Iran is said to be as old as history itself. Formerly known as Persia, this Middle Eastern paradise is the site of one of the earliest civilizations on the planet. Throughout ancient history, the mighty Persian Empire influenced the culture of different parts of the globe. Even today, Iran offers the unique experience of being in the cradle of a glorious culture and civilization (see The top ten empires of the Ancient World). Taking pride in its recorded history spanning three millennia, Iran is a diverse land with a great variety of environments. You can enjoy the breathtaking legacy of hallowed stonework and ruins, the warm waters of the Persian shores, and exciting winter sports in its mountains. If that sounds good enough for you, why don’t you travel to Iran? First, however, you need a visa.
Who needs a visa?
All foreign nationals entering Iran are required to have a visa, except citizens of the following countries:
- Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
- Saudi Arabia
Note: Nationals of Israel are not allowed to set foot on Iran under any circumstances.
There are many types of Iranian visas available. Although the standard length of stay allowed is one month (30 days), the validity duration still varies depending on the country you are from, the country you will collect the visa from, and the current situation in the Foreign Ministry of Tehran. Sometimes, it may be tough to obtain any type of visa that will allow you to stay for more than 10 days.
Tourist Visa. If you wish to travel to Iran only for sightseeing purposes or to visit your family and friends, a tourist visa is what you need. With this visa, you can stay in Iran for up to 30 days, during which you are not allowed to do any business or make money in any way. This visa is available in single and multiple entry types.
Entry Visa. Effectively a business visa, an entry visa is what you need if you want to enter Iran for economic, cultural, commercial or industrial purposes. This is also the visa for those attending cultural or economic conferences, or those participating in sporting competitions and events. With this visa, you are allowed to stay for up to 30 days. If you’re a commercial visitor, however, you must obtain a letter of invitation from the organization or company that you intend to visit. Entry visas are available in single, double and multiple entry types.
Press Visa. Journalists who intend to travel to Iran on business must possess a press visa. Application for this type of visa must be made to the embassy’s Press Section.
Transit Visa. If you wish to pass through Iran on your way to another country, a transit visa is exactly what you need. As with a tourist visa, you are not allowed to make money along the way. This visa is valid for only five days.
Work Permit Visa. If you wish to work in Iran, you must apply for a work permit visa. The first thing you need to apply is a work permit from the company for which you will be working.
Pilgrimage Visa. If you are a Muslim pilgrim who intends to visit the sacred shrines and sights of Iran, a pilgrimage visa is the type for you.
Student Visa. As its name suggests, a student visa is for foreign nationals who want to study or do research in Iran.
Diplomatic and Service Visa. Holders of diplomatic, official or service passports who intend to enter Iran, either to work in a consular mission or to undertake an official visit at the Iranian government’s invitation, are required to obtain a diplomatic and service visa.
How to apply
The first document that you should obtain to be issued an Iranian visa is a letter of invitation from a sponsor. The letter must be authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
If you’re applying for a work permit visa, the invitation letter must come from the company you are going to work for. For a press visa, ask the press section of the embassy for this letter. For an entry visa, the invitation letter must come from the concerned private or government agency that is organizing the event. For a diplomatic and service visa, the Iranian government will provide you a letter of invitation.
If you need a tourist visa, you may obtain your letter of invitation from the Iranian government upon your sponsor’s application. Your sponsor is the person (friend or relative) whom you intend to visit. If you don’t know anyone in Iran, a hotel or tour operating agency can legally serve as your sponsor. Your sponsor must send this letter to the concerned agency in Iran, which will forward it to the Iranian embassy or consulate managing your application. The entire process may take a minimum of one month. Thus, you have to prepare as early as possible.
Not all tourists are issued an invitation letter. It is important that your sponsor is aware of all the requirements. Here is the necessary information that must be provided when your sponsor applies for an invitation letter to be issued:
- name of applicant
- last name of the applicant’s parents
- marital status
- date and place of birth
- passport number, validity, and issue date and place
- site and point of arrival and departure
- name and address of your employer
Once the letter of invitation is ready, contact an approved Iranian travel agent. Let them do the dirty work for you. They will apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for you. Once your visa is authorized by the MFA, it will be faxed to the Iranian consulate or embassy near you. Ask your travel agent for your visa authorization number, which will be your reference number when you claim your visa at the consulate. Remember that the number only means that your visa has been authorized by the MFA. This is not the visa itself.
After getting your visa authorization number, obtain a visa application from the consulate or download it from the official website of the Iranian embassy in your area. Here are the documents you need to produce:
- two copies of duly filled out application form
- valid passport for six months or more
- two passport-size photos
- visa fees payable by money order or cash
- day-by-day itinerary
- two-way tickets
- evidence of hotel reservation
- Women are requested to wear Hejab in their photos.
- You passport must have at least two blank pages
Refer to the embassy or consulate to submit your passports and visa application forms with the authorization number they gave you. Do it by post or at the consulate personally. From here, it might take one to five working days to issue your visa. Also, bear in mind that the duration of your stay is at the discretion of the MFA.
You are allowed to visit only the cities or regions indicated on the visa. Failure to adhere may lead to an unscheduled departure. Thus, you have to enumerate the places you have to visit on your day-by-day itinerary.
If you wish to stay in Iran for more than three months, you have to obtain a residence permit. You can do so when you’re already in the country. Just go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran or to Police Headquarters. Apply within eight days of your arrival.
American citizens who were citizens of Iran at one time, who have become naturalized citizens of Iran or who were born in Iran, and the children of such individuals are considered Iranian nationals. Hence, despite the fact that they possess US citizenship, they must use an Iranian passport when entering or exiting Iranian territory.
If you have dual citizenship (both Iranian and American), make sure you use your Iranian passport instead of your US passport and you have an exit visa. Exit visas are required for US-Iranian dual nationals. You cannot leave the country as a US citizen. The Iranian authorities have often confiscated US passports of dual nationals upon arrival. Hence, before you enter Iran, leave your US passport at the nearest US embassy or consulate for safekeeping. If you lose your US passport, you must know how to replace a lost US passport.