Iran Travel Notes

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Australian Embassy in Iran

No. 13, 23rd St.
Khalid Islambuli Ave.
Abbasabad
Tehran 15138
Tel        0011 98 21 8872 4456
Fax       0011 98 21 8872 0484
Email   [email protected]
www.iran.embassy.gov.au

Smartraveller

The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade website has advice for travellers.
www.smartraveller.gov.au

Time Zones

Iran is on GMT +3.5 time and is therefore 6.5 hours behind Australia.
www.worldtimeserver.com

Voltages and Plugs

Iran uses 220-240 volts. Plugs are of the two-round-pronged European type and also the three-narrow-pronged British variety.
www.korjo.com/Adaptor-Guide

Currency

To obtain the most up-to-date exchange rate you may wish to visit
www.xe.com/currencyconverter

Iranian Rial (IR) = 100 dinars.  Because of the low value of the rial, dinars are almost never used.
Please also note: Although not an official currency since 1932, the toman (ten rial) is frequently used to express amounts of money. You need to be aware of this as prices will often be quoted in toman and you will need to make your calculations accordingly. 10,000 Rial notes are also commonly referred to as a ‘Khomeini’ due to his portrait on the note.
Notes are in denominations of IR50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5000, 2000, 1000, 500, 200 and 100.
Coins are in denominations of IR 500, 250, 100, 50. The 5 and 10 Rial coins are still legal tender but you will be unlikely to come across them

Credit Cards and ATM machines

Do not rely upon credit cards as there are very limited places to use them, due to the US embargo on Iran which does not allow American businesses (incl. American Express, Visa Mastercard, etc.) to operate in the country. There are rare exceptions to this rule such as carpet dealers in Isfahan which use direct
telephone connections to Saudi Arabia to access credit card systems.

Please note that using a credit card in a growing number of foreign countries usually requires a new “chip-and-pin” credit card with an embedded microchip and an associated PIN number (the PIN is specific to each credit card). If you have questions about using your credit card in a foreign country, please contact your bank prior to departure from Australia. Check with your credit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available.

Cash

It is suggested that you take cash for your additional expenses. US dollars are by far the easiest to exchange. Do not take big notes as there are so many counterfeit ones floating around that many people won’t take them. Please also note that many banks WILL NOT ACCEPT any large denomination US Dollars printed after 2000, when the new format notes were released. Make sure the NOTES ARE CRISP and NEW. Take notes in US dollars denominations of $1.00, $5.00, $10.00 and $20.00, $50.00 being the highest. Most shops will not provide you with change and small notes are therefore the most useful.

Travelers Cheques are NO longer accepted.

Currency Restrictions

The import of foreign currency is unlimited, but you may need to declare the amount of currency you are carrying if you have $2000.00 US dollars or more (there is a special form to fill in upon arrival). You should know how much money you have before boarding your aircraft so that you do not have to count your money in public if you are required to upon arrival. The export of foreign currency is limited to the amount declared on arrival. The import and export of local currency is limited to IR200,000. Any amount larger than this requires authorisation from the Central Bank.


Special Warning

Prohibited Material

All materials that might be considered inflammatory or provocative should be left behind. Please carefully review any books, magazines, tapes, t-shirts emblazoned with writing or artwork with this in mind when packing. If you are carrying a guidebook, pack this at the bottom of your bag and be prepared to have it taken from you when entering Iran.

Prohibited Items

Alcoholic beverages, narcotics, guns and ammunition, all horticultural and agricultural goods including seeds and soil; aerial photo cameras, transmitter receiver apparatus, pornography, most films, cassettes, CDs and videos, any kind of womens tabloid magazines. Tourists may enter with video and photographic equipment but must exit with the same. Penalties for being in possession of alcohol are very severe. Ensure you are not carrying any alcohol.

Restricted Items

Export of antiques, gold, silver and jewellery. Travellers may export only one hand-woven carpet or two rugs (total area not exceeding 12 sq metres).

Iranian Drivers

Although living in what is considered an authoritarian country, Iranian drivers take liberties which Australian police would never tolerate. Never trust Iranian drivers when crossing roads; they are completely irresponsible and will run you over without stopping. It is estimated that between 300 and 400 Iranians die on the roads each day.


