How I got a visa to visit Iran

Working with Iran Tours Corporation of Tehran

Years ago, when I first saw a picture of those magnificent blue-tile domes in Isfahan, I knew I would have to go to Iran. Then came the 1979 revolution and Americans were no longer welcome. I watched from afar and wondered if I would ever get a visa.

As I traveled to see other great Islamic cities – Fez, Cairo, Damascus, Istanbul – I always had Isfahan in the back of my mind. Hoping for a lead, I searching out independent travelers who had been to Iran, but they always turned out to be non-Americans. As relations between the US and Iran began to thaw a little in the 90’s, I started hearing about Americans who were going. So how were they getting a visa? Most, it turned out, were going on tours, an undesirable option for me.

Poking around on the Internet I found that solo American travelers were being helped by Iranian travel agents. Hearing this I started looking for an agent. There are several listed in the Lonely Planet Iran guide and others can be found at Iranbazar.com.

About this time, a friend emailed saying she had just returned from Iran. While not an American, one of my first questions was, “How did you get your visa?” It turned out that she had used an agent in Tehran: Mr.Rowshani of Iran Tours Corporation (Email). “Great!” I thought and sent him an email. He seemed to think he could get me visa, so I started mapping out a trip.

Having thought about this for years, I already knew pretty much where I wanted to go. I sent an itinerary to Mr. Rowshani and he quickly put a quote together. As soon as we worked out the details, he applied for my visa. About a week later he wrote and gave me an “entry visa approval reference number.” He also told me to contact the Interest Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, DC (202-965-4990) to get the actual visa.

When I called the embassy they sent me an application, the same one that can be download from their web site. I filled the application out in duplicate and returned it along with my passport, three passport photos and a $10 money order to cover return shipping. There was no filing fee. About a week later I received a FedEx envelope with my visa. It was a single-entry tourist visa valid for three months and good for a two-week stay.

With that in hand, I called Northwest airlines and made a reservation to fly from Detroit to Tehran. The ticket cost a whopping $1650, but what the heck, I was actually going to Iran.

The land part of the trip was quoted at $1070 for a single room for 12 nights at 3, 4 and 5 star hotels, a car/driver for four-days (for the trip to Bam) and the arrival/departure airport transfers in Tehran. Two domestic fights, Tehran-Isfahan and Shiraz-Tehran, were $12 and $18 respectively. The proposed route was Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd, Kerman, Bam, Shiraz and back to Tehran.

About three weeks before my departure Mr. Rowshani emailed asking for payment. At his request I wired money to his account in London.

P.S. I am told that Mr. Rowshani is no longer with ITC. (May 1999)

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