Expats will find that working in Iran comes with a variety of opportunities and challenges. Iran is home to one of the largest economies in the Middle East and North Africa region.

International sanctions imposed against Iran as a result of its nuclear programme have played a toll on the Iranian economy, and coronavirus has certainly not helped this. With both of these factors leading to the collapse of the oil markets, Iran's most lucrative industry, the economy in the country has undoubtedly taken a knock. 

The agriculture and manufacturing sectors have grown, however, and with the the recovery of the oil market and potential economic reforms, the Iranian economy may see some major improvement in years to come. 


Job market in Iran

Economic activity in Iran is fairly diverse. The country’s economy is characterised by a large hydrocarbon sector, small-scale agriculture and service sectors and a significant state presence in the manufacturing and financial sectors.

Oil and natural gas are its most vital natural resources. Iran ranks second in the world in terms of natural gas reserves and is the ninth largest oil producer, despite the fall of the industry. Prior to the introduction of sanctions against Iran, however, oil accounted for around 80 percent of the country’s export revenues. Many expats moving to Iran do so to take up lucrative employment packages in the oil and gas industries.

Beyond the oil and gas sector, other important industries in Iran include textiles, sugar refining, food processing, and the production of cement, building materials, iron, steel and machinery. With the growth of these industries, expats may find profitable work opportunities in Iran outside of oil production.  

As Iran is also one of the Middle Eastern countries that offers English teaching with ESL, TEFL and TOEFL certifications, this may also be an option for expats wishing to work in Iran. 


Finding a job in Iran

Most expats who relocate to Iran for work do so with a contract already in place. Reputable companies operating in Iran tend to headhunt their expat employees and entice them to move to Iran with the promise of a lucrative employment offer. Often people working for a company in their home country or elsewhere in the Middle East are transferred to Iran to work within the same company.

Expats intending on working in Iran will need to ensure they have a valid work permit. In most cases, this is arranged through the expat’s employer, which acts as their sponsor in Iran. The process should be started at least two months before an expat moves to Iran to accommodate any unexpected delays.

Expats without an employer who can to assist them through the process of obtaining a work permit should consider using the services of a recognised visa company. The Iranian authorities may request interviews with expats before a visa or work permit is granted.


Work culture in Iran

Those aiming to work or do business in Iran will need to make an effort to gain some objective understanding of the people, culture, etiquette and approach to business. It’s only by operating with a degree of cultural sensitivity that foreigners will be able to enhance their work life in Iran.

While Farsi, also known as Persian, is the official language of Iran, English is spoken in most business circles and higher levels of government. That said, it's still advisable to arrange an interpreter.

Success in Iran's job market is often defined by who you know rather than what you know. As business in Iran is personal, with many businesses being family owned, taking the time to get to know one’s colleagues and associates is vital to getting ahead in business. 

Be respectful by keeping things formal initially, be patient, and don't be afraid to ask colleagues for favours. Expats may be frustrated by the slow pace of business in Iran, but making an effort to understand the work culture will assist any expat in adjusting to life in Iran.