|copyrights: by Patrick Ng
Well , let’s see. Remember that as much as Iranian society and culture is mysterious to you , the same is valid for Iranians when come across you . So , we all need to learn from each other.
Iran has been pretty off the tourism map for the last few decades. Political reasons, war and volatile state policies toward tourism were among the reasons. However things have changed radically in recent years and many people from around the world are willing to give it a try and come visit Iran.
If this is your fist time to come to Iran you need to know a little bit about the status que in Iran. Iran has a religious-democratic government , although there is rather radical disagreements about either of the mentioned point by different people. But nonetheless what you need to be bear in Mind is that :
1- you need to be able to adapt to a new lifestyle while in Iran, that means, strict dress code, no alcohol, no public display of affection and being aware of the social norms.
2- you need also to have a visa to travel to Iran. although some nationalities are entitled to get a 7 to 14 days visa up on arrival to Iranian airports, however to be on safer side, you might want to get your visa ahead of time. For that you need to file a visa application online by one of the travel agencies that you know, let’s say us. And then you need to wait to get your visa authorization from the Iranian foreign ministry. After you got that authorization, then you can go to the nearest Iranian embassy and pick up your visa. there are costs involved , which usually are comprised of the application fee (around 50$ per person) and issuance fee which is collected at the embassy while your visa is granted to you . The issuance cost varies based on nationality of applicant, which could be somewhere between 20 to 100$.
Your visa would be good for about 4 weeks and if you decide to stay longer you can get extensions while in Iran . The extension cost is about 2 $ for each extension of about 1 week. You need to have a few 1in1 inch pictures with you. Visas to Iran are mostly single entry , so if you need multiple entry you need to let your travel agent know of it before hand.
Transit visas are issued in Iranian consulates and embassies in countries around Iran , you usually need to have proof that you just want to cross Iran in order to get your transit visa
:: Social Norms in Iran
It is really hard to say who Iranians are. But generally speaking they are open and yet conservative, Shy and yet forthcoming, polite and yet sometimes annoyingly courteous. But overall they are perhaps one of the most interesting kinds you might come across ever!
Don’t be shy to initiate a talk , most likely that would soon follow by you being invited to their homes. If you got invited , you might want to really go there! . Iranian love guests.
Iranian women are more conservative that men. Although it is changing . Girls are pretty shy but don’t hesitate to ask any question that you have , if you feel it is polite enough.
Younger generation are more astute in learning English and are pretty familiar with western symbols and world affairs. Always be open to initiate a conversation.
You usually don’t hand shake with women in Iran. teenagers would stay with their parents till they get married and go independent. Try to not smoke in public, if you are a woman. that would seem suggestive in a wrong way!
:: What to wear in Iran
Iranian women are supposed to wear Hejab, which regards to kind of clothing style that would conservatively cover body . However what you would see in Iran is dramatically different than the ones you might have noticed in pictures from Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia.
Women in Iran usually wear Manto , which is a sort of trench coat, in different colors , sometimes really short, sometimes not. All depends on the what you like to wear, but of course within the accepted framework. You are encouraged to check our picture gallery to see it for yourself what is in nowadays.
More conservative way to clothing for women is Chador , which is long cloak like covering. Black color is official one for more conservative people , yet there are many people who chose the more colorful and design chadors.
There used to be a time that police or militia would stop people if they had not enough conservative kind of cloths on, but that picture has faded away pretty much. yet there is still some concerted efforts by the government to enforce their brand of conservative dress codes.
You as a tourist can more or less get away with the Chador and can wear a pretty normal Mantue and a headscarf.
So far as headscarf is concerned you merely need a normal, of your color of choice head scarf that would cover some, if not all of your hairs . and of course don’t forget your pants!. Any kind of pants is ok, so long as it is not radically short. You might be really better off of you would take a couple of good loose hiking pants.
Our suggestion about cloths that you should wear in Iran is that:
1- Come with your own cloths and then go buy a new set at the market . there are tons of Mantue shops all over the place all over Iran. They might cost you 10 to 20$ for a really nice and practical ones. Check here for the kind you might see in the shops (casual cloths for women in Iran)
2- Of you are traveling in the winter or fall, you might need to bring your warm cloths. But also you need to remember that you can buy really good stuff down there in Iran too, so might as well check this out too (Winter cloths in Iran )
3- Shoes: Bring your set of sandals and hiking boots. Try to get a good and hardy brand that would not break . Although you will find tons of shoe repair shops all around the place.
:: Money in Iran
Remember that While in Iran you CAN NOT use your credit cards, ATM cards, Debit cards , Travel checks… etc . You need to have adequate cash with yourself. Almost any currency is welcomed in Iran Exchange offices, ranging from Euro, US, $ , Canadian $, Pound, yen , Rupee,…etc. You wont have hard time to change your money. try to carry larger bills which take smaller space . Try to exchange only as much as you would think you need for a few days and then go get some more money exchanges later on, if needed. In average irrespective of hotel costs , you might need around 20 $ daily in overall personal expenditures. So exchanging a 100$ can goes a long way for you.
