The Iran Visa on Arrival for Singaporeans (and Most of the World)
If you have adventurous friends, they might have told you that Iran boasts gorgeous scenery and hospitable people. Decades of negative news coverage about the Middle East mean that many people don’t realise it’s also safe and easy to visit. The Iran visa on arrival is available to many nationalities, including Singaporeans like Yours Truly.
There is a lot of confusion about the Iran visa on arrival process on the Internet, however, with people describing wildly different experiences. What I went through was also very different from what I read, and having spent three hours waiting and watching with two of my friends, this is what I have to share about the experience at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport.
(Updated March 2017)
Iran visa on arrival: the basics
The details on visa eligibility can be found on the Wikipedia page on Iran’s visa policy. Holders of American, Canadian and British passports can only visit on a tour, so the tour agent should have that process sorted.
Four things are needed to obtain a visa on arrival:
- The contact details of a sponsor in Iran (which can be your hotel or hostel manager)
- A letter from the said sponsor
- At least 75 Euro
- Insurance (but not just any worldwide travel insurance)
On the topic of insurance…
It’s valid only if there are offices in Iran, so that excludes almost every global policy. The local policy from Bimeh is just 15 Euros, but it only covers medical treatment.
It may still be worth getting that World Nomads insurance to cover the flight, baggage delays, crime and other incidents. It isn’t cheap, but no-one in Singapore would insure my trip.
On arrival at IKA
Follow the signs to the visa office rather than immigration. Then, head to the insurance counter instead of the visa counter. Try to minimise your trips to the latter, especially in the wee hours of the morning. The tired-looking bloke on duty told us to get our travel insurance checked first, hence my suggestion.
When the insurance is paid for, present everyone’s passport, the invitation or confirmation letter from the accommodation, and the insurance receipt to the visa counter staff. Fill the form that the staff give you when they return your documents (just one for the whole travelling party). You will need to fill in the sponsor’s address and phone number.
Accommodation tips that smoothen the process
It would be a good idea to let the contact know your flight arrival time, especially if you’re arriving on an early morning flight. When we were there, the backroom officers checked every number. One guy was sent away because his contact did not answer the phone. The officials haven’t yet grasped the concept of Couchsurfing, and for this reason, I wouldn’t recommend it for the first night. I should also add that some hotels turn away guests who need the confirmation letter because of this hassle.
When the form is completed, go to the bank office to pay. The visa office staff should have written the total price of the visas for the whole party. It’s 75 Euros per person. Once you’re done, go back to the visa office and hand over the form, bank receipt and your passport(s).
For us, the whole visa process took two hours. The most unbearable part was the absence of public wifi in the airport to resume our trip research. However, it gave us the opportunity to mingle with the other young backpackers.
From my observations, the e-visa pre-approval code was not worth the extra money, as it did not make things any faster and even caused confusion. The Malaysians we met did not need to pay for the visa but their waiting times varied widely.
This was the most stressful part of any airport that I had been to. People huddled anxiously around the window, badgering the counter staff for updates, only for the staff to shoo them away. The process would repeat with every newly-arrived flight. I could only conclude that manning a visa on arrival office is the most soul-destroying job in the world.
However, there is no reason to worry. As long as the backroom guy hasn’t delivered bad news and called for an escort, you’re still in the clear. The Iran visa on arrival will be yours as long as everything is in order. Think of it this way: there is no reason for them to retain your passport if they don’t want you in the country. You won’t see it again only if you’re going to jail.
A word of caution
Some hotels offer airport pick-up and say that the drivers will wait for two hours after their flight arrival time. I say it’s not enough; three hours is much safer. People had to rush the counter staff when their drivers started paging them.
After Immigration returned our passports (the staff called our country “SENG-GA-PURRR”), everything else was a breeze. We had to go to the immigration counters closest to where we entered the airport building, and our bags were waiting for us at the luggage belts on that side.
When you have the time, take a look at how your name is spelt in Persian script and the date of your arrival according to the Islamic calendar. It’s not important but fun to know.
Other airport tips
To change your first Rial, you can go to the money exchange kiosk (sarafi in Persian) in the departure hall instead of the bank in the arrival hall. If you can remember your bearings, it is on the same side of the airport as the visa office. They have a limit of 200 US dollars or 200 Euros per person though.
If you don’t have a driver waiting for you, go down to the escalators next to the sarafi and exit the terminal. There will be taxi drivers touting their services, but there is an airport taxi office just 30 metres to the right. I’m certain they’re all legit as long as they quote 65,000 Tooman (650,000 Rial). The drive to Tehran takes at least 30 minutes – all the better to enjoy the views of the desert and the Alborz mountains.