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Here’s How Much it Cost to Backpack Across Iran
Updated March 2020, How Muct it Cost to Backpack Across Iran was originally written in July 2019
I budgeted more money than I thought I would need to backpack Iran, and for good reason: you can’t just pop your debit card into an ATM or skip over to the nearest Western Union and pick up a transfer from your parents (or in my case in Tajikistan a couple of years ago, from myself- much to the confusion of a bank full of Tajiks).
But I didn’t realize I’d come in THAT under budget.
Here is what it cost me to backpack across Iran from the Afghan border to Mashhad, south to the Persian Gulf, up to Central Iran and west to Tabriz and all the way to the Iraq border in April 2019.
Start planning: An Iran itinerary
How Much Does It Cost To Travel In Iran Independently?
$19 USD per day Or $535 for 4 weeks
(Sorry UK, US, and Canadian passport holders, this post is not for you, your total will be a lot higher owing to the required tour)
That’s what I averaged out to traveling across Iran.
I wasn’t trying to adhere to a strict budget, but I also wasn’t shelling out for luxuries or tours except for the couple times I decided to splurge.
Iran Travel Budget Chart
Regarding Money In Iran
The money situation is a bit complicated in every sense of the word. Though, if you come versed on it and prepared it should pose no issue for you. Please note that I have given most prices in this post in US dollars, this is because of the volatility of the Iranian Rial.
- Currency: The Iranian Rial (IRR) is the official currency of Iran. But more often you’ll hear the money in Iran called Toman. 1 Toman = 10 Rial. So if you’re quoted a price as 100,000 Toman, they’re asking for 1,000,000 IRR. Confusing right? Luckily my first few nights I stayed with Vali and his wife Esmat at their homestay in Mashhad and they would quiz me in the evenings over dinner by saying give me 75,000 Toman. And then I would rummage through my stack of cash to show the correct amount.
- Exchange Rate: The exchange rate in Iran is a rollercoaster right now. In March 2020 it was hovering around 149,000 IRR to $1 USD, however, this changes all the time with Forex trading. So having access to a reputable foreign exchange trading app, like FXCM (have a look at the fxcm review here) will enable you to keep an eye on any last-minute changes that occur within the Forex trading market. As such, foreign exchange traders are constantly altering the exchange rates, so it’s important to exchange money when the rate is fair. A lot of these traders are trying to balance the market. Some of the most popular traders make use of the best forex brokers south africa has to offer if they’re located in that area. This helps them to successfully trade currencies, ensuring they get a good deal. However, there is a government set official exchange rate around 42,100 IRR to $1 USD. You can check current market rates in Iran here.
- Where To Exchange Money: Only exchange money at exchange offices where you will get market rate. You don’t want to exchange at a bank which will only get you the official rate (ie: not good), and black market exchangers (illegal) on the street are best avoided.
- ATMs In Iran: ATMs do not take foreign cards thanks to all the sanctions against Iran. You will either need to carry cash in or get a prepaid MahCard prior to your trip to Iran (use the promo code AOLN when applying).
- Credit Cards In Iran: At many places, there are credit/debit card machines to make payments. But thanks to the above mentioned US sanctions your foreign card will not work in this case. That said, there is a solution: it’s called a MahCard. For MahCard you’ll need to sign up for an account online where you can transfer yourself money and use the MahCard to make purchases while you are in Iran.
Accommodation is surprisingly cheap and plentiful in Iran. There are heaps of hostels and guesthouses in almost any place a tourist would roam in Iran. That said, Couchsurfing is hugely active in Iran and don’t be surprised if you’re invited in by Iranians to stay with them and their families. For the majority of the trip, I stayed in hostels and guesthouses with prices averaging between $4 and $10 per night and did stay with local friends for a chunk of time as well. If you like a little more luxury than hostels and guesthouses there are plenty of hotels that cater to most budgets.
Shop 1st Quest for Hotels, Hostels and more!
One more thing to factor into your accommodation costs is for nights you’ll be traveling by bus between cities. I had 5 nights of my trip in which I traveled by night bus which saved me from paying for 5 nights accommodation. If you don’t mind sleeping on a bus this is a good way to save a little money and save time by moving while you sleep (I didn’t opt for overnight buses for savings, but to save time).
I did stay with a couple that was friends of a friend when I was in Shiraz which saved me some money there. My friend Gael passed on my number to them and before long I had a warm invite to stay and no was not an option at this point. If you stay with locals whether Couchsurfing or newfound friends, you should come bearing gifts. People will go above and beyond to welcome you to Iran.
Grand total $175
A Note On Taarof: Persian culture has this unique concept called taarof that some tourists will take full advantage of. Taarof is the idea that one must give invitations, offer gifts, meals or even refuse payment for goods and services. It’s like politeness to the extreme.
So what should you do if you find yourself being extended Taarof and you’re not sure if it’s genuine or not? Politely decline three times. If your acquaintance, friend or host still insists you stay at their home or come over for that special meal- then this is a real invitation. If they don’t, just know that this is just a form of Persian politeness.
