One reason so few people visit Iran is that getting a visa can be difficult. The process is slow; somewhat unpredictable and rules seem to change without warning. But the vast majority of people do get a visa within two or three weeks and, once they have been to Iran, believe the hassle was worth it. But start the process early. Note that all applications stall over the Nowruz holiday period; submit before 8 March to be sure.
Who Needs a Visa?
Everyone needs Iranian visa except for nationals of Turkey, Malaysia, Syria, Georgia, Azerbaijan (15 days), Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador.
Tourist Visa on Arrival
Nationals of the following countries can apply for a 15-day tourist visa on arrival: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Oman, Palestine, Peru, Phillippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovak (Rep.), Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.
In theory, tourist visas are available on arrival at all international airports and all you need is your passport and the name of an Iranian qualified to sponsor you - for example a hotel manager or travel agency principal. You supply the name and phone number and the immigration officer calls to confirm you are a tourist. The service is mostly working but there are a number of reported cases when tourists were turned down and refused entry. So to be on a safe side we would recommend to secure visa beforehand in one of the Iranian diplomatic missions abroad. All applicants have to have return/onward air ticket to be eligible. Extensions to these visas are also harder, with another 15 days usually the maximum.
Note!!!: Entry will be refused to citizens of Israel and travellers with any evidence of visiting Israel: not just Israeli entry stamps, but Egyptian/Jordanian neighbouring land borders with Israel.
Validity and duration
Iranian visa is issued with indicated duration of stay in the country (maximum 30 days) and has a 3 months validity from the day you receive it. This means that you have to enter the country within 3 months from receiving the visa it. So, you can enter the day before the visa expires, and then stay in Iran for as long as your visa duration states (10 days, 30 days,…). Iraninan visa is easily extended (check appropriate section on the left).
Which Visa? Pros & Cons
First, it's important to understand the process. Except with transit visas, all visa applicants must be 'approved' by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Tehran. This inсludes those seeking a visa on arrival, who can be approved either in advance or, with a longer wait, on arrival.
If you are approved, the MFA sends an authorisation number to the consulate, which takes your application form, passport photos and fee and issues the visa. Fees vary depending on your country of origin.
Transit visas are only fractionally cheaper than tourist visas and, while they don't require authorisation from Tehran, only give you up to seven days. The choice, then, is whether to get a tourist visa in advance or on arrival.
There are two ways to get a tourist visa.
- Do It Yourself - you can go directly through a consulate, which saves an agency fee but can take around three weeks and often longer. You need to check with the embassy/consulate as in some the process is much easier and more staightforward than in others. Check our embassy report page for more details. In theory, you download and fill out the application form from the Iran consulate in your home country; take or send the forms and your passport, photos, money and proof of your travel insurance to the embassy, and they will send your details to Ministry of Foreign Affiars in Tehran for approval. Several weeks later you might, if you are lucky, be contacted with the result. Otherwise you will need to contact them, which is not always easy. If all goes to plan, you will eventually either pick up the visa in person (some embassies require women to cover their hair), or have your passport returned in a registered-mail envelope. Exceptions abound. With a bit of uncertainty, if you choose this option, give yourself four-six weeks or longer to be sure.
- Use an Agency - use a visa agency that will get you an authorisation number. In most cases you fill out an electronic form with details of your itinerary and where you would like to collect your visa, attach digital copies of photo and passport, and the agency sends this to Tehran. The MFA claims that for most nationalities it takes between five and ten working days to assess the application, but in reality (in peak spring-summer seasons) this might take longer. The agency will charge you a fee (ranging from 30 to 50 Euros). There is no refund if your application fails, but few are rejected. Once the authorisation number is received, the agency will forward it to you and your nominated Iranian embassy/consulate. You then need to go through the application process as a formality, and in most consulates the visa is issued on the spot.
If you are British or American, expect both methods to be slower, more costly and more arduous.
To get a 30-day (extendable) business visa you must obtain an invitation letter from the company or organisation you plan to visit. The process is otherwise the same as getting a tourist visa. People coming for a conference or to play in a spoiling event need an 'entry visa'.
Sponsors & Visa Agencies
Any Iranian can sponsor your application, which in effect means they submit the paperwork for an authorisation code. But in most cases it's easier to use a travel agency or one of the specialist visa agencies. Keep in mind, though, that even with an agency there are no guarantees.
Hints for visa applicants
- Email If asked for one, opt for something generic and avoid .gov accounts.
- Itinerary If you want a 30-day visa, write a 30-day itinerary. Keep controversial places such as Bushehr, Natanz and border regions off your agenda. Once in Iran you can go where you want.
- Occupation Teachers, nurses and data-entry clerks are more welcome than unloved journalists, military personnel or anything to do with fashion. Be aware that the MFA might Google your name.
- Purpose of your visit Tourism. One guy, applying for a visa on arrival, wrote 'to see Iranian girlfriend'. He was deported.
- Photographs Women will probably need to have their hair covered (any scarf will do) in their visa-application photo. Check embassy websites.