How to get a tourist visa for Iran – and why I was declined!

On October 8th 2017 I was supposed to be boarding a flight heading to Tehran from London Heathrow. Instead, I was sat on my arse watching TV at home as my boyfriend, Josh, boarded the flight without me.

I had booked a trip to Iran back in the Spring but just a week and a half before I was due to fly out – my visa was DECLINED.

Luckily I was able to get a refund on my tour but I lost around £300 in flights since they were non-refundable at such late notice. Even though Josh’s visa was approved, his visa code arrived just under 2 weeks before our tour was due to start. It was a stressful couple of weeks to say the least!

The Iranian visa process for British citizens is not very straightforward and there is a lack of information about it online, even on the Iranian embassy’s website!

The 3 things I want to explain in this post: 

  1. Why my visa was declined
  2. How to avoid the same thing happening to you 
  3. How to actually get a tourist visa for Iran  (This is mainly aimed at Brits but other nationalities may find this post helpful too)

Obviously, I cannot guarantee your visa will be accepted but I can try and give you some tips!

Why was my Iranian visa declined!?

I know some of you are only here to find out why on Earth a lovely lady like myself was denied entry on an innocent tourist trip to Iran! So let’s cut straight to the point.

The reason I was declined can be summed up briefly in 3 words – British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

But let me explain in more detail…

British, American and Canadian passport holders have to go through more comprehensive checks to get their tourist visa for IranThis meant that as well as my visa forms, flight info, passport copy and photo – I had to send a CV. (Oh and I had to send a link to a social media page – yep, they really are checking you over thoroughly!)

For those that don’t know me well – my job is a little random. I don’t currently earn a penny from this blog. Half of the time I work as a film and TV extra (you know – the guys that wander around in the background of the shot that you never fully pay attention to but without them many scenes would be really strange and empty). The other half of the time I freelance in offices and take on various temporary roles.

I knew that Iran would be on the lookout for potential ‘spies’. I heard that if you work for the government or as a reporter/journalist you may be denied entry. You could argue that this blog is a form of journalism but of course I didn’t mention the blog anywhere on my CV or application.

However, in what seems like an incredibly foolish move in hindsight, I kept my film and TV extra work on my CV. It was after all, a large proportion of my job and to leave it out would be lying about my work. I also did not think that extras work would be an issue (clearly, I was wrong).

My CV read, ‘Supporting Artiste’ (this is the fancy official term for an extra) for film and TV.  I then listed some of the productions I’d worked on including things like Downton Abbey for UK TV network -ITV and a popular BBC soap opera called, Eastenders; and I think this is where it all went wrong.

downton abbey maids maid kitchen itv
Thought I’d break up this wordy post with a pic of me playing a maid in Downton Abbey. Photo by: Nick Briggs

At the time I didn’t realise the extent to which the Iranian government hates the BBC. Iranian authorities despise the BBC because of its Persian service. Millions of Iranian’s actually watch this service via illegal satellite dishes. BBC staff (both in Iran and the UK) have been intimidated and threatened.  Iran has also cracked down on BBC journalists by freezing their assets! 

Perhaps putting other major companies on there like ITV and Sky didn’t do me any favours either but I feel like BBC was the final nail in the coffin. I wish I had done more research about this before I casually plastered BBC all over my CV! Although they mainly target journalists, I think on this occasion the Iranians checking over my CV probably had no idea what ‘Eastenders’ or a ‘Supporting Artiste’ is. They just saw ‘BBC’ and alarm bells went off.

That was it. I was denied.

I liaised with my tour company and they informed me that they would try and appeal the decision again (they had already appealed it once!) – but to no avail! I even sent a new CV and removed ALL of the TV work. Nope. Still denied.

The most frustrating thing is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran does not tell you specifically why they denied you. So everything I’ve just said is only speculation. But since I’ve got no criminal background and I’m not actually a spy, I’m about 99% certain i’ve got it right. I spoke a few different people on this matter (including an ex tour guide in Iran) and most agree that it was the BBC media work, journalism or not, on my CV that got me denied. That said, pretty much everyone I spoke to was very surprised at the decision.

I even called the Iranian consulate in London. I asked the guy there if he could help me – sadly he was unable to do anything but even he expressed how surprised he was that they denied me for being a supporting artiste!

How can you avoid being denied a tourist visa for Iran?

I need to mention that the visa requirements for Iran have been changing a lot recently especially for Brits, Americans and Canadians. But lately, due to high political tensions *cough* Trump *cough* the visa requirements are even stricter!

