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Moving to Iran

Expats moving to Iran will find a country born out of a rich and tumultuous history. Iran became a unique Islamic republic in 1979 when the monarchy was overthrown by religious clerics.

Most expats in Iran come from other Middle Eastern states. Many can be found working as senior management professionals in the abundant state-owned oil and natural gas sectors. Expats tend to be located in Iran’s capital, Tehran. This city is also the political, cultural, industrial and commercial centre of the country.

There are lots of exciting activities for expats living in Iran. Popular activities are hiking and skiing in the Alborz mountains and relaxing by the Persian Sea. Expats can also delve into Iran's rich history, culture and architecture.

While Persian, know as Farsi locally, is the official language of Iran, English is commonly spoken in business circles. Expats should always bear in mind that Iran is a culturally strict Islamic country. Women should dress modestly both as a sign of respect to the local culture and to avoid unwanted attention.

Iran is much safer than most expats assume. However, safety and security are concerns for expats travelling to and living in Iran. Due to strained relations between Iran and the West, and regular spates of protest in Tehran, Iran can feel politically volatile for many expats.

The British Foreign Office and the US Department of State warn their citizens against travel to Iran as there have been incidences of foreigners being kidnapped. Expats in Iran are advised to maintain a low profile and to stay well away from any mass gatherings or political protests.

There are a number of international schools in Iran to serve expat populations. There are also some good private hospitals in Tehran. The general standard of healthcare in Iran may not meet the standards that most expats are accustomed to. It's paramount that those moving to Iran have a comprehensive health insurance package.

Ultimately, while expats might be enticed to move to Iran for career progression, it's not a decision to be taken lightly. Considering the volatility in the region and Iran's international standing, expats living in Iran are likely to feel more restricted than they would in their home countries, especially as some of their freedoms will be curbed.


Fast facts

Population: 81 million

Capital city: Tehran

Neighbouring countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan

Geography: Located in the Middle East, Iran lies to the south of the Caspian Sea and north of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The country's mountains enclose several broad basins, or plateaus, on which major agricultural and urban settlements are located. 

Political system: A hybrid system guided by Islamic ideologies that feature an elected president and parliament with an assembly of experts, who appoint a supreme leader. 

Major religion: Islam

Main languages: Persian (Farsi) is the official language of Iran but English is widely spoken in business circles

Money: Iranian Rial (IRR)

Tipping: Not expected. A small tip is always appreciated, however, as wages in the service industries in Iran are low. 

Time: GMT+3.5

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz. Three-pin rectangular blade plugs are common, but two-pin plugs are also used.

Internet domain: .ir

International dialling code: +98

Emergency numbers: Ambulance 115, fire brigade 125, police 110  

Transport and driving: Traffic drives on the right-hand side.

Weather in Iran

Expats living in Iran will have to contend with its semi-arid climate. The summers are long and hot and the winters short and cool, while the north is a subtropical region.

Iran is typically hot and dry. However, it also has subfreezing temperatures and heavy snowfall during winters, especially in the northwest. It also has a steady rainfall throughout the year along the Caspian Coast.

Spring in Iran coincides with Norwuz, the Persian New Year, and lasts from March to May. This time of year is cool, with temperatures rapidly rising towards summer. Spring is a relatively short season and expats can expect fluctuating weather patterns with some rain too.

Summer in Iran is the longest season and lasts from late May to September. It is hot and dry except on the Caspian Coast where rainfall starts as early as mid-summer and lasts through to winter’s end. Summer highs rarely exceed 84°F (29°C) in most of the country. However, temperatures rise as high as 100.4°F (38°C) in the east and its desert areas.

Autumn in Iran is short, spanning just October to November. Temperatures begin to drop and rainfall arrives in most parts of the country by November.

Winters in Iran are cool, especially in the northwest where it drops below freezing and snows, often heavily. From December until mid-March, the weather will remain cool, below 50°F (10°C) and sometimes below 32°F (0°C). This is also the wettest time of year.

