Due to Iran’s somewhat complicated political situation in the past, entering this truly unique country as a tourist hasn’t always been easy. There are still a few challenges to traveling in Iran, such as the strict Islamic law and the massive firewall, but things are slowly changing for the better. Even though it may be a challenge to arrange a visa and travel around Iran, this country is worth the effort!
One of these changes is that the Iranian government has decided to give the country’s tourism a serious facelift by loosening up the visa requirements as of 2016. This initiative is part of a grand plan to increase Iran’s current 5 million yearly visitors to a whopping 20 million by 2025.
For you as a traveler, this means getting an Iranian tourist visa for your next adventure has never been easier.
February 2017 update: the visa situation for American citizens has been subject to ongoing changes since the proposed travel ban on Iranian citizens to the US. The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that it “will take reciprocal measures in order to safeguard the rights of its citizens until the time of the removal of the insulting restrictions of the Government of the United States against Iranian nationals”.
This means Americans will not be issued visas to enter Iran if Iranians are banned from entry into the US. To find the latest news, check out the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and The US Department of State.
How To Get A Visa For Iran
You can get your tourist visa for your upcoming holiday in Iran in two different ways:
- Organise it through an Iranian embassy before you go
- Get a visa on arrival when you land in Iran
Tourist Visa From An Iranian Embassy
If you’re from any of the following countries you’re in the naughty pile and there’s no visa on arrival for you:
Instead, you’ll have to jump through some hoops to get your visa from an Iranian Embassy with the help of a tour agency/visa supplier.
Even More Hoops For US, UK and Canadian Citizens
If you’re from the US, UK, or Canada you cannot travel around Iran independently and will have to travel the country on an organised tour (go to the FAQ section below for details).
How To Get An Iranian Visa From An Embassy
1. Jump online and look up an Iranian visa supplier or tour company, like Uppersia or Caravanistan.
2. Pay them to get you a Letter of Invitation (LOI) from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This will cost you $50 – $70 USD.
3. Wait anywhere from a week to a month to get approval from the ministry.
4. Once approved, your tour agency/visa supplier will forward you a reference number. This reference number is connected to your LOI which has been passed on to the Iranian Embassy specified in your application. For US citizens in the states, this will be the Iranian section of the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.
5. Your tour agency/visa supplier will also give you some more paperwork that needs to be filled out. In addition, you will need to take some passport photos if you don’t have any spare ones. Females note that yours will have to be taken with the official Iranian dress code in mind.
6. With your paperwork, photos and money in hand, go to the embassy where your LOI has been forwarded.
7. Quote the reference number, hand over your passport, paperwork and the money for the visa fee. This fee can range from $50 – $200 USD depending on which country you’re from. See this list from 2014 to get an idea of how much you’ll pay.
8. After a few hours, your passport will be handed back with a brand spanking new Iranian visa inside.
Tourist Visa On Arrival
For the other 180 countries in the world, the visa on arrival is the cheapest and most hassle-free option. It’s available at all international airports in Iran and all you have to do is hand over your passport, some money, and a few other documents and you’re done.
How To Get The Iran Visa On Arrival
1. Get off your flight and head towards border control.
2. Don’t go to the visa desk first, go to the travel insurance desk in the middle of the hall. This is where you’ll pay for your mandatory insurance or get proof of your already-existing travel insurance stamped.
The Iranian insurance costs $16 USD for 31 days.
3. Go to the visa window and hand over your passport and booking confirmation for your first night in the country. Make sure your booking confirmation has a phone number on it. The immigration officers may use this to call your accommodation and confirm you’re actually staying there.
They will then give you a piece of paper with the cost of your visa. Again, this fee depends on where you’re from and can range from $50 – $200 USD.
4. Go to the payment window next door and give them the piece of paper along with the money that’s owed. This payment has to be made in USD or Euro and can’t be paid by credit card. You will then be given a receipt you have to sign and hold on to.
5. Go back to the visa window and hand over the receipt of your payment.
6. Take a seat and wait. Once your Iranian visa has been approved you will be called back up to the window for collection.
7. The process should take anywhere from 45 minutes if you’re first, or up to 3 hours if you’re last in line.
Other FAQs About the Iran Visa Situation
Do You Need a Letter Of Invitation For a Visa On Arrival?
No, you do not need an LOI for a VOA. You can apply for an LOI and request for it to be sent to the airport, instead of an embassy. This should only be done if you want to speed up the process at the airport. Otherwise, save your money and just do the normal VOA process.
Can a US, UK Or Canadian Citizen Go to Iran Without a Guide?
If you really don’t want a guide, it is possible to get around this rule, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
Basically, you just have to call a lot of different tour companies until you find one that will give you a special tour without a guide. You still pay for the guide, but he’s just not physically with you.
The issue with this is that if you’re stopped by the police and you don’t have a tour guide with you, you better have a good cover story. Otherwise, you might be spending the rest of your holiday in a nice 2 x 2 cell.
What Is The Length Of The Iran Tourist Visa?
Both the VOA and the embassy tourist visa are valid for a maximum stay of 30 days in the country. This can be extended for up to 3 months once you’re in Iran.
Can You Get A VOA If You’re Traveling Overland?
Officially, the VOA for Iran is only issued at international airports. This means that if you’re traveling overland you’ll have to get your Iranian visa from an embassy, regardless of your nationality. You can do this in Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. However, if you want to take your chances, there is some talk online of an unofficial VOA at land crossings.
Can You Go To The US After Traveling To Iran?
As of 2016, if you travel to Iran as a non-US citizen, you will no longer be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. But don’t worry, you can still enter the US, you’ll just have to apply for a visa from a US Embassy before going.
Can I Go To Iran If I’ve Been To Israel?
If you’re from Israel, sorry – you’re not allowed to enter Iran. This also goes for non-Israelis who have evidence of travel to Israel in their passport.
Who Doesn’t Need A Visa For Iran?
If you’re from Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Egypt, Georgia, Lebanon, Syria or Turkey, Iran loves you and you don’t need a visa. Kick back and enjoy being able to travel around Iran visa-free for 15-90 days.
While you’re visiting Iran, you may want to check out the Mah Card. Mah Card is an Iranian prepaid debit card designed for tourists and temporary visitors. You can instantly add funds to your card, in your preferred currency and convert it to Iranian Rial (IRR).
Iran is Worth It!
You may have to spend some extra money or fill out a few forms to get your visa for Iran, but trust us – it’s worth every cent and second. You’ll be blown away by the country’s colourful architecture, stunning scenery, fascinating culture, and exotic food. But, above all, you’ll be left speechless at the incredible hospitality of the Iranian people. If you’re into authentic adventures, Iran is a country you can’t miss!
For more on Iran, check out the Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Iran.