While the general Iranian population tends to be open to Western (including American) travelers, a ticket purchase must be preceded by extensive research on the current state of relations as well as the general risks taken when entering the country. The U.S. State Department’s travel advisory gives a special warning to dual national Iranian-Americans, as the detention of Iranian-American journalists, academics, students and business people on charges of espionage is a regular occurrence.
So what should you know before you travel to Iran?
To be clear, Iran is no typical vacation destination. However, neither is it horror stories and extended detentions. Many people have a wonderful time in Iran and receive a warm welcome from the people they meet.
As of May 2017, there are no official travel restrictions for US citizens entering Iran. However, obtaining a visa requires some legwork. There is no Iranian embassy in the U.S. so applicants have to go through either the Special Interests department of the Pakistani embassy or apply at an Iranian embassy overseas.
You also have to make a reservation with an Iranian guide before entering the country because U.S. and U.K. citizens are not allowed to travel without an Iranian guide. Check out G Adventures for a tour option.
If your visa application is approved, travel and customs entry are fairly regular, although you will be fingerprinted when passing through customs.
Female travelers have to follow Iranian clothing standards. Headscarves must be worn in public and long sleeves and long pants are musts. There is a degree of flexibility for foreign travelers, but leave the shorts at home.
While on the ground don’t expect to stray from your guide. Some may be more flexible than others, but the rules say you have to stick to the guides. Do your best to avoid contact with any security personnel as well, as they might not be quite as friendly as the everyday people you meet on the street.
The bottom line is this: follow the rules and you will almost certainly be just fine. Bend or break the rules and your “just fine” status will just as certainly go with the wind. So do your research. Know the worst case scenarios and read the U.S. State Department’s travel warning, but also read the blogs from regular travelers who had excellent experiences. Remember that many of the Iranian people you will encounter will give you a warm welcome, but also know that a government that is highly suspicious of U.S. travelers will act quickly if you stray from their established guidelines.