People are denied for different reasons and which country you’re from will also be a factor. It can simply come down to who is checking your application and what mood they’re in that day! Perhaps many BBC workers have been approved in the past but my application came at a bad time.

I don’t have all the answers but I can give advice based on my experience as a British passport holder trying to obtain a tourist visa:

  • Avoid putting BBC on your CV. If, like me, you freelance at the BBC or maybe even worked there in the past – leave that OFF your CV! If you currently work for the BBC it’s a little trickier. Maybe see if you can write your CV in a way that remains honest about your job role but avoids mentioning ‘the Beeb’. For example, I could maybe have put – ‘Supporting Artiste – Eastenders’ – and left it at that.
  • Avoid mentioning media work in general! I would just avoid mentioning media work in general if you can. If that’s not possible then avoid mentioning large media companies (see point above).
  • Be careful what social media account you send them. As I mentioned earlier, a new requirement for Brits, Americans and Canadians is that you need to send a link to a social media account. This could be Facebook, Linkedin etc. If you have taken my advice above and skewed your CV slightly – make sure you don’t then send them your Linkedin account that very clearly says ‘I WORK FOR THE BBC’.
  • Are you actually a spy? Best avoid it completely then pal. There are some serious consequences if they suspect you of being a spy or spreading propaganda.
  • Maybe don’t write a blog about the Iranian visa system. I’m a little worried that if this blog gets popular I could be blacklisted for future visits. But perhaps I’m just being paranoid.

The problem is, the Iranian government is so paranoid and unreasonable at the moment. Just take a look at the very sad case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – and she was simply on a trip visiting family! It’s also interesting to note that Nazanin had previously worked for the BBC.

But I do not want to put you off!

I didn’t write this post to put people off visiting Iran. The government and its actions do not represent all of the wonderful Iranian people.

I had heard this a lot before I booked my trip and now Josh can back up the statement that Iranians are some of the most friendly and welcoming people ever!

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque Iran Colourful stained windows glass sunrise
The colourful windows in Nasir al-Mulk Mosque

Josh explained that people were always so keen to chat to him, super friendly and were never pushy and forcing you to buy from them in the markets (which is pretty rare).

Iran also has a lot of fascinating history and some of the most beautiful Mosques.

beautiful mosque iran
Inside one of the beautiful Mosques in Iran

Information on how to actually get a tourist visa for Iran

Who needs to get the Iranian visa in advance?

If you are a passport holder from one of the following countries you will need to apply for a visa in advance:

  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Canada
  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Colombia
  • India
  • Iraq
  • Jordan
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Somalia
  • Sri Lanka

Who can get the Iranian visa on arrival?

  • Passport holders from 180 different countries can travel to Iran and obtain a 30 day visa on arrival. It is supposed to be pretty straightforward to get your visa at the airport. You just need the following: a valid passport, passport photo, travel insurance, hotel information and cash in USD. You don’t need a letter of invitation or visa code but if you’ve booked a tour you can obtain one of these to make the process quicker. I’m not going to go into great detail about visa on arrival since I haven’t done it myself but these blogs from Anna Everywhere and Rucksack Ramblings are detailed and helpful. It may also be worth checking your government website about travel to Iran and this Wikipedia list is handy too. 

Who cannot get a visa for Iran at all?

  • Sadly, if you are an Israeli passport holder or you have an Israel stamp in your passport – you will be refused entry to Iran.
  • Me

How to get your visa in advance:

A step by step guide

If you are a Brit, American or Canadian you need to visit Iran with a tour guide/ tour company. If you are reading this post right now chances are you are already looking into tours or have booked one. The company you use should be able to help give you information about visas and tell you what you need to send over to them.

If you have friends or family in Iran they can help you attain your visa code but I believe you do still need to get the visa in advance at your local embassy.

Want to try to break the rules and visit Iran independently ? I personally wouldn’t recommend it and it could be more hassle than it’s worth but this blog from Lost with Purpose gives helpful advice. They also have a bunch of really informative posts about Iran that I’d highly recommend.

Step 1.

Pick a tour company. Book a place on the tour.

Step 2.

Your tour company will act as a middle man and pass on your visa documents for approval at the Ministry of Foriegn Affairs in Tehran. Whenever I hear ‘Ministry’, I always think ‘Ministry of Magic’! – is it just me?

What you need to provide:

  • A completed visa form (your tour company can send you this)
  • A scan of the photo page of your passport
  • A scan of a passport sized photo
  • A work CV/resume
  • A link to a social media page (Facebook/Linkedin etc.)

