When I originally thought about writing a post asking “Is Iran Safe For Tourists?,” I was going to try to be funny. The idea was to just type “YES!” and let the post stand on its own. And the fact is, that’s true. Iran is a very safe country and you don’t need to worry about going there. The hardest part for me was the pre-trip planning and getting a visa! But like everything else, the answer is a little more complicated. Let’s start with your pre-trip mindset.

Is Iran safe for tourists - The mosque in Isfahan
The mosque in Isfahan

When I first started planning this trip, it was hard to break out of the thinking that Iran is dangerous. We never hear about all the good things happening in this country because that doesn’t get television ratings. So I worried about a lot of things.

  1. What if someone who read our About Us page figured out I am gay and was waiting for me?
  2. What if something in my backpack wasn’t “legal”?
  3. Would my guide be “watching” me the entire time I was there?
  4. What if an overzealous police officer stopped me for some reason?
  5. What about the mythical “morality police”

Everything was “What if? What about? What if?”

Is Iran safe for tourists - A group of children found me in Shiraz
A group of children found me in Shiraz

And the truth is, none of that was an issue. After all, I wasn’t wearing rainbow clothing or making out with random guys in the streets, so I didn’t have to worry about being gay there. I packed what I normally pack. No one searched my bags looking for anything. Everything I brought was still there when I opened my pack – including my prescriptions. As far as I know, no one cared about anything I wrote on social media. No one “watched” me while I was there, including my guide. I didn’t have anything but positive interactions with police officers (who were always helpful when I asked for directions).

Apprehension about a trip to Iran is normal, given the political atmosphere we live in. But I never felt anything but happy and welcomed. The biggest rule I worried about there was where I could and could not take pictures.

As a not-unimportant side note, a few Iranians have told me that I should also be cognizant of the fact that I am a white, middle-class male. Were I not, I may have been treated differently. While I can’t speak to that, I am very well aware of the inherent privilege of being who I am. I believe it would be worth reading about the experiences of people from other cultures who’ve visited Iran for their perspective.

Is Iran safe for tourists - The square at Isfahan
The square at Isfahan

Iran is a theocracy. And whether Iranians want to admit it or not, it is a dictatorship based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law. They have “elections,” but only for candidates who are pre-selected or screened by the Supreme Leader. Getting caught breaking the law here can result in serious consequences that are far harsher than in the west.

But most importantly to me and hopefully to you, is that it in no way “feels” like that. I remarked to my guide that, except for the Farsi on the signs (and the awful traffic!), some of the neighborhoods in Tehran look like neighborhoods in American cities.

The rules you set for yourself determine how safe you will be in Iran. It’s the same everywhere. Do you cavalierly do things without thinking? Then you should definitely worry about that. Do you think smuggling in a small bottle of scotch is a good idea because you just can’t go a couple of weeks without a drink? You’re taking a huge chance.

Is Iran safe for tourists - Persepolis
Persepolis

But if you’re traveler who normally respects the people and cultures you visit, and who is coming to Iran to see the sights, interact with the people, and come home with great photos and amazing memories, then Iran is safe.

Is Iran safe for women?

Is Iran safe for women? Obviously, I am a man, so my experience here is just my impression. All I can tell you is what I saw. The women I met didn’t seem to have any travel issues. Even the women I met who were traveling solo were not experiencing any significant issues. I was traveling with two women – one Iranian and one from Singapore . Both enjoyed their trip as richly as I did!

Is Iran safe for tourists - The Pink Mosque in Shiraz
The Pink Mosque in Shiraz

For some good advice about a woman’s experience in Iran, I recommend these two posts:

The female traveler’s code of conduct for Iran. Alex has great tips that you should follow. They all seem quite practical and sensible to me.

Is it safe for a woman to solo travel in Iran: Naomi’s experience during her time in Iran is definitely worth a read.

Some other things to think about

Dress Code: In Iran, you must dress modestly. That means no shorts, no tank tops, nothing suggestive or profane. Women must follow hijab in public. Both women and men should cover their legs and arms, although men can get away with short sleeve shirts. I only wore long sleeves in Tehran, where it was cold.

Photos: Obey the rules about photos. No photos of government buildings, the police, or military allowed. I was about to take a photo of the South African Embassy because I liked the way the flag stood out. My guide stopped me before I did. I never got the impression that he was really that worried about it. It was more of a “Nope! Can’t do that!” type of thing.

Is Iran safe for tourists - Michael and his guide
Michael and his guide in Yazd

LGBT tourists in Iran: I’m currently working on a post on this subject. I’ll link to it here when it is ready.

Crime: Iran has crime just like any other country, but I didn’t experience it. And I got the impression that when it does happen, it does not happen to tourists. In my opinion, one of the things that makes Iran safe for tourists is that Iranians are very self-conscious about how the rest of the world sees them. Doing anything to a guest in their country that could be perceived as negative is frowned upon.

That said, my guide in Tehran was very clear that I should put all my valuables (wallet & passport) in my inside zipper pocket when I was at the Grans Bazaar in Tehran. Apparently, pickpockets can be a problem.

Is Iran safe for tourists - The Grand Bazaar in Tehran
The Grand Bazaar in Tehran

Food and water: You can’t talk about safety without mentioning food and water. Is Iran safe from a food perspective? In my experience, both are generally safe.

While I mostly bought bottled water, because that’s what I am used to doing when I travel, I regularly refilled my water bottles, when I ran out, at water fountains. I was told that there are rarely issues with doing so. But to be safe, drink bottled water. Surprisingly, it is extremely cheap too. I paid less than a dollar for three large bottles at one store. I never had a problem with food either. Cleanliness in restaurants and on the streets was never an issue while I was there. I ate and drank at restaurants and food stalls all over the country without a problem.