A major concern for expats is the combination of humidity and heat. Heat exhaustion is a threat to unprepared or sickly residents and can be fatal. In addition, sudden violent storms can cause property damage and injury. Dust storms can often result in fatalities. There are also frequent earthquakes in Iran. These are often both damaging and lethal, especially when occurring close to the capital area. Two final environmental considerations for expats include pollution and water security in Iran. The level of pollution in cities like Tehran will adversely affect those with sensitive respiratory systems. Water availability is a pressing current and future challenge. To mitigate these challenges, it's best to prepare as much as possible beforehand.

Embassy Contacts for Iran

Iranian embassies 

  • Embassy of Pakistan, Washington DC, USA (Iran Interest Section): +1 202 243 6500

  • Embassy of Iran, London, United Kingdom: + 44  207 225 4200

  • Embassy of Iran, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6290 7000

  • Embassy of Iran, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 87 945 1307 

  • Embassy of Iran, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 288 0252

  • Embassy of Iran, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 386 2976


Foreign embassies in Iran

  • Embassy of Switzerland, Tehran, Iran (US Interest Section): +98 21 2200 8333

  • British Embassy, Tehran, Iran: +98 21 6405 2000

  • Canadian Embassy, Ankara, Turkey (responsible for Iran): +90 312 409 2700

  • Australian Embassy, Tehran, Iran: +98 21 8872 4456

  • South African Embassy, Tehran, Iran: +98 21 2270 2866

  • Embassy of Ireland, Ankara, Turkey (assistance for Iran): +90 312 459 1000

  • New Zealand Embassy, Tehran, Iran: +98 21 2612 2175

Public Holidays in Iran

 

2020

2021

Martyrdom of Hazrat Fatemah

29 January

17 January

Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution

11 February

11 February

Birthday of Imam Ali

8 March

25 February

Oil Nationalisation Day

19 March

19 March

Novruz (Persian New Year)

20-22 March

21-24 March

Mabaath

22 March

11 March

Islamic Republic Day

31 March

1 April

Sidzah Bedhar

2 April

2 April

Birthday of Imam Mahdi

9 April

29 March

Martyrdom of Imam Ali

14 May

2 May

Eid al-Fitr

24-25 May

13-14 May

Anniversary of Khomeini's Death

3 June

4 June

Revolt of Khordad

5 June

5 June

Martyrdom of Imam Sadeq

17 June

6 June

Eid al-Adha

31 July

20 July

Eid al-Ghadir

8 August

28 July

Tassoua

28 August

18 August

Ashura

29 August

19 August

Arbaeen

8 October

27 September

Death of Prophet Muhammad

16 October

6 October

Martyrdom of Imam Hasan

16 October

6 October

Martyrdom of Imam Reeza

17 October

7 October

Martyrdom of Imam Hassan Asgari

25 October

15 October

The Prophet's Birthday

29 October

19 October

Birthday of Imam Sadeq

3 November

19 October

Islamic holidays are subject to the sighting of the moon, and dates can change on the Gregorian calendar.

Safety in Iran

Safety is a concern for expats relocating to Iran. There is political tensions between Iran and many Western governments. This causes attitudes towards foreigners to not always be positive. Expats should avoid getting involved in any type of political demonstrations. Terrorism is a general threat and travel to border regions is also to be avoided.

On a day-to-day basis, expats should guard against petty theft. Foreigners in Iran, as in most countries, are easy targets for muggings because they are unfamiliar with their surroundings. Expats should also be careful when using Iranian roads because the accident tolls are notoriously high.

Finally, it's essential that expats realise they won't enjoy all the same freedoms that they would at home. For example, bringing alcohol into Iran or accessing popular websites that are banned by the Iranian government is illegal. 


Crime in Iran

The crime rate in Iran is relatively low. Despite this, foreigners are often the targets of non-violent petty crime. For example, men on motorcycles or in cars are known to snatch bags from individuals on the street or through open car windows. Expats are advised to take sensible precautions to protect themselves against such street crime. They should avoid carrying large amounts of cash and keep their passports safe at all times. Furthermore, it is advisable to pre-book taxis rather than hailing one on the street.


