What makes Iran a unique country to travel to?
Iran is a constitutional Islamic republic with a theocratic system of government where ultimate political authority is vested in the highest religious authority, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is the final authority on all domestic, foreign, and security policies for Iran, though he establishes and supervises those policies in consultation with other political bodies. Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran, and Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the state. The Iranian constitution guarantees freedom of worship to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, though they and followers of other faiths are often the subject of discrimination and repression. The work week in Iran is Saturday through Thursday; however, many government offices and private companies are closed on Thursdays. Friday is the day of rest when all establishments are closed. Offices in Iran are generally open to the public during the morning hours only.
Major crime is generally not a problem for travelers in Iran, although foreigners occasionally become victims of petty street crime. Young men in unmarked cars have robbed foreigners and young men on motor bikes have snatched bags. There have been reports of robberies by police impersonators, usually in civilian clothing. Insist on seeing the officer’s identity card and request the presence of a uniformed officer/marked patrol car. Travelers should not surrender any documents or cash. You are advised to make a copy of your U.S. passport (biographical data page and the page with your Iranian visa) and to keep it separate from your original passport.
Travelers should not carry large amounts of hard currency while on the streets. In view of the possibility of theft, passports, other important documents, and valuables should be kept in hotel safes or other secure locations. Pre-booked taxis are safer than those hailed from the street. U.S. citizens should check with their hotel or tour guide for information on local scams.
Don’t buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, purchasing them may also violate local law.
While you are traveling in Iran, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit but still illegal in the United States; for example, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Iran, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not in your destination country.
U.S. citizens in Iran who violate Iranian laws, even unknowingly, including laws unfamiliar to Westerners (such as those regarding the proper wearing of apparel), may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Fines, public floggings, and long prison terms are common. Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution. Drinking, possession of alcoholic beverages and drugs, un-Islamic dress, as well as public displays of affection with a member of the opposite sex are considered to be crimes. Relations between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal, as are adultery and sex outside of marriage. DVDs depicting sexual relations and magazines showing unveiled women are forbidden. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iran are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Iran executes many people each year on drug-related charges.
The Iranian government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords. In addition, the Iranian government reportedly has compiled a list of the claimants who were awarded compensation in the Iran Claims Program administered by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. The Iranian government has allegedly been targeting award-holders who travel to Iran. It has been reported that upon some claimants' entry into Iran, Iranian authorities have questioned them as to the status of payment of their respective awards with a view to recouping the award money. The Iranian government has also reportedly threatened to prevent U.S. claimants who visit Iran from departing the country until they make arrangements to repay their award either in part or its entirety.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran as soon as you are arrested or detained in Iran.
The official language in Iran is Persian, but many other languages or dialects are spoken.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Basic medical care and medicines are available in the principal cities, but may not be available in rural areas. Medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards and sometimes lack medicines and supplies. Iranian authorities confirmed outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) in January 2008 in northern Iran, as well as earlier reports of outbreaks among wild swans in the Anzali Wetlands and in domestic poultry in the northern provinces of Azerbaijan and Gilan. There were a number of confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in 2009.
Safety and Security
U.S. citizens who travel to Iran despite the Travel Warning should exercise caution throughout the country, but especially in the southeastern region where Westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband. Terrorist explosions have killed a number of people in Iran in past years. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to areas within 100 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan, within 10 kilometers of the border with Iraq, and generally anywhere east of the line from Bam and Bandar Abbas toward the Pakistan border.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings. Increased tension between Iran and the West over the past several years is a cause of concern for U.S. citizen travelers. Large-scale demonstrations in response to politically motivated events have taken place sporadically throughout the country, resulting in a significant security presence, arrests, and occasional clashes between demonstrators and security officials. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. U.S. passport holders who are arrested or detained by Iranian authorities should request assistance from the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.
Iranian security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited and could result in serious criminal charges, including espionage, which carries the death penalty.
The United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) has advised that elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of maritime attacks being conducted by extremists to vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.
MARAD recommends vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds should be especially vigilant and report suspicious activity. U.S. flag vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report such suspicious activity or any hostile or potentially hostile action to COMUSNAVCENT battlewatch captain at phone number 011-973-1785-3879. All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at the following toll free telephone: 1-800-424-8802, direct telephone 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477. The complete advisory is available on the MARAD website at www.MARAD.DOT.gov.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Iran, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Travelers in possession of International Driver’s Permits may drive in Iran, though the U.S. Interests Section in Iran does not recommend that tourists drive in Iran. Iran has a very high rate of traffic accidents, the second highest cause of mortality in the country. Drivers throughout Iran tend to ignore traffic lights, traffic signs, and lane markers. Urban streets are not well lit; it is therefore particularly dangerous to drive at night. Sidewalks in urban areas exist only on main roads and are usually obstructed by parked cars. In residential areas, few sidewalks exist. Drivers almost never yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. If you are involved in an accident, no matter how minor, do not leave the scene; wait until the police arrive to file a report.
Iranian authorities sometimes set up informal roadblocks, both in cities and on highways, often manned by young, inexperienced officers who are suspicious of foreigners. Ensure you carry a form of identification with you and avoid getting into disputes.
Very high pollution levels from cars, particularly in Tehran, can trigger respiratory problems.