Iran

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Safety and security

British nationals - including dual British/Iranian nationals - face greater risks than nationals of many other countries. The security forces may be suspicious of people with British connections. The risks are likely to be higher for independent travellers or students than for people travelling as part of an organised tour or business people invited by the Iranian authorities or companies.

There’s a risk that British nationals and British/Iranian dual nationals could be arbitrarily detained in Iran. In such cases the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has serious concerns that the subsequent judicial process falls below international standards. The Iranian authorities don’t recognise dual nationality for Iranian citizens and therefore don’t grant consular access for FCO officials to visit them in detention.

Any behaviour that doesn’t have an obvious explanation can put you at risk, no matter how innocent you believe it to be. This may include travel off the beaten track, being present near crowds or sensitive sites, having contact with Iranians who are of interest to the authorities, taking photographs (except in major tourist sites), or behaviour that could be perceived as contrary to official Iranian interpretations of Islam. The threat to travellers is likely to be higher if there’s any national unrest, terrorist incident or an increase in tensions between Iran and the international community.

You should consider carefully the risks of travelling to Iran. If you choose to travel, you may wish to keep a low profile.

The Iranian authorities have in many cases failed to meet their international obligations to notify embassies when foreign nationals have been detained. If a dual-national is detained the Iranian authorities won’t notify the embassy as they view dual nationals as Iranian citizens. Even if requested, adequate consular access to foreign nationals isn’t always granted and is never granted for dual-nationals. You should therefore keep in close touch with family or friends back home.

Border areas

Border areas are particularly sensitive. The FCO advise against all travel to: areas within 100km of the Iran/Afghanistan border; within 10km of the entire Iran/Iraq border; the province of Sistan-Baluchistan; and the area to the east of Bam and Jask, including Bam. This area is notorious for banditry and is the main route for drug-traffickers from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The towns of Zahedan, Zabol and Mirjaveh are particularly insecure.

Some Iranian officials and media reports have falsely alleged a UK connection to separatist groups in Khuzestan and Sistan-Baluchistan. If you travel to these areas against our advice, stick to the main routes to avoid accidentally entering the numerous restricted or military zones.

Crime

There have been some attacks and robberies against foreigners. Young men on motorcycles or in cars have snatched bags from individuals either on the street or through open car windows/doors.

There have been attempted robberies by bogus policemen, usually in civilian clothing. If you are approached by anyone who claims to be a policeman, ask to see their ID and request the presence of a uniformed officer or marked patrol car. Don’t hand over any documents or cash, or get in to any vehicle.

There have been incidents of motorcycle taxis taking tourists to quiet locations where they are then robbed.

Take sensible precautions to protect yourself from street crime. Avoid carrying large amounts of money and keep your passport safe. Pre-booked taxis are safer than those hailed from the street.

Road travel

Iran has a high rate of road accidents. Take great care when travelling by road, including by public transport and when crossing streets. If you’re involved in an accident, no matter how minor, don’t leave the scene. Wait until the police arrive to make their report.

The Iranian authorities sometimes set up informal roadblocks both in cities and on main highways. They are often staffed by young and inexperienced officers. You should always carry your identification with you and avoid getting into disputes.

If you wish to drive your own vehicle into Iran, you may be subject to Iranian customs and other regulations. There are special requirements for travellers wishing to bring motorcycles into the country. Women aren’t allowed to drive a motorcycle on public roads. Contact the Iranian authorities for details well before you travel.

Air travel

In 2010 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Iran.

You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network.

The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.

All aircraft operated by Iran Aseman Airlines and some aircraft operated by Iran Air have been refused permission to operate services to the EU.

Sea travel

Many areas of the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf are highly sensitive politically. The waters around the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Persian Gulf are particularly sensitive and are militarised. In 2005 a British couple who anchored at Abu Musa were detained and French and German nationals were imprisoned for entering the waters near the island. In November 2009 a group of British sailors were detained for a week, along with their yacht, after accidentally sailing into Iranian waters in this area.

Mariners should not attempt to dock at all or sail into waters around these islands without express permission from the Iranian authorities.

You should maintain a high state of awareness and be alert to local and regional tensions which may affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.

In April 2015, a container ship with an international crew was detained by Iranian forces while transiting the Straits of Hormuz, following what the Iranian authorities said was a court order relating to a commercial dispute; the ship and crew were released 9 days later.

Political situation

The Majeles elections in February 2016 passed peacefully, despite accusations of electoral fraud and discrimination. However demonstrations continue to be heavily policed with security forces deployed in large numbers and there have been reports that protestors have previously been taken into custody. You should stay away from demonstrations, rallies, large crowds and areas where police and security forces are deployed. International news events can sometimes trigger anti-western demonstrations. Western diplomatic missions have been the focus for previous protests. There is the potential for protests or demonstrations to occur on Fridays after prayers. If you are unable to leave the immediate vicinity quickly, you should find a place of safety off the street, preferably indoors.

Consular assistance services

If you need routine consular assistance in Iran you should contact the British Embassy on telephone: +98 (0)21 6405 2000 to make an appointment.

In an emergency, including if you need an Emergency Travel Document, you should contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on telephone: +44 20 7008 1500 (24 hours).

Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HM Passport Office) is the sole issuer of British passports. Since 2014, British passports are only issued in the UK and are no longer issued by Embassies or High Commissions overseas. At present, you can’t apply for a British passport from Iran.

HM Passport Office is working to provide a service for customers in Iran. In the meantime, if you’re in Iran and need to apply for a British passport, you should apply in a neighbouring country of your choice. You can find details of the application process on the GOV.UK website. If you need further information and advice, you should contact HM Passport Office.

If you’re a dual national and are arrested and detained, the British Embassy won’t be able to provide routine consular assistance as Iran doesn’t recognise dual nationality.

