Getting a Visa to visit Iran
Citizens from many countries, including EU nationals can easily get a visa to enter Iran, including e-visas and visas on arrival at international Iran’s airports. There is lots of good quality on-line information here….
But UK passport holders need to undergo a far more complicated route to get an Iranian entry visa. We have written some brief notes here on our website.
Travelling to Iran needs a fair bit of forward planning. Obtaining a visa can take a few months as there are a lot of steps to follow. Here are the steps we took and the steps that UK Citizens will need to take….
- You will need a travel agency to help organise your trip. We chose Maral Tours (based in Tehran), after a lot of careful research. On our first visit to Iran, we entered Iran from Armenia, via the Nordooz–Agarak land border, on our bicycles. We needed all the assistance from Maral Tours to ensure that we would be allowed to cross the border, as UK citizens are not allowed to enter Iran in their own “vehicle”.
- You need to apply for a letter of invitation (LOI). The travel company will apply on your behalf to the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Tehran. In order to give them the information they need to make the application you need to outline your planned itinerary and route, provide a CV and details of your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc). You will also need to provide a scanned photo of your passport and passport sized photos (girls you must wear your headscarves , tuck in your hair, and adhere to Iranian dress code …no plunging neck lines!). You will also have to fill out a letter of invitation form, stating arrival date and departure date. You must stick to these dates.
- Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months. If it has an Israeli entry stamp in it you may be denied access to Iran, similarly if you are a journalist.
- After some time, maybe 8-12 weeks but don’t rely on it, you will receive your authorisation code. Print this off. You need to factor in this waiting time into your planning, making sure that you begin the process at least 3 months before you intend to go to Iran.
- Now, the excitement begins. You need to get on down to the Iranian Consulate at 50, Kensington Court, London, note this is not the same place as the embassy. Get there early as there could be a lot of people wanting visas and the visa office is only open briefly for three days a week; Mon , Weds and Fridays 2pm till 5pm. Bring with you a headscarf (girls) , a lot of cash (£170.00 per person if you are a UK citizen), your authorisation code , a completed copy of your application form (available here), two passport sized photos, and a self-addressed special delivery envelope for the return of your passport.
- You should then receive your passports in the post with your visas in them. Getting same day visas costs quite a lot more (about £80.00 more).
There is some more information about getting an Iranian visa in London, here…..
Maral Tours, our wonderfully helpful Iranian tour company
Any British, American or Canadian national travelling to Iran will need to travel with a group guide, as a tour unless they can obtain personal recommendation from an Iranian citizen in Iran.
Even if you travel as a couple as we did on our first visit, being UK passport holders, we had to travel with a guide at all times. Our cycle guide, Ali , met us on his bicycle when we entered Iran via the Nordooz–Agarak Armenian land border.
As we did not have anyone to host us or vouch for us in Iran we needed to find a tour company. This tour company can help you to obtain the necessary paperwork for you to gain entry to Iran. They will help you to get the Letter of Invitation (LOI), and as, part of this process involves declaring where you will go and where you will stay, the tour company is invaluable in providing this information.
After much research we approached a tour company called Maral Tours, based in central Tehran.
Maral Tours provide a range of different tours with prices to suit a range of budgets. We took a backpacker package, the cheapest on offer, but we found our accommodation to be consistently of very high standard. Everything was very efficient from beginning to end. Our letter of invitation was received in good time, our accommodation was always comfortable, our transport links were organised for us, we travelled in style and our guides were knowledgeable, considerate and kind.
We usually travel independently on our adventures, but it was surprisingly welcome to have our hotels & travel connections (bus & trains) booked for us. It was also great to have our English speaking Iranian guide, Ali, to help us meet and talk with local people as we cycled through their homelands. We were also able to learn some more simple Iranian phrases from Ali, so we could bring some roadside smiles as we said a few words in Iranian.
Despite the complexities of our particular plans which did not correspond exactly to one of their offered tours, we wanted a support vehicle able to accommodate six of us and the guide and driver, the holiday was organised smoothly and efficiently.
Our key contact is Maryam Feizi who speaks good English and has been wonderfully helpful. She loves the idea of eco-toursim and has been very enthusiastic about our cycle touring adventures in Iran, in a very supportive, encouraging and helpful way. If you plan to cycle tour in Iran, she is the person to contact.
The best hotels that we stayed in, booked by Maral Tours
- Bahar Hotel, Tehran. COMFORTABLE & FUNCTIONAL
- Elay Apartment Hotel, Tabriz. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
- Adib House Boutique Hotel, Kashan. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
- Vakil Traditional Hotel, Shiraz. COMFORTABLE & FUNCTIONAL
- Kouhpa Caravanserai Hotel, Kuhpayeh. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
- Sunrise Traditional House Hotel, Isfahan. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
- Kashan Persian House Hotel, Kashan. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
There are more, but not listed on the internet, so ask Maral Tours
Banks and Money in Iran
It is not possible to use non-Iranian debit cards, credit cards or travellers cheques in Iran. Due to the punitive sanctions imposed on Iran by the West, the whole of Iran’s banking system is cut off from the rest of the world for visiting tourists. So you have to bring cash with you when you visit Iran and change your cash at the airport when you arrive and/or through licensed money changers in the bazaar. We we also able to change money at the Nordooz–Agarak Armenian land border.
Generally, US dollars or Euros are preferred. The UK pound can be changed, but given the recent fall in sterling due to Brexit, money changers are often reluctant to buy UK pounds. We bring Euros as we do not want to support the current USA administration by buying US dollars. As we use Maral Tours to book all of our accommodation, transport & guides, we can pay them directly for most of our travel expenses, either via a UK bank account or by paying in Euros on arriving in Iran. Maral Tours can give you information about this at the time of your trip, as the situation in Iran is changing all of the time.
Iranian currency is called the “Rial” and the exchange rate was around 124,500 Rial per Euro when we were in Iran in the autumn of 2019. This meant that when we changed €500 on arrival, we ended up with a huge stack of notes (over 1kg). In the bazaar, it can be confusing asking the price of goods, as most Iranians refer to “Toman“, where one Toman equals 10 Rial, so you always need to remember to add one zero to all the prices to calculate how many Rial you need to pay.
Cultural awareness in Iran
We have written a dedicated page on cultural awareness in Iran here….