Tourists watching ziggurat in Choghaznabil

10 things you should know before traveling to Iran

Time to read: 10 Mins | Published on October 5, 2020
What are some of the things you must know before visiting Iran? Read on for some Iran travel tips and facts about Iran and Iranian people.

Your plane has landed, and now you’re in a taxi on your way to your hotel room. You’re excited and a bit scared. You’re looking out of the car, trying to take it all in. You’ve been so amazed by everything that you don’t even notice how long you’ve been in the cab. Suddenly, the driver stops. You have reached your hotel room. You take out your money, trying to pay the cab driver. But he holds his hands up, refusing to accept your payment. You’re confused. Why would a stranger – a cab driver – not want his fee?! How does he make a living then…?! The answer to your questions lies in an Iranian custom called “Taarof”.

One of the most refreshing things about traveling is getting to know other people’s way of life. With Persian civilization being over 2000 years old, Iran is a country of ancient customs and traditions. You may be amazed by some and surprised by some other. But the fact remains, there are just too many things that you might stumble upon, and we’re here to give you some Iran travel tips. So here are 10 things you must know before traveling to Iran.

1) Prepare Yourself For “Taarof”

A taxi driver shaking hands and smiling

Taarof is an important part of the social culture of the Iranian people

Iranians are polite people. They learn to say “please” and “thank you” in their early stages of life. They are also very hospitable. So it’s no wonder that they have this thing called “Taarof”. Taarof is when somebody offers you something, and you reject, then they offer you again, and you accept. It can get pretty weird if you’re not familiar with this custom. Taarof is one of the essential Iran travel tips. Without knowing about it, you can end up getting yourself in awkward social situations.

Let me give you an example: you’re in a supermarket, and you want to pay. The shop keeper refuses to accept your money, saying “Oh no, it’s nothing. Please keep your money”. You shouldn’t just give up and not pay. Instead, you should insist on paying until they accept. You may go back and forth a couple of times, but that’s just the way it is. This is what Taarof is.

Taarof can happen anywhere and on many occasions. But it mostly happens when you’re trying to pay for something and when you’re eating something at somebody’s house. You may be full at the dinner table, but everybody is going to taarof more food for you. You just have to say “No, thank you” a couple of times until they finally accept.

2) Know The Dress Code

You cannot write an article about Iran travel tips and not talk about the dress code. Iran is an Islamic republic country and has its specific dress code. But don’t worry, Iran dress code is not as scary as everyone makes it out to be.

A group of female tourist walking together.

Women are allowed to wear any color they’d like.

Men

Men should not wear sleeveless shirts that show their underarms. T-shirts and other blouses are beautiful. Also, they should not wear anything that doesn’t cover their legs from the knee up. It’s best if they avoid wearing shorts.

Women

Women should cover their hair with a headscarf at all times. Also, they should wear manteaus (Long cardigan or overcoats) for roaming the streets. Moreover, women should cover their legs from the ankle up. But there’s no need to wear oversized clothes. Persian women are fashionable and in-style. Iran dress code might be hard to follow at times, but that doesn’t stop people from looking beautiful and on-trend!

Read More: Iran Dress Code

3) Download Some VPNs

Many people forget to mention this when they’re giving Iran travel tips. Some of the social media websites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are blocked in Iran. So, if you want to stay connected, download some VPNs in advance. Moreover, some VPNs might not work in Iran. So you must download a bunch of them just in case some of them don’t work.

There’s no need to worry if you haven’t though. When you’re visiting Iran, ask your tour operator or another local to download and install some VPNs for you. It’s an easy task and doesn’t take that long.

peyvandha webpage

This is the webpage you’ll see if you visit any of the blocked websites without a VPN

4) Part Ways With Alcohol

As we mentioned before, Iran is an Islamic country. As a result, alcoholic drinks are prohibited in Iran. Like anything else, you can find some alcoholic beverages on the black market. But we advise against it. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Alcohol-free beer of Delster

There are different types of non-alcoholic beers in Iran.

On the other hand, Iranians have their special drinks. For instance, dough and non-alcoholic beers are very popular in Iran. And if you try any kind of Persian food in Iran, you’re likely to get offered some dough. Non-alcoholic beers come in different tastes and packaging. They are mostly served along fast-food, but many people prefer to have them with their traditional dishes.

5) Don’t Just Eat Kebabs

a kebab dish with rice, tomatoes and parsley

Kebab may be the most famous food in Iran, but Iran has a lot of delicious local food.

Kebabs are very popular in Iran. It’s the kind of food that everybody likes and is served at every wedding and all the other special occasions. But don’t just eat kebabs! Iran has a lot of different dishes; both Persian food and fast-food. Make sure to try at least some of them.