Telephone & Communication

Mobile telephones
Most mobile telephones work in Iran and coverage is excellent. Check with your local provider that your phone can switch on ‘Global Roaming’ and that your provider has coverage in the places you are visiting. Mobile phones can be very useful for SMSing  (especially if you get lost!). International calls are often expensive, as is checking your message bank as calls have to be routed through Australia.

Should you choose to purchase a local sim card please check with your local provide prior to departure to make sure your phone is unlocked and will accept another sim card.

Internet
Internet access is widespread and available in the larger towns and cities of Iran. Many hotels and cafes now offer access, some you need to pay while others have free Wi-fi zones. Depending on the system, speeds can be very slow or very fast. You may find a number of random sites have been blocked by the government. For instance, The Age newspaper website is blocked, but BBC is accessable.

If you have Web access while traveling, you might consider a broadband-based telephone service (in technical terms, Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP) such as Skype or Vonage, which allows you to make free international calls between online computers and phones, and cheap international calls if you’re calling a normal phone number. Most cybercafes throughout the country will be using these programs already, complete with headset, microphone, and webcam.
www.skype.com    www.vonage.com

Business Hours in Iran

Offices  08.00 – 14.00 Saturday to Thursday
Banks   07.30 – 13.30  Saturday to Wednesday
Shops   08.30 – 20.30 Daily, except Friday

Duty Free

The following goods may be imported into Iran without incurring customs duty: 200 cigarettes; a reasonable quantity of perfume for personal use; gifts on which the import duty/tax does not exceed IR11,150.

Airport Procedure

Note: Certain high-value items will be entered in travellers’ passports by Customs officials on arrival. These items may not be sold, and must be presented to Customs on departure. If travellers are intending to visit Iran again on the same passport, they should ensure that these items are cancelled by Customs officials when they leave Iran.

Language

Persian (Farsi) is the most widely spoken language. Arabic is spoken in Khuzestan in the southwest, and Turkish in the northwest around Tabriz. English, French and (to a lesser extent) German are spoken by many businessmen and officials.

Religion

The major religion in Iran is Shi’ite Islam which pervades all aspects of life. The essence of Islam is the belief that there is only one God and that it is the people’s duty to believe in and serve Him in the manner that is laid out in the Quran. In Arabic, Islam means submission and a Muslim is one who submits to God’s will.

Health

Levels of sanitation and standards in food preparation vary widely across the Islamic world but a major cause of illness among travellers is simply the change in diet, water and climate. It is possible to reduce the likelihood of stomach upsets and more serious gastric complaints by taking simple precautions.
The Travel Clinic     www.travelclinic.com.au
The Travel Medical and Vaccination Centre    www.traveldoctor.com.au

Personal Safety
  • We strongly recommend the use of a money belt to keep your cash, cards and travel documents safe. This should be kept under your clothes at all times. This is a precaution that should be taken anywhere due to the difficulties that can be experienced in trying to replace stolen items.
  • Take photocopies of all important documents (passport, credit cards, airline tickets, insurance) and keep one copy securely in your luggage and leave another copy at home.
  • It is generally helpful to take a business card from the hotel you are staying at. This can assist hugely if you get lost. If you also have a key card for your hotel, make sure you keep these two cards separate or you run the risk of allowing a thief access to your room
  • Take extra care in crowded places and try not to ‘advertise’ the fact that you may be carrying valuables by having something like an expensive camera over your shoulder. Put it in your bag or under your coat. And men, try to avoid keeping your wallet in your hip pocket.
Dress Standard

A very strict code of behaviour, with a strong emphasis on modesty, is enforced in Iran. Clothing requirements for men are more relaxed than they are for omen, but men should dress modestly and not wear shorts. Women must abide by a very strict dress code when in public. Chadors (the black cloak that more conservative Muslim women wear) are not required in most places, but women will be required to wear a chador (this will be supplied by your guide) before entering the holy shrines in Mashad, Qazvin and Shiraz. The rest of the time when in public women must wear a scarf covering their hair and neck and a loose, opaque coat that reaches at least to the mid-calf and hides all curves. Iranian law states that only the hands and face may show. However, the few women in Iran who are not wearing a chador when they venture outside, wear what looks like a trench coat over pants or a full length skirt. Anything other than this will stand out and while it may meet the letter of the law it will contradict the prevailing custom, which is not to attract attention. Therefore, we ask all our female travellers
to comply with the custom and to wear a trench coat and scarf for the full duration of the tour.

