The following is my experience getting an Iran tourist visa as an American passport holder. TLDR: it wasn’t easy. I found that there was a lot of outdated information online when searching for the latest Iran visa application process for US citizens – so I thought I’d share my experience here. The procedure will be similar to Canadian/UK passport holders as well.
Last Updated: April 2019
The Iran visa requirements for American/Canadian/UK citizens can change at anytime. Please double check the official website for latest info.
Can Americans Visit Iran?
Yes. Traveling to Iran as an American is perfectly legal. However, there are requirements. You need to be with a licensed guide going on a tour arranged by an eligible travel agency during your whole visit. This adds a costly and logistical barrier, especially those who are more used to travel independently (such as yours truly). But a requirement is a requirement and I highly recommend that you don’t try to skirt this. You could inadvertently get Iranians into trouble just because you’re too selfish to obey the rules.
How do You Find A Guide in Iran?
1. Join a group tour. Established companies such as GAdventures and Intrepid offer tours to Iran that Americans can join. This is the easiest but very costly.
2. Go on a private tour. Companies such as Key2Persia and Uppersia offer customized/private tours as well as packaged tours. Since they’re locally operated, their prices for private tours can actually be cheaper than a group tour run by Western tour companies.
Note: I’d avoid going with individuals offering their LOI/Visa Code services on forums and Facebook groups, especially if they’re asking for payment beforehand. Uppersia didn’t charge me anything to get me my Visa Code with the understanding that once approved, I’d book a guide with them.
I ended up working with Uppersia because they were willing to run the tour with only 2 people in the group. Uppersia also offers “budget” tour options where you take public transportation instead of a private vehicle. Since this fits my own travel style more, I actually wanted this option. They were even willing to offer a highly-discounted private tour (just for me alone) if I was willing to share rooms with my female guide.
How to Get Iran Visa as US Citizens
Step 1: Apply for a Visa Code
As an American, the only way to get a Iran visa code is through a travel agency.
- DO NOT bother with the Iranian e-visa website.
- VOA (visa-on-arrival) is definitely NOT available for Americans, Canadians, and UK citizens.
To get a visa code, I needed to supply passport photos, my travel itinerary (supplied by the travel agency), a resume (a minimum of 2 pages), a list of countries visited in the past 5 years, and an application form supplied by my travel agency. I had to specify which embassy I was going to pick up the actual visa from as well as the flight(s) I was going to take to go to Iran (you don’t need to purchase the flights, you just need to put down the exact flight). The itinerary, travel dates, and flights are not possible to change afterwards.
Your travel agency will guide you through this process and give you a list of documentations they need.
Then I waited. And waited. This process takes 50-60 days. If you were to be rejected, you’d hear about it at this step. Rejection happens and they happen without obvious reasons (to you).
Step 2: Send your passport to the embassy
Once you get the visa code (or the Visa Grant Notice), you need to send your passport to the embassy that you specified in your application. For Americans, this was most likely be the Iranian interest section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. At this point, you could also purchase your flights.
The list of documents I needed. (See this form for more information):
- The Visa Grant Notice (printed in color)
- Money Order: $80 regular (or $120 if expedited) + $40 for overnight shipping
- The address form (found here).
The Visa Grant Notice is only valid for a specific amount of time (usually 30 days from the date it was granted). You need to make sure that your application package (including your passport) arrives at the embassy BEFORE the expiry date.
Step 3: Receive your Iran visa
I applied expedited. The embassy received my package on Monday. I got an email on Thursday from Fedex that included a tracking number. My passport + Iran visa attached arrived on Friday. Woot!