Guidance

Living in Iran

Information for British nationals living in Iran, with information on Iranian laws and customs, money, driving and property.

Overview

Iranian laws differ from those in the UK, including in areas such as dress, alcohol, and mixing with unrelated members of the opposite sex. Behaviour that is acceptable in Britain may be illegal in Iran. All travelers should take care to become familiar with local law and practice before they travel and to abide scrupulously by it when in Iran.

This guide sets out some essential information for British nationals in Iran, including advice on health, education, benefits, residence requirements and more. We are unable to provide any guidance on general lifestyle enquiries apart from the information and links listed below (see our information on what our consular staff can and cannot do for British nationals). This information supplements the FCO’s travel advice for Iran.

Entry and residence requirements

British nationals need a visa to travel to Iran. The Iranian Embassy in London provides a visa service for British nationals living in the UK. If you need to contact them, their email address is lon.visa@mfa.gov.ir or you can call 020 7937 5225.

You should lodge your visa application well in advance of your planned date of travel: the application process can be long and unpredictable. Check the expiry date of your visa before travelling. If you overstay your visa, you may have to remain in Iran until the situation is resolved. Some British nationals have experienced considerable difficulties trying to get visas from private online visa agencies.

Women, and girls over the age of nine, should wear a headscarf in visa application photos.

Passports

If you enter Iran on a British passport, it must be valid for at least six months. You should be aware that British nationals cannot currently renew a British passport in Iran, but must do so in the UK or a third country.

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Iran but are accepted by the local authorities for exit from Iran. If you enter Iran on a British passport which is then lost, stolen or damaged, the British Embassy may be able to issue an ETD. Before leaving Iran using an ETD you’ll need to get an exit visa from the Iranian Bureau of Alien and Foreign Immigrants Affairs.

If your passport contains an Israeli stamp or stamps from other countries’ border crossing points with Israel, you may be refused entry to Iran.

Women considering relocating to Iran should be aware that, under Iranian law, women and children residing in Iran as members of an Iranian household (including: adult British women married to Iranian men; adult British women who are the unmarried daughters of Iranian fathers; and British children born to Iranian fathers) require the permission of the Iranian male head of their household to hold a passport or travel document and to leave the country. Married women require their husband’s permission, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian. Permission of the male head of household may be for a single journey or for multiple journeys until the passport expires.

Dual nationality

Iran does not recognise dual nationality. This means that the Iranian authorities do not accept that the British government has any legitimate role in relation to British nationals in Iran, if Iran considers them also to be Iranian. If you are regarded as an Iranian national under Iranian law, you will be required to enter and leave Iran on Iranian travel documents. This may apply if your father is Iranian, or if you are married to an Iranian man, even if you do not consider yourself to be Iranian.

Iranian local laws and customs

Iran is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the holy month of Ramazan or if you intend to visit religious areas. It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours during the holy month of Ramazan.

Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. In any public place women must cover their heads with a headscarf, wear trousers (or a floor length skirt), and a long-sleeved tunic or coat (known as a manteau) that reaches to mid-thigh or knee. Men should wear long trousers in public; T-shirts and short-sleeve shirts are acceptable, vest tops are not.

There are additional dress requirements at certain religious sites. Women may be asked to put on a chador (a garment that covers the whole body except the face) before entering.

Relationships between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal, although in practice few Westerners have been prosecuted. If a Muslim woman is found in a relationship with a non-Muslim man, she may be sentenced to corporal punishment (for example, whipping).

Women should take extra care, particularly when travelling alone or with friends of the opposite sex. If you are a woman travelling in Iran you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas. See these travel tips for women travelers.

Unmarried partners and friends of the opposite sex travelling together should be discreet at all times. Iranian hotel managers may insist on seeing a marriage certificate before allowing any couple to share a double hotel room. Homosexual behaviour, adultery and sex outside marriage are illegal under Iranian law and can incur severe punishments, including the death penalty.

Women’s magazines and DVDs or videos depicting sexual relations are forbidden. There are occasional clampdowns. Satellite dishes and many Western CDs and films remain illegal.

The import, sale, manufacture and consumption of alcohol in Iran is strictly forbidden under Iranian law. Penalties can be severe.

Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited. Sensitive government buildings and facilities are often difficult to identify. Take extreme care when taking photographs in any areas that are anything other than obvious tourist attractions. It is better to ask before taking photographs of people.