What to Pack

Clothing (general)
The time of the year you visit this destination will dictate the type of clothing it is appropriate to bring. It would always be advisable to take a rain coat or a water proof windbreaker. For daytime activities, we suggest a wardrobe that is versatile, casual and comfortable. It is recommended that “layered” clothing might offer the best comfort in a variety of conditions. Always expect the weather to be changeable.

Women

  • One long, loose-fitting coat to be worn at all times. You will find black will be too warm. Choose a colour that is not eyecatching, such as green, grey, brown or navy blue.
  • Two large rectangular headscarfs. Preferably not silk as it will slip off your head, cotton is ideal. We do not suggest wool, as you will find this too hot.
  • Three pairs of pants: One pair of woollen or warmer pants for the first week of the trip. Two pairs of lightweight or cotton pants for the warmer portion of the program. Avoid bringing skirts as they can get caught by the wind and when you sit down you may be showing your leg.
  • T-shirts and long sleeve shirts to wear under your coat. When you are in the southern hotter areas you will only want to wear a t-shirt under your coat.
  • Loose jumper or parka to wear over the top of your coat in the cooler areas.
  • Pocket umbrella to block out the sun.

Men

  • Long pants allowing for both cool and hot weather, do not bring shorts.
  • T-shirts will be acceptable but not singlet tops.
  • Long-sleeved shirts.
  • One smart, casual shirt for evening meals.  Ties will not be required.
  • Sunhat.

All Tour Members
Make sure that your shoes are stout, easy on your feet and have rubber soles. It is important that your feet are fully covered, protected and in cool weather kept warm. Do not take sandals, as your feet need to be completely covered.

Beyond the normal wardrobe we suggest

  • sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat
  • folding umbrella and/or light raincoat
  • prescription medicines for the full duration of your time away and a written copy of your prescriptions including what they are for, provided by your doctor
  • extra prescription eyeglasses (if required)
Etiquette

There are obviously many cultural differences between westerners and Muslims but courtesy and friendliness are internationally understood. Muslims are curious about visitors, interested to learn something about their countries, and sometimes keen to dispel Islam’s negative image in the international media. They therefore appreciate a chance to talk to foreigners. In public areas, Muslim men are far more accessible than Muslim women and in many Muslim societies,
foreign women are treated as honorary men. Many guidebooks encourage foreign women to feel fearful of Muslim men and reject all advances. This is an exaggerated response as in many cases Muslim men simply wish to greet or assist a foreigner. As a general rule, foreign men should not directly approach
Muslim women if their menfolk are present. Displays of affection should be kept to the privacy of your hotel room. You should refrain from handholding in public.

Greeting

In Muslim cultures, hand shaking is a normal part of daily greetings. Men also hug and kiss each other quite freely. Although hand shaking occurs primarily between men, in cities men also shake women’s hands. It is not immodest or inappropriate for a foreign woman to respond if a Muslim offers his hand. Touching an unknown woman in any other way is not acceptable.

Hospitality

Codes of hospitality to strangers are taken very seriously across the Islamic world. One manifestation of this is the tendency for shopkeepers to offer beverages to customers. It is polite to accept and does not oblige you to purchase.

Hassling

Travellers sometimes feel uncomfortable with persistent vendors or clusters of children. One way to deal with this is to create a personal relationship with whoever is hassling you by stating your name and asking theirs. Since Muslim societies are based on kinship networks and personal relations, exchanging names
transforms an anonymous interaction into a relationship. Alternatively you can say goodbye politely and walk off. To remain and repeat ‘no’ to the other person implies that you are still negotiating. As a general rule hassling is not a problem in Iran.

Smoking

Smoking is widely accepted and occurs everywhere, although it is unusual to see women smoking.

