How should I dress In Iran?
Dress code is usually a hot issue in Iran. Lady’s dress code is more important to know. Before you travel to Iran it is wise to learn some lady’s dress code terminology.
HIJAB: the translation for Hijab can be conceal or coverage. The meaning refers to the covering of hair and the body of women with different types of clothing including Chador, Maqhnae, Roosari, and so on.
It is the oldest type of traditional HHIJAB, a long veil from head to foot. Traditionally it comes in black. Committed and practicing Muslim women prefer to wear this type of Hijab. Orthodox Muslim ladies try to conceal their hair even to the extent of one split. They believe they can observe their Hijab best with Chador.
The traditional Chador did not have sleeves, but a new style of chador called CHADOR MELLI, or National Chador has started to add sleeves to it. It is also a belief that if you want to enter shrines you have to wear a chador that is provided to you at the entrance gate.
This is chosen by some Muslim ladies who are less strict about observing Hijab. Many people believe that Maqnaeh has originated from the wimple worn by the Nuns at the Christian place of worship.
It is a triangle type of cloth that is used to cover the hair. Roosary is less expensive and that can be one reason to be more popular. Either of Chador, Maqnaeh or Roosary is a social must for ladies.
SO, IT IS ADVISABLE THAT LADIES PACK A HEADSCARF IN THEIR HAND BAG. They MUST be wearing it the moment they disembark the air plane in Iran.
Ladies must wear a headscarf every time they are in public. Moreover, tight and short clothing should be avoided. It should be loose and covering all the body.
• If your headscarf falls, don’t worry – quickly put it back on again. You won’t be in trouble for this, but just pay attention at all times. Making your hair in a high bun or ponytail helps you keep the scarf in place.
• Dresses must be loose-fitting and three-quarter length sleeves are OK, while it is a little more comfortable in the heat of summers in Central and Southern parts of Iran.
• It has been saying that baggy trousers must be put on but with the relaxation of some restrictions some Iranian women wear tight, brightly coloured leggings. For tourists, leggings worn with a long, loose-fitting top are accepted. However, in the more conservative areas such as Isfahan, Mashad and Qum, it is wise to respect the social values and revert back to looser fitting trousers.
• Open toes sandals are fine. Pack some sports shoes for longer day-trips where you might be walking a lot (such as at the Persepolis). Interestingly you’ll soon see how sports shoes especially in bright colores are fashionable in Iran.
• If you are worried that you do not have enough appropriate attire, as soon as you arrive in Tehran or even Shiraz (if you fly there), hit the bazaars and the local markets and shop away. There’s plenty to be sought out. Other people on my trip simply stuck with two outfits and alternately hand-washed them every night.
For men it’s more simple – you will be dressing much the same as you do in your country, except no shorts, no super short sleeves and no extreme tight-fitting clothing.
Visa To Iran
Not long ago, getting a visa for Iran used to be the most difficult part of a tourist travel to the country. For countries like the UK, which have little to no diplomatic relations with Iran, one may find that he can not even get a visa in his country because there is no Iranian embassy and so he may have to travel elsewhere. Britons have to travel to Dublin or Paris for example. Thanks to technology the government has delegated the visa registration to the authorized travel agencies. IranFunTravels.com has this authoraization and processes visa requests in quite large numbers every month.
Getting Your Iran Authorisation Code
Before you apply for your visa (giving you up to 30 days), you have to apply for an Authorisation Code. EVERYONE has to have one of these and it will determine if you are granted an application for a visa or not. For those who HAVE to travel in a group (see below), this code will normally be processed by your tour company; for everyone else, you will can use IranianVisa.com, source an Iranian travel agency local to you or seek direction from the embassy you wish to get for visa from about where to apply for it.
When applying for the authorization code, you will need to specify which embassy you will be processing your visa at – a pain for those travel around with no solid plans. Once the code is granted you cannot change the embassy choice. It’s wise to choose an embassy in a city you are likely to fly to Iran from (see also timings below).
Iran Visa and Authorisation Code Costs
Authorisation codes (if not booking with tour) come with an administration cost of around 35 Euro, which is dependent on the agency you are working with. There is no set price for a visa since it is determined by nationality and where you process your visa.
I paid 180Euros for mine in Tbilisi, Georgia and a British guy on my tour paid a little more to process his in Paris. The Australians in my tour group paid differing amounts between 50-100Euros, as did the Germans. There’s no hard and fast rule – it’s more about luck.
Iran Visa Timings
If all that wasn’t enough, it is highly likely that 1. Your authorization code will take WEEKS to process 2. It will most likely arrive with only a matter of DAYS to spare before your planned arrival in Iran or tour start date.
This means that before any trip to Iran, especially when travelling in a tour, you will be dashing to the embassy in the hope of them processing quickly (and where you may have to pay extra for fast-tracking) and booking flights very last minute (which is course doesn’t always guarantee the best price).
DON’T book your flights or any travel arrangements until you know your visa will definitely be processed. Many people travel to Turkey before hand to process their visas and use the country as a cost-effective flight or train route to entry.
Refusal of Entry to Iran
The main reasons for Iranian visa refusal is if proof is found that you have travelled to Israel and the government’s paranoia based on your career (think journalists, media workers and similar). Diplomatic relations and any political actions for/against Iran based on historical or current issues at the time of applying may also affect your entry into the country.
Visa on Arrival in Iran
Most airlines will not allow you on a flight unless you show you have the visa, but you can get a visa on arrival. However, this is only for 15 days and with this option you also run the risk of being refused entry. Those people I met who were granted a visa on arrival as part of the tour were given a special letter from the company that they could present to both the airline and passport control on arrival in Iran.