Road safety in Iran

The rate of road accidents in Iran is high. Care should be taken when travelling by road and when crossing the street. Foreigners should avoid driving if possible and instead hire a local driver who will be more familiar with road conditions and driving behaviour in Iran. Anyone involved in an accident, however minor, should remain at the scene until police arrive and a formal report has been made.

Iranian authorities will occasionally set up informal roadblocks in cities and along major highways. Expats should always carry some form of identification with them to avoid disputes.


Political tensions in Iran

The political situation in Iran remains volatile. Demonstrations are heavily policed. Expats should avoid going anywhere near such rallies. International news events can sometimes trigger anti-Western demonstrations. Western diplomatic missions have been the focus of such demonstrations in the past.


Safety at the border zones

Certain border zones are regarded as being particularly dangerous. Due to numerous safety concerns, many governments advise their citizens against travelling to areas close to Iran's borders with Iraq and Afghanistan. The area to the east of Bam and Jask, and the province of Sistan-Baluchestan serve as the main route for drug-traffickers from Afghanistan and Pakistan. This area is notorious for banditry.


Terrorism in Iran

There is a general threat of terrorism in Iran. While attacks are indiscriminate, they do often target places frequented by foreigners. Bombings have taken place in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan. In general, expats should be vigilant and keep security arrangements up to date. There is also a threat of kidnapping at border areas.


Natural disasters in Iran

Iran is prone to earthquakes. Expats should familiarise themselves with earthquake safety procedures. Flooding is also common in Iran and leads so many deaths annually.

Working in Iran

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.

Due to the country’s relative isolation from global financial markets, Iran was able to avoid recession during the global financial crisis. However, it has suffered from international sanctions imposed against it as a result of its nuclear programme.


Industries 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 fourth for proven crude oil reserves. Prior to the introduction of sanctions against Iran in 2014, 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.


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.

Doing Business in Iran

Iran’s tumultuous political history has meant that despite the country’s wealth of resources, it has been relatively isolated from the global economy.

International business partnerships with Iran have been tentative at best and are generally limited to the energy sector. Unfortunately, negative images and stereotypes of Iranian society have clouded the great warmth and hospitality of the Iranian people.

The country's business infrastructure and processes may not be on par with those of the Western world. However, the Iranian economy offers plenty of potential for discerning expat entrepreneurs.

Iran ranked 128th out of 190 economies analysed in The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2019. It scored highest in the areas of dealing with construction permits (86) and enforcing contracts (89). However, the country scored particularly badly in areas such as trading across borders (121), protecting minority investors (173) and starting a business (173).

While this doesn’t present an enticing picture for potential investors, there are still a fair number of foreign businesspeople who are looking to establish operations in the country. Those wishing to 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 international businesspeople will be able to enhance their business experiences in Iran.


Fast facts

Business hours

Saturday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm.

Business language

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

Dress

Business dress should be smart and conservative. Suits are standard but wearing a tie is not common. Women should dress conservatively. They should be particularly careful about covering up their arms, legs and hair in public.

Gifts

Gifts are not necessary for business proceedings. If invited to a colleague's home, flowers or chocolates are a good option. Do not give gifts that contain alcohol or pork.

Gender equality

While the number of women in business in Iran is increasing steadily, the country still has a long way to go in terms of achieving equality. Iran still has a very traditional view of gender roles which impacts how women are treated in business. Women rarely occupy the most senior positions. 


Business culture in Iran

Personal relationships and networking

Success in Iranian business circles is often defined by who you know rather than what you know. Taking the time to get to know one’s colleagues and business associates is vital to getting ahead in business.

Business in Iran is personal. Many businesses are family owned. Having a solid network of friends in Iran is important and one shouldn’t be afraid to ask for favours. However, expats should also be prepared to go the extra mile for colleagues in the future. Reciprocal support is an integral part of business in Iran.

Meeting and greeting

Business associates typically greet with a formal handshake. Men must wait for a woman to extend her hand before making any gesture. If she doesn’t extend her hand, a simple nod of the head and a smile will suffice.

It is best to keep things formal when doing business in Iran. Once a relationship has been established and counterparts begin to address expats using their first name, it is acceptable to do likewise. Men are addressed with the title ‘agha’ followed by their surname. Women will be addressed using the title ‘khanoom’.

