Welcome to Iran

Here’s a letter I wish someone from the Iranian tourism authority had sent me before flying one-way into Iran alone. 

One of the many beautiful gardens, this one in Fin, Kashan

One of the many beautiful gardens, this one in Fin, Kashan

Dear Tourist,

Welcome to Iran. We are a land famous for beautiful mosaics, Persian carpets, and ancient empires, and a people known the world over for our hospitality and endless supply of tea. However, please be aware of the following things before traveling in Iran.

We have a rich cultural history surrounding our bath houses and hammams, but presently social bathing is illegal and all our historic bathhouses have been turned into museums. There are banks on every corner, but none will accept your debit card and withdrawing money from abroad anywhere in this country is impossible. Bring a lot of cash because visa and mastercard (or any other international credit cards) are not accepted, and get used to a lot of zeros because even small things, like a taxi fare, are counted in the hundreds of thousands. Our money is printed as and called rials, but people refer to tomans, which is ten times less, so don’t get ripped off by paying ten times too much or insult someone by trying to pay ten times too little. However, for anything touristic, such as entrance to a museum, you will have to pay for an entrance ticket three to ten times more than a local. Also a taxi ride or a hotel room will be (legally) charged at a higher rate, since the government enforces different costs for foreigners. The same cup of coffee will not cost the same for you and a local, even if you order together.

You are not allowed to wear shorts, skirts or sleeveless shirts or anything else that would show your knees or shoulders. Please learn how to read Arabic numbers, since house numbers, streets, costs and bus numbers will usually only be written with them. Drivers are a little crazy and crossing the road inside or outside of a car are equally dangerous. Make sure you ride the metro or public bus in the right compartment – men in the front, women in the back!

If you are a woman, please also note: You must wear a hijab or wrap your head in some sort of scarf in all public places and inside cars. You cannot wear a skirt, but you must have a long enough jacket or shirt or skirt over your pants to cover your hips, so make sure you layer your pants under more clothing, preferably black. You cannot sing or dance in public or infront of men. You are not allowed to drive a motorcycle, or get on a motorcycle behind a man driving, since touching another man who is not your spouse or family member is a crime. Walking down the street with someone of the opposite gender who’s not related to you is also not allowed. Depending on the city you’re in, it’s also illegal to ride a bicycle, smoke cigarettes, or play pool. You must sit in the women’s only section of public transport, and of course mosques have a smaller women-only section which you can enter after wrapping yourself (and every part of your hair) in a chador (a big sheet, usually supplied to you).

Facebook, Twitter, and wordpress are some of the websites blocked in Iran, so make sure you get a virtual hotspot app if you want to access any of these sites. Airbnb and Coucshurfing are technically illegal too, and some couchsurfers are simply using the site to find an outside connection for help out of here, either with a visa, a foreign wife, or better-paying job offer. If you are a single woman, some men may consider trying to marry you, so pretend you’re married and wear a fake wedding ring. Or better yet, travel Iran with a man; it will save you a lot of hassle from taxi drivers wanting your phone number, men in bazaars following you, or random creepy men that assume western women are all super horny and none of them are virgins.

Since you are a tourist, many of these rules slide, but if an ethics police officer harasses you more than 3 times for any of the above, the punishment is prison or lashes, and adultery or rape will get you executed.

Welcome to Iran. We hope you enjoy your stay!

