Planning a trip to Iran? This is the almost-comprehensive guide to budgeting Iran, including cost estimation, scams and the currency explained!
Iran is probably the cheapest country I have ever visited – even so, creating a budget for any trip is important. However, I found budgeting for Iran a little tricky for two reasons: first of all, foreign bank cards don’t work in the country, so you have to carry all the money you plan to spend in cash; and secondly, because most of the blog posts that I read before my trip were at least 1-2 years old, and once I got to Iran I realised that the prices they quoted had drastically changed because of the inflation of rial.
So, I decided to write another budget guide – because I’m just the kind of meticulous who writes down every expense she has in a country. I travelled to Iran in the summer 2019 so the prices should be more or less up-to-date, or at least reflect the current inflation rate.
I should mention that this is a budget guide aimed at backpackers; so if you’re planning to stay in a lot of private rooms or even hotels, you should plan accordingly!
Also, did I already mention it was meticulous? I mean it. If you’re planning a trip to Iran, grab a pen and a notebook. If not, you might prefer something more compelling to read – might I suggest this piece about the ethics of travelling to areas that are known for human rights violations?
Let’s start from the basics! Or, actually, this might not be so simple.
The official currency of Iran is called rial but because dealing with rial means dealing with a heap of zeros, locals often refer to prices in toman – which is an imaginary currency and just means rial with one zero less.
Example: 30,000 toman = 300,000 rial.
The final zeros are useless and you can pretty much just read out whatever’s located left of the comma. So someone saying “thirty” might mean 30,000 toman meaning 300,000 rial.
(Sometimes people will even say “three” and mean all that because well, not everyone speaks great English.) It’s the most bizarre money system until you get used to it.
When negotiating prices, you should always make sure to ask if the price is in toman or rial!
So what’s this cash business?
One very, very important thing to know about Iran before getting there: foreign credit or debit cards don’t work there.
Since the US starting imposing sanctions in Iran, they’re no longer accepting foreign cards as a method of payment. This means that you should bring all the money that you’re planning to spend in cash.
So this leaves you with two options:
- Get an Iranian debit card.
Seems to be easy since your hostel can usually arrange that for you and have it waiting for you when you arrive. I only met one girl using this option, though.
- Carry all your money in cash with you.
Take US dollars or euros with you and exchange them as you go. Euros are better – surprise surprise, the US is not very popular over there – but USD is not going to be any trouble, either. (If the bills are old, you might get told that the exchange office won’t accept them because they are harder to trade. Give them puppy eyes and tell them that it’s the only kind of money you have, and usually they can still exchange it for you – although for a slightly lower rate.)
If you’re coming from the Caucasus (Georgia, Azerbaijan), you should be able to withdraw USD straight from most ATMs.
Many hostels and tour operators also prefer to get paid in euros since it’s a stronger, more stable currency than rial.
Oh, and just because you can’t pay by card, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t still work. You can use your card to book hostels through Hostelworld (booking.com is blocked in Iran so no accommodation options can be found there).
If you run out of money, no worries! Many hostels can help you transfer more for a little fee.
In case you’re planning on doing some serious shopping, money isn’t a problem, either. Persian rugs are some of the most popular souvenirs to bring home from Iran, and since the salespeople know you’re travelling with limited cash, they’ve figured a way to accept card payments.
Note on safety: My main worry about carrying around 800 dollars with me was having it stolen and unfortunately that is exactly what happened. Luckily, I’d hid it in a few select places, so I only lost 200 dollars. I haven’t heard of anything similar happening to any other tourists so it sucks double for me but oh well… keep your valuables on you always.
In general, though, Iran is a very safe country and crime against tourists is rare. If you want to know more about safety in the country, check out my post on safety in Iran here.
So, to make the whole currency business even more complex, Iran also has two exchange rates: the official one and the black market one.
You’ll find the official one on websites like xe.com (in September 2019, it was about 45,000 rial for 1 USD). Never exchange money at these rates or you’ll be losing out on a lot.
The best way to find out the current exchange rate is to ask your hostel or a local / a traveller currently in the country (you can find them for example through Instagram!)
In September 2019, the unofficial exchange rate was 115,000 rial = 1 USD but in practice, you’ll rarely find places willing to exchange at this exact price. I usually got about 112-000-113,000 rial per dollar.
