Iran
Country Specific Information
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November 03, 2011

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Iran is a constitutional Islamic republic with a theocratic system of government where ultimate political authority is vested in the highest religious authority, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He has final say on all domestic, foreign, and security policies for Iran, though he establishes and supervises those policies in consultation with other political bodies. Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran, and Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the state. The Iranian constitution guarantees freedom of worship to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, though they are sometimes the subject of discrimination and repression. The work week in Iran is Saturday through Thursday; however, many government offices and private companies are closed on Thursdays. Friday is the day of rest when all establishments are closed. Offices in Iran are generally open to the public during the morning hours only. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Iran for additional information.

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SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Iran. The Swiss government, acting through its Embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran. If you are going to live in or visit Iran, please take the time to tell the Swiss Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.

Embassy of Switzerland – U.S. Interests Section
No. 39, Shahid Mousavi (Golestan 5th)
Pasdaran Avenue
Tehran, Iran
Telephone: (98) (21) 2254-2178 and (98) (21) 2256-5273
Facsimile: (98) (21) 2258-0432
Contact via e-mail: tie.vertretung@eda.admin.ch

The workweek is Sunday through Thursday. Public service hours are 8:00 am – 12:00 noon. The Interests Section does not issue U.S. visas or accept visa applications.

The limited consular services provided to U.S. citizens in Tehran include:
(a) Registering U.S. citizens;
(b) Responding to inquiries concerning the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Iran;
(c) Rendering assistance in times of distress or physical danger;
(d) Providing U.S. citizens with passport and Social Security card applications and other citizenship forms for processing at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland;
(e) Performing notarial services; and
(f) Taking provisional custody of the personal effects of deceased U.S. citizens.

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ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: Should you decide to travel to Iran despite the current Travel Warning, a passport, valid for six months beyond duration of stay, and visa are required, except for travel to Kish Island where a visa is not required. Travelers should not attempt to enter mainland Iran from Kish without a visa. To obtain a visa, contact the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan located at 2209 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC. 20007; tel. 202-965-4990, 91, 92, 93, 94, 99; fax 202-965-1073, 202-965-4990 (Automated Fax-On-Demand after office hours).

U.S. citizens traveling to Iran are fingerprinted upon entry. The Iranian press has reported that foreign tourists may obtain seven-day tourist visas at the airport in Tehran. However, U.S. citizens are not eligible to receive these visas and must obtain valid visas from the Iranian Interests Section in Washington. Note: possession of a valid Iranian visa will not guarantee entry into the country. Some U.S. citizen travelers with valid visas have been refused entry at the border without explanation. U.S. citizens do not have to obtain a visa for travel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Kish Island.

U.S. passports are valid for travel to Iran. However, the Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality and will treat U.S. - Iranian dual nationals solely as Iranian citizens subject to Iranian laws. Thus, U.S. citizens who were born in Iran, who became naturalized citizens of Iran (e.g., through marriage to an Iranian citizen), and children of such persons—even those without Iranian passports who do not consider themselves Iranian—are considered Iranian nationals by Iranian authorities. Therefore, despite the fact that these individuals hold U.S. citizenship, under Iranian law, they must enter and exit Iran on an Iranian passport, unless the Iranian government has recognized a formal renunciation or loss of Iranian citizenship. Dual nationals may be subject to harsher legal treatment than visitors with only U.S. citizenship. (See section on Special Circumstances below.)

Iranian authorities have prevented a number of U.S. citizen academics, scientists, journalists, and others who traveled to Iran for personal/cultural/business reasons from leaving the country and in some cases have detained, interrogated, and imprisoned them on unknown or various charges, including espionage and being a threat to the regime. U.S. citizens of Iranian origin should consider the risk of being targeted by authorities before planning travel to Iran. Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals access to the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens. 

As a precaution, it is advisable for U.S. - Iranian dual nationals to obtain, in their Iranian passports, the necessary visas for the countries they will transit upon their return to the United States so that if their U.S. passports are confiscated in Iran, they may depart Iran with their Iranian passport. These individuals can then apply for a new U.S. passport in the country they are transiting.

No visa is required for Iranian nationals traveling to Turkey, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia and Armenia.

