Iran

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.

Iran History, Language and Culture:

History of Iran:

The history of Iran is bound up in the rise and often chaotic fall of successive ruling groups. In the 6th century BC, the first Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great, only for it to be overthrown by Alexander the Great some 200 years later, giving way to a long chain of invasions from Turks, Arabs and Mongols, among others. Islam arrived in the 7th century.

It wasn’t until the heights of the Safavid dynasty – who did much to cement the Shia faith in Iran – in the late 1500s that the Persian Empire could really be said to have regained greatness. The period was marked by opulent buildings, many of which can still be seen, and lengthy wars with the Ottomans.

By the 19th century, European influence was beginning to be felt strongly, exacerbated after the discovery of oil in the early 1900s. In the 1970s, the economic mismanagement and secular lifestyle of the ruling Shah was a catalyst for the 1979 popular revolution, spearheaded by Ayatollah Khomenei. Iran became an Islamic Republic.

Iran remains a powerful force both in the region and on the world stage. Washington has accused Tehran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons and to sabotage US efforts in Iraq. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was returned to office for a second term in 2009 after a deeply controversial election marred by violence.

Iran Culture:

Of the 98% Muslim population, 89% are Shi’a and 9% are Sunni. The remaining 2% consists of Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Baha’i faiths.

Social conventions: 

Visitors should avoid contentious political subjects in conversation. In general, “liberal” Western influences are discouraged by authorities. Handshaking is customary, but not with members of the opposite sex. It must be remembered that intimate relations between non-Muslim men and Muslim women is illegal, and may incur imprisonment. Iranians are incredibly hospitable and like to entertain. It is customary to be offered tea, and guests are expected to accept hospitality. Dress should generally be conservative and discreet – women should cover their heads in public and wear loose clothing. During Ramadan, smoking, eating and drinking in public are prohibited between sunrise and sunset.

Language in Iran:

Persian (Farsi) and Persian dialects are the most widely spoken language, used by 58% of the population. Turkic and Turkic dialects and Kurdish are also used. Arabic is spoken by 1% in Khuzestan in the southwest, and Turkish in the northwest around Tabriz. English, French and (to a lesser extent) German are spoken by many businesspeople and officials.

Iran Weather, climate and geography:

Weather & climate:

Best time to visit:

The size of Iran means that can temperatures can vary hugely, depending on which corner of the country you find yourself in. Days can be incredibly hot between May and October, particularly in the desert regions and along the Gulf Coast, while the mountain ranges of the north become freezing over winter.

Nights can be especially cold. In general terms, major cities like Tehran, Esfahan and Tabriz have seasons broadly equivalent to those in Mediterranean Europe. Iran has a relatively low rainfall, but is prone to earthquakes. Those travellers hoping to ski will find most action between November and March, while it’s advisable for all visitors to look into timings of festivals like Ramadan before booking a trip.

In Tehran, lightweight clothing is worn from April to October while mediumweights are advised from November to March. Be reminded, however, that dress should always err on the side of conservatism, particularly for women – the wearing of headscarves is obligatory in public.

Required clothing:

Tropical attire is worn from April to October. Mediumweights are advised from November to March.

Geography:

Iran is located in the Middle East, bordered to the north by Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea, the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and the west by Iraq and Turkey. The centre and east of the country are largely barren undulating desert, punctured by qanats (irrigation canals) and green oases, but there are mountainous regions in the west along the Turkish and Iraqi borders and in the north where the Elburz Mountains rise steeply from a fertile belt around the Caspian Sea.

Plan your trip:

Where to stay in Iran:

Hotels:

There are hotels in almost all towns, including several 5-star ones in Tehran. Student and budget accommodation is available in small hotels. Villas are also popular. Iranians often invite travellers into their homes, so staying in the homes of local people, although far from typical, is not uncommon. For more information contact the Iranian Society of Travel Agents.

Camping:

Camping in Iran is relatively new, though many cities, including Tehran, Esfahan and other towns in the Caspian region, have stretches of land with collective tents where campers can stay. Campers should avoid pitching their tents in the middle of nowhere, as this will attract attention and curiosity from Iranians. They should ask for permission to camp near a hotel, a petrol station or a local police headquarters. Registration with the police is required if camping.

Iran Visa and Passport Requirements

Passports:

To enter Iran, a passport valid for six months beyond the length of stay, and with two blank pages, is required by the nationals referred to in the chart above.

According to the regulations of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a Tourist visa is issued for foreign nationals who are interested to travel to Iran individually or with a group for the purpose of visiting Iran, or their friends and relatives. This visa is issued for a maximum stay of 30 days with option of Extensions in Iran. The visa remains valid for a period of 3 months from the date of issue.
Depending to your nationality and the consulate which you refer, it is possible to submit your documents and receive a visa after some days without any reference from Iran. But it can be a time-consuming or even fruitless attempt, specially when you are applying out of your country. Most consulates need an authorization letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran. Getting this authorization is the most important step in visa application and there is not much left when you have it. You will have your visa in 1 or 2 days.

1.Receiving the Authorization Code:

After we receive your application form and the first page of your passport scan, the formal application will be submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will go under the official procedure. The output will be an authorization letter which will be faxed to the Iranian Consulate which you have indicated in the form. We will give you this letter’s reference code with which you will be able to collect your visa. This code is only valid to the mentioned consulate and only for 3 months from the date of issue.

2. Collecting the Visa from The Consulate:

Having the reference code, you will refer to the consulate with your passport (which must be valid for the next 6 months), the completed visa application form (which can be picked from the consulate or be downloaded from their website), 2 new passport size photos (with covered hair for ladies, at some consulates), the visa fee (which depends on your nationality) and the authorization reference code, (Always check the needed documents with the consulate, as there may be differences from one consulate to another.) You may also be able to send the documents and receive the visa by mail. Contact the consulate for more details. The procedure of submitting the documents and collecting the visa can be normally done in the same day.