In Iran, the most common greeting is ‘salaam’ when meeting someone. Upon leaving a meeting, Iranians will generally say ‘khoda hafez’ which translates as ‘may God preserve you’.

Business etiquette

For new arrivals, business procedures in Iran may seem erratic. Those doing business in Iran should endeavour to make appointments four to six weeks in advance. They should also confirm appointments by telephone and in writing. Prior to arriving at a meeting, it is a good idea to call the day before to ensure that it is still going ahead.

Punctuality is rare in Iran. However, expats should still arrive on time to create a good impression.

Doing business with government officials will test one’s patience and expats should prepare to be kept waiting. Administration and bureaucracy in Iran are sometimes chaotic and this will often cause delays. Always be courteous and avoid showing outward signs of frustration when kept waiting.

At the beginning of a business meeting, small talk is exchanged. Asking after a colleague’s health and family is expected. It’s best to wait for the Iranian business associate to begin talking about business.

Business negotiations

Getting to know Iranian colleagues on a personal level is critical. Initial business meetings will focus solely on becoming familiar with one another rather than discussing business matters. Formal proceedings only begin once relations have been established.

Haggling is a common element of Iranian business culture. So, expect long negotiations to take place. Decision making can be slow. It is likely that expats will have to meet with several different people before a final outcome can be reached. Iranians will gather a number of opinions from their associates before they trust new business partners.

Implementing decisions can be just as slow in Iran. It often requires manoeuvering through the slow-moving Iranian bureaucracy. Applying pressure in a non-confrontational manner may speed things up. Though, the best method is often to ask a favour from an influential colleague wherever possible.


Setting up a business in Iran

There are several stages and bureaucratic hurdles that expats contend with when setting up a business in Iran. These include obtaining criminal record clearances, registering for VAT, officially registering the company’s name, paying stamp duty and enrolling employees in the social security programme.

Expats should note that they should anticipate long waits for most of the necessary documentation. They should seek advice from Iranian business associates and fellow expats who have previously been through the process.

Cost of Living in Iran

Expats moving to Iran will find the cost of living fairly low. The biggest expense for most people will be housing. International school fees, which are high, will be another major cost for expats with children. Transportation is generally fairly cheap, as are many other everyday expenses.


Cost of accommodation

Housing prices in Iran are rising. Despite this, accommodation is relatively low-priced compared to many other countries in the Middle East.

Wherever possible, expats should liaise with their employer to negotiate an accommodation allowance. If that isn’t possible, they should see whether the company has any relationships with landlords or agents that can assist in finding cheaper housing. Additional costs when renting property in Iran include electricity, a telephone line and internet.


Cost of eating out and entertainment in Iran

Much of an expat’s lifestyle expenses in Iran will depend on individual choices. Eating out can be relatively affordable, although prices between restaurants can vary sharply. Generally, the cost of everyday groceries is fairly cheap. Expats who opt to cook at home will save a fair amount of money.


Cost of transportation in Iran

The cost of travelling in Iran is generally inexpensive. Public transport is very affordable. Some expats opt to use taxis or hire a private driver to take them around. Buying, or even hiring, a car in Iran is expensive. However, maintaining a vehicle and the price of fuel are both cheap.


Cost of healthcare in Iran

The standard of healthcare in Iran varies. Generally, the medical services in all major towns will be good, and doctors will be well-trained. However, most expats prefer going to private hospitals which offer a higher standard of facilities and faster treatment. It is important that expats ensure they have a fully comprehensive international health insurance policy. In most cases, this will be arranged by employers.


Cost of education in Iran

Expats relocating to Iran with children will need to factor the cost of schooling into their budget. Most expats send their children to one of the international schools in Iran. Facilities and standards of teaching at these schools tend to be excellent.

Fees vary between schools and increase with age. Expats should contact the school directly to make enquiries, as fees fluctuate regularly.

Parents should note that fees usually don’t include the cost of uniforms, textbooks and school excursions. So, these will also need to be accounted for. Luckily for most expats, companies relocating expats to Iran usually offer allowances for children’s school fees.