Dual nationals whose U.S. passports are confiscated may also obtain a “Confirmation of Nationality” from the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland, the U.S. protecting power. This statement, addressed to the relevant foreign embassies in Tehran, enables the travelers to apply for third-country visas in Tehran, provided they meet Schengen States' criteria for a visa. Dual nationals finding themselves in this situation should note in advance that the Swiss Embassy would issue this statement only after the traveler's U.S. nationality is confirmed and after some processing delay. A "Confirmation of Nationality" would be considered in lieu of the standard invitation letter that all Schengen visa applicants are required to present; however, it does not guarantee issuance of an entry visa. Dual nationals must enter and depart the United States on U.S. passports.

Visa extensions are time-consuming and must be filed at least one week in advance of the expiration date. As of March 21, 2006, a foreign national and anyone accompanying him/her will pay a fine of 300,000 rials or 30,000 tomans per day for each day of unauthorized stay in Iran. 

U.S. citizens, whose stay surpasses six months and whose domicile is outside Iran, need to obtain an exit permit to leave the country. U.S. citizens residing in Iran on permanent resident visas must obtain an exit permit each and every time they depart Iran, regardless of the period of stay. Although an exit stamp is no longer inserted into the passport, the exit tax must still be paid. U.S. - Iranian dual nationals are no longer required to pay an exit tax regardless of the duration of their stay in Iran. More specific information on Iranian passport and exit visa requirements may be obtained from the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C.

Non-Iranian-national women who marry Iranian citizens gain Iranian nationality upon marriage. If the marriage takes place in Iran, the woman’s U.S. passport would be confiscated by Iranian authorities. A woman must have the consent of her husband to leave Iran or, in his absence, must gain the permission of the local prosecutor. Iranian law, combined with the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, means that the Swiss U.S. Interests Section in Tehran can provide only very limited assistance if a U.S. citizen woman married to an Iranian man has marital difficulties and/or encounters difficulty in leaving Iran. 

After divorce or death of the husband, a foreign-born woman has the choice to renounce her Iranian citizenship, but any of the couple’s children will automatically be Iranian citizens and their citizenship is irrevocable. They will be required to enter and depart Iran on Iranian passports. For a divorce to be recognized it should be carried out in Iran or, if outside Iran, in accordance with Sharia law. Upon divorce, custody of the children normally goes to the mother until children reach age 7, at which point custody automatically transfers to the father. However, if the courts determine that the father is unsuitable to raise the children, they may grant custody to the paternal grandfather or to the mother, if the mother has not renounced her Iranian citizenship and is normally resident in Iran. If the courts grant custody to the mother, she will need permission from the paternal grandfather or the courts to obtain exit visas for children under age 18 to leave the country. It should be noted that the term "custody" in the United States does not have the same legal meaning in Iran. In Iran a woman is granted "guardianship," and only in very rare cases is actually granted "custody." Even if the woman has "custody/guardianship,” all legal decisions, e.g., application for a passport, permission to exit Iran, etc., would still require the consent of the father. Iran is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
 

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Iran.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.

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THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: U.S. citizens who travel to Iran despite the Travel Warning should exercise caution throughout the country, but especially in the southeastern region where Westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to areas within 100 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan, within 10 kilometers of the border with Iraq, and generally anywhere east of the line from Bam and Bandar Abbas toward the Pakistan border.
 
Terrorist explosions have killed a number of people since 2005. Be aware that the Iranian government has blamed the U.S. and/or UK governments for involvement in the February 2007 bombing that killed Iranian military forces in Zahedan in the southeast, the 2005/2006 bombings in Ahvaz/Khuzestan in the southwest, and the May 2009 bombing of a mosque in the south-east Iranian city of Zahedan.
 
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings. Increased tension between Iran and the West over the past several years is a cause of concern for U.S. citizen travelers. Large-scale demonstrations in response to politically motivated events such as the 2009 presidential election, take place sporadically throughout the country. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. U.S. passport holders who are arrested or detained by Iranian authorities should request assistance from the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.
 
Iranian security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited and could result in serious criminal charges, including espionage, which carries the death penalty.