- Transportation is pretty cheap in Iran. Getting between cities on long distance VIP buses ranged in cost from $1-6 in most cases. There are mahmooly buses that come in at only slightly cheaper than VIP buses and are not as comfortable. Another option for ground transport are savaris. A savari is essentially what you would call a shared taxi most anywhere else. They leave when full. You can book bus tickets in advance with 1st Quest.
- Ferries to Qeshm and Hormuz from Bandar Abbas will be needed if you’re planning to visit the Persian Gulf Islands. Return tickets will cost around $4.60.
- If you plan to fly between cities in Iran you can expect tickets to range in price from $15-30 depending on route and whatnot if you have a friend that can book tickets online direct with airline sites or you go into a ticketing office yourself. If you’re an advance planner you can purchase tickets online with 1st Quest. Most came in at $20-50 when I checked most recently.
- Public buses and metro .10 per ride
- Taxis in cities $0.50-$4.00 (50,000-500,000 IRR) depending on distance/haggling
Grand total: $76
Entrance fees to sites including mosques, hammams, historic sites, fortresses, museums, etc. typically will range between $1.20-2.30, though there are some that are more expensive such as Golestan Palace which cost me $3.80 (490,000 IRR) for entrance to the main palace (more if you want to enter other parts of the palace).
In some places you’ll visit you’ll pay more in entrance fees like Shiraz and Esfahan because there are several sites to see in those cities. In comparison you’ll spend less in other places such as the Persian Gulf Islands.
Grand Total: $52
Food & Drink
Food and drinks are quite inexpensive in Iran. Of course, you’ll pay more if you eat at restaurants that cater more to foreign tourists but if you stick to more local places you’re food bill will be quite low.
On an average day, I spent a total of $5 per day on food, teas, and juice. Most days I did not have the expense of breakfast because it was included in the cost of my room, however, I did have the added expense of ice cream because I have a serious saffron ice cream addiction.
- Chai less than $1
- Juice $1-2
- Falafel or sandwich $1
- Kebab with rice and non $2-4
- Fesenjoon (or other local specialty meal) with rice $3-5
- Water (1.5L) 0.50
- Ice cream $1
Grand Total $150
Tours & Activities
Depending on the type of tour or activity, what you do, if it’s day, overnight, city or private your costs here can range a bit (if you even opt to do any tours at all).
I personally only did one tour while I was in Iran, a desert tour from Kerman into the Kalouts Desert, Rayen, and Mahan with the lovely photographer/guide Amir Mahanii. My tour out to the Kalouts came out to $61 (8,000,000 IRR). I also paid $15 (2,000,000 IRR) for a return taxi to Persepolis from Shiraz for a day trip. I also paid out $11.50 for a return taxi to Kandovan from Tabriz including waiting time. For Hormuz Island I shared the cost of a tuk-tuk with another traveler which made my cost come out to less than $4, followed by a day peddling a bike around the island which set me back just over $5.
Some tours will cost under $10 per day, others you’ll find over $100 per day depending on what you’re doing.
If you’re looking for tours check out 1st Quest‘s Untours to join an existing tour or create you’re own
Grand Total $80
Ways To Cut Iran Travel Costs
- Couchsurfing: Free accommodation and a great way to meet locals.
- Eating street food/local cafes: Food in Iran is cheap to begin with, but eating street snacks can cut your food bill down.
- Take night buses: When traveling longer distances save time and money on accommodation by traveling on overnight buses.
- Find others to split costs: Some activities like tours to the Kalouts, tuk-tuk rides around Hormuz Island, taxis and more can be cut down significantly by sharing costs with other travelers.
- Pick and choose sites/activities: You don’t have to see all the sites in every city, only go to the sites that truly interest you.
- Visit in the off season: Spring and fall are the most popular seasons to visit Iran, meaning prices are higher (comparable to my costs in this guide). Summer, despite being extremely hot is still a common time for Europeans to visit corresponding with their summer breaks. Winter can be a bargain as prices can drop significantly with the lull in tourism.
Want More Luxury?
I get it, not everyone wants to stay in hostels or with local families. For those on a higher budget, I’d reckon you can easily get by on a $40-50 per day budget booking private accommodations, private taxis and occasional flights between cities and a city tour from time to time.
Please note that I did not include visa costs in this article as this can vary by nationality and whether you’re eligible for a visa on arrival or if you’ll need to get a full Iranian visa. I do have a post with everything you need to know about applying for you Iranian visa.
I did not include a budget in this guide for souvenirs or miscellaneous purchases such as clothing.
I did purchase quite a few souvenirs in Iran (for me anyway, I usually purchase none). So many so that I bought a suitcase to carry them home in. I bought copper serving trays, an antique Baluch carpet, saffron, pistachios, and more. I did not purchase any clothing in Iran except a scarf I really liked at Vakil Bazaar. Coming from Afghanistan I was already prepped clothing-wise.
Have Any More Questions on Budget Travel In Iran?
Ask your Iran travel budget questions in the comments section below. Don’t forget to grab a copy of Bradt Iran to help you plan your visit.
Need Travel Insurance for Iran?
Start shopping plans over at 1st Quest.