Cost of living in Iran chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Tehran in October 2019.

Accommodation 

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre 

IRR 23,700,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre 

IRR 14,530,000

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

IRR 47,940,00

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre 

IRR 31,230,000

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

IRR 70,500

Milk (1 litre)

IRR 40,200

Rice (1kg)

IRR 125,00

Loaf of white bread

IRR 19,400

Chicken breasts (1kg)

IRR 172,600

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

IRR 133,500

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

IRR 234,300

Coca-Cola (330ml)

IRR 22,400

Cappuccino

IRR 80,300

Bottle of non-alcoholic local beer

IRR 32,900

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant (for two)

IRR 842,100

Utilities

Mobile to mobile call rate (per minute)

IRR 570

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

IRR 760,000

Basic utilities per month for a small apartment

IRR 1,235,000

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

IRR 13,710

Monthly bus/train pass

IRR 451,000

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

IRR 10,000

Culture Shock in Iran

Expats moving to Iran can expect to experience certain elements of culture shock. Religion plays an important role in everyday life in Iran. Expats will need to be sensitive to these cultural norms and adjust their lifestyle accordingly.

Those who take the time to learn about the local culture and engage with Iranians in a meaningful way will find their experience to be more rewarding.


Language barrier in Iran

Persian or Farsi is the official language of Iran. In business and diplomatic circles, most people speak English well. However, it is wise for expats doing business in Iran to arrange an interpreter.

Expats who learn basic phrases in the local language will find that their efforts will be appreciated and that they are more likely to be welcomed into Iranian society.


Religion in Iran

Islam is practised by the vast majority of the Iranian population. Islam permeates all aspects of political, economic and legal life in Iran. This is something expats will have to adapt to in their daily lives.

Expats in Iran will soon become familiar with the sound of the Muslim call to prayer – Muslims are expected to pray five times a day: at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. In Iran, everything comes to a standstill on Friday, which is a holy day for Muslims. Almost all businesses will be closed on a Friday. Many companies also close on Thursday. This means the weekend in Iran falls on a Thursday and Friday.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and many businesses operate on a reduced schedule. Expats aren’t expected to fast, but they must not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public.


Family values in Iran

Family is central to social structures in Iran. The concept of family is more private in Iranian culture. Locals take special care in protecting their female family members from outside influences.

Iranians take their family responsibilities very seriously. Most only have one or two children, but extended families remain large. It’s common for elderly relatives to be taken care of by the wider family circle at home.

Nepotism is quite apparent in business circles in Iran. However, it is regarded positively in the sense that employers can be sure that they are hiring someone trustworthy.


Privacy in Iran

Iranians tend to see themselves as having two distinct identities – zaher (public) and batin (private). When they are in public they conform to accepted modes of behaviour and will refrain from showing their true personality. However, among family and close friends, they will be more open and are more likely to share personal information, offer advice and provide support in general.  


Manners in Iran

Expats in Iran will soon get accustomed to the concept of taarof. This is a system of politeness that includes both verbal and non-verbal modes of communication. Iranians are reluctant to accept compliments as humility is a highly valued attribute.

In adherence to taarof, expats should at least show some reluctance to accept gifts or invitations until the insistence becomes greater.


Dress in Iran 

The Iranian attitude to dress code is more casual than one might expect However, there are specific rules that need to be followed. Most important is the headscarf for women. These need to be worn at all times and must cover the neck and head. A little bit of hair showing isn’t a problem. Many local women wear their headscarves perched far back. However, when visiting a mosque or shrine, it has to go right up to the forehead.

Other things to consider are that Iranians often hide the shape of their bodies. This can be done by wearing baggy trousers and loose, cotton tops. Bare forearms are fine, however, shoulders should be covered.

Accommodation in Iran

Most expats live in the capital city of Tehran. Accommodation in this city is plentiful. In most cases, employers arrange accommodation for their expat employees prior to their arrival in Iran. Housing prices in Iran are rising despite the availability of properties, especially in Tehran.

It is possible for foreigners to own property if they have legal residence in Iran. However, the process can be difficult. In most instances, expats prefer to rent rather than buy property in Iran.  