Women only

Women only

3 thoughts on “Welcome to Iran

  1. £Make sure you ride the metro or public bus in the right compartment – men in the front, women in the back!”
    Wrong! Subway cars are all mixed except for the two at the very end at either side which are Women Only; that is, Men Don’t Enter! Intercity buses are also mixed. In-city buses depend only on the driver (most often male), so a female bus driver gets a front female compartment. Yes, you ARE allowed to wear a skirt (ankle-length), with or without pants. Yes, you can get on a motorcycle behind a man driving. No, there’s no legal preference for a black or dark-colored dress or scarf! That’s just formal clothing. Popular color. Users are NOT banned to use Facebook or Twitter; The Leader’s Office and The President personally use Twitter almost daily. Even using a VPN software is NOT legally banned to bypass filtering in Iran (selling unauthorised VPN is). It’s that Facebook and Twitter are officially banned to work in the country for security and data mining/selling reasons , thus filtered out. They are not registered companies. End users just use them with their own responsibility. And NO, Arabic numerals are those commonly used in English! (1234, or Western Arabic numerals, technically Hindu–Arabic numeral system. Interestingly, the current form was developed by Persian mathematician Khwarizmi, who also gives his name to Algorithm and invented Algebra). Iranian numbers are sometimes called Indian numerals but are technically called “Eastern Arabic numerals” in English. Also of note, all inter-city road numbers in Iran are written in both numbering systems, and everybody in Iran recognizes both numerals; so you could just ask. No, you don’t get lashes for violating the hijab law unless there’s no scarf on your head at all, or you might not even face a fine if you wear it over loosely. Iranian laws are enforced with quite a lot of tolerance. And yes, any credit cards except local ones do NOT work in Iranian banking system because of US unilateral sanctions, which are still effectively in place several months into the Iran Nuclear Deal!
    I hope this helps!

  2. Women may often sit in the male section of an in-city public bus if their dedicated section is full, but, and I hereby kindly warn you, not the other way around: No male is allowed in dedicated female compartments, be it on a bus or in a metro, or in a dedicated concert or party for that matter (in case they violate women’s privacy or limit their freedom to choose). On a side note about inter-city buses, it is recognized as being a rider’s right to choose his or her co-traveller, so if you’re from the opposite sex as the very person you want to sit beside, you should ask for their permission. By default, it is taken for granted that the person prefers otherwise. A simple reorder follows in case genders unwilling to co-travel don’t match on every seat.
    I must add, capital punishment can be sentenced for “public” adultery (at least in front of two other people witnessing the actual intercourse), but not in any other scenario. Don’t ever try bullying or rape; on anybody, anywhere.

    • Correction: At least 4 other people, not 2, must testify seeing the exact penetration happening beyond the point or would-be point of circumsision.

      There are a plethora of conditions listed in Iran Penal Code (2013) for the capital punishment to apply, some are:
      1. A Capital Punishment (CP) does not apply when an adulterer’s actual spouse is not accessible for sexual intercourse, like during periods such as travel, imprisonment, menstruation, lochia, any illness that prevents sexual intercourse, or any illness that puts the other party at risk such as AIDS and syphilis.
      2. CP only applies when a man is married to a permanent and pubescent wife provided that he has had vaginal intercourse with her already whilst he has been sane and pubescent and could have had vaginal intercourse with her wife whenever he so wished; and only when a woman married to her permanent and pubescent husband who has had vaginal intercourse with her already whilst she had been sane and pubescent, and if she could have had vaginal intercourse with her husband.
      3. CP applies only if, in addition to having knowledge, intention, and meeting the requirements for criminal responsibility, adulterers were aware of the prohibition of the conduct committed under the rules. It does not apply if adultery happens by mistaking some one for their spouse, either.
      4. CP applies only on the condition that all witnesses saw the precise penetration accidentally not intentionally, not because of looking into people’s homes, or looking at naked people, or not when preplanned.
      5. For the capital punishment to apply, the adultery must be consensual, and not by rape, in which case, only the rapist gets capital punishment.
      (CP Rape is defined as sex by coercion or force, including while the victim is unconscious, asleep or drunk. Rape also includes deceiving and enticing a non-pubescent girl, and abducting, threatening, or intimidating a female, even if she surrenders herself as a result of that. Non-CP Rape does not require penetration and any nonconsensual touch amounts to that.)
      Note that a victim of rape does not need any witness whatsoever and it only requires for the victim to claim being raped, plus any way a court can prove that, including forensic or medical tests.

      Any failure on the part of the four witnesses to testify the same setup or to meet the above conditions or any delay between each testimony would result in 80 lashes for all testifiers each, plus an eradication of any chance of accepting their testimony in whatever case in courts henceforth.

      (Source: Iran Penal Code 2013, Book II, Articles 217-232)

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