Transport in Iran
International sanctions have made Iran increasingly isolated, but it is fairly simple to get into the country on a plane, by train from Turkey or across numerous border crossings from neighbouring countries.
Entering the Country
Assuming you have a visa, most immigration and border officials are efficient and tourists rarely get too much hassle. Land borders can take longer if you are on a bus or train. Women need to be adequately covered from the moment they get off the plane or arrive at the border. Arriving without a visa is risky, as the visa on arrival process sees a lot of people turned away.
On arrival, an immigration form must be completed (you retain the pink carbon copy until leaving Iran), and a simple customs declaration form which is surrendered to customs officers. The main international airport in Iran is in Tehran, but foreigners with valid visas can also enter/exit Iran by way of various Arab Gulf states eg: Abu Dhabi and Bahrain to Shiraz, Bahrain to Mashhad, Dubai to Ahvaz and Bandar-e Abbas airports. Sometimes the exit guards check your baggage check-in tag with that on your luggage. The same procedure is followed at the land frontiers.
Iran will not issue visas to Israeli passport holders, and people with an Israeli passport will be turned away at the border (you won't get on a flight to Iran with an Israeli passport). Similarly, having an Israeli stamp in any other passport will see you turned away or put on the next flight out.
Iran has a surface area almost seven times that of the UK and distances between towns are often very great. The quickest way of getting around is by plane. Iran Air operates scheduled flights between all the major towns; they are generally cheaper than flights of the same distance in Europe, although prices have recently increased and future increases are likely. Flying is a popular means of transport with Iranians and tickets are difficult to buy unless you make a reservation well in advance. It is essential to bear in mind when working out your itinerary that flights are frequently delayed and even cancelled. Reservations can be made in Iran Air offices in all the major cities.
The vast majority of international flights come to Tehran. However, some travellers are choosing to start or end their trip in Shiraz, saving some backtracking.
Airports & Airlines
Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA) sees most of Iran's international air traffic. It's small, so delays are possible. Elsewhere, Shiraz, Esfahan, Bandar Abbas and Kish are (in that order) potentially useful arrival or departure points, while Abadan, Ahvaz, Mashhad, Tabriz and Zahedan are less useful. Note that Caspian Airlines, Kish Air and Taban Air have all had fatal crashes in the past 10 years.
Iran Air is the national airline and has the Ноmа, а mythical bird, as its symbol. Most of the aircraft used on domestic Iran Air flights are nearing the end of their serviceable life, especially those purchased from ex-Soviet republics whose service history cannot be guaranteed. The last major crash was in February 2004, when a Kish Airflight came down, killing everyone on board. Think twice about using any non-Boeing, non-McDonnell Douglas or non-Fokker plane for internal flights. Note that no alcohol and no pork are permitted on board, and that women should dress suitably. The airline's website, www.iranair.com, is not particularly helpful.
Tickets & Routes
Buying tickets in Iran for flights from Iran is best done through an agent; Iranian airlines have yet to master internet bookings or even reservations.
The Middle East is a popular staging point, with several airlines connecting Tehran, Esfahan, and Shiraz to the world via various Gulf airports. East and Southeast Asia also have quite a few services, but there are no direct flights from North or South America. Instead, most people come through Europe, where a host of airlines have regular flights to Tehran, or the Middle East. As usual, less direct routes (eg via Moscow) are usually cheaper.
It's possible to arrive to Iran by land from seven countries. Crossing from Turkey is easy and from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is doable with varying degrees of hassle. The borders to Afghanistan and Pakistan are straightforward, but check security before you head to these. Foreigners cannot cross into Iraq proper, though the border to Iraqi Kurdistan is open intermittently.
Trains are a comfortable and relatively quick way of getting around, but the railway system is rather limited; there are no railway lines, for example, to Shiraz or Hamadan. The east-west line goes from Tabriz (and Turkey) to Mashhad, via Zanjan, Tehran and Semnan. A smaller line links Tehran with the Caspian coast and passes through Sari and Gorgan. The second main line leaves Tehran for the south, splitting at Qom into two separate lines, one running south-east to Yazd and Kerman, and the other south-west to Ahvaz and the port of Abadan. There are three classes of seats and berths in the overnight trains. Tickets have to be bought at the station except in Esfahan, where there is a ticket office in town at Enqelab-e Eslami Square.
The inter-city coach system covers the entire country. The various bus companies have been organized into cooperatives, each one identified by a different number, such as Cooperative Bus Company No 1, also known as Iran Peima 1, No 2, or No 5. The main towns have several coach stations, some of which are shared between companies, while others belong to a single company. Seats on the buses are numbered - and it is wise to buy one's ticket ahead of time.
Bus and Taxi
For getting round within a city, there are both buses and taxis. Unless you can speak and read a minimum of Farsi, the bus system can turn out to be extremely complicated as stops are not always well indicated and the number of the bus as well as its destination are written in Farsi only. Taxis are either collectively owned or belong to agencies; they can be hired from the hotels for short excursions or ones lasting up to a whole clay.
There is no reason why you can't ride in and out of Iran at any of the land borders. A small but steady stream of cyclists cross between Turkey and Pakistan.
Car & Motorcycle
To bring your own vehicle into Iran, you must be more than 18 years old and have an international driving permit. For the vehicle, you'll need a camet de passage (temporary importation document). Assuming your papers are in order, crossing into and out of Turkey and Pakistan is usually pretty straightforward. Third-party insurance is compulsory, and if you don't already have it, it can be bought in Maku, near the border. If you already have insurance check that it's valid for Iran (this is increasingly unlikely due to sanctions) and accredited with Iran Bimeh, the Iranian Green Card Bureau.
No one but the police is allowed to have a motorbike with an engine larger than 150cc. However, foreigners in transit can ride bikes of any size. With big bikes so rare, expect to attract plenty of attention.
Shipping vehicles across the Persian Gulf is possible but tedious, but a reasonable number of people do it nonetheless. Rules and ferry times change regularly.
Iran has 2410km of coastal boundaries along the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Caspian Sea, but there are relatively few ways to enter or leave Iran by sea.
The main shipping agency for trips across the Persian Gulf is Valfajr-8, which operates car ferries and catamarans between Bandar Abbas and Sharjah once or twice a week. As services are infrequent, oft-delayed and more expensive than flying, few people bother.