Types of housing in Iran

The standard of expat housing in Iran is very high. Especially in Tehran, more and more upmarket homes are being built. Most expats in Iran live in newly built residential complexes. These complexes come with a range of additional facilities such as swimming pools, saunas and health clubs on site.

Expats can choose between furnished or unfurnished accommodation. Furnished housing tends to be for shorter stays. Frequently, electricity and water is included in the rent. However, this also means that furnished accommodation is more expensive than unfurnished accommodation. Expats should make a detailed list of all inclusions and photograph the contents for proof of the condition when moving in.


Finding accommodation in Iran

For those whose company does not arrange accommodation, property listings are available online. Exploring these listings will also help expats understand the differences between neighbourhoods, property types available and rental prices.

Apart from searching online, there is a good range of reputable rental agencies operating in Iran. Most rental agencies will provide services in English for expats. Some even offer their services in other languages such as French. Expats should ask their company for recommendations on trustworthy real estate agents. Embassies should also be able to provide some assistance in this area.


Renting property in Iran

Rental contracts in Iran vary quite dramatically. It is important that expats fully understand the terms of the lease they are signing. Most rental contracts will be set for a period of one year. However, because of the availability of property in Iran, expats will likely be able to negotiate shorter leases if necessary.

Renters are usually required to pay a sizeable security deposit to secure the property and compensate for any damage. The deposit is returned at the end of the lease, provided that the property is left in a suitable condition.

Healthcare in Iran

Despite years of Western-imposed sanctions that have caused problems in the medical field, Iran’s medical care is surprisingly modern.

Healthcare in Iran can be split into three sectors – the public governmental system, the private sector and NGOs. As a result of Iran’s growing population, there is a lot of pressure on the public healthcare system in Iran. The quality of hospitals varies according to location. However, in the bigger cities such as Tehran, expats will find hospitals that meet international standards with well-trained medical staff.

There are very few, if any, reciprocal medical arrangements between Iran and other countries. Expats will therefore need medical insurance whether they plan to use public or private healthcare services. In many cases, this expense will be covered by an expat’s employer in Iran.

Although there is a marginal difference between the quality of healthcare offered by private and public hospitals in Iran, private hospitals are known to have better facilities and speedier service. English-speaking staff should be available in both private and public hospitals.


Public healthcare in Iran

In line with the national constitution, Iranians are entitled to basic healthcare. Most also receive subsidised prescription drugs and vaccinations. This healthcare does not extend to expats. However, Iran's extensive network of public clinics and hospitals are considerably cheaper than in Western countries.

Most public hospital facilities in Iran are operated by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education. Although waiting times are often long, public hospitals provide an acceptable standard of service. 


Private healthcare in Iran

Wealthier Iranians opt to use private clinics and hospitals which offer a slightly higher standard of care and better facilities. However, the cost of treatment at such facilities can be quite high.

Despite the cost, private healthcare in Iran is still fairly cheap in comparison to other neighbouring countries. 


Health hazards in Iran

Malaria can be a risk in rural parts of Iran. Expats in these areas should take the necessary precautions such as keeping well covered and using an effective mosquito repellent. Cholera outbreaks also occur during the summer months. It’s therefore best to drink bottled water at all times.

The most common problem experienced by new arrivals is sunstroke and sunburn. Be careful about spending too much time outdoors. Always take precautionary measures such as wearing hats and sunblock. It’s also wise to keep well hydrated, especially during the summer. 


Pharmacies

Iran has a fairly well-developed pharmaceutical industry. Pharmacies can easily be found in all major towns and cities in Iran. Pharmacies in Iran stock most types of medication and are able to order medication that isn't readily available.

Expats will need to pay for medication and then claim it back through their health insurance. Medication in Iran is generally affordable. If expats need to bring drugs and pharmaceuticals into the country, there are strict regulations to be followed. Therefore expats should ensure that they carry all the necessary paperwork when travelling with medication.


Emergency services in Iran

Emergency services in Iran are improving but remain limited, especially when outside of the main cities. The emergency medical system in Iran has a variety of ambulance vehicles, including vans and helicopters, but the system is occasionally constrained. This means that, in the event of an emergency, it may be faster to get oneself to the hospital via private transport or a taxi instead of waiting for an ambulance.


