiraz, which cost us €290 each and took very little time.
It is best to check with your Government about travel in Iran before booking your trip and also check travel restrictions on the Iranian government website here.
At the time we travelled the Australian Government travel website did not recommend non essential travel to Iran, which admittedly (and obviously) we ignored.
For example when we travelled, those with UK or USA passports had travel restrictions which we did not.
Also note the Iranian visa in our Australian passports has led to some questions being asked by Border Authority Officials in subsequent countries where we have travelled. It is always best to be honest when questioned, we simply say it was a wonderful cultural experience and holiday. We have not had a problem.
Due to sanctions on international banking and money transfers you cannot use your credit card, debit card or other banking (e.g. online money transfers) in Iran. You also cannot obtain Iranian currency, Rial, outside the country.
This is a weird and confronting situation for travellers who are used to the ease of “plastic”, but also we are attuned to not carrying large amounts of cash when travelling for safety reasons.
- Plan your budget carefully before arrival
- Book and pay for as much as you can before you arrive; this can be difficult and time consuming but it is worth the effort
- Have an amount set aside for emergencies
- Once in the country divide your cash up, we kept some in our suitcase and each of us carried some cash
- Know how much accomodation is going to cost
- Be prepared for the zeros, for instance $1 AUD = 24,660 Rials!
- Do some research into the currency i.e Rial and Toman (see below)
The “toman” is no longer an official unit of Iranian currency, however Iranians commonly express amounts of money and prices of goods in “tomans”.
For this purpose, one “toman” equals 10 rials.
You will see prices written in Rial but the seller will quote say “that is X Toman”. It is very confusing, so take your time and ask the seller to explain it in both Toman and Rial. We did this and most people were very helpful.
Wikipedia has more useful information about Iranian currency including the Toman, Rial and denominations here.
We budgeted $100 USD per day for two of us, which included:
- Entry into sites-$15
We travelled in Iran for 10 days, so that meant $1000 USD.
We did however exchange $2000 USD when we arrived, just in case.
Be sure to exchange your left over Rial at the airport before leaving as you CAN NOT exchange Rial anywhere once outside Iran.
We have just recently found $6,000,000 Rial stashed safely in one of our suitcases, oops! At least we can say we are millionaires in one currency.
$100 USD per day was enough for 2 people if you chose to stay in low cost accomodation, such as traditional houses or hostels, however we did end up spending $1200 all up, so we recommend you have a safety buffer.
Hotels can be quite expensive compared to home style accomodation.
Breakfast was included in the accomodation costs and we did not spend anywhere near $20 USD on lunch and dinner.
For lunch we grabbed as we were site seeing, from a street stall or kebab shop.
For dinner, we visited a restaurant or ate at the Traditional Houses, a great opportunity to try traditional home cooked Persian food.
Airbnb and sites like it do not operate in Iran due to sanctions and legislative restrictions.
However new sites are popping up all the time as more people are interested in travel. Since we travelled in January 2017 a number of sites have appeared including:
We have not used these sites and welcome any feedback you have about them, please leave a comment or send us an email so that we can update this article.
We booked our first 3 nights accomodation by direct email with the host, which we found on Trip Advisor.
Once we were in Iran, we found that we could book online using either Trip Advisor to find a place and then contacting by direct email, or asking where we were staying for a recommendation.
In Tehran we stayed in hostel accomodation provided by the See You in Iran group. The See You in Iran group are a collective of artists, travellers and students in Tehran. We would recommend becoming a member of this group for tips about Iran, but also to make some contacts before you go. It is a member only group and you will need to request to be admitted to the group; simply explain that you are travelling to Iran and you will be accepted.
Iran has an extensive road network and it is possible to hire a car but the traffic in the cities is incredible and we certainly were not game enough to test our driving skills whilst there.
The public transport network is extensive and reliable, with buses being the quickest, easiest and cheapest option between most destinations.
The buses are modern and comfortable with air conditioning, lots of leg room and you will be provided with a snack box for longer trips. On our trips, the snack box consisted of fruit juice, a cake and sweet biscuits.
On longer trips there are usually road side stops where you can purchase food and drinks. Locals often got a hot meal, like a kebab box and brought it back on the bus at these stops.
It was easy to get information about the buses from our chosen accomodation. In Shiraz they phoned ahead for us and told us how much to expect to pay.
You should pay no more than $10 USD for a bus ticket and most of the time $6 USD was enough.
Tickets are purchased on the bus.
We found the Iran travelling website helpful for information about transport options in Iran.
In each destination we found that at least one person spoke enough English to understand where we wanted to go, would take us directly to the bus and ensure that our luggage was stowed and we had a seat. We did not tip on buses and it appeared not to be expected.
The bus timetables appeared to be quite flexible, with buses often leaving earlier than scheduled, however there were usually multiple buses per day between major destinations so it was not much of an issue for us.
