For many years, one thing that has always kept many travelers from coming to Iran has been safety concerns. Many people — mostly Westerners — have always thought of Iran as one of the most dangerous places on earth. But why everyone seems to be worried about traveling to Iran? Is the situation in the country really that bad? In this article, I will try to explain what Iran really looks like and why the media has been trying to fool everyone for many years.
The Islamic revolution of 1979 marked a major shift in Iran’s tourism industry. For many years, Iran was considered (and advertised) as an unwelcoming destination for travelers. As a program to attract more tourists to the country, citizens of more than 70 countries can now get a Visa on Arrival (VOA) in a number of ports of entry. The word is spreading every day on the internet and social media and people are sharing their experiences in Iran, most of which are overwhelmingly positive.
Travel Risk Map 2019
According to the 2019 Travel Risk Map, launched by global risk experts International SOS in collaboration with Control Risks, Iran is listed in the “Low Risk” category. The majority of European countries are also falling in this category. According to their website, this report uses a number of factors like political violence (including terrorism, insurgency, politically motivated unrest and war), social unrest (including sectarian, communal and ethnic violence) as well as violent and petty crime to determine the risk of traveling to every country in the world. Other factors, such as the robustness of the transport infrastructure, the state of industrial relations, the effectiveness of the security and emergency services and the country’s susceptibility to natural disasters are also considered. You can check their website for more details on what every risk category is defined.
People, People, People
Iran is definitely one of the most misunderstood countries in the world. For the same reason, many travelers are surprised to see how the country and its people are completely different from their expectations. Many frequent travelers find Iran safer than most other destinations. Almost every solo female traveler I have talked to has confirmed that they feel more comfortable walking alone at night in the cities of Iran compared to some European countries.
When you first visit Iran, one of the first things you might notice is the amount of attention locals give to you as a tourist. Most Iranians tend to show a lot of respect towards foreigners. It is very common to be invited for a cup of tea or even for a dinner at their home. In fact, making friends in Iran is definitely what will make your experience unique.
The Money Problem
International credit and debit cards do not work in Iran, which means you need to have cash with you at all times. Needless to say, this might create some inconvenience knowing you have to carry all your money with you in cash. Therefore, Iran Tourist Card is a convenient solution for your financial needs in Iran. Learn everything about Iranian money here.
The Middle East is known for being a man-dominated region. In Iran, however, things are a bit different. Women’s presence in the society, especially in bigger cities, is much more noticeable compared to the other middle eastern countries. We have a comprehensive article regarding the safety of Iran for solo female travelers. In general, Iran is considered a safe destination for female travelers. Iranian police are very strict about any sort of misbehavior.
The Scariest Thing About Iran
Maybe you’ve heard about it before: we Iranians are not good drivers (and we don’t seem to be sorry about it!). A simple rule to keep in mind is that cars are the rulers of the roads. Do not expect drivers to stop the car or slow down for you to cross the street, even on a crosswalk. If it seems to be a challenge for you to cross the streets, always wait for another pedestrian to cross and follow them. Also, if you do decide to cross the street by yourself, make sure that the driver has acknowledged your presence.
If we take another look at the Travel Risk Map for road safety, we can see that Iran is unfortunately displayed as a “Very High Risk” destination when it comes to road safety. The major roads can be generally categorized as safe and well-maintained, but it is usually the careless drivers and the quality of most cars which make the roads unsafe. The good news is that bus drivers face a lot more strict rules and are usually more careful with their driving.
If a taxi driver is going too fast, try to ask them to slow down, this will hopefully work in most cases. To ask them, you can politely say: “Yavāshtar, lotfan!” which means “Slow down, please!”.
Traveling to “Prohibited” Regions
The safety of traveling to the Western regions like Kurdistan or Sistan va Baluchistan region in the East has been always questioned by travelers wanting to visit more non-touristy areas of the country. While some countries ask their passport holders not to travel to parts of these regions, there are still adventurers who choose to explore their beauty. Visiting these areas is an extraordinary experience.
In Western regions, you meet Kurds and Lurs who are famous for their hospitality and fascinating culture which for a good reason, they’re all proud of it. As a matter of fact, many tourists choose to travel to the Western regions like Kurdistan, though it is advised by some sources not to travel within the 50 kilometers range of the Iran-Iraq border.
For a long time, Sistan va Baluchistan region has not been a popular destination among Iranians and foreigners. Although, this is changing quickly as some cities like Chabahar have attracted many Iranian tourists in recent years. Speaking of Chabahar, this part of the region is generally considered as safe as other parts of the country as the government has been investing in creating a tax-free trade zone. However, if you’re planning to travel to the little-known parts of the region, I recommend traveling with a local guide. Being close to Pakistan and Afghanistan borders and the police struggle with smugglers has kept many travelers from visiting the region. As a result, many stunning parts of the region are yet to be discovered.
Terrorist Threats in Iran
This might be obvious to anyone who has a little understanding of Iran, but for those who don’t: any concern regarding being targeted in a terrorist attack in Iran is complete nonsense. I have seen some resources listing Iran as a high-risk country in terms of terrorist attacks, and this is a big lie.
Generally speaking, violent crimes against tourists are almost unheard of in Iran. But like any other destination, you should always keep an eye on your belongings, mostly in crowded places like bazaars or metro stations where pickpocketing can be a problem.
We have talked to a number of travelers and asked their opinions about Iran. If you are still not sure about choosing Iran as your next holiday destination, this video might help!