More and more, travelers are seeking the less trodden path. Following the Nuclear Deal, negotiated primarily between Iran’s President Rouhani and President Obama in 2015, adventurous travelers started to see Iran as a viable and safe tourist destination. In the wake of this international trade deal, many travelers (including myself) took the opportunity to visit Iran for the first time. As it were, I was not alone, between 2015 and 2019 Iran saw a steady increase in foreign tourists, with a 50% increase in inbound tourists in 2018.
As an Australian traveller, I was aware that Iran had a protracted history of political tensions with some of Australia’s closest allies, namely the US and the UK. In summer 2016, not knowing what to really expect, I ventured into uncharted Iran. I was able to easily obtain an Iran visa on arrival and whirl-winded my way through an amazing, three week adventure with no language skills and little familiarity with the culture. It truly was a trip that changed my life and I fiercely recommend an Iranian holiday to anyone! 1stQuest can help you plan your trip – check out the services they offer.
Almost three years on, I now live in Tehran and have met many travelers from all over the world. One who sticks in my mind is Emily, the first American who I met in Iran. Emily was in my Persian language course and had fled US shores following Trump’s election. Jokes aside, I couldn’t wait to ask her about her experience as an American citizen living in Iran. She recounted to me experiences similar to those I had had myself: ease obtaining a visa, unrivaled Iranian hospitality and weight gain due to delicious Iranian pastries.
For information on how to get an Iran visa as an American, check out this article: Travel to Iran as an American, British or Canadian.
So, is it a good idea for US citizens to travel to Iran? And if so, how’s best to go about planning your trip? Let’s see…
Understanding the feud
Understanding the origin of the animosity between the US and Iran is a useful place to start. Disclaimer – I am neither a historian or a political science major and this my own, oversimplified nutshell, on a way-too complex issue! Here goes.
Over the past 60 years, Iran and the United States of America have shared a checkered history. The 1960s and 70s was a time where Iran and America were close allies, with US companies working in the Iranian oil industry. During this time, the disparity between the standard of living in the oil rich regions and large cities as compared to the regions was woeful.
Circumstances came to a head in 1979 and resulted in a revolution. The revolution was a student movement calling for the liberation of the Iranian people and nationalizing of Iran’s natural resources. Like most revolutions, Iran’s revolution was bloody and didn’t end up as many of the supporters imagined.
The Shah fled to America and the Islamic mullahs took over government administration. The new government nationalized the oil industry and completely overhauled the previous modus operandi. In the following years many politicians, advisers, academics and artists followed the Shah to the US, unable to carry on their lives in Iran. This migration has continued and today, more than one million Iranians currently living in the US.
In the 1980s America began sanctioning Iran. Finally, in 2015, President Obama and President Rouhani brokered a deal; Iran would allow UN inspectors into nuclear facilities and in return, the US would lift the sanctions that were crippling the Iranian economy. Despite Iran’s compliance with the Nuclear Deal, in May 2018 Trump announced he would revoke the deal and reimpose all sanctions, plus more.
There are more complex issues at play such as Shia and Sunni Muslim rifts, Arab state alliances, ongoing tensions between Israel and Iran and other regional factors, however these do not overtly involve America.
Do Iranians dislike Americans?
In a word, no. To my surprise, I have found it to be the complete opposite!
Although the history between Iran and the US is fraught, it is unthinkable that American tourists would be met with any local animosity. Iranian people are aware of how their government is portrayed in the mainstream western media; so no one appreciates the sentiment, “the people are not the government” more than the Iranians themselves.
People in Iran continually ask me, “where do you come from?” because they are genuinely interested in having a conversation. When I reply, “Australia”, I usually hear about their uncle who lives in Sydney or that they once saw a kangaroo at a zoo or that they themselves aspire to move to Australia in the future. I imagine that if the reply was, “America”, the comments in response would follow this same pattern. Read more about this here: The Worst Advice Ever Heard: “Iranians hate Americans”.
Iranians pride themselves on their hospitality. Persian hospitality is really something else and, in my experience, it is completely unrivaled. I have never experienced generosity and helpfulness to the extent I did on my first trip to Iran. Read more about Persian hospitality.
Is Iran safe for American travelers?
A big question for travelers is safety. During my time in Iran, I have never felt threatened or unsafe because of my nationality. With newly stationed American warships in the Persian Gulf, the question travelers from the US should be asking themselves is whether they trust their own government!
In an attempt to increase the number of visiting tourists, the Iranian government has recently stopped stamping incoming tourists passports and only issues electronic visas. Having an unmarked passport means travelers should not encounter any future travel problems related to their Iran visit.
Due to ongoing regional tensions, travelers should keep themselves informed on current travel warnings (for example near the Afghanistan border) when planning their Iran holiday.
See this article for more information on safety in Iran.
Why Americans should travel to Iran?
There are countless reasons why you should be planning your trip to Iran! My top three reasons are:
- Food – Honestly, the food is outrageously good! Everything is grown locally and is of the highest quality. Think enormous fresh fruits, nuts, organic free range meats, homemade cheeses and yogurt, traditional flatbreads and pastries. Oh, and every region has its own unique cuisine. Read more about Iranian food
- Architectural treasures – Iran is home to some of the best mosques in the whole Middle East. Then you have the iconic Persian gardens, archaeological sites such as Persepolis and the beautiful silk road bazaars. There are so many historical buildings in Iran that every museum, tea house and traditional restaurant you visit has hundreds of years of history behind it. Read more about architectural treasures in Isfahan.
- It is so cheap – Due to the economic turmoil in the past year, Iran has recently become one of the cheapest countries in the world for travelers. Depending on your budget, I would estimate spending anywhere between $30 to $100 USD a day. To find out more about budget hotels check out this article: budget hotels in Tehran. If you are interested in luxury accommodations, check out this article: luxury hotels in Iran.
How to apply for an Iran visa as an American
Obtaining a tourist visa for an American citizen will require a bit of forward planning. this article: Travel to Iran as an American, British or Canadian explains the ins and outs of the application process. Contact the support@1stQuest.com to talk about how to make an application. They can also increase the chance of your visa application being approved by lodging the application on your behalf.
Tips to plan your trip
Because Iran is not well connected to international banking systems, there are no international ATMs, credit or debit card facilities available for tourists. To avoid carrying large amounts of cash, you can book your domestic flights, hotels, and transfers in advance, online via 1stQuest. 1stQuest also offers travelers an Iranian debit card, which can be charged with USD and converted to the local currency.
For a tailor-made itinerary where you choose your destinations, services, dates, and budgets, check out 1stQuest’s Untours. Bundle the services you want to save travel blues and money!