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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Iran

Iran - Consular Information Sheet
September 14, 1999

WARNING: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer travel to Iran. Iranian President Khatami has called for a "dialogue of civilizations" and an increase of private exchanges between Iranians and Americans; some limited exchanges have taken place. There is, however, evidence that hostility to the United States remains in some segments of the Iranian population and some elements of the Iranian government. In July 1999, violent anti-government demonstrations took place in Tehran and other cities around the country. There were accusations that the U.S. was behind these demonstrations. Prior to and since that time, some groups of American travelers have encountered harassment by vigilante groups.

The U.S. government does not currently have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to American citizens in Iran. The Swiss government, acting through its embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran. The Iranian government does not recognize dual citizenship and generally does not permit the Swiss to provide protective services for American citizens who are also Iranian nationals. In addition, U.S. citizens of Iranian origin who are considered by Iran to be Iranian citizens have been detained and harassed by Iranian authorities. Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution. The Iranian government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran, and who received awards, at the Iran-U.S. claims tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords. There are restrictions on both the import and the export of goods between Iran and the United States. Neither U.S. passports nor visas to the United States are issued in Tehran.

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Iran is a constitutional Islamic republic, governed by executive and legislative branches that derive national leadership primarily through the Muslim clergy. Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran, and Islamic law is the basis of the authority by the state. Shia Islamic ideals and beliefs provide the conservative foundation of the country's customs, laws and practices. Iran is a developing country. The workweek in Iran is Sunday through Thursday; however, many government offices and private companies are closed on Thursdays. Friday is a public holiday for all establishments. Offices in Iran are generally open to the public during the morning hours only.

ENTRY AND EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Should you decide to travel to Iran despite the Travel Warning, a passport and visa are required. The Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan is located at 2209 Wisconsin Ave. N.W, Washington, DC. 20007; tel 202-965-4990. U.S. passports are valid for travel to Iran. However, the authorities have often confiscated the U.S. passports of U.S.-Iranian dual nationals upon arrival. U.S.-Iranian dual nationals have been denied permission to depart Iran documented as U.S. citizens. To prevent the confiscation of U.S. passports, the Department of State suggests that dual nationals leave their U.S. passports at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate overseas for safekeeping before entering Iran, and to use their Iranian passports to enter the country. To facilitate their travel if their U.S. passports are confiscated, dual nationals may, prior to entering Iran, obtain in their Iranian passports the necessary visas for the country which they will transit on their return to the U.S., and where they may apply for a new U.S. passport.

If dual nationals fail to obtain in advance the necessary transit visas for their return trip to the U.S., the travelers can obtain a "Confirmation of Nationality" from the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland, which is the U.S. protecting power. This statement, addressed to the relevant foreign embassies in Tehran, enables the travelers to apply for third-country visas in Tehran. Dual nationals finding themselves in this situation should note in advance that the Swiss Embassy will issue this statement only after the traveler's U.S. nationality is confirmed and after some processing delay. Dual nationals must enter and leave the United States on U.S. passports.

DUAL NATIONALITY: U.S. citizens who were born in Iran, who have become naturalized citizens of Iran, or who were at one time citizens of Iran, and the children of such persons, are considered Iranian nationals by Iranian authorities. Therefore, despite the fact that these individuals possess U.S. citizenship, they must enter and exit Iran bearing an Iranian passport. Yet some former Iranian nationals have been issued visas in their U.S. passports. Exit visas are required for dual nationals to depart Iran.

In addition, U.S.-Iranian dual nationals are subject to Iranian laws which impose special obligations upon Iranian nationals, such as military service or taxes. Exit permits for departure from Iran may be denied until such obligations are met. More specific information on Iranian passport and exit visa requirements may be obtained from the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan.

Dual nationals often have their U.S. passports confiscated and may be denied permission to leave Iran, or encounter other problems with Iranian authorities. Refer also to the above section titled "Entry and Exit Requirements" of this Consular Information Sheet. For additional information on dual nationality, see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for our Dual Nationality flyer.

SAFETY/SECURITY: U.S. citizens should exercise caution throughout the country. In July 1999, foreigners were taken hostage in Kerman and Bam. Travelers should avoid travel to areas bordering Afghanistan and Iraq.

Iranian security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.

CRIME INFORMATION: Major crime is not a problem for travelers in Iran, although foreigners occasionally have been victims of petty street crime. In view of possible thefts, passports and other important valuables should be kept in hotel safes or other secure locations. The loss or theft in Iran of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlets A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Travel to the Middle East and North Africa for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. These pamphlets are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Basic medical care and medicines are available in the principal cities of Iran, but may not be available in outlying areas. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards and frequently lack medicines and supplies. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties. Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation. Ascertain if payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor, or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: 202-647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers from the United States at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747), fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via their Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Iran is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Drivers all over Iran tend to ignore traffic lights, traffic signs and lane markers. Urban streets are not well lit. Therefore, it is very dangerous to drive around, especially at night. Sidewalks in urban areas only exist on main roads and are usually obstructed by parked cars. In the residential areas, hardly any sidewalks exist. Drivers almost never yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Iran, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Iran’s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the U.S. Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/.