Emergency numbers

  • Ambulance: 115

  • Fire department: 125

  • Police: 110 or 112

Education and Schools in Iran

A major challenge for expats moving to Iran with children will be finding a suitable school. Choosing the appropriate school will have a significant impact on the child’s transition to expat life in Iran.

Education is highly valued in Iranian society. This leads to children being pressured to perform well academically. Consequently, the literacy rate throughout the country is high.

Primary education is compulsory. Schools in Iran are also generally single-sex, with boys and girls going to separate schools. Mainstream schooling begins at kindergarten and ends in grade 12. While high school is not mandatory, students who wish to enter higher education need a high school diploma and must pass the Iranian University Entrance Exam.


Public schools in Iran

Public education in Iran is highly centralised and monitored by the Ministry of Education. Public primary education is free. However, Persian, or Farsi, is the language of instruction at public schools in Iran. The lack of English instruction limits the viability of public schooling for most expat children.

Primary school (Dabestân) starts at grade one at the age of six and continues for five years. Middle school (Râhnamâyi) runs from grade six to eight. This is where English is introduced as a foreign language. High school (Dabirestân) is a further three years of study but is not compulsory in Iran.


Private schools in Iran

A number of small private schools operate in Iran. These schools charge high fees but offer a better standard of teaching. However, they still follow the national curriculum as determined by the Iranian Ministry of Education. Typically, the language of instruction is also Persian/Farsi. 


International schools in Iran

Most expats opt to send their children to international schools in Iran. Most of these schools are found in Tehran. While there are a handful of local children that attend these schools, the student body overwhelmingly consists of international expat students.

International schools in Iran follow a variety of curricula. There are schools that follow models from the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan. There are also a number of schools that offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. The language of instruction will depend on the curriculum followed. The major advantage of international schools for expat children is that these schools provide similar standards of schooling to those found at home. This provides an easier transition for children.

Admission procedures vary from school to school. Space is often limited. It is therefore always best to apply as far in advance as possible. Fees tend to be expensive but standards of teaching are generally excellent, class sizes are small and the facilities are first rate.

Transport and Driving in Iran

While transport infrastructure in Iran may not be up to the standards one would expect to find in Europe or North America, getting around Iran is fairly cheap and can be done comfortably.

The train network is limited, but rail travel is still faster and more comfortable than buses. However, when travelling to more remote destinations in Iran, buses may be the only viable option. Domestic flights are by far the fastest way of travelling long distances.

Although good road networks do exist in Iran, driving conditions are chaotic and road safety is a major concern. Expats are advised to avoid driving themselves if possible.


Public transport in Iran

All modes of public transport in Iran are affordable. So, the best choice often depends on a person's destination. The bus network covers a wider range of places, but trains are considerably faster.

Buses in Iran

The domestic bus network in Iran is extensive and, because of the low cost of fuel, travelling by bus is very cheap. The downside is that it's very slow, especially because of strictly enforced speed limits.

City buses are segregated by gender. Women and children are expected to sit at the back of buses. Inter-city buses are less likely to be segregated by gender.

There is little difference between bus companies. First-class buses tend to be air-conditioned, while second-class services lack this facility. They are, however, more frequent. There is very little difference in price between the services so there is little financial incentive to opt for second-class, especially in summer.

Expats can buy bus tickets at terminals and ticket offices. During peak season it's best to book ahead of time. However, in most instances, travellers can purchase a ticket at the terminal an hour before departure.

Metro in Iran

This often is the best means of avoiding congestion. Metro systems operate in the Iranian cities of Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz, Esfahan and Tabriz. In Tehran one-way tickets and 'top-up' transport cards can be bought at metro stations.

Although not strictly enforced, trains are generally segregated by gender, with the first and last carriages being reserved for women.

Trains in Iran

The rail network in Iran is limited. However, trains are a more comfortable and faster mode of transport than the country’s speed-limited buses. Some routes offer sleeper cabins for overnight travel. Gender segregation is not strictly enforced and women travelling alone have the option of requesting a single-sleeper cabin.