In November 2019, the exchange rate for euros was 130,000 IRR = 1 e.
After the US sanctions, the exchange rates changed pretty wildly; for now they seem pretty stable. This is good to know since you’ll probably be reading a lot of travel blogs that will quote correct prices with incorrect exchange rates. For example, I saw a blog that said the entrance to the Golestan palace in Tehran was 25 USD, while with current exchange rates it’s about 10 USD.
Where to get Iranian money
You can’t exchange rial outside of Iran but it’s easy enough to find as soon as you arrive – just make sure you go to a place that gives you a good exchange rate.
And oh, you might not want to change all your savings at once in case you end up spending less than you planned because, again, no other country wants your Iranian money.
Yes – scammers still exist in Iran. Don’t leave all your precautions at home!
An easy scam to fall for is getting your money exchanged in an office with a bad rate – and it’s easy to avoid as long as you know what the correct exchange rate should be.
One that was (unsuccessfully) tried on me is so dumb I keep rolling my eyes every time I tell about it to someone, and avoiding it literally requires first-grade maths. When I went to exchange my dollars at the border, the guy tried to pass off a 100,000 rial bill for a million, claiming it was toman. But again, toman is an imaginary currency and not printed money – and in any case, the word “rial” was clearly printed on the bill.
So count your money every time you exchange it!
Most visitors to Iran should get visa on arrival which costs about 75 e. If you apply for the visa in advance, the cost is 50 e, plus an agency fee for a tour agency to sort out your letter of invitation. I paid about 30 e for this.
It is also possible to extend your visa while you’re in the country; I paid 350,000 IRR (2.7 e / 3 USD.)
All, right, let’s get to the actual content that you came for, shall we?
Good news – just as everything else, transportation within Iran is real cheap.
Note in November 2019: The Iranian government has just announced massive increases in fuel prices, almost doubling them, and caused big protests all over the country. This might or might not have an effect on the price of transportation.
There are a lot of long-distance buses between the most popular cities in Iran. They are usually very comfortable, and they often serve snacks on board.
Examples of some connections:
Tehran – Kashan: 200,000 IRR (1.5 e / 1.7 USD)
Tehran – Yazd: 750,000 IRR (5.8 e / 6.5 USD)
Kerman – Bandar Abbas (Hormuz Island): 350,000 IRR (2.7 e / 3 USD)
Shiraz – Esfahan: 430,000 IRR (3.3 e / 3.7 USD)
Tehran – Tabriz: 750,000 IRR (5.8 e / 6.5 USD)
There are also local city buses that are a lot cheaper than taxis but they can be confusing to navigate as a foreigner so I never ended up taking them.
There are also some train connections in Iran! The good news is, long-distance tickets can be as cheap as 20-25 e. The bad news is that the connections are few and far in between so if you want to catch a train, you’ll have to book sometimes weeks in advance.
You might be surprised to find out that Iran, actually, has a few island destinations on the Persian Gulf, most popular being the Gulf nation favourites Kish and Queshm and the rainbow island Hormuz. While it’s also possible to fly into Kish and Queshm, the only way to get into Hormuz is on a boat.
The boat between Bandar Abbas and Hormuz island costs 300,000 IRR (2.3 e / 2.6 USD); same between Hormuz island and Queshm island.
Taxis in Iran are ridiculously cheap for any Western traveller. The best way to find taxis is to download the Snapp app, the Iranian Uber. Note that due to the US sanctions, you have to use a third-party app to download Snapp if you’re an iPhone user!
A standard rate for a 10-minute taxi ride might be 45,000-90,000 IRR (0.3-1 e); the most I ever paid was about 260,000 IRR for a 20-minute, 8-kilometer ride.
In many places, you can also take shared taxis between cities instead of buses. These taxis leave from a specific spot and they leave when they’re full so there are no set timetables. You can expect to pay 250,000 IRR (1.9 e / 2.1 USD) for a 2-hour journey on a shared taxi.
So far, Tehran is the only city with a metro (but other bigger cities also have tram systems.) One ride on the Tehran metro costs 10,000-20,000 IRR (about 10 cents.)
Flying around Iran is also extremely cheap; rates are comparable to low-cost airlines operating in Europe, starting from 10 e one-way.