You are highly encouraged to do your exchange in Banks or Exchange offices. There are also people that do offer exchange along side the streets. they are mostly Ok, yet if you are really not sure or not feeling good about it, simply go to the first available bank and do the exchange.
Remember that for each 100$, for example, you are going to get 90 to 95 Iranian 10,000 rials bills. So that is a lot of money in volume, maybe you need to have a waist hidden purse to put your money away. right!
leave your main money stash in hotel in your cloths , some where well hidden or leave at hotel safe. Although most people rather to carry them with themselves in their hanging smart purse underneath their cloths. Anyway, whatever you do, just try to not expose a whole lot of money in public, I mean you would not do it eve if you were in the middle New York either, would ya!!
:: Air ticket, Bus, taxi , Trains and the rest in Iran
You got to know that there are just so many domestic flight operating in Iran. The flight schedules are mostly on time, but not always. You are highly encouraged to book your flights ahead of time. just contact a travel agency and ask them to keep some seats on the routes that you want for you. Do not leave it for the last minutes, since you are most likely to end up stranded in writing list. Domestic flight are really cheap, like 40 $ for Tehran to Shiraz and about 30$ from Isfahan to Tehran. Longer flight are more expensive but not a whole lot. Flights from Tehran to closest place to Pakistani border in Zahedan is hardly 50$ . take advantage of this fact and try to get as much flights as it fits in to your itinerary, especially for the real long legs of the itinerary in Iran , like Tehran to shiraz or Tehran to Kerman. There a few airlines operating domestic flights, IranAir is perhaps the better one, Mahan is also good, Aseman is for more obscure and off the path routes, IranAir tour and Kish air , plus Aria tours offer trips to Varity of destinations like Kish .
:: International flights to Iran
If you try to get to Iran , try to find closest IranAir office . Its website gives you some clues of their offices locations (www.Iranair.com ). There are lots of International flights that Iran Air offers from almost anywhere in the world expect north America and parts of Africa, yet of you are traveling from those destinations, Iran Air would offer your flights with conjunction with other airlines. KLM and North west, Lufthansa and Air Canada can get you to IranAir hubs in Amsterdam, London, Rome or Paris and then rest you can get it on Iran Air.
The reason o pick IranAir is because it is cheaper and it gives your a free domestic flight as bounce.
However you need to know that lots of International Airlines fly directly to Iran, Excpet ElAl and American Airlines . BA, KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, SAS, Austrian Airlines, Iberia, Alitalia, JAl, Air India, Emirates, Turkish air….etc all have multiple flight every week to Iran. Check with us or your travel agent for best fares possible.
:: Bus in Iran
Bus is great way of traveling within Iran, They are cheap , fast and pretty good quality. If you wanted to get a ticket you need to either call their office or go to nearest Bus Terminal. To avoid the hassle ask your travel agency , or hotel receptionist to do the reservation on the phone for you.
Buses are very regular and tons to chose from. Seiro Safar and tavoni #1 companies are pretty good ones. If you wanted to get bus ticket make sure to Mention you wanted a VIZHE bus. ViZhe means special one and it refers to the buses that have A/C , service…etc. Tickets are cheap, lets say , from Tehran to Shiraz on a good bus , you might have to pay about 8$ . Not to mention that this trip is going to be about 600 miles (950kms), which would take about 12 hours for you, so if you want to take a bus and wanted to do away with one extra hotel night, then take the ones that depart in the evening. But if you are interested to see the landscape while going between cities, you might wnt to get the ones that go during the day time.
:: Taxi in Iran
City taxies have peculiar colors that different city to city. In Tehran they are mostly Orange , In Shiraz they are white and green in Isfahan they are blue…etc. irrespective of their color you need to know that taxies in Iran are shared taxi, meaning that the driver would pick up a few others along the way to the destination. taxi fare are pretty good, around 10 cents for a short 15 minutes drive. try to have adequate Iranian rials in shape of 500 or 1000 rials bills with you. Taxis are safe and drivers go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and at home while driving, that is why they would perhaps but a Madonna CD for you. I mean not always, right, after all we are talking about Iran.!
:: Food in Iran:
Great foods, cheap, fresh are good part of story, yet limited diversity, rare places that serve vegetarian or vegan and for some lack of a hard drink are fact to bear in mind. A good meal in a good restaurant might cost you around 3to 4$. if you are vegetarian, try to tell the waitress that you are vegetarian by saying that “Man gosht Nemikhoram”, That gives them the clue that they need to offer you things that don’t have meat in them.
try to take advantage of the cheap fruit and farmers markets.
Please ask us , If you have any specific question.