- Until the very last moment we were doubting if we had to apply for a visa in advance in Berlin or not. We decided against it. In fact, to get a visa on arrival was very easy. Our flight landed in Tehran at 2 o’clock at night and we didn’t have to wait in a line. We submitted our documents to a visa counter (a filled out form and passports, no photo) and were told to wait.
- Next to the counter on an information sheet, a travel insurance was listed as a mandatory requirement to get a visa. We were not asked for one (though we had an ADAC insurance policy with us). In the opposite, some people from our flight had to request one from the nearby counter (10 days cost about 12 Euro). Probably, that is still a good idea to take your travel insurance with you if you have one.
- We were asked to provide a contact number of a person who could be our recommender in Iran. Our friend picked us up, so we didn’t have a problem. But the fact is, they actually called him. Keep this in mind when you go to Iran and be ready to provide the visa center with an invitation letter/ a name, phone number and address of a friend/ accommodation where you stay.
- Costs for a visa differ for citizens of different countries. Europeans pay 60 Euro, Russians – 70, Australians – 105 and people from Sri-Lanka – 20. Cashier sits next to the visa center. You can pay in Euro or in dollars, but cash only. When you paid, you proceed to the first counter and exchange the receipt and your passport with a visa. The whole procedure lasts about 40-50 minutes (if there is no big line).
- The size of the visa is standard: one full page of your passport. Usually, they issue a visa that is valid 30 days. Probably, this time will be enough to explore Iran from North to South. We had only eight days ahead of us.
- The second important thing to think about when you plan your trip: money. You have to take with you enough cash for the whole trip. There are a lot of banks and ATMs in every city, but the trick is they work only with local Iranian debit/credit cards. Money withdrawal with an European card is literally impossible. Take cash and change it at in one of the official exchange points. They have a good rate and give a warranty that the money is real and current. Avoid changing money on the street. Many people will suggest you to do so – refuse and search for an exchange bureau.
- In the beginning, Iranian money could seem confusing and you can easily mix up 1,5 and 15 Euro. For a reference, 15 Euro is sufficient amount of money to pay one night in a 1-2 stars hotel. We heard a story from a fellow traveler: he mixed the notes up and paid 30 euro extra when paying for a taxi. The taxi driver happily disappeared for good. Therefore, when you get your exchange money, study them carefully and try to get used to them. The biggest amount of money is one of the smallest notes in the size.
- During our trip local currency had the following course: 1 Euro = 40 000 Rials = 4 000 Tomans.
- Generally, people tell prices in Tomans. But not always. Sometimes we had to re-ask what currency is meant – Rials and Tomans.
- Traffic on the streets is just crazy. Zebras don’t exist, you have to watch out your every single step. If there is a traffic jam, motorcyclists use the sidewalks. They even ride inside a market, full of people and children. Probably, renting a car would be not such a wise idea if you also plan to explore the bigger cities and not only drive from one small city to another.
- Another trap could be the ditches between the road and the sidewalk. They could be could quite wide and easy to overlook in the darkness.
- Public transport is quite good. In Tehran they have an underground, with it you can reach almost any place in the city. A single trip costs 10 000 Rials, that is 25 cents. In smaller cities you take public buses, shared taxis and private taxis. Make sure you negotiate the price before you get in the car. We had a couple of occasions when a non-English speaking taxi driver agreed to one price too quickly and then continues calling his friend who is speaking some English and asking for an increase. Afterwards, we used to repeat the price several times and make sure the driver means it in Tomans. Still, the taxi prices in Iran are very acceptable. Especially in the smaller cities such as Kashan. You pay only 5 000 Tomans to get from the bus station to your hotel.
- Intercity buses are great. Low prices and good quality. You can take a VIP bus for some extra money and get more space and feet and back support. Meal (juice and cookies) is served on every trip. We were travelling in low season and could book too seats in a bus at the same day. Either you go to a travel agency you see on you way when exploring a city or you go directly to the bus terminal and ask when is the next bus to the city you head to. Usually, at the reception desk in the hotels they know the approximate timetable and can help you with arranging your trip to the bus terminal.
- There is an option to book online as well, I checked the sites of the companies – unfortunately, they are in Farsi only. We were travelling with the two following transportation companies and were completely satisfied: Hamsafar and Levan Nour.
- When you purchase a ticket, make sure you clarify the number of the bus station, name of the transportation company and your seat numbers. Otherwise, they will be written in your ticket in Farsi only.
- Make some effort and learn at least the numbers in Farsi.
- Basically, you need the first (to read the prices) and the third (to negotiate with the taxi-drivers) rows only. Thus, you will get better along on the markets and in restaurants (the bills are usually only in Farsi).
- If you want to be polite, remember couple of other words in Farsi:
- Hello – Salam (you have definitely already heard it)
- Thank you – Merci (yes-yes, like in French) or Kheyli mamnoon
- Please – Lotfan
- Very tasty – Kheyli khoshmazeh
- How much? – Gheymatesh chande?
- Friend – Doost
- Tee – Chay
- Coffee – Ghahveh
To sum up, you need to take care of the following when you are going to Iran:
- An invitation letter/ contact information of your recommender in Iran
- Travel insurance
- Enough cash for the whole trip
- Basic knowledge of Farsi numbers
- Remember the different between Rials and Tomans
- Note your seat numbers, time of departure of the bus and the bus station
- Watch the traffic on the streets (and your step)
To be continued: the next part is about the right dress-code, correct behavior, hotels and photography…