Iran has all the usual visa types – business, student, journalist, etc – but for travellers there are three:
What is the process for getting an Iranian visa?
Other than transit visas, all visa applicants must be 'approved' by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in . This includes those seeking a visa on arrival, who can be approved either in advance or, with a longer wait, on arrival.
If you're approved, the MFA sends an authorisation number to the consulate or airport, which takes your application form, passport photos and fee and issues the visa. Fees vary depending on your country of origin; see the relevant embassy website or check the visa agencies listed below.
Avoid the No Ruz (Iranian New Year) holiday period – March 20 to April 3 – when all bureaucracy shuts down. Submit before 8 March to be safe.
Basically, you need to decide which visa type you want and whether you’ll try to get the visa yourself, or pay an agency to smooth the process.
DIY: going directly through a consulate saves an agency fee but often takes longer and has a much greater chance of rejection (many consulates won’t even accept an application without an authorisation number). In theory, you download the application form from the consulate in your home country; take or send it with your passport, photos, money and proof of your travel insurance to the embassy, which then sends your details to Tehran for approval. If you’re lucky, several weeks later your passport (hopefully with a visa) will come back. Otherwise you’ll need to contact them, which can be hard given Iranian embassies have for years been like black holes to email and telephone calls.
Exceptions abound. In rare cases this method can take just a few days. However there have been many cases where weeks after submission the consul has directed applicants to a visa agency to get the authorisation number; ie start again. Given the uncertainty, if you DIY give yourself at least six weeks.
Agency: visa agencies charge between EUR35 and GBP120 to get you an authorisation number. In most cases you fill out an electronic form with details of your itinerary and where you’d like to collect your visa, attach digital copies of photo and passport, and the agency submits it to the MFA in Tehran. The MFA claims it takes between five and 10 working days to assess the application (unless you’re British or American, when its slower, more costly and more arduous). But plenty of applications take longer or require some clarification. Some agencies are slow to respond to follow-up emails, though in fairness the agency usually does not know what is slowing the process. There is no refund if your application fails, but take comfort that only about 2% are rejected.
Once the authorisation number is received, the agency will forward it to you and your nominated Iranian embassy/consulate. You then need to go through the DIY process described above as a formality, and in most consulates the visa is issued on the spot – in Canberra it took us 25 minutes.
If you’re organising your trip through an Iran-based travel agency you’ll find the agency will probably organise the authorisation number as part of their service. In theory, any Iranian individual can do this.
Any Iranian can sponsor your application, so if you know an Iranian in Iran and they are prepared to go through the bureaucratic process for you, you can save yourself a few euros. Most travellers use the travel agency that is arranging their trip or a specialist visa agency that has a working relationship with the MFA.
Remember that using, and paying, an agency is not a guarantee of getting a visa, and you won't get your money back if your visa is not issued for any reason. To avoid most problems, start the process early. We recommend that you seek up-to-date advice from other travellers about which agency to use, as quality of service varies enormously.
Iran issues 15-day tourist visas on arrival to people from about 65 countries, including most European, ASEAN, Gulf Arab and Central Asian countries, several South American countries, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Notable absentees are Britain and the US.
Applicants must have an onward air ticket.
In theory VOAs are available at all international airports to visitors with an Iranian sponsor, such as a travel agency, visa agency or hotel manager (budget hotels don’t seem to count). And some people report getting one with only the name of a hotel in Tehran.
In practice, however, this service is risky. We’ve heard from numerous people who have been sent back when their expected visa did not materialise, even though they seemed to meet all the requirements. Extensions to these visas are also harder, with another 15 days usually the maximum if any is given.
While we don't advocate lying on your application form, try to avoid unnecessary complications.
Extending isn’t hard if you take the variables into account.
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