4 Tips for Traveling to Iran

There are a lot of misconceptions about traveling to Iran. The truth is that, while an American may find the Iranian government to be rather frightening to their own sensibilities, the Iranian people are typically both warm and welcoming to Americans. However, it’s important to understand that there are areas of Iran that should be avoided for safety reasons. Before getting started, make sure you have a good idea of the process required to get into the country. Iran is home to a plethora of incredible historical sites and is well worth the visit.

1. Apply for Iranian Visa – Before purchasing tickets or planning dates, you must first apply for a visa. US citizens can apply for their Iranian visa at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington in the Iranian Interest Section. For a visa to be successfully procured, American citizens have to first work with an Iranian travel agency. The agency will assist you with setting up a guided tour. Once this process is completed, the Iranian travel agency can apply to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a visa authorization number. When this application is approved, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will transmit the authorization number to the Iranian Interest Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. Once this process is completed, you will be able to apply for your visa. While this sounds like a lengthy process, it can be completed in as quickly as one week. However, the Iranian Interest Section is known for being unreliable at returning phone calls and online correspondence.

2. Set up Itinerary and Guide – For a US citizen, having a specific itinerary and a pre-arranged travel guide are by no means optional. It is mandatory for all US citizens travelling to Iran to have an exact itinerary and an MFA-approved guide to accompany them for the duration of their stay. If you plan to cross into Iran from a bordering country, you must arrange for your guide to meet you at the border. Iranian tour guides are known for being friendly, helpful, and willing to work with Americans in setting up their own exact and custom itinerary.

3. Getting Around – Once in Iran, there are a variety of options for travelling within the country – provided it is all pre-planned in the mandatory itinerary. Actually, Iranian transport is known for its quality and affordability – although they do not place the same emphasis on comfort that a North American or European traveler may be used to. Using air travel is a great option within Iran as the flight prices are highly affordable in comparison to US prices. Tickets for Iranian domestic flights are also at a set price, so there are no discounts for early booking that you have to worry about missing out on. Some airlines offer fantastic inter-regional rates around US$60. Using the Iranian bus system is a very affordable option, but it has a rather large drawback. The government limits the busses speed to no more than 80km/h (roughly 50 mph), which can create unnecessarily long travel times. There are also excellent train options, including sleepers, that are comfortable, affordable, and considerably faster than busses. Metro transport is available and Tehran has three underground rail lines. However, as fuel costs are so inexpensive in Iran, taking a Taxi is always a great option for travelling short distances.

4. Sites to See – Iran has a rich history and cultural heritage. There are countless places to visit of immense historical interest. There are the ancient cities of Hegmatane, the capitol of the ancient Meds; Tappah Sialk, built over seven thousand years ago is the world’s oldest ziggurat; Persepolise, which was built by Darius and was the capitol of the Persian Empire; Susa, with three layers of civilization on it, it was built by the Elamites and then passed to the Persian and Sasanid Empires; Pasargad, built by Cyrus the Great was the original center of the Persian Empire; Naien, which is a small pre-Islamic ancient desert town that is over 2000 years old and whose inhabitants still speak the ancient Zoroastrian tongue; and many more. Beyond the cities themselves, you can visit the tombs of great historical figures such as Cyrus the Great, the Prophet Daniel, Avicenna, among others. Or take a trip to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art for a more modern adventure into the world of 20th century paintings and artwork. This museum contains a collection that is valued at over 2.5 billion dollars and houses works by such legendary artists as Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.

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