The biggest question on people's minds - Is Iran Safe? This most commonly asked question is also the most easy to answer - Yes it's SAFE. So here are some common questions and responses from Westerners who have experienced Iran for themselves, in additional to useful safety information for visitors below.
I first traveled to Iran in 2012 but not by plane or bus, instead I cycled over the Meghri Pass from southern Armenia. I can tell you before arriving my nerves were tense: with $4,000 USD in cash and the Iranian visa I picked up from Budapest, my cycle journey from Belfast took me to the mighty doorstep of Iran.
While past Iran travelers advised me it was really safe and the people were great, the media told me it was the most dangerous region in the world. In reality I didn't know what to expect, other then my hardened senses of scams from countries elsewhere. However Iran and the rest of Central Asia was a far cry from dangerous. So forget everything you think you know of this region from the mainstream media.
I was given beds from strangers, meals, smiles and many other forms of hospitality. In fact, the people I had met from Jolfa (Armenia) to Sarakhs (Turkmenistan) I found to be genuinely more hospitable and caring than most other regions of the world.
With around 80 million people, Iran is a melting pot of Afghani's, Baluchis, Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Iraqis, Persians and a cocktail of Central Asians - Sound scary? Well think again, Iran is safe for travel!
If you travel in Iran you will very soon forget there is any political instability. I have just returned from three weeks and am British (so a country of an embassy was stormed just prior to my trip). Without a single exception, Iranians welcomed me like a long lost friend, genuinely happy to be meeting a British person and, if the issue of the embassy came into discussion, the person usually shook their head and joked that it was nutters who stormed the embassy, or otherwise expressed shame that this happened in their country. The reality is if you get into Iran, it is not the country the media portrays - it is a fantastic country of welcome.
Iran is perhaps one of the safest countries in the world, well for genuine travelers anyway. Assuming you avoid political issues, Iran is very safe because the locals are genuinely concerned that nothing negative happens to you.
While not unheard of, assaults and robberies are very rare. It is still recommended to exercise caution in busy and dark places, like everywhere in the world, especially if you are a women alone - it's safe but don't be stupid. While hospitality is bred into the heart of the culture somehow, there is still poverty, drugs and mental illness on the edges of society. But if you have traveled through SE Asia, Brazil's favelas, and Sydney's Kings Cross, then Iran is nothing to worry about. Even for American travelers.
Iran's cities are busy, the roads are wild, and the towns are very traditional. Iran might not be as modern and progressive as elsewhere, but it makes up for any 'lack of bling' with untouched culture. The food is unique and healthy, the history is incredible (for the good and bad), and you can genuinely connect to the people and how they feel about Iran.
Two safety tips for Iran: (1) Make trips out of the cities, and (2) avoid political debates and demonstrations. For the sake of peace and sanity.
While Iran is generally safe for travelers, there are some unique regulations and safety tips you should be aware of.
DO NOT get caught:
Most of these would be offenses in your home country also, yet perhaps with less harsh penalties that Iran has.
You should probably read about the 1979 Islamic Revolution to understand Iran's political evolution during the 20th century. This will help understand the current context of Iran's laws and regulations.
Remember if you do get robbed or are involved in an incident, the Islamic laws are often based on "eye for eye" principals. The principal of 'forgiveness' generally applies in many criminal cases, meaning forgiveness can be weighted against the case. However when affecting the stability of the country as a whole (for example rapists, drug lords, or repeated political destabilization) you'll find Iran's courts to be very heavy handed.
The "Morality Police," many Gulf and other Islamic countries have them, and in Iran they are called 'Basij.' Think of them as school prefects enforcing ethos. So if you thought the 10 Commandments were just religious stories, then Iran might just take you back to school.
Basij often wear casual clothes and roam Iran's busy streets (especially squares and bazaars), so are usually first on the scene to break up political demonstrations.
Generally there are no penalties against tourists for fashion, but you might get a friendly reminder if you are wearing something inappropriate.
The soft laws might include:
Aren't Iranians All Extremists?
If you have been the watching mainstream media you would probably think Iranians are flag-burning, embassy storming, and religious extremists. But this is probably the greatest misconception of labels, because Iranians will probably redefine your idea of hospitality, safe travel and love for westerners. Particularly if you travel alone and say "yes" to all the invitations.
The demonstrations you see on television are simply conservative groups making political statements on behalf of the Islamic Republic, if only to promote their sovereignty to foreign interference in the region.
Just sit down over a chai and a bowel of dates with the locals, and you will probably see most Iranians are motivated by very similar things as you: that is stability, health, education, and opportunity for their children.
In our experience - yes, we have been arrested a couple of times - the primary motives for arresting a foreigner are usually curiosity, mild suspicion, and the desire to appear powerful. In the unlikely event you are arrested:
- Keep cool, you are a tourist (jahangardi) and this is just a misunderstanding.
- It's best not to reply to, or appear to understand, any questions in Farsi.
- When you can understand the questions, they will likely be very detailed and you will be expected to answer. Do so politely, patiently, openly and diplomatically. Be complimentary about Iran and Iranians.
- Answer your interrogators so that their curiosity is satisfied, their suspicion allayed and their sense of self importance flattered.
- Take special care not to incriminate yourself or anyone else, especially anyone Iranian, with a careless statement. Do not volunteer to show your photos if they include images of Iranians, who could be unwittingly dragged into something. Equally, don't actively try to hide them as this would raise suspicions.
- If things get heavy, ask to contact your embassy in Tehran (though we were ignored when we made this request a few years back).
If you thought all the Middle East was dangerous - well think again. Here is an Iran safety map from the British Government: the areas in Red have a higher risk of danger for tourists, and the areas in Green have regular travel advice.
Inside Iran's Outside Reputation (Short Youtube Film)
For travel safety advice for Iran from western governments, refer to the below links.
This should be enough information to keep you safe in Iran.
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