Is Iran safe for tourists - Pizza with, er, different ingredients
Pizza: corn, peas, and yes, ketchup on the side!

Driving: Unless you’re a bit crazy or adventurous, you should not drive in Iran, especially in the cities. You’ll be risking your life. My Tehran tour guide and I were talking about democracy one day, and he (somewhat seriously) said to me, “I want democracy, but how can you expect people to follow the rules necessary for democracy when they can’t even follow simple traffic rules!?” In Iran, no one obeys anything when it comes to traffic. Lane markers, stop signs and lights – all mere suggestions. It was awful. Fortunately, Iranians are experts at navigating terrible traffic. Leave the driving to them!

Pollution: There are so many cars in Tehran. And partly because of the sanctions, there is little pollution control. I enjoyed the city, but I was constantly breathing exhaust fumes which caused me minor headaches. You sit in traffic for hours and it’s all you smell. If you have any sensitivity to air pollution, you might want to finish visiting Tehran as quickly as you can and move on. Be sure to always have your asthma medication on hand. Sadly, you’ll probably need it.

Is Iran safe for tourists - Iran is the world's 12th biggest producer of wheat
Iran is the world’s 12th biggest producer of wheat

A final thought

I was excited and nervous about my trip. All we ever hear from the media about Iran is negative stuff about terrorism and religious extremism. While Iran is known to be a state sponsor of terrorism, it is something they export and fund in other countries. While ISIS may be in Iran, they are extremely isolated because Iranians hate ISIS. Iranians are not anti-American. This is one of the biggest myths about Iranians (and other Middle East countries for that matter). Iranians are mostly eager to show Americans and other westerners their country. Their issues are with government policies, not the people themselves. Iran is not a hotbed of religious extremism. That stereotype is just wrong because most Iranians are not even that religious!

Is Iran safe for tourists - The tomb of Hafez in Shiraz
The dome of the tomb of Hafez in Shiraz

If all you ever worry about are things like these, then Iran is probably not for you. But if you have an open mind and go to Iran as someone who is skeptical of what you hear in the media, then you’re going to get the surprise of your life. From your experience with immigration at the airport to the people at the restaurants, shops, and hotels, you’ll feel welcome.

Iranians are not only some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, but most people don’t realize that they are also some of the most highly educated. Most Iranians are like you and me. They are just living their lives, doing what it takes to support their families, going to school, shopping, and hanging out with their friends. And you’re going to have an awesome time seeing your preconceptions mostly disappear. Most importantly, you’ll be safe if you follow the rules and take the same travel precautions you normally take.

Is Iran safe for tourists - The botanical garden in Shiraz
The botanical garden in Shiraz

So…
– Don’t be an idiot
– Keep a low profile and don’t attract attention to yourself
– Follow the law and other rules (e.g., photography)
– Dress appropriately and conservatively
– Treat people with respect and as equals
– Stay away from border areas – especially with Afghanistan
– Try Couchsurfing in Iran. It’s a thing!
– If you have a guide, listen to him or her
– Ignore anything Donald Trump says about Iran
– Read my other post: Things to know before you go to Iran

Is Iran safe for tourists? Generally, yes! So go. Enjoy it. I did it and I can’t wait to go back.

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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert and has traveled to over 40 countries to date. Currently saving all his money for a Round the World adventure.


11 thoughts on “Is Iran Safe For Tourists?

  1. Thanks. Very useful post!. However I think it is important to point out that ISIS is in Iraq and Syria not Iran! The border between the two country is very tightly secured by Iranian government that is afraid of anybody belonging to ISIS entering the country.

    1. I think almost everyone will realize this. The whole point of the first part of the post was to have a little fun with the people who actually believe this stuff. 🙂

  2. Easy as pie to travel in Iran, I think the guide on demands for Americans benefits them so much. You probably get to see more and less chances of getting ripped off.

    1. It’s true that you get to see a lot of stuff. But I found it to be exhausting. When you are with a guide in a group, there is no time to just relax and really learn something. We were constantly moving. If I go back to Iran, I hope to be able to spend a month there and do it at my own pace.

  3. Most Persians are extremely hospitable towards others, especially visitors. The flip side of the coin is the behavior of government officials and clergy towards Baha’is. Your general comments about folks who follow common sense rules having no reason to avoid travel to Iran should include that exception. There is no rule of law when it comes to Baha’is — they can be imprisoned or killed anytime by anyone without fear of legal consequences. They are formally outside the rule of law and have no status there.

  4. Am extremely pleased to read your comments about beautiful Iran. My grandson wants me to take him there or go on his own and your coming moments are very enlightening for his parents to read and understand a little more clearly about the pros and cons of him going alone

    1. Hi Nina: How old is your grandson? You should definitely go with him, but he will be safe on his own if he is a responsible adult/young man.

  5. I agree! I expected our trip to Iran to be wonderful, but it was even better than I could have imagined. I was with a group that had lived in Iran, so the tour company customized our trip so that we could visit our old haunts (some even found the houses where they used to live!), but we also visited places such as the Ali Sadr cave that I had never heard of. Iran has such a rich culture, everyone should visit. Go with an open mind and you will be amazed.

  6. With the particular increase of extremist groups within the
    particular Middle East, it’s obvious that will the particular query “is this safe to travel to Iran” may be a hot topic.

    But the good news is actually that Iran is one of the safest and most secure places inside the Middle
    East.

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