To give a sense of just how many foods and traditional dishes Iran has, know that Rasht (located by the Caspian Sea) has been designated as a UNESCO creative city of gastronomy. And that’s just one city!

So, remember to try different dishes. You might even end up falling in love with Persian food and buy a recipe book or two.

6) Iranians And Arabs Are Two Different Races

Calling Iranian people Arab is like calling Irish people English. They’re just two different races. Also, Iranian people don’t speak Arabic. They speak in the Persian language. Moreover, Iranian people have their customs and traditions, which is different from Arab people.

Iran is a mix of many different ethnic groups. Persians are Iran’s largest ethnic group. Besides that, the largest ethnic groups are Azeris, Lors, Baluchis, Arabs, and Kurds. As a result, around 2% of Iran citizens are ethnically Arab. They are called Iranian Arabs, and they are concentrated in the province of Khuzistan.

7) Bring A Lot Of Cash

If I could only give you one Iran travel tip, it would be this one. Due to sanctions, none of the international credit cards like MasterCard and VisaCard work in Iran. As a result, you should bring all of the money you’re going to need in cash.

Banknote of 50,000 Iranian Rials

Back and forth of a 50,000 Rials Iranian banknote

First, calculate how much money you’re going to need in your trip to Iran. Then change your money in one of the exchange offices in Iran and enjoy spending.

Some examples of credit cards of Iranian banks

Some examples of credit cards of Iranian banks

Of course, you can also get a local debit card and store all of your money in there. Just ask your tour operator or a local for help regarding this matter.

Another way is to get a prepaid card for tourists. For instance, Mahcard is one of them.

Iran Currency & Travel Cost

If you need more information regarding how much money you’re going to need and how to get credit cards, check out our thorough guide about Iran’s currency.

8) You Can Pay By Local Debit Cards Absolutely Everywhere

If you do end up getting a local debit card, know that you can use them everywhere. You can use your debit card to pay for a bottle of water, or you can use it to pay for an Iranian carpet. Even in the rural parts of Iran, there are some POSes you can use to purchase something you need.

POS machine

Almost all vendors have POS machine

So, don’t worry if you don’t have any cash with you and all of your money is stored in your card. There are POSes you can use. Worst case scenario, you’ll find an ATM to draw some cash from your card and purchase what you need in cash.

9) Be Careful Of The No-shoe Zones

Iranian people are very neat. Part of it is because of the Islamic religion. But it’s mostly about the customs and traditions. Every house you want to enter Iran, you have to take your shoes off.

If you’re worried that your feet might smell or you just don’t feel comfortable walking barefoot indoors, consider wearing socks or washing your feet when entering a house.

Most importantly, remember to take your shoes off before entering mosques. Mosques are holy to Muslims, and it’s part of Iran etiquette to take your shoes off before entering a mosque.

A Chinese tourist takes a photo in Nasir Al-Molk Mosque

You have to take off your shoes to enter mosques and most houses

The no-shoe zones have a logical reason. Persian rugs and carpets cover most of the floors of the Iranian houses. And washing carpets is a tough task. Every year, Iranians do a spring cleaning and have carpet cleaning services wash their carpets for them. If people were to walk with shoes all over the carpets, people would need to wash their carpets every week! The same goes for mosques.

10) Befriend Tea

Tea is a beverage you will be offered everywhere! From the people’s houses to shopkeepers, everyone will provide you with black tea. I think it’s safe to say that Iranians love tea even more than the English people. Now, you may be wondering why befriending tea is amongst the most important Iran travel tips. Wait till you see for yourself.

An old man smiling and holding a cup of tea

Tea is the main hot beverage of Iranians

After lunch and dinner, somebody always announces that they have made tea or they’re about to make tea. And if you want to drink tea the Iranian way, put a sugar cube in your mouth and sip your tea. The tea will slowly melt the sugar cube in your mouth and let you taste the sweetness.

Tea will be your constant sidekick in your travel to Iran. You will be sitting under the hot sun and thinking about all of the places you have visited sipping tea. You’ll be in the north of Iran, overlooking the Caspian sea and drinking tea. You’ll have tea on the bus, on your way to Persepolis and spill some tea all over yourself. Trust me when I say this, tea will be your companion through sickness and health in Iran. It will hold you, dear, till the borders set you apart.

Iran Travel Tips – Is That All?

In short, Iran is a big country, and there are many other Iran travel tips that we can share. But we shared the most important ones. And we hope that it has helped you know Iran a little better. Of course, Iranians have other ideas about this matter. They have a saying for these occasions: “Shenidan kay bovad maanande didan?” which roughly translates to “No matter how much you read and research about something, nothing compares to experiencing it by yourself”.

Do you have any other Iran travel tips that you like to share with other travelers? Drop a comment and let us know!

10 Iran travel tips you must know

Newsha Hoseiny

Author

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