To be honest, I've been planning to write this post for a while, but now the time has come. It's time to talk about my visit to this country that interested me for so many years. It's been so long that in 2004, when I won a Lonely Planet guide from the (UK based) TNT Magazine, I chose the one for this massive Middle Eastern country that so many people still think is Arab...
Well, for those who don't know, Iranians are not Arabs, they're Persians!
I found myself on holiday between Turkey and the Republic of Georgia, when I had the chance to stay away a bit longer. I decided to lose my return ticket and searched the internet for cheap flights around the region. I finally found the ticket I wanted and decided I was going to Iran, no matter what...
|The skyline of Yazd is dominated by domes and minarets|
The visa process was what put me off before, so I looked for an agency to help me with the eVisa, and the day prior to my trip I got the message I was dreading: due to a last minute five-day holiday in Tehran, my visa would only be ready in one week's time. I didn't think twice and stood by my decision to go to Iran the day after, whatever happened - unless, of course, the airline didn't allow me to board.
|Streets of Tehran|
So the following day I went to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport, checked in and boarded my flight. I could see most European passengers were quite nervous. Once we landed, nervousness took over and, in an almost synchronised moment, you would see all women covering their heads with a scarf.
|Decorated ceiling at one of Esfahan's many palaces|
My heart was racing at that moment. We all got off the plane and I was the first one to get to the Visa on Arrival (VoA) counter. I handed my passport to the officer, who received it with a smile. That put me at ease. It was the first sign of something I always knew about Iranians, but most people would doubt me. The same officer gave me a form to fill in, and other passengers did the same. Everyone waiting had a nervous expression on their face and the atmosphere was tense. As I was the first on the queue, I was also the first to be called back. "Mr Pedro!", I heard. I approached the counter and received a piece of paper and instructions to pay €50 at the window next door. I paid, gave the officer the receipt, and got my passport back.
|The mesmerising Imam Khomeini Square in Esfahan|
My Iranian visa! I wanted to celebrate, jump, but it wasn't the time for that. I looked reassuringly at the other passengers and walked to the immigration desk. This officer also smiled at me, said some pleasantries, stamped my passport and there I went.
Since my flight arrived at 4am, I had arranged a driver with my hotel and there he was, waiting for me holding a sign with my name. I felt like the whole of Iran was saying my name. And it was. In my head, at least.
|Shiraz at dusk|
I was so full of curiosity, anxious to discover this country that lived in my imagination for some many years, that I could hardly sleep. And time goes by so slowly...
TRAVELLING TO IRAN WITHOUT A VISA
Or better said, applying for Iran's Visa on Arrival
It's been a few years since Iran introduced the Visa on Arrival program. Nationals of the countries listed at the end of the post can get a visa at the international airports of Tehran, Tabriz, Shiraz, Mashhad and Esfahan. However, most tourists prefer to apply for the visa in advance, partly due to many warnings on the Lonely Planet guide, which claims a large number of travellers are denied a VoA.
|The ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis, near Shiraz|
In addition to the supposed risks of not getting your visa on arrival, as well as all inconveniences this would bring, there's a important difference: the visa obtained in advance is valid for up to 30 days, whereas VoA is valid for 15 days only. In theory, it's not possible to extend it beyond those 15 days, but there are reports on travel forums that in some places it's possible.
- Having a return ticket.
- Hotel reservation at a 3-star hotel or upwards.
- Name and telephone number of the hotel manager. This must be provided on the visa application form and the officers are likely to call them. Hostels and (very) budget hotels are not accepted for this purpose.
- Your travel itinerary. It doesn't mean you cannot change it later, if you wish.
- Not having an Israeli stamp on your passport or any evidence of entry in Israel. For example, an Egyptian stamp at the border city of Taba could see you denied entry.
- 50 euros visa fee.
Countries Whose Nationals Can Apply for the Iranian Visa on Arrival
Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, China (People’s Republic), Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Oman, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea. Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam.
American, British and Canadian passport holders cannot get visa on arrival.