Visitors have been flocking to Iran in unprecedented numbers, and with a recently re-elected moderate president, the future of this misunderstood country looks bright. However, decades of negative publicity can leave visitors unsure of what is acceptable and what is not. Here are 13 things you shouldn’t do in Iran.
In Iranian culture, there is a complicated system of fake politeness. It’s called Taarof, and you should know how it works before visiting Iran. Most tourists are perplexed and overcome with a mix of joy and confusion when some random service provider hints that they are not required to pay.
A cab driver, a retailer, or a restaurant cashier may claim that they absolutely refuse any payment from you. However, this does not imply that you can avoid paying; as there are no freebies. It’s only that there’s a “ceremony” that needs to be performed.
To deny your will to please the other person, you must go through a see-saw of urging and refusing (at least two times to be sure). The cab driver will eventually accept the money and avoid losing face in the process. Similarly, if you’re invited to supper, politely decline until they push for the third time, at which point you can accept. Strange as it may seem, knowing Taarof is essential before visiting Iran, and now you know why.
While it’s true that alcohol is prohibited in Islam, some non-muslim Armenian groups are accepted and permitted to enjoy alcohol in their homes. The same is not true for other citizens, or travelers no matter what they religion is.
Note that alcohol is not lawfully served anywhere in the country. While some Iranians manage to hide alcohol and carry it around with them, you shouldn’t attempt to carry any into the country with you. Read our Iran travel advisory to learn more.
Since the revolution of 1979, alcohol has been illegal and is punishable by floggings and monetary fines. Those who are captured and found guilty of drinking alcohol for the third time may even face the death penalty. So don’t take this lightly; it’s a strict regulation that you must adhere to at all times. We recommend that you stick to coffee for the duration of your stay in Iran instead!
While this is unlikely, some tourists may become perplexed and believe they are in an Arab country, or that Persian and Arabic are the same, so they speak a few words of Arabic in the hopes that the Iranians will understand them.
While they are allowed to do so, it is regarded as an insult and will most probably not be tolerated. In fact, put “don’t confuse Arabic and Persian with each other” at the top of the things you shouldn’t do in Iran. Because Iran and its Arab neighbors have a long history of antagonism.
Iranians are extremely nationalistic, especially when it comes to their culture and language. So to be on the safe side, stick to English. Avoid making critical errors that could make people look at you with dislike in their eyes!
Taking pictures with military-owned grounds and official buildings with special signs is a major crime. Simply put, you should be prepared to have your smartphone or camera seized if you think you can take a selfie with a governmental building in the frame.
There’s nothing you can do to change that. You’ll be lucky if you don’t get a fine or a jail sentence after you are seen taking pictures of military bases. This definitely ranks among the top things you shouldn’t do in Iran, and mostly for your own ease of mind.
Some tourist may not know this, of course, and that’s exactly why there are signs clearly depicting that no pictures must be taken in specific areas. This is mostly for the benefit of tourists so that they are aware of the rules. So, try to put your camera away when you are close to military bases or government buildings for your own safety.
In Iran, it is likely that you will be approached by a random someone who simply wants to show you around his or her nation on the street. Don’t be surprised if someone randomly offers to buy you something or pay for what you’re buying out of nowhere either.
Iranian people sometimes even go so far as inviting tourists to their home for a cup of chai or a quick meal. This may come off as creepy or weird to some people, but tourists should remember that hospitality to strangers is embedded in Persian culture.
Shying away from these random signs of hospitality and kindness from the locals is one thing you shouldn’t do in Iran. Take our word, these people are going to make the biggest portion of what makes your trip to Iran memorable. Remember that Iranian people are NOTHING like what the media portrays.
While we understand that you are gradually completing your travel album by taking a picture here and one there, there are folks who don’t want tourists to take pictures of them. Surely all travelers find this understandable, given that there are people who don’t like their pictures taken everywhere in the world.
For a variety of reasons, Iranians, particularly the elder generation, are camera shy. Most of the time, it’s because they don’t want to be seen on social media, especially now that there’s a lot of political wrangling going on.
Some of the older folk even believe it will bring them an ill-fortune if their picture is taken without their permission! So, always ask before taking a picture. You may get away with it if you try to take a sneak snapshot, but will your conscious do too?
Iran could, without a doubt, be one of the more dangerous spots to drive in. so much so that driving is among the things you shouldn’t do in Iran. Iranian people have a reputation for not obeying traffic lights, rules, or regulations. Locals are used to it, although the number of traffic accidents happening in major cities of Iran is still scary.
Driving in Iran might even be life-threatening for tourists, as they are not just unfamiliar with the driving style of Iranian people, but they are also usually not used to the steering wheel being on the left side of the car! The best alternatives are, bringing your car to Iran or hiring a car from Artin Travel.
There are also other ways to get about, much safer and more convenient for everyone involved. As ,emtioned before, renting a car (preferably with a driver) in Iran is one of the most efficient ways you can visit the country. There are other options like public transportation, marked taxis, and ride-sharing apps like Tap30 or Snapp too.
Many people are aware that Persian carpets are some of the greatest in the world. Some of these rugs are auctioned off for millions of dollars and date back over 2,000 years. And yes, while it’s true that no carpet in the world is truly perfect and as the saying goes “Persian rug is perfectly imperfect and properly imprecise,” Persian carpets are the best they can be.
Anyone who’s even remotely interested in Persian rugs know that the abilities required to weave a Persian rug are unrivaled. Perhaps only professionals will be able to detect the purposefully contrived little flaws. But, most tourist wrongly assume that carpets sold inside Iran are of the same quality as the renowned “Persian rugs”.
That, is simply not true. If you want to go back to your homeland carrying a piece of history with you, make sure you do your research. Preferably, consult with a professional in the field or at least a local who knows the basics of finding a quality rug.
Speaking of taxis and public transportation services, you may see locals waving for unmarked cars to take a ride without caring about the fact that these vehicles are not officially taxis. Make sure you don’t do the same. Taking random rides or sharing unmarked taxis is definitely one of the things you shouldn’t do in Iran.
Shuttle/shared taxis, private taxis, non-registered taxis, Uber-like apps: Tap30 and Snapp, and remote taxis are the five types of taxis available in the country. As a result, any car might theoretically be a taxi, but it’s not that easy when you are a traveler visiting the country.
Take only marked taxis as a tourist, and if you get one off the street, make sure you haggle the price before getting in. Uber-like apps are available too, with set prices and prescheduled routes such as Snapp or Tap30. These apps are trustworthy, and you can use them to learn more about the driver and their vehicle. Both programs are available in Farsi and English. You must purchase a local Sim Card in order to use them though.
Because Facebook and Twitter are blocked in Iran, you’ll need to set up a VPN on your phone or other devices. The good news is, there are loads of proxy and VPN options accessible in Iran, some of which are free and others are not. You must also exercise patience when using the internet in Iran, as WiFi and 3G speeds are slower than in other Western countries.
While we’re on the subject, purchasing a SIM card in Iran will definitely be beneficial. All you need is identification to receive a phone number. While selling local sim cards used to be only limited to residents of the country, most phone stores now have tourist numbers too. Getting into the country without doing proper research on how your access to the online world will be limited is among the things you definitely shouldn’t do in Iran.
You can access the internet, and useful applications like online taxi apps, online food delivery apps, and even online medical assistance apps inside Iran. Learn more about internet restrictions in Iran to plan your trip as best as you can.