Social Conventions

Feelings about certain countries (such as the USA and the UK) run high, so the visitor should avoid contentious subjects. The Westernisation of the Iranian way of life has been arrested since the fall of the Shah, and Koranic law exercises a much more traditional influence over much of the populace. In general, Western influences are now discouraged. During Ramadan, smoking, eating and drinking in public are prohibited between sunrise and sunset; however, facilities are always available in major hotels. It is normal to remove shoes but not socks when entering a mosque.

Photography

Islamic countries provide a rich array of sights for photographers but some points should be borne in mind. Muslim attitudes towards photography come from Islam’s belief that God is the only creator and that it is sinful for humans to mimic the act of creating. Most Muslims consider photography of family and friends perfectly acceptable but older beliefs come into play when strangers are involved. As a result, people often do not wish to be photographed, especially in rural areas which have not been greatly exposed to tourism. This applies to women in particular, many of whom believe that a photograph is an unholy image which can do them harm in the hands of a stranger. If people signal that they do not want to be photographed either verbally or by signs, please respect their wishes. Although in many cases, photography inside religious buildings does not present problems, there are shrines and prayer spaces where taking photographs can cause offence. Please bear this in mind when photographing.

It is prohibited to photograph military and governmental installations in most Islamic countries. Vehicles and strategic communications such as bridges may be included in this ban. Taking photographs of prohibited objects or zones can result in police questioning and considerable delays. If in doubt whether you can take a photo, please ask the tour leader or your Iranian guide.

Food and Drink

Rice is the staple food and the Iranians cook it superbly. Dishes include chelo khoresh (rice topped with vegetables and meat in a nut sauce), polo chele (pilau rice), polo sabzi (pilau rice cooked with fresh herbs), polo chirin (sweet-sour saffron coloured rice with raisins, almonds and orange), adas polo (rice, lentils and meat), morgh polo (chicken and pilau rice), chelo kababs (rice with skewered meats cooked over charcoal), kofte (minced meat formed into meatballs), kofte gusht (meatloaf), abgusht (thick stew), khoreshe badinjan (mutton and aubergine stew), mast-o-khier (cold yoghurt-based soup flavoured with mint, chopped cucumber and raisins) and dolmeh (stuffed aubergine, courgettes or peppers). Most Iranian meals are eaten with a spoon and fork, but visitors may choose a Western dish and eat with a knife and fork.

Fruit and vegetable juices are popular, as are sparkling mineral waters. Tea is also very popular and drunk in the many teahouses (ghahve khane), although the number of tea houses has dropped dramatically since the government banned the smoking of waterpipes. Non-alcoholic beer is available at most major hotels and restaurants. The consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden; do not attempt to take alcohol into Iran. Make sure you are not carrying any alcohol including the small bottles from the airplane.

Shopping

Quality goods and local items can be bought in the many bazaars. Purchases include hand-carved, inlaid woodwork, carpets, rugs, silks, leather goods, mats, tablecloths, gold, silver, glass and ceramics. Bargaining is customary. There are restrictions on which items may be taken out of the country; see Duty Free section for details.

Useful websites

Iran Tourist Board
www.tourismiran.ir

 Climate

We suggest that prior to departure you check the weather forecast for the most up-to-date information.
www.worldweatheronline.com

Broadly speaking, the further south you go the warmer it becomes. The regions along the mountainous parts of the country have milder summers and colder winters. In Tehran summers are hot, dry and stuffy. Winters in the capital can be very chilly, extremely so at night, although any snow usually disappears by early March. Showers are frequent between November and mid May, but rare in summer. You should expect the first week of your trip, travelling from Tehran to Tabriz, to be mild to cold in temperature. From Ahvaz to Isfahan the temperatures will be much warmer ranging from mild to hot.

Please note that ASA tours to Iran take place in October/November because this is the time when the temperatures are such that special clothing requirements dictated by religious law will be most comfortable.

Average minimum/maximum Temperatures (˚C)

City Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Tehran -3/7 0/10 4/15 9/22 14/28 19/34 22/37 22/36 18/32 12/24 6/17 1/11
Esfahan -4/8 -2/12 3/16 8/22 12/28 17/33 19/37 18/36 13/32 8/25 3/17 -2/11
Persian Gulf 7/17 9/20 13/24 18/31 23/38 26/42 28/44 27/45 23/42 18/36 14/27 9/20