Ever since my first trip to Iran, I have had to answer the same few questions over and over again.
„What are you doing in Iraq?“
„There’s a war going on, right?“
„Isn’t it too dangerous in there?“
Clearly, Iran is not exactly a popular destination Europeans would choose and there’s not too much information about the tourism in Iran. As there might be quite a few people wondering the same, I decided to answer these questions on the blog as well.
First of all, Iran and Iraq are not the same country. Don’t worry if you don’t know the difference. You will soon.
Iraq has been in war for pretty much the last 15 years and it continuously has some dangerous conflict zones. Iran has been at peace for the last 30 years and the domestic politics have been rather peaceful. Iran doesn’t usually host big and violent protests nor demonstrations. The local morality police can be violent, but not against tourists. Please note that I do not support violence against the locals in any way, I’m just saying that a conscious tourist will have nothing to fear. As long as you are not strolling the streets naked, drinking vodka straight from the bottle and carrying an anti-governmental sign, you will have nothing to be afraid of.
The borders can be more dangerous. The border of Iraq and Iran is mainly peaceful, but the Afghani and Pakistani borders are heavily guarded and illegal trespassers will usually not have the chance to explain themselves. Yet once again, no tourist should ever go and try to cross the Irani-Pakistani border illegally anyway.
There is no major fear of terrorism in Iran. I’m saying „no major“, because I guess there’s a slight fear of it everywhere. During the last seven years, Iran has witnessed two terror attacks – one of them in Tehran in the summer of 2017 and the latest one in Ahvaz in September 2018. Since the strictly islamic government of Iran does not allow civilians to have firearms nor explosives, the chances of random terroristic attacks are much lower than in many Western countries. Additionally, the migration officers are very rigid regarding whom they would allow to even enter the country in the first place. Thus terrorism and random acts of violence are considerably less common than in any European country.
There is rarely any criminal activity in Iran whatsoever. Pretty much the worst crime would be when a merchant asks too much for his products and the tourists wouldn’t know how to bargain the prices. However even that is not that common at all. Iranians are simply honest people. Many people are walking on the streets with several thousand euros in their pockets, since international debit and credit cards do not work in Iran and travellers need to carry all of their travel budget in cash. Iranians simply won’t raise their hand to steal from others, so both cash and electronic devices will be safe where ever you go. The real problem can be the contrary: some Iranian families can feed you and drive you around for a week and yet they would not accept any kind of payment for their troubles and expenses. Offering money to a hospitable Iranian can be like a punch in the face, even if they might actually need it. If an Iranian wants to do good, they will do good. However this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t insist on paying back for the expenses someone else has had for you. Tourists should never take advantage of the famous Persian hospitality.
It’s not all that positive though. Iran has its dark side as well. Namely, Iran is the country with the biggest death toll in traffic accidents in the world. Approximately 75 people get killed in Iranian traffic every single day, the majority of them are men and motorcyclists. A big share of their vehicles do not have seat belts nor air bags and they have no compulsory security inspections. This summer I happened to meet a few very unsafe drivers. One of them I actually had to teach how to drive safely myself – I told him to get on the passenger seat and I got behind the wheel myself. Frankly, my driving style was safer than most of the Iranian drivers and my hired driver learned a thing or two. In Iranian traffic, even the taxi drivers made me anxious. I often had to close my eyes during the taxi rides so I wouldn’t see what’s going on in the traffic. I got into minor traffic accidents three times within that month, all of them while driving with a „safe“ taxi driver. Luckily nothing terrible happened, but I sure felt safer in buses and trains.
At the end of this trip I finally found a legitimate safe driver that had worked for the Finnish and Hungarian embassies, spoke some Finnish, owned a car with proper security equipment and knew Northern European culture well enough to not ask about my age and relationship status (literally the first two things people ask you in Iran). If I should ever return to Iran, I wouldn’t risk with my luck and would hire him for all the longer journeys.
But what do I conclude, is Iran a dangerous destination? No, deciding by the lack of violence and crime, I could not say that Iran is dangerous. Traffic is the only thing to be extremely cautious about, even though it’s mainly dangerous for the local motorcyclists. As long as you hire official taxi drivers, you should not have too much to worry about. However, if you find a trustworthy and safe English-speaking driver, you should ask for their number and remain as their client.