Is It Safe To Travel To Iran?
I am still surprised that one of the main questions travelers ask before visiting Iran is if it’s safe.
As a foreigner living in Iran for several years, I tend to forget that the country can still be a source of fear. Because what I see in daily life is the opposite of what the mass media says about Iran.
These past years, Iranians have seen them all. Trump, threats of war with America, threats of war with Israel, sanctions, more sanctions, economic crisis, Covid19, floods… name them all! As if no plague doesn’t knock out Iran. On top of that, whatever efforts Iranians are making to promote the beauty and safety of their country to tourists, foreign diplomacy counters them.
In the four years that I have been living in Iran, I can’t recall the number of times my country’s diplomacy has placed Iran’s entire territory in “red”. It means that one should not travel to Iran, for whatever reason he or she has, due to lack of safety. While I’m writing these lines, peacefully sitting under summer’s clear sky, it’s still the case. My country warns of the risks of arbitrary arrests following the custody of a French couple.
We’re not here to debate about their detention; it is an unfortunate matter of politics. But the consequence is obvious: I can see the fear among people who consider traveling to Iran. They believe that they may be arrested for their clothes, for being with their boyfriend or girlfriend, or for taking the wrong picture.
This won’t happen. On the opposite, being a foreigner often protects you, in the sense that people and authorities will be more tolerant toward you and try to keep you in safety. After all, you’re not supposed to know all the rules…
When travelers send me messages to ask me these questions about safety, I often explain that there’s nothing new under the sun. For years, Iran has had this awful reputation abroad, due to politics, nuclear talks, and others, and foreign media mostly focus on these while talking about Iran. Not that they do not exist, But Iran should not be reduced to that, nor is the situation as dangerous as the new let it think.
Even if I didn’t travel to most countries in the world, I still have a reasonable travel experience, from Asia to Central America. I visited many European capitals and lived for many years in Paris, the capital city of my country. Iran was the first country I decided to visit solo. Why? Because after reading many travelers’ testimonies online, in particular women’s, I realize that it was safe to do so.
And my experience was beyond expectations. I felt safe from the very first moment I stepped in Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran. At that time, we could still enter the country without any visa or pre-authorization (it’s now necessary to have a visa grant notice before you collect your visa on arrival at the airport).
I was of course stressed and confused while trying to figure out how to get my visa, when an officer came to me and help me. I can recall he even said a few French words. A few minutes later I was on the road, taking a selfie with my taxi driver. And that’s how it started!
During my trip to Iran, I kept receiving help from perfect strangers, in particular during my numerous night bus trips, whether it would be from the drivers or from other passengers. Why did people help me so much? Well, first because I am a foreigner who didn’t speak the language.
While in Paris, you may struggle to find the right metro line as most people won’t even take the time to answer your question; here in Iran if you’re a traveler and you seem a bit confused, someone will come right away to check on you before you even ask.
Then, because I am a woman, men tend to be a bit more “protective” and would not let me go alone in the middle of the night. Yet, always be on your guard ladies. In Iran like in every country in the world, we unfortunately have to always be careful. That’s why my rule was (and still is) to always go toward women first if I need anything to be safe.
Eventually, it’s important to note that Iranians, even if they pay special care and attention to foreigners, are generally helpful and relatively kind to each other. While living in Iran, many Iranians would tell me that if people are kind to me, it’s only because I’m a foreigner. That they are not between each other. What most Iranians don’t realize is that they are still warmer and kinder in general (so also to each other) than most people in Europe for instance.
Many of the negative views on Iran are due to the lack of updated information about the country. And how fast it has changed; and keeps changing. When women travelers think they have to be fully covered in black, when they think they can be arrested for being alone in a car with a man, it’s both the effect of what they have seen in famous Iranian movies which were directed just a decade ago, and what they can read in the news.
But the young people you can see today in Tehran have nothing to do with the previous generation! They are so similar to any European kid, because since decades, Iranians have been looking up to the western culture. If you want my opinion, I’d say it’s a shame, because Persian culture is way greater than what we now value in the west, which is mostly capitalism. But that’s how things are: most Iranians want to look like the West, for the freedom and the modernity they see there.
And that’s often a very interesting thing for tourists to see. How radically different is Iran from the image they could have from the media. How modern is Tehran; how technology-driven is the society; how educated is the young generation, about safety…
But, please, don’t take my word for it. Come to Iran, and see that difference by yourself. And if you’re not convinced yet, just search for other travelers’ testimonies. You’ll be amazed by what you find; by the thousands of travelers who had the best experience in Iran, and like me, felt in love with that country!
Daisy Lorenzi is a French writer and traveler who felt in love with Iran after visiting the country. In 2018, she decided to settle in Tehran and has been living in Iran since. She currently lives on Qeshm island, in the Persian Gulf.