Step 3.

Once approved in Tehran (if you are approved that is!), your tour company will send you a document which acts as your letter of approval/authorisation code. It will look something like this:

iran tourist visa authorisation code
Josh’s Visa Authorisation Code

You then need to take this to your local Iranian Embassy – in Josh’s case this was London. This visa code is valid for 30 days and I would recommend you go and get your visa stamp as early as possible.

Step 4.

Get the visa stamped in your passport. This will require sending your passport off or going in person to your nearest Iranian embassy.

Some things to note:

  • For citizens of America or Canada, there is a Pakistan Embassy in Washington D.C, you can get the Iranian visa issued there by post.
  • A lot of Iranian embassies in Europe require fingerprints so you have to go in person and cannot pick up a visa on behalf of someone else.

Getting your visa at the London embassy:

Sorry Americans/Canadians – I can help ye no further! Unless you are picking up your visa from London which I think is possible*. But Brits- here is how the visa collection process went down in London.

First, it is important to note that the visa collection takes place at the Iranian Consulate NOT the Iranian Embassy. They aren’t too far apart so if you turn up at the wrong one at least you aren’t miles away!

Ladies, I’d recommend you wear a headscarf inside in the consulate.

*Don’t quote me on that one.

Nearest tube stop to the Iranian Consulate: High Street Kensington.

Map of Iranian Embassy and Consulate
Map of Iranian Embassy and Consulate London

Opening hours for visas:

It’s so important you make note of this! The consulate is not open everyday. Annoyingly, if you work a 9-5 job it makes taking time off work too:

The consulate is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2 to 5 pm

Get there for 2pm- Josh said there was already a queue outside before 2. Once you go inside you are allocated a numbered ticket to determine your place in the queue. Numbers are then called out in order and you go up to one of the counters when it’s your turn. 

What you need to bring:

  • Your passport
  • Completed visa form (you can download and print off the form from here or you can fill one out at the consulate)
  • Your authorisation code (pictured above in Step 3)
  • 2 passport size photos (ladies need to wear a headscarf)
  • Cash for the visa fee (they only accept cash)

How much does the Iranian tourist visa cost?

A lot. The visa is way too expensive and it seems so dodgy that they only accept cash. I really hope that these prices go down in future.

If you need the visa stamp that same day it costs £250.* You pay cash, leave your passport and forms with them and then return at 5pm to pick up your stamped passport.

If you do not need the visa stamp the same day it costs £155. You leave your passport and forms with them and they post it back to you. The biggest piss take is that they charge you extra for the envelope and postage ! Josh said this was approximately £6-7. So your total visa cost is at least £160.*

Unfortunately, Josh’s authorisation code arrived under 2 weeks before we flew out. By the time he was able to get the afternoon off work and get to the consulate he could not risk the postage option so had to pay for same day.

*The Iranian embassy’s website does not list the visa prices. I am just telling you the prices Josh had on the day he went in October 2017. It is possible the price could change. Be prepared and bring £50 extra in cash just to be safe. 

That’s it!

Once you’ve got your stamp you are all set to go! This is what Josh’s looked like:

iranian iran visa stamp passport
Josh’s Iran Visa Stamp

You can find some more info on the Iranian Embassy London website but I have to say – I’ve probably given you more detailed information in this blog than what they list on their website!

I have to say that although this whole experience was VERY shitty, it made me realise that many people around the World have to go through lengthy and often unreasonable visa processes. I take this for granted too often because I have a British passport and it’s usually very easy to travel somewhere and extremely unlikely you’ll be denied!

I hope you’ve found my blog interesting and helpful – let me know in the comments. Has anyone else been denied entry to Iran? I’d love to hear from you so we can share our sorrow at missing out on this fascinating country!

 

 

 

 

 

Jess Harling
Jess Harling

Creator of Jess Travels

20 thoughts on “How to get a tourist visa for Iran – and why I was declined!”

  1. Can’t all the recent political tensions be summed up with cough *Trump* cough? Lol, but all kidding aside, it sucks that you went through so much and got declined. But what a detailed explanation! I’m sure it will help a lot of people out that are planning to visit Iran!

