Update – January 2020: The Canadian government has a travel advisory for Iran. Obviously, there is a lot of tension in the region right now and you might want to consider that during your planning. This is especially true for dual Iran/Canadian citizens. If you are an Iranian “dual” citizen, understand that Iran does not recognize dual citizenship and will consider you a citizen of Iran only. The same holds true for Iranians who hold U.S. citizenship.
Because of the tensions in the region, and because we’re not experts on Iran, we don’t feel comfortable advising you on whether or not you should visit. This post is for informational purposes only.
If you are a Canadian, you should know that the Iranian travel visa for Canadians now pretty much mirrors the process for the Iran tourist visa for US citizens.
You must apply for the visa in advance and do guided tours of Iran using an operator licensed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
An Iran travel visa for Canadians is not hard to get, but there are certain things you have to take into consideration.
And if you’re lucky enough to be able to go to Iran on your own, here is a guide to independent travel in Iran.
Is it safe to travel to Iran?
Can Canadians visit Iran safely? Yes.
Can Americans travel to Iran safely? Yes.
Is Iran safe to visit? In my experience, travel to Iran is generally safe. For most, travel to Iran is as simple as hopping on a plane and getting an Iran 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.
Visiting Iran as an American or a Canadian is only slightly complicated. Neither country is lucky enough to be able to go to Iran visa free.
But then, almost no one can.
Before you buy your ticket to Iran
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 Canadians traveling to Iran. I discovered this 36 hours after I bought the ticket to Iran – too late for a refund.
- Because I now had hard dates, it took way more work than I wanted for me to find matching Iran group tours to keep prices low.
If you see a good flight deal, don’t click “buy” just yet. Start searching for an official Iran tour guide 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.
Before you fly to Iran, do your research!
Check Your Social Media
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not available in Iran. That is, they are not available to the general population (although many, if not most, young Iranians have long figured out how to get them through VPN).
They are, however, available to the government.
No one ever asked me for my social media information while applying for an Iranian visa. Recently though, I’ve heard from readers being asked for it before applying.
If your social media accounts contain anything you believe could cause issues, you need to consider that.
If you are asked for this information, and if you have photos or posts on Facebook that could cause problems, change the privacy settings to allow “Only Me” to view them.
I’d go even further and recommend deactivating your Facebook account altogether until after your trip!
Same thing with Twitter. If you have tweeted, retweeted, or liked anything anti-Iranian, you might want to consider going through your posts and checking them.
Travel to Iran after visiting Israel
Have you been to Israel? Do you have an Israeli stamp in your passport? If so, you’re likely going to be denied an Iranian visa.
Like many other states in the Middle East, sadly, Iran bars Israelis from visiting and regularly denies entrance to anyone who has visited Israel.
So, how do you travel to Iran if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport? Well, it’s actually quite simple – but not cheap. If you happen to have an Israeli stamp in your passport, get a new passport.
I’m not really sure there is another way.
If you have advice, leave it in the comments!
I’ve been to Israel and had an Israeli stamp in my passport. Now I have a new passport and an Iranian visa! I feel like getting a new passport was the only way I’d be getting a visa for Iran.
Avoid “Authorization number” warehouses
Unless you’re OK with lots of risk, don’t work with what I call “Iranian visa authorization number warehouses.” They charge a big fee, arrange an itinerary, and get you an MFA visa authorization number.
Then, they forget about you while you get your Iranian travel visa and beyond.
A lot of Canadians and Americans want to try to get around the Iran visa policy 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.
At least that’s the “official” rule. My Iran travel guide was waiting for me after I passed through immigration and customs. But no one was there to make sure I met him. I could have walked out of the airport on my own.
That being said, someone might escort you out.
Just be aware of that.
Find an Iran travel 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 to Iran.
Luckily, they did and a couple of 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 visa application form. 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 instructions 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 visa 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.