Hostels in Iran are really cheap: ranging from 5-8 euros for a bed in a dormitory, they also usually include a great breakfast and functioning wifi.
Couchsurfing is also popular in Iran.
You guessed it – food in Iran is very inexpensive.
Most hostels will have a breakfast included in their rates, and if they don’t, why are you even staying there?
For lunch, you can grab a pastry off the street vendors for 20,000-30,000 IRR (about 20 cents) or get a huge falafel baguette for 60,000-100,000 IRR (0.60-1 e.)
A low-budget dinner might cost you 250,000 IRR (2.5 e); 350,000-500,000 IRR (3.5-5 e) in a mid-range place. The most I ever paid was 1,500,000 IRR (about 15 e) in a nicer restaurant in Tehran.
The biggest costs during my trip came from taking tours. In Kerman, I did an overnight camping trip on the Kalut desert and paid 45 e / 50 USD; and in Kashan, I did a similar overnight desert trip to Maranjabi desert which 45 e / 50 USD. The trip to Persepolis from Shiraz was a lot cheaper at 9 e / 8 USD.
Often the price of the tour depends on the number of people joining since you’ll be paying for a car and a guide rather than just the tour package.
One of the most expensive attractions I went to see was Golestan palace in Tehran at 950,000 IRR (7.5 e / 8.2 USD.)
Most mosques also ask for an entrance fee – at least the famous ones. In general, the mosque visitor fees are about 200,000-300,000 IRR.
Other tourist sites range usually from 200,000-500,000 IRR (1.5-4 e.)
This is to give you an idea of how much you’ll spend if you want to tour the attractions.
You aren’t legally allowed to travel in Iran without travel insurance so you should make sure you have a policy when you apply for your visa. I used 1stQuest and paid 22 e for a month. (This isn’t adding up to your in-country expenses, though.)
Definitely get a SIM card. Irancell seems to be the most common operator, and you can get a SIM for as low as 200,000 IRR (about 2 e / USD.) I paid around 700,000 IRR to buy one through my hostel which in the end was worth it since it came pre-registered; normally you’d have to register the SIM yourself and wait a few days for it to start working.
Most backpacker hostels can do laundry for you. I usually paid 200,000-400,000 IRR for one load.
If your Iranian wardrobe is lacking, you can find a very simple long shirt for about 350,000-500,000 IRR. If you’re willing to budget 800,000+ IRR (6.1 e / 7 USD) for a shirt, you shouldn’t have any difficulties finding one. I also bought a second scarf for 350,000 IRR (2.7 e / 3 USD.)
In total, how much should I budget for Iran?
In 31 days, I spent 580 USD / 540 e, not including travel into the country or visa fees. This comes to about 19 USD / 17 e per day. With this money, I could pretty comfortably stay in hostels, eat a meal out every night and see any attractions that I wanted. If I had had my extra 200 USD – you know, the stolen hundreds – I would have spent some more on things like souvenirs.
For one week in Iran, I would budget at least 200 e / 280 USD
For two weeks, 300 e / 350 USD
And for one month, 600 e / 700 USD
However, it’s always good to budget more for emergencies – or if you simply want to buy some knicknacks!
To end with: Iran is cheap – don’t take advantage of it
As is usually the case, Iran is only cheap for tourists – it’s not necessarily so for the locals. Iran is a rather poor country where the average salary per month is less than 400 euros. Especially since the US started imposing its economic sanctions, the value of the Iranian rial has plummeted and prices have shot up for locals.
Iranians are famed for their hospitality, and it’s not uncommon to get invited for a tea or a lunch with them, or even to spend a few nights at their homes. This can easily get tricky, though – what is often a genuine offer of hospitality makes it easy for you to accidentally take advantage of a local family.
I heard people brag about how little they spent to get by; sums as low as 200 dollars per month. Now, I’m all for budget travel, but I also think there is a limit. If you’re going travelling, you should always, always have enough money for your trip. I highly recommend doing some Couchsurfing while you’re in Iran and immersing yourself in any chance at a cultural exchange, but don’t let those stays become the ultimate norm of your trip. By aiming to do your trip for free, you are taking money out of an economy that very badly needs your tourist dollars.
If you’re planning to come to Iran, please come with your pockets full. I promise you’re not losing out on a lot of money.