Tickets can be bought from train stations or through travel agencies up to a month before the date of departure. It is wise to book at least a couple of days in advance during the peak domestic holiday months. First-class tickets cost roughly twice the comparable bus fare.

Expats should note that trains in Iran are frequently delayed.


Taxis in Iran

Within Iranian cities, travelling by taxi is a good option. Thanks to low fuel prices, fares are usually affordable.

Shared taxis, called savari taxis, operate between cities and can often be found close to bus terminals and train stations. These are usually faster than trains or buses. Prices are negotiable and depend on how many people are using the vehicle. Expats can hire one of these shared taxis privately, which is a good option for groups travelling to the same destination. Generally, people in shared taxis avoid sitting next to strangers of the opposite gender.


Domestic flights in Iran

Affordable domestic air services are available for those who need to travel long distances in Iran. The major national airline is Iran Air. It connects the Iranian capital, Tehran, with most major regional hubs.

Services are frequent, reliable and reasonably priced. This is definitely an option worth considering for those who want to save time. While some planes are old, flying still remains the safest way to get around in Iran especially considering the high rates of accidents on the country’s roads.

Tickets can be bought at the airport or through a travel agent. During the months of August and September flights are frequently booked up. It’s therefore best to make reservations ahead of time.


Driving in Iran

The country's road network and low fuel costs may make driving in Iran an attractive option. Though, the stresses of driving in Iran should be considered before expats buy or rent their own vehicle.

Traffic in Iranian cities can be chaotic and local drivers are known to ignore basic road rules. Drivers will often be seen breaking the speed limit and, despite laws requiring all passengers to wear seat belts, very few do. This partly accounts for the high death toll on Iranian roads.

Motorcycles are often overloaded with passengers without helmets, which proves to be another safety concern.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Iran

The banking infrastructure in Iran is still developing. The number of private banks in the country is increasing, which provides customers with a greater number of choices. Banking, especially when using foreign bank accounts, has been made more difficult for expats as a result of international sanctions against Iran.


Money

The currency in Iran is the Iranian Rial (IRR), which is divided into the following denominations:

  • Coins: 50 IRR, 100 IRR,250 IRR, 500 IRR, 1,000 IRR, 2,000 IRR, 5,000 IRR

  • Notes: 1,000 IRR, 2,000 IRR, 5,000 IRR, 10,000 IRR, 20,000 IRR, 50,000 IRR, 100,000 IRR

Expats will find that locals often refer to "tomans" when talking about currency. A Toman is the equivalent of 10 rials. Despite this usage, prices are usually always written in rials. For example, the sign next to an item in a shop would state the price in rials, e.g. 100,000 IRR, but a shop assistant might say that the item costs 10,000 tomans. This may be confusing at first, but expats will soon get used to the terminology.


Banking

The Iranian banking system consists of a central bank, the Bank Markazi. This bank issues currency and oversees all the other state and private banks. Several commercial banks have branches located throughout Iran.

Some expats won't be able to access international banking services. Therefore, opening a local account may be the only option for those planning on staying in Iran for anything more than a few months.

Interest rates at banks in Iran as well as banking services offered vary greatly. It’s best to compare institutions when choosing where to bank. Factors to consider include fees, the availability of online banking, and the number of branches and ATMs available in the country.

Credit cards and ATMs

As a result of economic sanctions, it is very difficult to use foreign credit and debit cards in Iran. Those visiting Iran for a short business trip should bring enough cash to exchange for local currency. Bureau de change outlets can be found at the Tehran airport, most banks and hotels.

For those with a local bank account, ATMs are generally quite easy to find. However, they can be limited outside the main urban centres.


Taxes

The tax system in Iran is complex and continually being updated and changed. For this reason, most foreigners working in Iran hire a tax expert to ensure that they pay their taxes correctly. An expat’s employer may also be able to help them establish their tax liabilities.

It is important that expats determine their tax liability, as the Iran government often taxes foreigners on rates based on their country of origin and business seniority. These assumed rates might overestimate an expat's salary, resulting in exorbitant tax rates.