Since there is currently no embassy or Iran consulate in the USA or Canada, 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 Iranian 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:
Iranian visa validity
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, your Iran visa will only be valid for the dates provided for your guided tour.
In the end, I was able to breathe easy. 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 50 countries, I should have read more about how to get an Iran 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 on Iran visa requirements
- Plan well for your trip to Iran
- Work with a reputable agency for Iran tour packages
- Fill out everything accurately
- Take your time
…and your holidays in Iran will be under way 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.
More Resources about Iran
Iran travel advisory – Canadian citizens
Iran travel advisory – US citizens
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If you’ve done an Iran private tour and have advice on the best Iran tours, best places to visit in Iran, or Iran tourism safety, let readers know in the comments!
Post updated on February 20, 2018, to add the sections on Social Media and Israel.
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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. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.
Thanks for the info
Great! Hope you found it useful!
Do we have to send our passports to Washington?
That’s probably your best option. There is nowhere to do this in Canada (yet). Of course, you can send the passport to any place Iran has representation. You just have to make that very clear when you first apply. When you apply for an authorization number, you have to tell the person what embassy he or she should send that authorization number to.
I found the Pakistan folks in DC to be super friendly and fast too!
I have a canadian passport my question is when my visa is stamped in iran will i have an issue with the US and canada entering or will i have issues
Have friends in iran and want to go vist them
I’ve been to Canada 2-3 times since I went to Iran – but they were all land border crossings, so it might be different when you are flying. I’ve also flown to the U.S. 3 times since and 2 of those times, I was taken to a secondary interview because the Iran visa was in my passport. As far as visiting friends in Iran, you should know that, as a Canadian, you have to be with an official tour guide the entire time you are there. You may not be able to leave the tour to, for example, spend a couple days with your friend. If you have a more relaxed guide, they’ll let you, though they’re not legally supposed to let you go on your own.
Check with the agency you use to book your tour and let them know your intentions. If they say no, then find another agency and just explain everything. I’m sure you’ll find one who’ll allow you to do it.
Hi Mike, I’m planning on Iran in September, can you recommend a company and would you do anything different if you were to go now? Thank you!
I can recommend Friendly Iran. And I would definitely recommend finding a tour before you book a flight. A lot less hassle!
Excellent post, kind of scary, but so fascinating. Nice one 🙂
….’you gotta do what you gotta do to visit Iran’ eh boys?
How did you make payment to Friendly Iran?
For the deposit they provided me a contact in Vancouver and the funds were returned twice as the contact did not provide correct instructions.
I am in Toro to
Hi Ahmed: I made mind through a bank transfer to a person in (I think) Wisconsin. Originally, they wanted me to send it to Turkey or somewhere, but that would have been more expensive because it was international. Since I live in the US, Wisconsin was $6 (as opposed to $40).
Not sure why yours is not working. Seems to me it shouldn’t be that big of an issue. It’s just a wire transfer, after all.
Aaron, Thomas Lieff
If I’m in Toronto Canada. Where do I go to apply for an Iranian visa?
You have to get a Visa authorization number first from an MFA Approved Iranian tour company. When you get that, you send it with your Visa application to the Iranian interests section at the Pakistan embassy in Washington, DC.
Thank you for a great article. Question for you: to recap: 1. Get pre approval visa from licensed tour agency 2. Submit paperwork to embassy with visa approval number 3. Travel. My question is related to you saying to avoid approval number warehouses? How does that work? Can you elaborate? How would I know to avoid it? Thanks so much.
Hi Manny: Good question. What I mean by that is you need to stay away from people who promise you a visa authorization number and then want nothing further to do with you. There are companies who specialize in Canadians, Americans, and Brits who want to travel independently (a.k.a., illegally). They’ll get you a visa authorization number for $50-$100 and then you just use it to apply for the actual visa, and show up in Iran. They MIGHT meet you at the airport to “fake” that they are your guide and take you away. Or they may not.