The overnight train from Yazd to Tehran was a comfortable, safe and economic way to travel and we saved on a nights accomodation. We booked a 4 berth cabin for 2 of us via the Iran Rail website. This site has great information about train travel in Iran but when booking, be aware that the booking page is in Farsi which can be challenging. As always, it may help to ask at your accomodation for some assistance.
We booked this trip about a week in advance with no issues.
We did however encounter a minor issue when collecting the tickets. We had a digital copy of the receipt and confirmation which, as instructed we presented at the ticket counter, where the man at the desk requested money to print the ticket. After a number of refusals from us, he handed over the printed and stamped ticket. Our advice in this situation is to firmly but politely insist that you have paid the fare, show the digital receipt and wait. Had this gone on for any longer, we would have approached the security officers and requested assistance.
Note it is advisable to take your own food and water on the train, but as with the bus, you will be offered tea and a snack pack on board.
We have great faith in the train travel blog by Mark, at The Man in Seat 61 and always check out tips with his website.
Taxis were a cheap option when travelling within cities, from bus or train station to accomodation, but the drivers had limited English and we found it difficult to communicate where we wanted to go and what the price would be. Interestingly we found that communication was easier in Shiraz than in Tehran, with more drivers speaking English in that city.
A 10 day Itinerary to see ancient historical, cultural and religious sites
3 days- Shiraz (including 1 day in Persepolis, Necropolis, Pasagardae)
3 days Esfahan
2 days Yadz
2 days Tehran
You can read more about the destinations we visited in our Travel Tales.
Food and Drink
Alcohol is banned in Iran and whilst we read that you may be able to access alcohol in private homes, we simply didn’t bother.
The tap water in Iran is drinkable and tastes fine however we did find that our accomodation provided bottled water in Shiraz.
As we chose to stay in hostel or traditional home style accomodation, breakfast was included in the overnight price. It varied in content and we had some amazing dishes that we do not know the names of, but it is worth trying everything.
Most days for lunch we grabbed a bite to eat whilst we were out site seeing. This is low cost, usually less than $2 USD each and very tasty.
We spoilt ourselves for dinners in Iran and ate out in a restaurant every night. We normally try to save money by cooking ourselves, but as this was our first time in the Middle East, it was easier and as prices were so cheap, we doubt you could do it cheaper anyway.
Iran is an Islamic Republic and enforces strict dress and behaviour codes in line with that culture.
As always when travelling ensure that you are respectful of the people and their beliefs; take your cues from the local people around you and there will be few if any problems.
We have all read the horror stories about police enforcing dress and behaviour codes but that was not our experience.
Polo style shirts
Socks for visiting the mosque as you will need to remove your shoes.
Loose fitting clothes
Shirts to cover to wrists
Pants to cover to ankles
Head scarf when in public
When visiting religious sites women will need to wear the Chador, full body covering. These were provided at the site and as you will need to remove your shoes, take or wear socks.
Women and men do not touch casual acquaintances i.e. shake hands on greeting in general but we found that this varied, depending on where we were. For example in Esfahan many of the traders in the market shook both of our hands.
We had been informed that couples do not show affection to each other in public and as a rule this true. However in Esfahan and Tehran we observed many couples out strolling in the evenings holding hands and did likewise whilst we were there, this was not the case in more conservative Shiraz or Yazd.
Technology in Iran
We are all reliant on technology now and more than ever when we travel we use our phones, tablets and laptops to stay in touch with family, plan next steps, make bookings and check out what to do in our current locations.
We are also international news and politics junkies, so it is a must that we have an internet connection to read the paper before getting out of bed.
To communicate with friends and family whilst travelling we use:
Strictly speaking VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are not legal in Iran, however we were advised to have a VPN on our devices before travelling, which we did.
See our Tech for Travel- VPN for more information.
It worked very well and we were able to send email and share photos on Facebook, as well as read whichever website we chose.
We found the internet speeds to be a little slow in some places and did not attempt video or voice calls as we normally would.
Naturally when you travel with all this stuff you need chargers, Iran uses the European style plug. We travel with a power board and one travel adaptor to save room.
Health in Iran
We always travel with a first aid kit that Cath’s experience as an Emergency Room nurse helped us put together, you can check out more information about this in our Health and Fitness on the Road category.
But there are times where supplies run low or we have an unplanned illness or injury.
Disclaimer: Always consult YOUR health team before travelling to ensure that you have the appropriate medications in your emergency kit. Our information is a guide only and based on our own medical histories.
Always check both your own and foreign government restrictions and requirements on travelling with medication BEFORE you decide to travel.
Always have appropriate travel insurance BEFORE you travel.
We did not need to access hospital or medical doctor assistance in Iran but we did need to buy pain relief medication and it was easy to locate and communicate with a Pharmacist.
Resources we used
We used a couple of travel blogs as resources for researching our trip to Iran.
Travestyle – Travel Tales of a Persian
If you would like to discuss information in this guide further or give us some feedback please contact us
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