Must Know About Iran
Iran the "Safe Island" of the Middle East
Contrary to some negative propaganda of certain western media, Iran is a safe country and there is no threat against its citizens and visitors. In recent years, and despite certain terrorist groups raising into power, particularly ISIS and Taliban in the region, and the tragic occurrence of a number of terrorist attacks at the very heart of Europe, Iran has been left entirely unaffected by such violations of human rights and thus has come to be known as the "Safe Island" of the Middle East. Despite the more or less insecure atmosphere prevailing all around the world, there has not been even one single case of terrorist attack reported from Iran so far.
The Certified Resorts
In those cities of Iran that are attractive to tourists, it is quite usual for locals to rent their houses to tourists. However, such kind of residence can give rise to certain problems and complications concerning accident insurance. So, you're advised to settle in specific places in operation under the supervision of Iran's Tourism Organization. Hotels, guesthouses, and local resorts that hold certificate are among the certified places to be used for such a purpose. If you're travelling with a tour, it is better to trust your tour-guide and the related agency for accommodation.
Connect to the Global Village in a Jiff!
Again, contrary to some negative propaganda in the western media, in Iran, it is almost possible to connect to the internet from all sorts of places (except in the depth of some caves and on some highly altitudinal mountains and the like) and so it is quite easy to gain access to the internet from anywhere you are. It would simply suffice to get to a sim-card from a selling center right after leaving the airplane (with a price ranging from 1.5 to 15$) and insert it to your phone. Once the sim-card is activated, having access to the internet will be possible and you'll be able to keep in touch with your family and friends via the common audio-visual applications. It is, however, often necessary to have your passport with you to be able to get a tourist-convenient sim-card.
In Iran, there are three major operators providing communication and internet services. Hamrah-eh Avval is an operator that exclusively works in the area of providing services for the tourists and, from there, you can purchase a customized sim-card known as "tourist-convenient sim-card" to be able to use its relevant services. Keep in mind that they only have enough credit in them to work for 30 days. So, if you wish to stay in Iran for a longer period of time, you should get a Rightel sim-card or use other types of sim-cards provided by Irancel and Hamrah-eh Avval operators.
Carry Iran's Currency
To cover most of the major expenses like the rent charge for your residence or the fee of a taxi that is supposed to take you from the airport to your hotel and vice versa, it is possible to use Euro, Pound, and Dollar. But, for more detailed and peripheral costs, you'll need to exchange your money to Iran's currency. At the international airport of Iran, IKA, there are exchange offices for this purpose. The same can be done in hotels. Moreover, there are certified exchange offices in operation in all of the major cities of Iran that can be referred to for this purpose as well. Read this section to become familiar with Iran's currency.
How to Interact and Communicate
Staring at someone, especially women, and kissing or hugging the same-sex people in public places is not that agreeable to Iranian culture. Also, it is not usual for a men to stretch hand for handshake when seeing a woman; and act which is generally considered against cultural norms.
Photographing Cultural-Social Landscapes
When taking photos of the cultural landscapes, especially if an Iranian citizen is being taken picture of, it is advisable to ask first. Like most people from all around the world, Iranians prefer their private sphere to be respected.
Tip is Not Mandatory
Giving tip to waiters or bellboys and baggage-carriers is not mandatory in Iran. These employees receive salary from their employers for the services they provide. However, it is up to you whether to give tip to them or not. This is, nevertheless, different for those who provide specific and exclusive services for you, such as carrying your backpack and belongings while hiking. A 5 to 10 thousand-Toman note would be considered a reasonable tip.
Beliefs and Conventions
In Iranian culture, mosques, shrines, and Imams' descendants' tombs are considered respect-worthy and holy and, as is the case for such places almost anywhere else in the world, visiting them requires demonstrating a respectful and modest conduct. At noon and in the afternoon, when the sunset is full, there will be a mass praying in mosques, and it won't be possible for tourists to visit grand mosques at that time. Yet, after only a few minutes when the ritual is over, it is OK to visit them.
Clothing and Dress Code
In Iran, women wear hijab. However, this hijab is quite different from what is seen in most of Islamic countries since it is colorful and diverse. Any dress which is not too stretched and covers the hands and hair is considered to be a sufficient dress code and there is no restriction whatsoever as to what color or what design you wear. So, addressing this much of hijab would suffice for touring around Iran, that is, in this country, there is no extreme measure taken or sensitivity shown about this issue and this fact can be easily appreciated if you have a look at the following photos of Iranian women.
Shorts and Sleeveless Shirts are Not Customary
In Iran men, as well as women, are not usually expected to wear sleeveless shirts or a very short pair of trousers or jeans in public places. However, this is not legally prohibited.
Carry a Scarf with Yourself
Covering a certain degree of hair is necessary for female tourist. So, it is better for them to have a scarf or shawl with themselves in order to respect the culture of their host society. As a result, you're advised to keep a shawl or scarf in your purse in order that you don't face any difficulty for getting one at the airport. If you don't have one with you, nothing of significance will happen apart from having to spend some time and money to provide one at the airport's shop.
