If you are a Canadian, you should know that the Iranian travel visa for Canadians now pretty much mirrors the process for Americans. You must apply for the visa in advance and do a guided tour from an operator licensed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). An Iranian travel visa for Canadians is not hard to get, but there are certain things you have to take into consideration.
Travel to Iran is generally safe. For most, travel to Iran is as simple as hopping on a plane and getting a Visa on Arrival in Tehran. It used to be the same for Canadians. But in 2012, those rules changed. I’ve learned a few lessons along the way that I would like to share to help you plan.
Don’t assume Iran is a normal trip
I subscribe to every travel email list out there. My philosophy, which usually works, is to buy the fantastic deal, whatever those date are, and then ask for the time off work. I rarely need complicated visas, so that’s what I did here. I saw a great deal to Iran on Qatar Airways and I bought it.
Here’s the problem:
- I didn’t know there were restrictions on the Iranian travel visa for Canadians. I discovered this 36 hours after I bought the ticket – too late for a refund.
- Because I now had hard dates, it took way more work than I wanted for me to find a matching group tour to keep prices low.
If you see a good flight deal, don’t click “buy” just yet. Start searching for tours right away. Make it the number one thing you’re doing online until you find one that matches, as close as humanely possible, the dates of the deal. A day here or there might be OK, but don’t go crazy! Travel companies in Iran have inexpensive scheduled tours that include hotels, domestic flights, and some meals. If you have to stay a day or two on either side, they might be able to arrange it for a supplemental fee.
Avoid “Authorization number” warehouses
Unless you’re OK with lots of risk, don’t work with what I call “authorization number warehouses.” They charge a big fee, arrange an itinerary, get you an MFA visa authorization number, and then forget about you while you get your Iranian travel visa and bryond. A lot of people want to go around the system and travel independently. While I’m sympathetic to that, I’m not sure you want to mess with the Iranian authorities. Iran is safe, but do you really want to be the person who gets caught being in Iran illegally? Canadians have to meet an MFA licensed guide at the airport and be escorted out.
Find an Agency you can trust
This is tough – especially if, like me, you bought the plane ticket, realized the mistake you made, and were in a mad rush to find a company to work with. There are lots of tour companies in Iran – from budget to luxury. Decide your speed, check web sites, and look for tours. While nearly all companies will do private tours, these will be expensive. I found many “budget tours” in the rage of $2,000-$3,000 USD for a 10-day trip.
Keep in mind that you’re working with people who, although exceptionally nice, live in a country under very strict sanctions. For example, you cannot send money directly to Iran. You have to go through a third-party using a wire transfer. Establishing trust is important and difficult to do in a rush. The agency I found, Friendly Iran, has been extremely responsive and great to work with. I emailed and WhatsApped with them. I went on YouTube and found their videos. Only after doing all this was I convinced they were the real deal. I even became comfortable enough to ask if they could add and advertise the dates I was going. Luckily, they did and a couple others signed up! Now I am paying just $1,200. But I could have got it even cheaper if I planned right.
Visa Authorization Number
This agency will send electronic paperwork similar to a regular Iranian travel visa application. You’ll also need to send a passport-quality photo. Electronic images are fine. When you fill this out, they’ll send it to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). This took me about 15 days. I’ve heard 5-20 days from others. When the number comes through, they’ll send you a document like this:
Getting your Iranian travel visa
Because you have been pre-approved for a visa, you must fill out a specific application. Form 103 is the visa application applicable to you. You can find it here.
After completing the application, paste a passport quality photo (not a printed one, a real one with your name on the back) in the top-left corner. I just used a small dab of glue for this. Finally, send your application to the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C. at the address on the application. Neither the U.S. nor Canada has diplomatic relations with Iran. The Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC. handles everything.
I used FedEx. From the day I sent it in to the day I received my visa took 8 days. I expected it to be longer, especially since it was the week President Trump issued his notorious Executive Order. I considered canceling because of the confusion this all caused, by the way, but decided I wouldn’t let that hinder my plans!
This was my reward:
An Iranian visa is valid for 3 months and you can stay up to 30 days within that time frame. However, as a Canadian or an American, chances are your Iran visa will only be valid for the dates provided for your guided tour.
In the end, I am breathing much easier. The process became even more stressful after the President issued his order, but it would have been so much easier on my mental health if I’d done my research. As a seasoned traveler who’s been to over 40 countries, I should have read more about how to get an Iranian travel visa. This was an “unforced error” on my part, as they say. But I have it now and everything worked out well!
- Do your research
- Plan well
- Work with a reputable agency
- Fill out everything accurately
- Take your time
…and you’ll be on your way to Iran in no time. You can take a look at some of our posts on things to know before you go to Iran as well as some of the places I stayed while I was there for more information.
Post updated on October 26. 2017
For More on Iran: When we travel, we use Lonely Planet. By buying a book at one of the Amazon.com links below, we get a small referral fee at no additional cost to you.