I knew I will be in Armenia at the end of April, for the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and I figured I can take a bus from Yerevan to Tehran. It just seemed so easy in my mind, like the most obvious thing to do. Well, it probably is if you have an visa in your passport. I’ve read it can take a while to get a visa to Iran so I applied for the authorization code some 2 months before my planned arrival to Tehran to be on the safe side. I must admit I was slightly afraid the Iranian authorities will somehow find this blog and the fact I was in Israel but I got the code pretty fast and I was almost celebrating I’m going to Iran, feeling I’m already there and thinking things can go only easy from that moment and the hardest part is already achieved. Well, it turned out it wasn’t that easy…
I called the Embassy, asking if my code has arrived and one of the first questions I was asked by the nice lady working there was if I’m travelling alone. I explicitly confirmed – it turned out that wasn’t the answer she was waiting for. The second question – if I know anyone in Iran (no, I don’t) – destroyed my chances for getting visa to Iran even more. The nice lady said I should come with my documents and the consul might want to talk to me but I should better not pay the 50€ fee yet. I was still so sure I’d get a visa (because why shouldn’t I?), that I can easily prove the consul I’m a reliable traveler that I didn’t even consider things can go differently.
I happily headed to the Iranian Embassy in Warsaw (which happens to be few steps away from where I live), with the whole set of documents needed for the visa. Iran really isn’t the most popular travel destination – there were only 3 people in the queue before me (and I remember how much hassle it was to apply for the Chinese visa;)) The nice lady remembered me from the phone conversation earlier on that day, took a look at my documents which were fine but before taking my visa application she called the consul, telling him about my planned solo trip. He wasn’t so fond of me going there on my own and said I should get on the tour or have the support of the Iranian tour agency, only that way I can get a visa… And it was all because apparently he was just concerned about my safety in Iran as woman traveling solo are just asking for troubles…
I was emailing with the agency that got me the code but it wasn’t going well. They were claiming that by giving me the code they are supporting me and I can turn to them in case of the emergency. But that was not enough for the consul and the agency didn’t want to send the email to the Embassy saying they’re helping me out. At some point they just stopped answering to my emails altogether. I was constantly in touch with the nice lady from the Embassy and she was doing her best to talk the consul into giving me that visa (she perfectly understood why I want to travel solo and don’t want to join any tour and assured me that Iran is worth all the hassle) but the guy was just stubborn and kept saying no. I was slowly losing my faith in going to Iran and the time was really running out.
Finally the nice lady said that she really did her best but there’s nothing else she can do to change the consul’s mind. And so she came up with another plan for me. Since I officially didn’t apply for the visa I can still fly to Iran and get it at the airport. I already had a code, it’s valid for 3 months after issuing and it would be just a waste not to use it. The problem is each code is for a specific Embassy and so mine was for Warsaw. But the nice lady came up with the story that I just was sick and couldn’t get the visa on time in Warsaw so they sent me to get one at the arrival – that would explain my code.
I was fighting with my thought for a while. The time was running out, my departure to the Caucasus was getting closer and closer and I still had no idea about my plan after Yerevan, if I should go back to Poland, head to Iran anyway or go somewhere else. Eventually I started looking for flights – as that’s the only way one can get a visa on arrival – and it turned out I have to go back to Tbilisi to fly to Tehran (via Baku and Doha;)). This trip was getting more and more absurd but well, I’ve decided to go for it! After all I was so close to getting to Iran, one of my top places I was hoping to visit, that it’d be a shame to give up at the very end!
So many people have told me I’m really brave (or stupid) to travel to Iran without a visa in my passport, I got so many question what I’ll do when they don’t let me in. But I simply didn’t think about this option, I was just focusing on the positive possibilities. At the airport in Tbilisi I was asked at the check in for my visa to Iran and when I said I will get one on the arrival the woman just asked if I have booked a flight back from there as they’ll ask me for sure about that and without any prove on the outward journey I might not be let in. Fortunately I had everything and she didn’t cause any more troubles, checked me in for my flights and I was free to travel to Iran. The moment I got my boarding pass with “Tehran” on it I started having some minor panic attacks and keep asking myself “what if…” but at that point there was no return!
My flight arrived to Tehran at the calm time and as soon as I left it I could hear my heart beating like crazy. The moment of truth has came! I was afraid I will be the only one applying for the visa on arrival but it turned out there were some 5 more people. I got to the counter and well, the whole process took maybe 2 minutes (and then 10 more minutes of waiting). I was asked only 3 questions: if I have an authorization code (I explained why it is for Warsaw but they didn’t even want to look at it), what is my plan in Iran and if I have a hotel reservation (again didn’t even want to see the confirmation). That was it. I just had to go to the bank counter and pay the 50€ fee and few minutes later got my passport back with a shiny visa for 15 days! (That’s the downside of visa on arrival, in the consulate they usually give it for 30 days).
There was just one more issue to solve – the insurance. Iran requires you to have one and even if I have an annual one, valid all over the world, the guy dealing with it said he doesn’t have this company in his list. But as soon as I said that I reconfirmed before coming that it really is valid in Iran too and I know people who have traveled to that country with that one and were fine and that was enough, I could enter the country. After few more minutes of waiting in the line for the passport control I entered Iran, for real! I was free to travel there and explore this incredible country. And as it turned out everyone was right, it really was worth of the hassle!
Citizens of all the countries but 11 (including USA, UK and Canada) can apply for the visa on arrival at 6 main Iranian airports. It is only a tourist visa, valid for 15 days. The whole process is easy and straightforward and depending on the number of people applying can take from few minutes to one hour. The authorization code is not needed for this kind of visa however it is advised to have one – you can get yours here!) and an onward ticket (but you can always say you will take the bus to Armenia or train to Turkey afterwards). The fee depends on the nationality, for Poland it was 50€.
If you plan to cross the mainland border of Iran you need to have a visa before. You should get one at the consulate, it doesn’t need to be in your country. For that kind of visa you will need an authorization code – there’re some Iranian agencies who can get you one (just google them, they all reliable), I paid for mine 35€. The whole process might take some time so better start it around 2 months before your planned trip.
Citizens of USA, UK or Canada still can visit Iran, they just cannot go there independently and have to be a part of the tour group.
As for the solo female travelers: I think the issue I had in the embassy was only caused by the consul in Warsaw. Few months ago my Dutch friend easily got her visa in Amsterdam (and said it was one of the easiest visas she has ever applied for), I also know girls traveling solo who got their visas without any hassle in Trabzon (Turkey) or in Yerevan, Armenia.
You can also read Yomadic’s story about his visa to Iran.
What was the most difficult to obtain visa you got? Would you like to visit Iran?
If you think of visiting Iran or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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