A better idea is to find a legit tour agency who will let you have lots of free time to explore on your own. THey’re not technically supposed to do a lot of that, but mine did for me. I could have spent many days on my own if I wanted to do so.
Michael, for a 7-day trip to Iran, I was thinking of taking out 500 Euros and converting it into Rials when I arrive at the airport in Tehran. Is it safe to exchange money at the airport?
Hi Ron: In Tehran, the Ferdowsi district is the best place to change money. Avoid the airport unless you need a bit to get a taxi or something. If you have a guide, you can trust him or her to take you to a fair place to exchange money.
Keep in mind not to bring damaged bills. They won’t take them. And be careful of getting any crappy bills in return. Don’t accept torn money.
But again, trust your guide if you have one.
This is probably one of the most encouraging post I have read on traveling in Iran as a Canadian. What would be good “legit compagnies”, cheap enough so that they are not bringing me in fancy hotels. We are backpack traveler just looking to go to Iran as much independently as we could. So you would recommend to go with legit iranian company directly and not through canadian ones right?
I’m really glad you found this encouraging. So much of what you see is negative. Certainly, there are a lot of negative things about Iran, but visiting as a tourist is not one of them. I had an amazing time. Just follow the rules from the time you plan your trip to the time you get out of the country, and you will be completely fine. Canada has its issues with Iran, of course, but they’ve been there for a long time.
I recommend going through an Iranian company. I used Friendly Iran and they were great, responsive, and fair. I’ll link them below for you. Samone will even give you her WhatsApp info and talk to you whenever you want. I recommend this because if you go through a Canadian company, which is totally fine, that’s just gong to add to the cost. When you go through an Iranian company, they’ll ask you for payment through a third-part in either the US or Canada (mine was in Montana, I believe) and you just go to the bank and do a wire transfer.
They will arrange everything, from your visa approval to getting you from the airport, arranging your hotels, and everything else.
Remember, as a Canadian, you HAVE to do a guided tour if you’re going to do it legally. That means a company like Friendly Iran will be responsible for you from the time you get off the plane to the time you get back to the airport.
BUT – that’s not to say you won’t have free time, though you won’t feel like an independent traveller. My guide let me do what I wanted at night and in the morning. If I wanted to stay at the hotel and do my own thing for the afternoon, I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded. They are not like North Korea minders. They are just regular people who want you to have a good time.
Here is the link to Friendly Iran: https://friendlyiran.com/
And here is the link to our FB page. If you want to contact me there for any other information, please let me know! I’ll help you in any way I can. Iran is awesome and you should go!
I’m a Canadian
I got my E-Visa but I will be picking up in iraq same process as yours. I am wondering does the E visa expiry? Because on the paper it say it got granted on August 13th and will go to the Iranian embassy in iraq on Sep 8. So I will give my passport and they will issue it for 1 months from the date I give them the passport??
I think you’re ok. But I think it’s more likely that they will only give you a visa for the exact amount of time you’re going to be in Iran. Whatever the dates you go in and go out will be what they give you on the visa.
I got my e visa and it stated on the papar that date of Visa grant is August 13th. I put the visa pickup in Iraq as I will be their before going to IRAN.
When I give my passport is the date of issue will be August 13th or th day I give them my passport.
As well does the E visa grant expire??
Hi Michael, we’re Canadians travelling to Iran in just two weeks with a tour. I was wondering wether having Iranian visas in our passports will bring trouble at the US customs. How long were your interviews? Did you have this issue travelling to anywhere other than the US? Thanks!
Having the Iranian visa in your passport could very well mean an extra interview if you fly into the US. I’m not 100% sure how they’re handling things like this, but I wouldn’t expect it to go smoothly either way. When I came back tot he US, I was interviewed for max 15 minutes each time – why was I there, who was I visiting? do I like the middle east and mosques, etc.
But I have a green card, I am a permanent resident. They’d have a hard time not letting me in. For you, they can make whatever decision they want.
