More travellers pick Iran despite government cautions

Foreign tourist numbers seem set to increase into Iran as relations with the West ease, but many governments are still cautioning their citizens against heading into the Islamic Republic.

The number of tourists has grown over the last few years, with over 5 million visitors in 2014. The country is aiming for 20 million per year by 2025 according to news.com.au, and the country’s officials have said they are prepared for a “tsunami” of tourists to enter the country.

A garden and view of Qavam House in Shiraz, Iran.

A garden and view of Qavam House in Shiraz, Iran. Image by dynamosquito / CC BY-SA 2.0

Sanctions against the country are also loosening after Iran and the US reached a plan of action over the country’s nuclear program.

Maarten Kawkernaak, a traveller from the Netherlands, posted on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum about his positive experiences travelling in the country with his girlfriend in an effort to share information about travelling as an unmarried couple in the country.

On their two-week trip last year, he said they encountered friendly and warm people, and did not encounter issues from being unmarried. An avid traveller, he said he wanted to go as he had heard it was a friendly country, even though the Netherlands has a travel warning for Iran. He said that if you look at what information that is based on “it is mostly a political statement, not a safety warning”.

Kawkernaak noted that the country was not well suited to low-budget travellers, as there is very little cheap accommodation and limited choice. There are also no ATMs that foreigners can use, he added, so that means travelling with a lot of cash. However, there wasn’t any time when they didn’t feel safe he said, even walking in Tehran at night.

The ruins of Persepolis are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ruins of Persepolis are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Image by Blondinrikard Fröberg / CC BY 2.0

While many countries have recently relaxed their travel advisories to Iran, most Western countries, including the US, UK, Canada and Australia have some sort of travel warning for visitors heading there.

The UK government website warns that there have been some attacks and robberies against foreigners, as well as attempts by fake police officers.

Iran does not recognise dual citizenship, so consulates are not able to assist those who also hold Iranian citizenship. Canada closed its embassy in Iran in 2012 and advises that any consular services for citizens there would be delayed.

But many travellers continue to enjoy safe and inspiring trips into the country.

Golestan Palace in Tehran, Iran.

Golestan Palace in Tehran, Iran. Image by Fulvio Spada / CC BY-SA 2.0

In the past, getting a visa to Iran could be difficult for residents of some Western countries and many major airlines suspended flights into Iranian cities. But, the cultural significance of Iran is clear; the country has 19 UNESCO world heritage sites, including Persepolis, the Persian Garden and the Golestan Palace. It had been a popular place for young travellers back in the 1970s, but that fell off following the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Not all travellers may have similar experiences; some nationalities need to have authorized tour guides for the extent of their trips, including passport holders from the UK, Canada and the US. Some guides warn that Israeli passport holders, or people with an Israeli entry stamp, may be refused entry.

There are new visa regulations that allow for people to apply for visas on arrival to the country for residents of 58 countries including many European, Central Asian, and South American countries; however citizens from the USA, UK, Canada, Jordan, Afghanistan and others cannot obtain their visa on arrival.

According to Human Rights Watch, despite the election of a moderate president in 2013, “the country has seen no significant improvements in human rights” and notes that the country continues to jail journalists, bloggers and social media activists.

Places from this story

Related content