Nationality Restrictions – Americans Travelling to Iran
Because of long standing history of coups, espionage, nuclear sanctions and everything else in between that is outside of the average American citizen unconnected to the historical actions of their government, all US passport holders are only allowed into Iran if part of a tour group (or with a guide). It apparently still stands that Americans must also be escorted from the airport to the hotel, and cannot make their own arrangements (it all has to be pre-organised – a simple addition via a tour company).
Nationality Restrictions – British and Canadians Travelling to Iran
As of February 2014, British (and Canadians) became subjected to the same ‘tour only’ (group or private guide) sanctions, which means your visa is usually only granted for the exact number of days of your tour, with a couple of days either side if you list this as part of the arrival and departure options.
Everyone else you are fine (although keep an eye on any changes). Israeli citizens cannot enter Iran at all.
Tours in Iran
I’ve been travelling with G Adventures for over eight years now, so they were my preferred tour partner and sponsor for my ‘Discover Persia’ tour which operates through the revered Iranian agency AITO. I was allowed free time in Tehran either side of my tour though so I had a taste of both worlds, albeit on a small scale.
The upside to a tour, however nomadic and sporadic you normally are, is that these trips pack a real punch in getting you to a LOT of sites in a 14-day period. I saw places I would not have been able to access easily on my own or with public transport and my guide was the walking encyclopedia a history and sociology geek like me needed for an ancient civilization such as Persia. The downside is a lack of free time and lazy resting for an itinerary that would normally, on my terms, take about three weeks, not two.
Travelling Solo in Iran
Note that while solo travel is fine in Iran (if of a free nationality), Iran is not exactly that well trodden on the independent path. There’s little to no hostels and guesthouses, only big, expensive hotels (especially in Tehran) and even then it is rare to stumble upon a bunch of solo travelers to join ranks with. Additionally, in a society where women are much more restricted than their male counterparts, solo female travel is a little harder and can be viewed with surprise/suspicion depending on where you go.
However, solo travel is happening and it is safe…. just a little more challenging than normal.
Note that couchsurfing is officially illegal in Iran but it happens anyway. Nearly all independent travelers I have spoken to have mentioned that they have traveled here via this resource – your local hosts, of course, being the best guides.
Credits @ bordersofadventure