In Iran, it’s often unclear for visitors to know if they’re paying the right price. Here is some advice and state of mind to get rid of this struggle.
One thing I’ve noticed a lot with travelers visiting Iran is their uncertainty and confusion when comes to the moment to pay the bill. Both because of their experiences in other countries and because of the quite complicated currency in Iran.
A quick reminder on Rials and Tomans
Before we start discussing what’s the right price to pay, let’s draw a big picture of currency in Iran. First, the Iranian currency is the Rial. There are bills of 10.000, 20.000, 50.000, 100.000, and 500.000 rials. Currently, in mid-2022, one euro is about 300.000 rials. But four years ago, one euro was about 45.000.
Since then, it has continuously risen up, and with it, inflation. As a consequence, the exchange rate keeps changing literally every day. So, first quick advice: when you need to change money, avoid bothering yourself trying to find the best rate ever all over the city’s exchange offices. It will always be just a matter of a few euros difference.
Once you have your rials in hand, you’re ready to start shopping. But wait! Why does the seller speak about tomans? Well, long story short, Iranians do not say prices in rials. Instead, they use tomans, which is simply one zero less. 100.000 rials becomes 10.000 tomans.
Easy? Wait for it. While selling you something that is worth 10.000 tomans the sellers will say not say “ten thousand tomans”, but he or she will say: “ten tomans”. Indeed, while speaking, we usually get rid of the thousands.
Confused? That’s normal, and there’s nothing to be worried about. Let me explain to you why!
The difference between bargain and scam
I have been living as a foreigner in Iran for several years, part of which I wasn’t able to speak Persian, and that made me reach this conclusion: it is extremely unlikely that people will try to reap you off. Scamming buyers, whether they are Iranians or foreigners, is not something very common or acceptable (in some countries, it is notorious that sellers in bazaars will sell you four times the price because you’re a tourist for example).
I’m not saying it doesn’t exist! Of course, they will sometimes try to increase the price a bit to make a better margin, but never in disproportionate ways. That’s why there is a tradition of bargaining in Iran. But once again, it’s what I would call “a light bargaining policy”.
Prices are slightly increased (10 to 30%) because it is expected that as a buyer, you’ll “ask” for a discount when paying. It is usually done with polite sentences such as “and what’s the final price for me?” or “don’t forget the discount”. That’s how bargaining works in Iran. If you higher the voice and dramatically rush out of the shop expecting the seller to run after you, you may wait for a lifetime.
Please, note that in many situations bargaining is not applicable, in particular for restaurants, cafes, food corner shops, and of course, supermarkets. In general, prices are written and updated, and no one ever bargains for such products.
Why there is no “real” price
The thing is that we, who are living in Iran, are constantly puzzled by prices. Inflation is skyrocketing for years and from one month to the other, some product prices double, while others do not change. One month ago I would go to the supermarket and shop grocery for 700.000 tomans.
Suddenly, for the same things, I have to pay 1.400.000 tomans and my jaw drop down when the cashier tells the price. Likewise, I can buy fresh fruit juice for just 40.000 tomans (a bit more than one euro), and on the same day be asked for more than three times this price for some industrial cappuccinos in a cafe. What’s the logic behind it?
Added to that, you must keep in mind that there are huge differences between places. As a capital, Tehran is of course more expensive than many other cities. But there are also some other places where you wouldn’t expect things to be that expensive.
For instance, in Qeshm, while it’s a rather poor island, transportation by taxi (which is the only public transportation that exists) is twice the price of most places in Iran, including Tehran. So if you just arrived there, and you don’t know these things, you may think the driver tries to reap you off, while he is actually giving you the normal fare.
Iran Tourist Card
In the end, knowing the right price for a product would require both knowing the latest inflation rate for that specific product and the average price for it in a specific place. To make it short: it’s rather impossible at the first glance. So what’s the solution?
The right price is the one you’re willing to pay
Well, here are my bits of advice. First, relax. Don’t panic because you’re giving away so many bills with so many zeros. There are unfortunately probably just worth a few euros. Always make the conversion in your mind to know what you’re spending.
Then, remind yourself that most people won’t try to take advantage of you. Sure, be careful. But just don’t assume they try to manipulate you. I can bet with you that if you mistakenly give a 500.000 bill instead of a 50.000, the seller will tell you. Because it happened to me thousands of times.
My second piece of advice, and the most important, is to think about what is the right price for you. Yes, you may be slightly overcharged in comparison to an Iranian while buying a souvenir in the bazaar.
But how does this price feel for you? When I buy a souvenir, when I go to a nice restaurant (meaning, when I’m willing to spend money for a pleasurable thing), I ask myself: is that price worth that service from my point of view? I am okay to pay 40€ for a handmade souvenir? If yes, and if I think the work is worth the price, then I’m happy to pay it without bargaining.
As a tourist, you won’t be able to figure out what is the right price for the right service. Because it is simply too complicated. So, always compare it to your own budget and your own value system. If you are comfortable, convert in euros, and ask yourself whether you think it is worth it.
If you’re on a tight budget, try to figure out what this amount of money represents in terms of food, hostels, and accordingly, decide whether you want to offer it to yourself or not. In the end, the value is the one you decide to see in it.