Solo Travel vs Tours
Nationality Restrictions – Americans Travelling to Iran
Because of long standing history of coups, espionage, nuclear sanctions and everything else in between that is outside of the average American citizen unconnected to the historical actions of their government, all US passport holders are only allowed into Iran if part of a tour group (or with a guide) . It apparently still stands that Americans must also be escorted from the airport to the hotel, and cannot make their own arrangements (it all has to be pre-organised – a simple addition via a tour company).
Nationality Restrictions – Brits Travelling to Iran
As of February 2014, British (and Canadians) became subjected to the same ‘tour only’ (group or private guide) sanctions , which means your visa is usually only granted for the exact number of days of your tour, with a couple of days either side if you list this as part of the arrival and departure options.
Everyone else you are fine (although keep an eye on any changes). Israeli citizens cannot enter Iran at all.
Tours in Iran
I’ve been travelling with G Adventures for over eight years now, so they were my preferred tour partner and sponsor for my ‘Discover Persia’ tour which operates through the revered Iranian agency AITO. I was allowed free time in Tehran either side of my tour though so I had a taste of both worlds, albeit on a small scale.
The upside to a tour, however nomadic and sporadic you normally are, is that these trips pack a real punch in getting you to a LOT of sites in a 14-day period . I saw places I would not have been able to access easily on my own or with public transport and my guide was the walking encyclopedia a history and sociology geek like me needed for an ancient civilization such as Persia. The downside is a lack of free time and lazy resting for an itinerary that would normally, on my terms, take about three weeks, not two.
Travelling Solo in Iran
Note that while solo travel is fine in Iran (if of a free nationality), Iran is not exactly that well trodden on the independent path. There’s little to no hostels and guesthouses, only big, expensive hotels (especially in Tehran) and even then it is rare to stumble upon a bunch of solo travellers to join ranks with. Additionally, in a society where women are much more restricted than their male counterparts, solo female travel is a little harder and can be viewed with surprise/suspicion depending on where you go.
However, solo travel is happening and it is safe…. just a little more challenging than normal.
Note that couchsurfing is officially illegal in Iran but it happens anyway. Nearly all independent travellers I have spoken to have mentioned that they have travelled here via this resource – your local hosts, of course, being the best guides.
Pre-Register With Your Country’s Foreign Office
Different countries have different specifications, rules and warnings about travel to Iran – some way more dramatic than others. If you can, register or alert your foreign office about your whereabouts just as a safety and piece of mind measure. As a British citizen, with no embassy representation in Iran, this is especially a good idea.
Not that some travellers are not granted adequate travel insurance until they have alerted the relevant authorities of their travel plans, so it is worth checking exactly who you need to inform before you depart, in order to be comprehensively covered.
Internet Access Is Limited
Be prepared to take a forced ‘Digital Detox’ during you time in Iran. Internet is slow, all social media (except Instagram and What’s App) is blocked and you are normally paying per hour for the privilege of a sluggish connection. While I sporadically got good internet, which allowed my VPN to work, it was never superb. Want to look up sites in Iran? Super quick. Want to find some decent news in the outside world? Good luck.
Tell your family and friends that they may not hear from you that often, and be prepared to do without the connection, however hard it may be.
Food, Drink and Vegetarian Difficulties
I’m not a huge foodie but I had built up incredible visions of Persian food in my mind before I went. I thought it would be everywhere – easily accessible and in abundance. Wrong.
Finding Traditional Food Amongst the Fast Food
It’s there but you have to do some digging on where to go and find delicious vegetable and pomegranate stews, or the traditional Dizi (a lamb based strew where the broth is separated from the solids which are then mashed together and eaten separately) or Ash (a thick and tasty soup of lentils, beans, starch noodles, vegetables, fried mint, fried onion and yoghurt).
Other than that you will realise that the streets are paved with fast food outlets , whose neon lights advertise the norm – kebabs, burgers and pizzas. Try and seek out the falafel places, since these are normally the best choice for a cheap and yummy quick fix.
Vegetarians have more of an issue. I travelled with a vegetarian and whether at a big buffet or a local teahouse or restaurant, what appeared to be the vegetarian option still had meat in it. It may mean living on aubergine / eggplant based dishes, which are your safest bet, or really begging for meat to be left out of your dish if not already pre-prepared.
There’s no alcohol here. No bars, no clubs. Nothing. The best you get is non-alcoholic beer in a variety of fruity flavours like peach, lemon and strawberry. A local might be being kind in offering to find you the real deal, but really… don’t take the chance. They might be able to waver the punishment; you won’t.
Understand the Concept of ‘Persian Time’
‘Persian Time’ is much like ‘Asian Time’ – things take much longer than you expect , service is slower and the times you are given for things (like an arrival at a destination) are not always clear or roundabout correct, like this example:
Guide: “It takes four or five hours. So if we leave at 8am, we will get there around 4 pm.”
Me: “But that’s eight hours, not four.”
Guide: “Yes, it takes about eight hours. Will we stop and x, y and z on the way and arrive around 2pm.”
Quite simply, don’t reply on or worry about time, and pack a bit more patience than you would at home, especially when it comes to food service and paying.
Read Up on the History
Ancient Persia isn’t an easily absorbed history lesson, and while your guide (if you choose to have one or if you are a part of tour group) will spout a level of information that will blow your mind, it is worth reading up on the history of Persia, as well as details on the lead-up to the Revolution in 1979, in order to understand the basic makeup of the country.
It will mean names like Zoroastrian, Cyrus the Great, The Achaemenid Empire, Reza Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei won’t be lost on you. Easy reference for most of us came from the Iran Lonely Planet. Much like Burma, having this guidebook was a handy resource for the entire trip.
Have you been to Iran? Is there any other pre-departure tips you would add? And if planning a trip there, what difficulties are you facing, if any?