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CRIME: Major crime is generally not a problem for travelers in Iran, although foreigners occasionally become victims of petty street crime. Young men in unmarked cars have robbed foreigners and young men on motor bikes have snatched bags. There have been reports of robberies by police impersonators, usually in civilian clothing. Insist on seeing the officer’s identity card and request the presence of a uniformed officer/marked patrol car. Travelers should not surrender any documents or cash. You are advised to make a copy of your U.S. passport (biographical data page and the page with your Iranian visa) and to keep it separate from your original passport.
 
Travelers should not carry large amounts of hard currency while on the streets. In view of the possibility of theft, passports, disembarkation cards, other important documents and valuables should be kept in hotel safes or other secure locations. Pre-booked taxis are safer than those hailed from the street. U.S. citizens should check with their hotel or tour guide for information on local scams. 

Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law. 

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VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates ). We can:

  • Replace a stolen passport.
  • Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape.
  • Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and if you want us to, we cancontact family members or friend.
  • Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Iran is: 115 for ambulance service, 125 for fire and 110 for police. English speakers, however, are generally unavailable.

Please see our informatio n on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Iran, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Iran your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going. 

Persons violating Iranian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Fines, public floggings, and long prison terms are common. Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution. Drinking, possession of alcoholic beverages and drugs, un-Islamic dress, as well as public displays of affection with a member of the opposite sex are considered to be crimes. Relations between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal. Adultery, sex outside marriage, and homosexual sex are all illegal under Iranian law and carry the death penalty. DVDs depicting sexual relations and magazines showing unveiled women are forbidden. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iran are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Iran executes many people each year on drug-related charges.

Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. U.S. citizens in Iran who violate Iranian laws, including laws unfamiliar to Westerners (such as those regarding the proper wearing of apparel), may face severe penalties.

The Iranian government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords. In addition, the Iranian government reportedly has compiled a list of the claimants who were awarded compensation in the Iran Claims Program administered by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. The Iranian government has allegedly been targeting award-holders who travel to Iran. It has been reported that upon some claimants' entry into Iran, Iranian authorities have questioned them as to the status of payment of their respective awards with a view to recouping the award money. The Iranian government has also reportedly threatened to prevent U.S. claimants who visit Iran from departing the country until they make arrangements to repay part of or their entire award.

Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Iran, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

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SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The Iranian government has seized the passports and blocked the departure of foreigners who work in Iran on tax/commercial disputes. In addition to being subject to all Iranian laws, U.S. citizens who also possess Iranian citizenship are also subject to other laws that impose special obligations on citizens of Iran, such as military service or taxes. Iranian-citizen males aged 18-34 are required to perform military service, unless exempt. This requirement includes Iranian-Americans, even those born in the United States. Young men who have turned 17 years of age will no longer be allowed to leave Iran without first having completed their military service.

Dual nationals sometimes have their U.S. passports confiscated and may be denied permission to leave Iran, or encounter other problems with Iranian authorities. Likewise, Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals’ access to the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens. Refer to the above section entitled "Entry/Exit Requirements" for additional information concerning dual nationality. U.S. citizens who are not dual U.S.-Iranian nationals are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport (biodata page and page with Iranian visa) with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of U.S. citizenship is readily available. Carry some other form of identification with you at all times as well, such as a driver’s license or other photo identification.

Credit cards and bank cards cannot be used in Iran. It is easy to exchange U.S. dollars for rials, either at banks or with certified money changers; however, you will not be able to access U.S. bank accounts using ATMs in Iran. While in Iran, avoid accessing a U.S. bank account via Internet, since the account will immediately be frozen or blocked by the bank due to U.S. government economic sanctions. Traveler’s checks can be difficult to exchange. Bring enough hard currency to cover your stay, but make sure you declare this currency upon entry. There is no Western Union or similar institution and bank transfers may not be possible. Exchange money only at banks or an authorized currency exchange facility, not on the street, and keep your exchange receipts. 

Pre-paid overseas calling cards are available at most newsagents. The Internet is widely used in Iran. There are Internet cafes in most hotels; usage may be monitored.

Do not work illegally. You will be deported, fined, and/or imprisoned. You may also be prevented from re-entering the country.