  2. Oh, Jess <3 Firstly, big virtual hugs, because I know what a huge kick in the guts this might be. If it helps, this post is SUPER useful – it contains all kinds of things I had never even heard or thought of with regards to the visa process! Like you, I'm lucky enough to come from a country that gets breezy access to just about anyway (from the looks of your list, I might be one of those travellers that wouldn't need to apply in advance from here in Australia?). Your experience was a good timely reminder for me, not to get too comfortable 😉 If nothing else, your writing really made me laugh, I loved this post. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Awww thank you Sheree! 🙂 I was gutted at the time but over it all now thankfully. Yeah! Australia is a visa on arrival country you lucky buggers! Im so glad it made you laugh too! thank you so much 🙂 xx

  3. This was super interesting! As I’m a journalist I’d probably almost certainly be denied a visa to Iran… as it’s literally everything on my CV haha. I’ve always wanted to go but now I think I may not even be able to! I’m so glad I read this because it’s good to know before I make the same mistakes you did!

    1. If you’d really like to go I would still try and apply for a visa. Like I say in the post, maybe try and skew your CV so that it doesnt look too journalisty ! And avoid mentioning big media companies. Problem is your visa approval can come through so late that you might have to risk buying your flights ! Let me know if you need any more help 🙂

  4. I’ve heard Tehran is a fascinating city and would love to go one day… maybe in the veeeeery far future though if at all (cough government job cough) 😉 Such a bummer you weren’t able to experience it!! Gosh, it must have been so disappointing. I know as an American, I sometimes take for granted that I can travel nearly anywhere in the world without a visa. Easy to forget that it’s a travel must for most of the rest of the world. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jess!

  5. So sorry you were declined!I am looking into the Iranian visa process right now so this is supper useful. Fingers crossed we can get approved – my husband is also in the tricky group of nationalities…

  6. Oh man this is so helpful! Never even knew it was difficult for UK nationals to go there – sort of assumed that all Europeans would be ok. Thanks for sharing though! And love the way you write!

  7. Hi Jess

    I’m Iranian and so sad that you didn’t get your Visa because I recently visited for the first time since I left more than 30 years ago, and I absolutely loved it! There were so many foreign tourists, which I was really happy to see. Americans and Brits too. I have personally gathered that any sort of journalism background (as in the Nazanin case) or relation to BBC, as you say, is gonna be taken seriously. If you read the political history of Iran, you’ll see the reason for their animosity against the British government and associated British press. Iran has had to fight coup attempts since the ’50s, by the US and by Britain. Also, the Islamic revolution, that has displaced us all, is a direct result of US and Britain’s involvement. So, they may be paranoid, but it’s not unreasonable, as you mentioned. It didn’t help that Foreign Secretary Johnson mentioned that Nazanin was teaching journalism in Tehran. So, her being “simply on a trip” or those hikers (who were arrested) simply wandering the borders of Iran without a visa are examples of people testing the system or being oblivious to it. I hope she gets out, and I you get to go another time, and I finally hope that one day we get our country back, with open borders and easy access. You’re right about cough cough Chump. Nothing good can be accomplished as long as he remains his seat. Thanks for sharing your story. GLTLove

    1. Hi Yasmine ! Thanks so much for reading the blog. That must’ve have been so interesting going back after 30 years ! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Yes I always realised journalism may be a problem – but I never thought that such a small connection to the BBC would be an issue. I’ve learned from this experience though haha !

      I know a fair bit about Iran’s history and don’t get me wrong- I don’t think Britain has been saints in all of this. I wasn’t sure whether to include some background on Iran’s history in the blog. But since I wanted it to focus on visas I decided not to- and as you know, Iran’s history is not very simple so it’s hard to summarise it briefly.

      I only say unreasonable because I felt that being denied entry because I’m an actor – not even an actor, an extra ! – in a TV show was pretty unreasonable. I do understand why there are reasons for them to be wary of the US and Britain.

      I really hope I get to go another time too ! It looks like such a beautiful country and the people are amazing.

      Thanks again for commenting and reading the blog. I appreciate it ☺

      Happy travels !

  8. Wow this was such a informative post. I was actually casually looking up tours in Iran recently and I don’t have fixed plans but it looks amazing. I’ve heard great things about the people. I’ll definitely follow your tips here as I am an American and I bet the process for us is very similar. Great tips and thank you for sharing all the details!

    1. Hi Sonya ! Thank you so much! Yes the process for Americans is basically the same as what I describe in the step by step guide – you just need to send your passport off to a different embassy. I’m glad you found the tips helpful, thanks 🙂

  9. What a very helpful post. Iran has been on my list of places to visit so I will be sure to reference this post the when I start the planning process, which could very well be in a few years at the rate I am going.

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