Theoretically every major city in Iran has a tourist office but these are rarely located centrally and are poorly signposted if at all.
The inexpensive, official road map published by Ershad Geographic Organisation, is available from well-stocked street kiosks, at airports, hotel bookshops, etc. An invaluable resource, it identifies the approximate locations of filling stations, tourist inns (mehmansaray, with a restaurant and simple accommodation) as well as incorporating new roads.
In 2011 it became compulsory to have travel insurance to get a visa to Iran. When looking for a policy, make sure Iran is actually covered. Some insurers, particularly in the USA, consider the region as a danger zone and either exclude it altogether or insist on exorbitant premiums. Travel in areas such as Kordistan and Sistan va Baluchistan might not be covered if your country's foreign office warns against travelling there.
Opening and closing times can be erratic, but you can rely on most businesses closing Thursday afternoons and Friday (the Iranian weekend). Friday is the day of prayer in Iran and most shops, businesses and offices close then. Sights, especially government-operated museums and landmarks, open for longer during the warmer months. On other days, opening hours can vary quite considerably from one region to another. In general, shops close for an hour or two at lunchtime and stay open until 8pm, whereas government offices are only open from 8am to 2pm.
The opening hours of many sights and business change between No Ruz (March 21) and September 21, when many closing times are pushed back by an hour. In hotter areas many business close their doors from about noon until 4 pm - along the blistering Persian Gulf coast doors stay shut until about 5 pm - but businesses then operate in the relative cool of evening until about 8 pm or 9 pm.
Banks - 8 am to 2 pm Saturday to Wednesday, 8 am to noon Thursday.
Government offices - 8 am to 2 pm Saturday to Wednesday, 8 am to noon Thursday.
Museums - 9 am to 6 pm summer, 4 pm or 5 pm winter, closed on Monday.
Post offices - 7.30 am to 3 pm Saturday to Thursday, some main offices open later.
Private businesses - conduct business 8 am or 9 am to 5 pm or 6 pm Saturday to Wednesday, until noon Thursday. Often closed over lunch.
Restaurants - lunch noon to 3 pm, dinner 6 pm or 7 pm to 10 pm, or whenever the last diner leaves.
Shops - 9 am to 8 pm Saturday to Thursday, but likely to have a siesta between 1 pm and 3.30 pm and possibly close Thursday afternoon.
Telephone offices - 8 am to 8 pm or 9 pm; close earlier in small towns.
Travel agencies - 7.30 am to 5 pm or 6 pm Saturday to Thursday, 7.30 am to noon Friday.
Iran's country code is 98. To dial out of Iran call 00; if calling from outside Iran, drop the initial 0 from all area codes. Phone numbers and area codes change with disconcerting regularity, but in general numbers include a three-digit area code and a seven-digit number. The exception is Tehran, where 021 is followed by an eight-digit number.
More than 90% of Iranians have mobile phone access and most travellers buy a SIM card on arrival. If you need a payphone, cards are available in newsstands, though most are for domestic calls only. In our experience, every second card phone is broken. Local calls are so cheap that most mid-range and better hotels, bus stations and airport terminals have at least one public telephone permitting free local calls.
International calls are also relatively cheap to most countries. The rates can be had at small, private telephone offices (usually open from about 7.30 am until 9 pm), where you give the number to the front desk and wait for a booth to become available. You will normally be charged a minimum of three minutes. In many cities, international calling cards are available from newsstands, grocery stores and coffeenets.
You can't make reverse-charge (collect) calls to or from Iran. Hotels are by far the most convenient place from which to telephone abroad and long-distance calls are relatively cheap. From Tehran hotels, the connection is usually quite quick, but it may be necessary to wait an hour or two when calling from smaller towns as all calls abroad have to go through a receptionist.
It is also possible to send telegrams and telexes within the country or abroad from post offices in the larger towns. These services are also available in the bigger hotels.
Iran has several mobile-phone networks but only two, government-owned MCI and MTN Irancell (www.irancell.ir), which is owned by the Iranian government and South African group MTN, enjoy wide coverage. Of these, Irancell has pay-as-you-go SIM cards that non-residents can buy for a copy of your passport (most people buy and get the SIM activated on arrival at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran). Top up your credit at vendors displaying yellow and blue MTN signs, who always charge about 10% more than the card's face value.
Irancell SIMs allow GPRS data transfer after a free registration process, and WiMAX has been rolled out in several cities. The GPRS service is unreliable and download speeds slow.
Current is 220V AC, 50Hz. Wall sockets are mainly the European, two round-pin type.
Weights & measures
Iran uses the metric system.
Most Iranians have squat toilets at home, but the majority of better hotels have thrones or a choice of loos. Almost all public toilets are squats and while some are regularly cleaned, others are very definitely not. Still, there are usually enough options that you won't have to enter anywhere too stinky. Mosques, petrol stations, bus and train stations and airport terminals always have toilets.
As Muslim law stipulates washing under running water, bath and basin plugs are not usually provided. For the same reason, toilet paper is usually found only in the better hotels and restaurants (to be deposited in waste-paper bins, as Iranian soil pipes have small diameters); you may not fancy using the toilet's cold-water douche.
Fortunately, most of the ubiquitous small grocery stores stock toilet paper or tissues. All but the cheapest guesthouses now supply toilet paper too, though sometimes you will need to ask. Whatever you use, most plumbing is not designed for paper so put your used sheets in the bin not the bowl.