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.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.