There’s an interesting country on 2016’s list of trendiest places to visit. Have you noticed? It’s Iran.

This Middle Eastern nation has been recommended over and over this year as a top spot to travel—and if you’re anything like us, you did an initial double-take. Iran? Really? Isn’t it dangerous there? Aren’t Americans forbidden from visiting?

We thought the same thing—but as it turns out, we were wrong. In January of this year, sanctions against traveling to Iran were lifted, opening the country’s doors to American tourists. It’s also—contrary to popular (mis)belief—quite safe to travel within.

Visiting this gorgeous country in 2016 is something you should seriously consider. How come? The longer Iran’s open to US tourists, the more Americanized the tourist experience will become. If you head over as soon as you can, you maximize your chances of seeing this Middle Eastern country in its most authentic, untouched state. Now that’s a travel experience to write home about (or post on Instagram about, more likely).

Not sure how to go about planning a trip to Iran? We’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting this Persian wonder.

Safety

Borna_Mirahmadian / Shutterstock

Borna_Mirahmadian / Shutterstock

Due to the US’s historically contentious relationship with Iran, this is probably number one on your list of concerns. Here’s the scoop: While sanctions against traveling to Iran have been lifted, the US State Department does still have a travel warning in place for US citizens considering a visit.

How come? The US’s relationship with Iran is still complex, and any diplomatic communications that happen between the two countries has to first go through Switzerland. As a result, if a tourist gets into any legal trouble while visiting Iran, it will be challenging for the US to intervene on his or her behalf. This is especially true for travelers who hold dual Iranian/American citizenships.

That said, however, the likelihood of any traveler getting into such a predicament is fairly low. Western tourists—hailing from the US, Europe, Australia, and more—visit Iran all the time, coming away with nothing but Instagrammable photos and stories to boot. The Iranian people are famous for their warmth, hospitality, and even their love for Americans. Be ready for locals to ask to take a photo with you!

As with any international adventure, exercise caution and good judgment if you plan to visit Iran. But overall, this is not a vacation choice that’s likely to pose any extraordinary risk (except, maybe, breaking the Internet with all your awesome photos!)

How to Get There

JPRichard / Shutterstock

JPRichard / Shutterstock

Just book a flight to Tehran! LOL, just kidding. It’s not that simple.

US citizens cannot visit Iran independently. Don’t even try it. You have to go with an organized tour—there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Find your tour before you book your flight.

Once you’ve settled on a tour service and you’ve booked your flight, get ready to navigate the Visa process. You’ll need a Visa to enter Iran, contingent on proof of your participation in an organized tour and your possession of a roundtrip ticket. This process is fairly straightforward, but could take months to process, so plan everything well in advance.

What to Expect

Mansoreh / Shutterstock

Mansoreh / Shutterstock

Get ready for some serious culture shock, folks! Diving deep into Persian culture will be one of the most rewarding aspects of your trip to Iran, but it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into before you arrive. Preparation is key!

Make sure you bring plenty of cash. You won’t be able to use your debit or credit cards while you’re in Iran, so take literally as much as you’ll need for the entire duration of your trip. You can exchange your cash into the local currency when you arrive.

Be prepared to have a dry vacation! And no—we’re not talking about the weather. Buying, selling, and consuming alcohol is illegal in Iran, so having a night of drunken debauchery won’t be on the itinerary. Adjust your expectations accordingly!

What to pack? Bring clothes that conform to the local culture. Women are expected to cover their hair and to dress modestly. Bring a lightweight scarf to wrap around your locks, and plan to wear a lot of maxi dresses and/or leggings with long tunics (they should fall at least to your knees). Bring a light cardigan as well, to cover up your arms at least to your elbows. As for the guys: Shorts are not allowed. Don’t pack ‘em!

Michal Knitl / Shutterstock

Michal Knitl / Shutterstock

Finally, get ready for some seriously complex customs around manners! Iranian social norms are very complicated, so it’s a fair bet that plenty of your interactions with locals might leave you a bit baffled. But there’s one rule of thumb that’ll always get you through: Be humble. Gratuitously, ridiculously humble.

It’s considered rude (aka not humble) to accept any offers without refusing them at least three times first, so if a shop owner offers you tea, don’t be too quick on the uptake. Politely turn him down at least three times (“Oh no thank you, I couldn’t, you’re too kind”), before finally accepting the tea. This applies to literally everything, so be prepared for, say, your cab driver to refuse payment the first time you offer it to him. Don’t take this as an actual invitation to not pay people for their services! Just keep offering up your payment until it’s socially acceptable for it to be accepted.

What to See

Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

This part of your trip should require the least amount of prep on your end, because you’ll be going with an organized tour! When you’re choosing which tour to go with, though, some can’t-miss sites to look out for include the Ruins of Persepolis, Isfahan’s Naqhs-e Jehan Square, and Shiraz’s Pink Mosque.

Are you considering a trip to Iran in 2016? What most interests you about this gorgeous nation? Let us know in the comments!

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2 Responses

  1. Jenna Oppenheimer

    I loved reading the article on visiting Iran. My boyfriend is currently living there and I was thinking about going, and shocked when I found out I could not go unless accompanied by a guide.

    I am also contacting you on behalf the fact I would love to contribute to this website. Please inform me how I can do so. My contribution would be on the topic, “Checklist when shipping your car abroad.”

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    Reply
  2. Xena

    Very interesting, thank you. I didn’t know that I had to go with an organized tour but I will start looking into it now as I’d like to spend more time traveling in the Middle East. It sure is quite different from Jordan and I will act accordingly.

    Reply

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About The Author

Hannah Winsten

Hannah Winsten is a freelance writer and marketing consultant living in New York City. A total travel junkie, Hannah came to CheapOair as a French translator and SEM associate after returning from a stint living abroad in Paris. She’s also working on her first book--you know you want to read it. Find her on Twitter at @HannahRWinsten.