Terrorism

Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Iran. Attacks could happen anywhere, including in places visited by foreigners. Several bombings have taken place in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. These attacks are believed to have been carried out by Sunni extremist groups.

The last major attack in Iran was in 2010 when a Sunni extremist group carried out a suicide attack against a mosque in Sistan-Baluchistan killing 39 people. Kurdish groups have carried out small scale attacks against Iranian security forces in the north-west of the country. Be vigilant and keep your security arrangements under review.

There is a threat of kidnap to foreign tourists in the border areas. The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking.

There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Local laws and customs

Iran is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan.

In 2017, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 27 May and finish on 25 June. See Travelling during Ramadan

Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. In any public place women must cover their heads with a headscarf, wear trousers (or a floor length skirt), and a long-sleeved tunic or coat that reaches to mid-thigh or knee. Men should wear long trousers and long-sleeve shirts.

There are additional dress requirements at certain religious sites. Women may be asked to put on a chador (a garment that covers the whole body except the face) before entering.

Relationships between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal, although few Westerners have been prosecuted. If a Muslim woman is found in a relationship with a non-Muslim man, she may be sentenced to be whipped.

Women should take extra care, particularly when travelling alone or with friends of the opposite sex. If you’re a woman travelling in Iran you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas. See these travel tips for women travellers.

Unmarried partners and friends of the opposite sex travelling together should be discreet at all times in public. Iranian hotel managers could insist on seeing a marriage certificate before allowing any couple to share a double hotel room. Homosexual behaviour, adultery and sex outside of marriage are illegal under Iranian law and can carry the death penalty.

Women’s magazines and DVDs or videos depicting sexual relations are forbidden. There are occasional clampdowns. Satellite dishes and many Western CDs and films remain illegal.

The import, sale, manufacture and consumption of alcohol in Iran is strictly forbidden on religious grounds, with exceptions only for certain recognised Iranian religious minorities (not foreigners). Penalties can be severe.

Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited. Sensitive government buildings and facilities are often difficult to identify. Take extreme care when taking photographs in any areas that are anything other than very obvious tourist attractions.

Using a laptop or other electronic equipment in public places can be misinterpreted, especially if it contains photographs. You may be arrested and detained on serious criminal charges, including espionage. It’s better to ask before taking photographs of people.

Penalties for importing and possessing drugs are severe and enforced. Many individuals convicted of drug offences, including foreign nationals, have been executed.

Importing pork products isn’t allowed.

The Iranian legal system differs in many ways from the UK. Suspects can be held without charge and aren’t always allowed quick access to legal representation. In the past, consular access has been very limited. The Iranian authorities don’t grant consular access to dual-nationals.

In some cases, we believe that individuals involved in commercial disputes with Iranian companies or individuals have been prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute.

As a representative of a British or western company, you may be subject to particular attention. British business people travelling to Iran should take appropriate steps to protect commercially sensitive information (including password protection of electronic devices (minimum 4 digits) and not taking unnecessary information with you). Electronic devices may be screened by customs officials on arrival and departure.

You should carry a photocopy of your passport for identification. Make sure you have included emergency contact details.

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

British nationals need a visa to travel to Iran. You should make your visa application well in advance of your date of travel. The application process for an Iranian visa can be long and unpredictable.

The Iranian Embassy has told the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that to get a visa you must either apply as part of an organised tour, or have a sponsor in Iran. Check with the Iranian embassy for more information and advice.

Check the expiry date of your visa before travelling. If you overstay your visa, you may have to remain in Iran until the situation is resolved. Some British nationals have experienced considerable difficulties trying to get visas from private online visa agencies.

Women, and girls over the age of nine, should wear a headscarf in their visa application photos.

Iranian visas aren’t required for entry to Kish Island where you can stay for 14 days without a visa.

Passport Validity

Your passport must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date a visa application for Iran is submitted.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Documents (ETDs) aren’t valid for entry into Iran but are accepted by the local authorities for exit from Iran. If you’ve entered Iran on a British passport which has been lost, stolen or damaged the British Embassy may be able to issue an ETD. Before leaving Iran using an ETD you’ll need to get an exit visa from the Iranian Bureau of Alien and Foreign Immigrants Affairs.

Previous travel to Israel

If your passport contains an Israeli stamp or stamps from other countries’ border crossing points with Israel, you may be refused entry to Iran.

Dual nationality

Under Iranian law, all Iranian nationals must travel to and from Iran using an Iranian passport. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be Iranian, you may be regarded as an Iranian national by the Iranian authorities – eg, if your father is Iranian, or if you’re married to an Iranian man.

In order to return to the UK you’ll need to demonstrate to the Iranian authorities that you have a right to return. At present the Iranian authorities are accepting the presentation of a British passport on departure if you don’t have a UK visa in your Iranian passport. However, the Iranian authorities could change their position on this and it’s officially illegal in Iran to hold two nationalities.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

Travelling with children

Under Iranian law, a female parent travelling with her children must have the (usually verbal) permission of the father to take them out of Iran. This is assumed to be the case by Iranian immigration authorities unless the father has petitioned the court, and/or the court has ruled to prevent the children travelling. For further information contact the Iranian Embassy or Consulate nearest you.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Medical facilities are reasonable in the major cities but poor in remote areas. Many health professionals speak some English. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 115 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment

Natural disasters

Most of Iran is prone to earthquakes. In 2003, a large earthquake hit Bam, in south eastern Iran, and around 30,000 people died.

To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Money

Debit and credit cards won’t work in Iran. There are no cash machines that accept UK bank cards. It is usually not possible to change travellers’ cheques. You should bring enough hard currency with you ($US or Euros). It is illegal to change money on the street.