How long is your passport valid for? I suppose you could always get a new one after your trip!
Thanks Michael! We haven’t travelled to the US for a few years now (since the Canadian dollar dropped in value), but if we do, it sounds like we should get new passports. That’s okay!
Have you had issues travelling elsewhere because of your Iranian visa?
Michael I thank you so much for the informations of your preparation for your trip to Iran. I choose the same agency as you did. I plan a trip for august. Françoise Breton from Quebec.
Oh, how great!!! Would you mind writing to me following the trip to tell me how it was? Have a wonderful trip!!
You said it was $1200. Was that USD or CAD? And was that for a 10 day trip? I’d really like to go there and I’m at the point right now where I’m trying to figure out whether or not I can afford it.
That was $1200 US. Keep in mind, my trip was an ad hoc tour with 3 people. It would have been more expensive if it was just me. If you can get on one of their regularly-scheduled tours, it will likely be quite a bit less.
I tried to apply for the e-visa as per the Washington DC office but it doesn’t list Canada or the United States under “Nationality”. I am curious how everyone got a visa when I cannot even complete the application process?
Canadians and Americans must arrange their visit with an MFA-approved travel agency in Iran. They will help you get a visa authorization number. Then, you have to apply for the visa directly with the DC office.
Jennifer: I’m checking for you now. When I have the answer, I will let you know and I will also update this post!
Thank you for the tip. I have my visa authorization number. I’m just trying to get the darn visa!
I am Canadian, if I understand correctly, to have a tourist visa issued by the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC, I must have MFA visa authorization number.
Is it enough to pass the border checkpoint ? What about the check when you get to the Tehran airport? Does he ask for where is the guide? Supposing that my goal is to travel without a guide in Iran, what is the concrete control actions by the Iranian authorities upon arrival? I know that the current regulations require a guide authorized by the Iranian MFA for Canadians, Americans and British. But I have already traveled to Iran 8 years ago and I would love to go back knowing that it is by traveling on my own that I would like to make this trip. It is too expensive and restrictive with a guide. I know it’s safer to do things by following the rules, but I’d like some information on the actual application of the rules. Specifically on the ground, how does the rule apply?
Thanks a lot
I have no information to give here, as I didn’t break those rules. I know people have done it, but I would not recommend it. When I got to Tehran Airport, no one checked to make sure I was with my guide. But they could have. Once you get your MFA Authorization, you will send your passport to the Pakistan Embassy and they will paste a Visa in your passport. The border officer will check your visa and stamp you through. It’s illegal to travel without an MFA approved guide in Iran. Personally, I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the law in Iran. But that’s up to you.
Samuel Ferragne Pratte
Thanks for your reply. Well, it’s true that he would be much better to respect the rules even if circumventing the rules in Iran is a national sport. I do not want to be in a bad situation with the authorities, particularly without any Canadian diplomatic presence in Iran.
I’m still curious to know how these laws work and how they apply, maybe there is a breach … but for the moment I will resign myself ans I just hope that the diplomatic relations between the two countries will improve.
I hope so too, because, like you, I want to be able to visit on my own. But keep in mind that the guides aren’t watching your every move while you’re there. No one is, really. I went off on my own all the time at night and early mornings. When our guide brought us to Isfahan, I walked around Imam Khomeni Square – which is huge, and took pictures for hours without even seeing my guide. It’s nothing like the “minders” on North Korea, for example, who watch everything you do and are careful with everything they say.
But again, it is a tour. You’re in a car going from place to place. It does get a bit repetitive sometimes, but I’m very glad I did it.
Hi, I applied once for an Iran visa but I got rejected, what can I do then? Can I apply again?
Hi Miranda, I had the same problem as you, rejection without any reason. So one of my friends told me to apply again through an agency which name is 1stQuest. finally, they told me to cancel my application on the MFA website and then they applied for me again. https://1stquest.com/visa and in 2 days I received my Iran visa authorization code.