Iran gets its share of the spotlight in the media, but very rarely because of its potential as a holiday destination. Iran’s ancient underground cities, breath-taking mosques, vast oak forests, ski fields and coral islands are seldom mentioned. Although in recent years Iran has seen a surge in tourism, to-be-travelers are still unsure whether Iran is a safe place to visit. What do you think about safety in Iran?
Is it safe to visit Iran as a tourist?
In a word, yes; Iran is a safe place to visit for tourists of any nationality, age, gender or race. As a young Australian woman traveling in Iran, locals treated me with the utmost respect and care. The only problem is Iranians can be overwhelmingly welcoming towards tourists! Journalist, Rob Hastings writing for the Independent comments “… it was the Iranian people and their hospitality that had the biggest impression on me… the locals ensure that their country is not Middle Eastern North Korea or the closed society that many Westerners might expect”.
The official line of many governments (including Canadian, New Zealand, British and Australian governments.) is to exercise caution when traveling to Iran and to avoid border areas. Caution is usually advised due to potential civil unrest and the threat of terrorism. Iran borders Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east, and unfortunately, these countries are not currently safe for tourists. Geographically, most of the tourist destinations are not near the border, so avoiding these areas is easy. As these warnings are subject to change, it is advisable to check with your own country’s guidelines before making your travel arrangements.
Overall, foreign governments and the Iranian government alike advise tourists to respect Iranian culture and Islamic traditions when traveling to Iran. Iranians are highly educated and are not easily offended by foreign tourists, so don’t stress about the occasional faux pa.
I’m from the USA, will Iran be safe for me?
Okay, so everyone has seen Argo. Obviously, the tension of that time has passed, but how do Iranians treat tourists from the USA in today’s political climate?
Before I came to Iran, this was one of my burning questions. I’d seen photographs of the anti-American murals, I’d seen protestors angrily burning The Stars and Stripes and I’d read about the Den of Espionage – all on the streets of Tehran. With this in mind, you can imagine my surprise to hear many young Iranians speaking of their aspirations to migrate to the USA.
Locals are always quick to tell foreign tourists all about their relatives who live abroad. With almost one million Iranians living in Los Angeles alone, LA (or Tehrangeles as many Iranians call it) is the highest concentration of Iranians outside of Iran. Although Iran’s fraught relationship with the USA is undeniable, I cannot even imagine an Iranian acting negatively towards an American tourist. Rather than displaying any animosity, locals will talk at length about Iran’s rich culture and heritage and try to displace the Iranian stereotype that is often portrayed in the media.
What about solo female travelers?
Pretty lady, where are you from? Yes, solo female travelers will almost certainly receive unwanted attention from Iranian men, especially in the bigger cities. But rest assured – catcalls, pesky chatters, and guys offering you a ride, is usually the worst of it.
With that said, the attention is not constant or unbearable. As Iran is a predominantly Islamic country, for religious reasons, many Iranian men consider it inappropriate to approach a woman on the street. In my experience, the level of attention female tourists will receive in Iran is less severe than in many parts of Asia and South America. Furthermore, violence against women is absolutely not culturally tolerated in Iran.
A word of advice ladies: be careful not to accidentally catch a ride from an unofficial taxi. Taxis will be clearly identified or better still, you can download Snapp, Iran’s ride share application, for a safer, fixed price ride.
Traveling Solo around Iran,? You can visit Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd, and Shiraz in 9 days on a very low budget. Wanna know how? Read more at Discover Iran on Budget.
Do women have to wear burqas?
Iranian law states that women must wear Islamic cover or hijab at all times, when in public. This means a headscarf, a long, loose top (at least elbow length and no cleavage) and pants or a skirt to the ankle. Men are also advised to dress modestly, so it’s best to avoid sleeveless tops and shorts, guys.
If visiting a mosque or holy place, women may be required to wear a Chador (literally meaning tent, a Chador is a large sheet) over the top of your other clothes. You can usually borrow a Chador from the entrance of the mosque, free of charge.
As already mentioned, these clothing restrictions are legal requirements and there is a specialist police force, colloquially known as the ‘morality police’, that regulate women’s hijab.
Within the legal restrictions, Iranian women’s fashion sense is wide and varied. In rural locales, most women wear a modest black chador; however, beware to be amazed at the beauty and elegance of the women’s hijab in uptown Tehran. In recent years, dress restrictions have relaxed with many women pushing the legal boundaries. For the latest Tehran fashion trends, check out these pages on Instagram: off-label, ynbstlebook and _studio17_. Iranians, men and women alike, are fashionistas; so, remember to pack some nice clothes so you don’t feel underdressed!
How does the Iranian government view tourists?
The Iranian government is actively encouraging foreigners to holiday in Iran. Mehr News Agency states that Iranian officials aim to attract 20 million tourists, and pour $30 billion into the industry by 2025. President Hassan Rouhani’s moderate policies and the relaxation of visa requirements in 2015 indicate the government’s position on foreign tourism.
As a tourist, your first interaction of the Iranian government will probably be the visa and immigration officials at the airport. Although perhaps a little inefficient, these officers will welcome you with a smile and speak to you in broken English. If you have to deal with government officials again, expect a similar experience. There are police checkpoints across the country, but police are unlikely to search or question a foreign tourist.
Is ISIS active in Iran?
Terror-related crime is almost unheard of in Iran; however, some border areas are best avoided. In June 2017, Iran suffered its first major terror attack since 2010. This attack appears to have been an attack on the Iranian government and Iranian civilians have not been the subjects of a terror attack for many years. ISIS, along with several other terror groups, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Unfortunately, these kinds of events have become commonplace in many countries across the world, particularly the Middle East. Unlike some neighboring countries, ISIS or other terror groups do not have a presence within Iran. Iran’s strong military presence across the Middle East seems to make it relatively safe within Iranian borders.
If you’ve come this far, then you must be seriously considering a holiday in Iran. If you’re anything like me then upon your arrival, all safety concerns you had will disappear and be replaced by a sense of awe and wonder at this truly unique and ancient land. So what are you waiting for? Iran is ready to knock your socks off.
I will be glad to hear your stories about Iran, so don’t hesitate and share your story in comments.