Iran differs from the European countries in many subjects. Religion regulates many aspects of life, which also has an impact on people traveling to this country. Cultural differences can’t be missed, so you should know what to expect. I made a list of the most important information that will be useful before you go there.
In this country covering women’s hair and wearing loose clothes which hide shapes is prescribed by law and required also from female tourists. A headscarf, a long shirt, sleeves at least by the elbow and long pants are acceptable. Sandals without socks are quite ok, only in some mosques we can be asked to cover the feet. The mosques often require a chador to cover, but you can usually borrow it at the entrance (for free). Man can not show calves or arms – long trousers and T-shirt with short sleeves are necessary (that’s cool that they also take care about the morality of women ;)).
At public beaches you can swim only in clothes. Some cities have designated swimming pools with separate areas for men and women, tightly surrounded by screens. You can get undressed in such places. Full suit is also required for all women who practice sports in the open air – so take a headscarf and a tunic for your morning jogging. ;)
Public kissing is not an option and holding hands draws attention, but it is accepted. Public smoking by women is frowned upon, but from what we know is not prohibited. At least the police didn’t pay any attention. There is a zone reserved for women traveling alone on buses, trains and subways (in the front or the back of the vehicle). Men, couples and mixed groups should sit in between – it is often not marked anywhere, but you’ll notice it for sure and it’s worth adapting to it. In public places or in houses men hardly sit down next to Iranian women and a woman near the Iranian men. It’s better to watch out if you don’t want to be accused of excessive promiscuity. And try to avoid being alone with strangers – sometimes they have sticky hands and can try sexual advances.
The Iranian ATMs do not accept Visa or MasterCard. It means that all the cash we need to live we have to bring from abroad. Dollars are relatively easily replaceable. If you are crossing the border by land, you can pay them out in Turkey (in TEB bank, but ATMs with dollars are only in larger cities and do not always have the cash), or in Georgia, where almost in any ATM you will get currency without any problem. In Armenia there is no possibility of paying out other currency than the local one. In Iran, there are not many exchange offices – only on large border crossings and in a few large cities (but they are not easy to find). Exchange offices offer a very good rate, so it is worth to exchange more cash. Other options include the Grand Bazaar in Tehran and the main tourist streets in Shiraz and other big cities. There are people standing in the streets with huge wad of money. They will offer a transaction, but you will have to haggle. During our stay the rate was 31-32 thousands rials per dollar. If you run out of cash you can change dollars in the bank, but here the rate is much lower and you could lose approx. 20-30%.
The excess of Iranian currency can be exchanged at the border for dollars, but you must be firm and not let them give you currency of the country which you are entering. Of course we know that there is no possibility of an exchange for dollars, but if we persist long enough, then the dollars and euros will be found. The course is approx. 30 thousands rials per dollar. At the border they usually have only the bill of $100, so I guess that the rest we’ll get in the currency of the country where we are going, after a fairly unfavorable exchange rate.
Conmen are quite strongly associated with any travel (especially to Asia). In Iranian shops, restaurants, bazaars we don’t have to be afraid of them (although eg. In Shiraz on the bazaar we can buy the exact same T-shirt as in Tehran for three times the price ;)). For 3 weeks no one tried to bilk us on buying food, ice cream, fruit – and often we were not able to understand pricing, because it was given only in Farsi. Sometimes they add to a price additional charges, eg. The plastic cups or ketchup, but probably not higher than $0.25. The worst cases are buses or taxis – in two attempts to use these means of transport the price rose almost twice after reaching the place. Still the amounts weren’t high, so all in all we could forgive them, but it became a matter of principle for us and we were stubborn to keep the predetermined price. In the worst situation we could call the police and give them a firm explanation of attempted fraud. The police unlikely supports the con and he will definitely let it go.
Iranian historical sights are not for free. For foreigners, of course, the tickets are on average 7.5 times more expensive. Of course we all are well instructed that Europeans have to buy a ticket for a European and you can’t discuss it. Pointing lower price written in Farsi will not help, even purchase of tickets by Iranian host can’t change it – they will always recognize a tourist. And such a situation could put our host for trouble in the form of very nice translating from the staff, that tourists are there to leave their money. But the cost of entrance ticket starts from around $1.5 in small towns or in “not so important” monuments by $4 (the most common price, eg. For visiting Persepolis), to $15 per pass covering all the museums in the Golestan Palace in Tehran (which we consider to be a gross exaggeration, because touring is up to 3 hours). For $15 in this country two people can safely survive two days and half of the amount leave in an ice cream shop.