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Iran - Travel and visas
All nationalities except Israelis are allowed to apply for a visa. Anyone domiciled in the USA should approach the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan or the nearest Pakistani consulate or the Iranian Mission at the United Nations. Those resident elsewhere, including US passport holders, should contact the Iranian embassy or consulate in their country of residence for information regarding their embassy’s opening times, methods of payment and exact visa application details. Although the procedure for British and US passport holders is complex, other nationalities, including those from Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Italy, have fewer problems in this respect. Women without headscarves will generally be allowed onto Iranian embassy grounds; however, it is advisable and strongly recommended that you do wear a headscarf as it makes a good impression.
Since 2016 it has been possible to obtain a 30-day tourist visa on arrival in the following international airports in Iran – Esfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Tehran, Imam Khomeini, Tehran Mehrabad and Tabriz. Note that visa applications on arrival are not automatic and payment in euros is preferred. US, UK and Canadian passport holders are not eligible for this option and are required to apply in advance through the embassy.
The main international airport in Iran is Tehran’s International Airport (IKA), Tehran, but foreigners with valid visas can also enter/exit Iran by way of various Persian Gulf states (eg: Dubai to Shiraz, Dubai to Bandar Abbas, Oman to Kish). Sometimes officials check your baggage receipt against the tag on your luggage.
There are at present no direct flights from any American or Canadian airports and most direct flights from European cities have been cancelled following the US unilateral withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal in 2018. The only European carriers flying direct are Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa. Turkish Airlines fly to a number of cities in Iran from Istanbul, including Esfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tabriz. All flight carrier options listed below, when booked in advance, should cost around £400 for an economy-class return fare.
A list of current international cities with services to and from Imam Khomeini International Airport is available on the English version of the airport’s website, which also contains useful plans showing routes through the airport, positions of banks and lists of available taxi services.
Pegasus Airlines, the Turkish low-cost airline, fly to Tehran via Istanbul with connections from various European cities.
Aeroflot have good connections to some European cities.
There are border-crossing points from Turkey (via Dogubayezit); from Armenia (via Nourdouz); from the Republic of Azerbaijan (via Astara); from Turkmenistan (via Ashkhabad Sarakhs or Lotfabad); and from Pakistan at Mirjaveh.
Provided you can obtain a visa there is a daily train, the Trans-Asia Express, from Ankara to Tehran. The Man in Seat Sixty One provides up-to-date information on timetables, booking, prices and train facilities.
Iran can be accessed by sea from Dubai to Bandar Lengeh, from Kuwait to Khorramshahr and from Sharjah to Bandar Abbas. Ferries are operated by Valfajr Shipping with normally two departures per week. Contact one of the company’s offices to make a reservation.
On all forms of public transport that are not pre-segreagated, and excluding planes, men will probably be asked to change their seat to avoid sitting next to female strangers.
Tickets for public buses are purchased before boarding, at kiosks and/or shops nearby. Transport cards are also widely available and recommended if staying in a specific city (eg: Esfahan) for an extended period of time.
Private taxis are hailed from the roadside, and it’s best to use the locally registered ones with a taxi sign. Shared taxis (official ones are green or yellow) are called savari and these operate on pre-established routes, usually driving in straight lines. The Snapp taxi service phone app is a version of Uber and operates in most cities.
Intercity road transport
There are a number of transport companies offering similar routes, albeit at different times, and sometimes more original departures. The largest companies are Hamsafar, Iran Peyma and Adl. Although competing, there is no real price difference on the same routes. There are usually two types of busservice: VIP and ma’mouli. The price difference is negligible but the level of comfort isn’t, so treat yourself. When travelling to distant places around and in between relatively close towns, there are usually minibuses.
There are a number of overnight services, as well as frequent short-distance journeys. Train tickets are usually sold out well in advance. Tickets are sold at travel agencies or train stations.
Internal air travel is reasonably priced and, as well as the national flag carrier, IranAir, Iran Aseman Airlines, Mahan Air, Kish Air and Iran Airtouroperate a number of services across the country and internationally. You can book tickets online, but a knowledge of Persian is required. To purchase a domestic flight ticket in Iran, you will need to book in advance, take your passport and pay in rials.
By private car
New rental car service Navaran has made it very easy to rent a vehicle and drop it off in another city. With its head office on Kish Island, the company has the largest fleet of cars in Iran with offices in all international airports in the country and a 24/7 support service. It is possible to rent a car in Iran. Europcar has three offices in Tehran. Alternatively, a private taxi can be hired for a day or longer through a hotel or directly from the taxi driver.