Trans Eurasia travel

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Iran is a safe place to travel, so much so that many travellers describe it as the safest country they have ever been to. Violent crime against foreigners is extremely rare and, indeed, if you do your best to fit in with local customs, you are unlikely to be treated with anything but courtesy and friendliness - that applies to Americans, too.

Western embassies advise their nationals to register on arrival, especially if you will be in Iran for 10 or more days, or plan to visit remote places.


Any crime carries severe penalties in the Islamic Republic. It is likely that the greatest danger you face (other than crossing the road) is having your wallet, purse or camera snatched, especially in Esfahan. Keep photocopies of the most important pages (including the visa if possible) of your passport and air ticket, and spare passport photos separately, and don't flash money or expensive camera equipment ostentatiously. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has warned that bogus policemen had approached some visiting foreigners, advising that in such circumstances you should insist on seeing an identity card and inform the restaurant, shop or hotel of the incident. Remember that no Iranian policeman has the right to take or retain your passport unless you are in a police station.

Iran is very safe for women travellers. Harassment is now minimal, especially if you wear the manteau, as it is assumed you are Iranian and/or Muslim. But be aware that it is very unusual for a single woman to walk unescorted in public at night.

Basic things to be aware of:

Kidnapping & terror

The road from Kerman to Bam, Zahedan and Pakistan is unavoidable if you are travelling overland to or from Pakistan. In the past few years travellers have been kidnapped in three separate events on this road, all associated with a disgruntled drug smuggler trying to get a relative out of jail. They were all eventually released unharmed and reported being 'treated well' though for one Japanese man kidnapped in Bam in 2007 it took several months.

Unrelated to this, in Zahedan and elsewhere in Sistan va Baluchistan province Sunni extremists have conducted infrequent but persistent attacks on Iranian military and civilians that, given it's been going on for several years, amounts to a low-level insurgency. The leader of these Jundollah extremists was captured and eventually hanged in 2010, but sporadic events have continued. So far no foreigners have been targeted.

Clearly travelling in this area is not as safe as travelling elsewhere in Iran. But people continue to do it, usually without trouble. If you are coming this way, particularly east of Bam, keep a low profile, don't go off alone and do your research.

Police & security forces

Uniformed police and military are ubiquitous but have no interest in hassling foreigners. In cities such as Esfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad you will find helpful Tourist Police - usually including an English-speaker - in conveniently located booths.

Photographing the wrong thing is the action most likely to arouse police interest. In all cases you should act unwittingly and emphasize you are tourists. Don't argue in these situations.

Road safety

Iranian driving is unpredictable and it's on the road - or crossing it - that you are most likely to be in danger. Leaving aside the nightmare of Tehran traffic, which guarantees road rage and ulcers, be aware that Iranian lorry and coach drivers work very long hours, few private vehicles have reflectors or working lights and their drivers disregard every rule in the book. Traffic does not necessarily stop at a red light, nor wait until green before setting off. There is little you can do to control this beyond asking your driver to slow down (yavash tar boro!) or taking a train.

Security checks

Foreigners are expected to carry their passport at all times, but this can be tricky as hotels are also supposed to keep guests' passports for police inspection. Always carry several photocopies of both your passport's face page and your Iranian visa, and if you go out of town leave a photocopy at reception and take the passport. If you are stopped, show your photocopies unless you are sure the police are genuine.

On roads near borders your transport is likely to be stopped by police searching for drugs and other smuggled goods.

Personal conduct

Be aware that it is easy to break an important social convention without realising it and this can affect your safety. If you are confronted with officialdom, do not lose your temper, do not shout, do not threaten. Be polite, apologetic if not abject. Ladies, forget all feminist scruples and cry. Always insist on seeing someone who speaks English (any other Western language will be difficult).