Specific Rules for Visiting Certain Religious Attractions
For visiting some of the religious attractions of Iran (including Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, the Shrine of Holy Ma'soumeh in Qom, Shah'Cheragh Shrine in Shiraz etc.), women are required to use a certain Islamic dress code called Chawdor. In such attractions, it is distributed among the visitors for free. It consists of a one-pieced long gown which is patterned and large in size and worn by being placed over the head. Using this dress code is deeply rooted in cultural and religious conventions and is considered as a way of paying respect to that attraction. Men are not required to wear one. However, it is better that male tourists use Iranian usual outfit (that is, a shirt and a pair of trousers). To become familiar with Chawdor and men's outfit suitable for visiting such places you can have a look at the following photos.
Consuming Alcohol and Drugs is Not Allowed
According to the laws of Iran, carrying and consuming alcoholic beverages and drugs such as marijuana is not allowed in public places and, for this reason, there is no center officially providing customers with such materials or any restaurant or bar having them served to their customers. That having been said, like many other countries, there is the underground sale and consumption of such material which is generally considered as a social abnormality.
In Iran, only Hilal (or religiously approved) food is offered. It is not served or prepared with alcoholic beverages. The animal whose meat is supposed to be used for culinary purposes is slaughtered in a particular and religiously approved way. Also, dog, mouse, pork, and the like are not considered Hilal and thus not served and consumed in Iran.
Mind the Price Tags
Most Iranians are considered conscientious and ethics-abiding in trading with the tourists. However, like anywhere else in the world, there is the slim chance of falling victim to self-seekers. So, when shopping, pay attention to the price tags to prevent an unfair trade. In most cases, the prices are also written in English numbers. Consider the following table to become familiar with Farsi numbers and prevent experiencing any difficulty while reading price tags. Moreover, read this section to become familiar with the average prices of certain routine services.
Iranians are Sentimental and Hospitable
Hospitality and the outright expression of friendly sentiments are among the most common traits of Iranians. So, if you meet people in there who invite you to their place, feel excited for having met you, take photos with you, offer you a gift as a souvenir, ask your email address or Facebook profile to catch up with you later, shake your hand or hug you, do not feel perplexed.
Learn about Commuting Norms in Iran
In Iran, urban buses are divided into two gender-based separate sections for men and women. It is better to enter the section that agrees with that of yours. Also, the usual routine in Iran for taxis is to have four passengers (one in the front and three at the back seats). So, if you wish to be the only passenger of the car, you need to take the taxi exclusively and pay some extra fee. In certain cities, however, in addition to the express bus system and subway, there are taxi-locating applications like Snapp. So, only with buying an Iranian sim-card and inserting it to your mobile, you'll be able to order a taxi online. Have a look at the following photos to become familiar with the public means of transport in Iran.
Learn How to Use Iranian Toilet and Bathrooms
At the hotels and many attractive places, including fancy restaurants, malls, and cafes, you can use ordinary western toilets. However, in most places, there isn't such kind of toilet found and you should use Iranian toilets. To do so, you should squat on the floor. Nowadays, there is pipe water used via hose in almost all public bathrooms. Yet, keep in mind that in some of the public bathrooms and road bathrooms, you may not find handkerchief (since Iranians use water instead for washing purposes). So, if you insist on using it for cleaning yourself, have some in your pocket or purse. You're usually required to pay some small fee (about 500 Tomans) for using public bathrooms. However, if you don't have change with you to pay that fee, no one will prevent you from using such facilities.
Getting Sunbath and Swimming in Separate Beaches
Getting sunbath and swimming in norther and southern public coasts of Iran is possible in separate places for men and women. Yet, to take a walk on the shore and do sport or pursue recreational activities is not included in this gender segregation. This also holds for hotel's swimming pool. Also, in religious sites such as Imam Riza's Shrine in Mashhad, The Shrine of Holy Ma'soumeh in Qom, and also Shah'Cheragh Shrine in Shiraz etc., there are certain norms and codes which are expected to be addressed and respected. For instance, the entryway for men and women in such attractions are separate. However, after having entered the site, male and female tourists can join one another for the rest of their visit.
Greeting Brings about Well-Being!
In Iran, if you want to ask someone for directions or need someone to explain something to you, or at the time of entering a shop, museum, restaurant, café and the like, say hi first. Greeting is considered a proper way to start a dialogue, and, in Iranians' view, a way to show respect as a positive cultural norm. The Persianproverb that literally says "greeting brings about well-being" indicates the importance of it in Iranian culture.
Fork and Spoon Would Suffice
Unlike most European dishes, Iranian traditional ones need no knife being served along with them. Most often, you'll be able to simply have your dish with fork and spoon. Some foods, actually, only require spoon. Some others, whoever, are wrapped around by a loaf of bread and taken in by hand. To become familiar with Iranian eating norms and culture, check this section.
Individual Backpackers' Trip
Backpacking tourists are in complete safety as are those who travel with a tour. Yet, it is advisable to stay in places that hold the certificate of Iran's Tourism Organization and use official means of public transport while commuting. To learn about the fees of certain services, the backpackers can read this section.