Using a laptop or other electronic equipment in public places can be misinterpreted, especially if the equipment contains photographs. You may be arrested and detained on serious criminal charges, including espionage.

Sentences for importing and possessing drugs are severe and include the death penalty. Many individuals convicted of drug offences, including foreign nationals, have been executed.

Importing pork products into Iran is not allowed.

The Iranian legal system differs in many ways from the UK. Suspects can be held without charge and are not always allowed quick access to legal representation. In the past, the authorities have granted the British Embassy very limited consular access to detained British nationals.

In some cases, we believe that individuals involved in commercial disputes with Iranian companies or individuals have been prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute.

As a representative of a British or western company, you may be subject to particular attention. British business people travelling to Iran should take appropriate steps to protect commercially sensitive information (including thorough password protection of electronic devices [minimum 4 digits] and not taking unnecessary information with you). Electronic devices may be screened by customs officials on arrival and departure.

You should carry a photocopy of your passport for identification. Make sure you have included emergency contact details.

Money

International banking is not available in Iran. There are Iranian banks and Iranians commonly use ATMs and credit/debit cards, but international money transfers are not possible. As a result, UK debit and credit cards will not work in Iran. There are no cash machines that accept UK bank cards and it is not usually possible to change travellers’ cheques. You should therefore bring enough hard currency (e.g. US dollars or Euros) with you in cash and change it at officially licensed exchange bureaus. It is illegal to change money on the street.

Health

You should ensure that you have adequate medical insurance because Iran has extremely limited free medical care. While costs are generally lower than private treatment in the UK, they can rise steeply. Medical facilities are fair in major cities, in some cases with English speaking doctors, but they are more limited in rural areas. If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 115 and ask for an ambulance (please note, only Farsi is spoken on this number). You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Religion

Iran is an Islamic Republic with Shi’ism as the official religion. Jews and Christians (as “people of the book”) are allowed to practice. Sunni Muslims are not permitted to have mosques; instead they have prayer rooms. Adherents to the Baha’i faith will find worship to be actively restricted by Iranian authorities. The religious make-up of Iran is as follows: Shi’a Muslim 89%, Sunni Muslim 9%, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha’i 2%.

Showing respect for local customs, religious holidays, and particularly Islamic dress requirements, is essential in minimising run-ins with the local authorities and the police.

Life in Iran does not shut down during the daily calls to prayer, as happens in some Middle Eastern countries. During Islamic festivals and holidays, however, particular care should be taken not to offend religious sensibilities. During Ramadan, the month of fasting, it is not acceptable to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours. Iran has a large number of religious holidays and mourning months, usually dedicated to Shi’a martyrdoms, when it also is wise to be discreet.

Education

Most expatriates who choose to educate their children in Iran send them to private schools. The international schools in Tehran that the British Embassy has approved for use by its own staff include the German/International and French schools.

Employment and qualifications

Most British qualifications will be recognised in Iran and British nationals may work in Iran if they have an appropriate visa and work permit.

Benefits

There are no state benefits available to British nationals in Iran. Also, see UK benefits if you’re going or living abroad.

Driving

Iran drives on the right. You must get an Iranian driving licence to drive in Iran. Driving standards in Iran can be lower than in Europe. Vehicles are often in a poor condition and can be found driving on the wrong side of the road, drifting between lanes or driving in the middle of two lanes, reversing and making u-turns unexpectedly. Care and patience is required to navigate safely. At the scene of an accident crowds can gather quickly and tempers can fray, potentially leading to violent confrontation. If you are involved in an accident call, the police immediately and remain calm. Vehicle insurance (liability) is mandatory under Iranian law.

Property

You should take legal advice before entering into any agreement over the ownership or use of property or other assets.

Disputes over property ownership are common in Iran. These are civil matters and the British Embassy cannot intervene. British Embassy consular staff are not legally trained and cannot offer legal advice. If you are unable to reach an amicable solution to a dispute, you may wish to consider taking legal advice and engaging a lawyer to act on your behalf. It may be necessary to take legal action through the courts in order to achieve a lasting resolution to the disagreement.

Disclaimer

This information is provided as a general guide and is based upon information provided to the British Embassy by the relevant local authorities and may be subject to change at any time with little or no notice. Neither the FCO nor the British Embassy will be liable for any inaccuracies in this information. British nationals wishing to obtain any further information must contact the relevant Iranian authorities.

Published 9 August 2016

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