PASSPORT SEIZURES/EXIT BANS: The Iranian government has seized the passports and blocked the departure of foreigners involved in commercial disputes.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Iranian authorities may permit travelers to bring in or to take certain goods out of Iran. However, U.S. travelers should refer to the section of this Consular Information Sheet regarding U.S. Government economic sanctions and the importation and exportation of restricted items in order to avoid any violation of the Iranian transactions regulations.

All luggage is searched upon traveling into and departing from Iran. Tourists can bring in and take out the following non-commercial goods, if they are recorded on the tourist's goods slip upon arrival at customs: personal jewelry, one camera, an amateur video camera, one pair of binoculars, a portable tape recorder, a personal portable computer, first aid box, and a camping tent with its equipment. Iranian authorities allow the departing passenger to take an unlimited amount of Iranian goods and foreign goods up to $160 (US), and their personal non-commercial equipment. Air passengers may also take one carpet up to 6 square meters. However, the U.S. government only allows the importation of up to $100 worth of Iranian-origin goods. Iranian authorities prohibit the export of antique carpets and carpets portraying women not wearing the proper Islamic covering, antiques, original works of art, calligraphic pieces, miniature paintings, different kinds of coins, and precious stones. They likewise prohibit the export and import of alcoholic beverages, weapons, ammunitions, swords and sheaths, military devices, drugs and illegal goods.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Iranian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Fines, public floggings, and long prison terms are common. Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution. Drinking, possession of alcoholic beverages and drugs, as well as flirting or having sexual contact as an unmarried couple is considered to be crimes. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iran are strict. Iran executes scores of persons each year on drug-related charges.

U.S. citizens in Iran who violate Iranian laws, including laws which are unfamiliar to Westerners (such as laws regarding the proper wearing of apparel), may face severe penalties. The Iranian government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords. In addition, the Iranian government reportedly has compiled a list of the claimants who were awarded compensation in the Iran Claims Program administered by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. The Iranian government is allegedly targeting award-holders who travel to Iran. It is reported that upon some claimants' entry into Iran, Iranian authorities question them as to the status of payment of their respective awards with a view to recouping the award money. It is also reported that the Iranian government has threatened to prevent U.S. claimants visiting Iran from departing the country until they make arrangements to pay part or all of their award money to that government.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: In addition to the U.S. government economic sanctions on trade and investment restrictions, travelers should be aware that most hotels and restaurants do not accept credit cards. Cash-dollars (not traveler checks) are accepted as payment. In general, hotel rooms have to be paid with cash-dollars. ATM machines are not available. Foreign currency has to be declared at Customs upon entry into the country, and the amount is entered in the passport. This amount can then be changed at the bank.

U.S. GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC SANCTIONS: On May 6, 1995, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12959, 60 Federal Register 24757 (May 9, 1995), which prohibits exporting goods or services to Iran, re-exporting certain goods to Iran, making new investments in Iran and dealing in property owned or controlled by the government of Iran. The importation of Iranian-origin goods or services into the United States has been prohibited since October 19, 1987. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of Treasury, provides guidance to the public on the interpretation of the order. For additional information, consult the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), U.S. Department of Treasury at the OFAC home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/ofac/ or via OFAC's info-by fax at 202-622-0077 or 202-622-2500. For information regarding banking and compliance, contact OFAC's Compliance Programs Division at 202-622-2490.

FAMILY ISSUES: Children of Iranian citizens, under the age of 18, must have the father's permission to depart Iran, even if the mother has been granted full custody by an Iranian court. Even the non-Iranian wife of an Iranian citizen (who obtains Iranian nationality through marriage and must convert to Islam) requires the consent of her husband to leave Iran. In case of marital problems, women in Iran are often subject to strict family controls. Because of Islamic law, compounded by the lack of diplomatic relationships between the United States and Iran, the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran can provide very limited assistance if an American woman encounters difficulty in leaving Iran.

For information on international adoption of children, international parental child abduction, and international child support enforcement issues, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone 202-736-7000.

REGISTRATION/U.S. INTERESTS SECTION LOCATION: There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in Iran. The Embassy of Switzerland serves as the protecting power of U.S. interests in Iran. The U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is located at Africa Avenue, West Farzan Street, No. 59, Tehran. The local telephone numbers are 878-2964 and 879-2364, fax 877-3265. The workweek is Sunday through Thursday. The Interests Section does not issue U.S. visas nor accept visa applications. The limited consular services provided to U.S. citizens in Tehran, Iran include:

(a) registering U.S. citizens;
(b) answering inquiries concerning the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Iran:
(c) rendering assistance in times of distress or physical danger;
(d) providing U.S. citizens with passport applications and other citizenship forms for approval at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland;
(e) performing notarial services on the basis of accommodation; and
(f) taking provisional custody of the personal effects of deceased U.S. citizens.

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