Islamic law is strictly enforced in Iran. Alcohol is forbidden. Importation of pork products is banned. Consult a guide book on Iran to determine how to dress and behave properly and respectfully. Women should expect to wear a headscarf and a long jacket that covers the arms and upper legs while in public. There may be additional dress requirements at certain religious sites; e.g., women might need to put on a chador (which covers the whole body except the face) at some shrines. During the holy month of Ramadan, you should generally observe the Muslim tradition of not eating, drinking, or smoking in public from sunrise to sunset each day, though there are exemptions for foreign travelers who eat in hotel restaurants.

In general, it is best to ask before taking photographs of people. Hobbies like photography and those involving the use of binoculars (e.g., bird-watching) can be misunderstood and get you in trouble with security officials. (See Threats to Safety and Security section above for warnings on photography.)

For specific information regarding Iranian customs regulations, contact the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. Please see our Customs Information for U.S. regulations.

It is unlawful to bring controlled items, such as laptops and satellite cell phones, into Iran, even on a temporary basis, unless specifically authorized by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in a manner consistent with the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992 and other relevant law.

U.S. government economic sanctions prohibit most economic activity between U.S. persons and Iran. The importation of most Iranian-origin goods or services into the United States is prohibited without a license from OFAC except for gifts valued at $100 or less, information or informational materials, certain foodstuffs intended for human consumption, and certain carpets and textile floor coverings. The exportation or re-exportation of most goods, technology or services directly or indirectly from the United States or by a U.S. person to Iran also is prohibited without a license, except in the following cases: articles donated to relieve human suffering (such as food, clothing, and medicine), gifts valued at $100 or less, licensed exports of agricultural commodities, most medicine and medical devices, and information and informational materials. All transactions ordinarily incident to travel to or from Iran, including baggage costs, living expenses, and the acquisition of goods or services for personal use, are permitted. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Department of Treasury, provides guidance to the public on the interpretation of the current economic sanctions. For further information, consult OFAC’s Compliance Programs Division, at 202-622-2490, visit OFAC’s web site, or obtain information via fax at 202-622-0077.

For information concerning licensing of imports or exports, contact OFAC’s Licensing Division at:

Licensing Division
Office of Foreign Assets Control
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Treasury Annex
Washington, DC 20220
Telephone (202) 622-2480; Fax (202) 622-1657
Iran is prone to earthquakes, many of them severe. An earthquake in the city of Bam in 2003, for example, claimed 30,000 lives. To learn more about the seismic regions of Iran including the most recent earthquakes please visit the U.S. Geological Survey website.

Accessibility: While in Iran, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. Onn October 23, 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran declared its accession to the respective UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, however with regard to Article 46, the Islamic Republic of Iran declared it does not consider itself bound by any provisions of the Convention that may be incompatible with its applicable rules. There are no laws in Iran to mandate access to transportation, communication, and public buildings for persons with disabilities. In general, it is not recommended for individuals with disabilities to travel to Iran.

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MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Basic medical care and medicines are available in the principal cities, but may not be available in rural areas. Medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards and sometimes lack medicines and supplies. Iranian authorities confirmed outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) in January 2008 in northern Iran, as well as earlier reports of outbreaks among wild swans in the Anzali Wetlands and in domestic poultry in the northern provinces of Azerbaijan and Gilan. There were a number of confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in 2009. 

You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

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MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:

  • Does my policy apply when I’m out of the United States?
  • Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation?

In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.

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TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Iran, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Travelers in possession of International Driver’s Permits may drive in Iran, though the U.S. Interests Section in Iran does not recommend that tourists drive in Iran. Iran has a very high rate of traffic accidents, the second highest cause of mortality in the country. Drivers throughout Iran tend to ignore traffic lights, traffic signs, and lane markers. Urban streets are not well lit. It is therefore particularly dangerous to drive at night. Sidewalks in urban areas only exist on main roads and are usually obstructed by parked cars. In the residential areas, few sidewalks exist. Drivers almost never yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. If you are involved in an accident, no matter how minor, do not leave the scene: wait until the police arrive to file a report. 

Iranian authorities sometimes set up informal roadblocks, both in cities and on highways, often manned by young, inexperienced officers who are often suspicious of foreigners. Ensure you carry a form of identification with you and avoid getting into disputes.

Very high pollution levels from cars, particularly in Tehran, can trigger respiratory problems.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Iran, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

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CHILDREN’S ISSUES: Please see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Iran dated February 14, 2011, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements for U.S. Citizens, Crime and Special Circumstances.

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