Crossing the Iran-Iraq Border Crossing at Haji Omaran
Updated April 2020, Crossing the Iran-Iraq Border Crossing at Haji Omaran was originally written in June 2019
In late April 2019, I crossed Iran-Iraq border (into Iraqi Kurdistan) at the Tamarchin-Haji Omaran crossing as part of my overland trip from Afghanistan to Iraq. In this guide, I will cover how to cross the Iran-Iraq border. The border is currently open.
The border crossing between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the more scenic ones, up there with Qolma Pass, Kyzyl-Art, Khunjerab Pass, and the Montenegro-Kosovo border at Kula. The procedures at the border are pretty straight forward and painless, though expect the entire border crossing and travel times to take up an entire day of your trip.
There Are Two Border Crossings between Iran & Iraqi Kurdistan
Both border crossings are open to foreigners. I personally crossed at Tamarchin-Haji Omaran so I will cover that crossing in this post. If you are planning to use the Bashmaq-Penjwen border go read The Globetrotting Detective and the Against The Compass guides to the Beshmaq-Penjwen border crossing.
This is the most convenient of the two crossings if you’re traveling between Tabriz (or anywhere in the Iranian Azerbaijan provinces) and Erbil. From Lake Urmia on you’ll be meandering through scenic mountains all the way to the border. On the Iraqi side, you’ll pass through the gorgeous Rawanduz region with cliffs and waterfalls.
This is the better crossing for those coming from Tehran, Kermanshah, and Iranian Kurdistan to Sulaymaniyah.
Several nationalities can travel visa-free (30-day entry stamp) in Iraqi Kurdistan including the US, Canada, UK, most EU countries, Australia and more (click here for the full list). This 30-day entry stamp is available for those traveling by plane into Erbil and Sulaymaniyah International Airports, and by bus or car from the borders with Iran and Turkey.
If you are not on the 30-day entry list you’ll need to contact your nearest Iraqi Embassy to apply.
In order to enter Iran at a land border, most all nationalities will need to obtain an Iranian visa in advance. Most nationalities arriving in Iran by flight into one of Iran’s several International Airports are eligible for a visa on arrival. Those travelers arriving in Iran overland must have an Iranian visa prior to travel as visas on arrival are not given at land borders (they are only issued to those flying into Iran). Please note that US, UK, and Canadian passport holders have to obtain a full visa before travel and must be accompanied by an approved guide who will get you an authorization code.
Learn more about how to get an Iranian Visa here
Most other nationalities can apply for their authorization code here. Once it is approved you will need to take it/send it with your passport to the nearest Iranian Embassy that you should have specified on your online authorization application.
Wanna Start Planning? Check Out The Iraqi Kurdistan Travel Guide
How To Cross The Iran-Iraqi Kurdistan Border At Haji Omaran
First, Get to Urmia
I actually couldn’t find any truly accurate information on this Iran-Iraq border crossing online when I did it (hence why I’m writing this). I saw one blog that claimed there is a direct bus from Tabriz to Erbil (written by someone that DID NOT enter Iraq by land). When I enquired about it at the Tourist Information Center In Tabriz I was told there was not a bus from Tabriz to Erbil but that I needed to go to Urmia to catch the bus. Nasser and his brother who run the Tourist Information Center in the Tabriz Bazaar can help you arrange your travel from Iran to Iraqi Kurdistan. Contact Nasser at +98 9141160149.
How To Get From Tabriz To Urmia:
- By Taxi: 1,900,000 IRR (~$14 USD) 1h 45m
- By Bus: 500,000 IRR (~$3.50 USD) 3h
Go to main bus terminal (on Haft e Tir Blvd or 7th Tir Blvd), about 4km northeast of the city center to get the bus or flag down a taxi in Tabriz and haggle the price for a ride to Urmia. You can also have your accommodation arrange a driver or go to the Tourist Information Center in the Tabriz Bazaar.
Check out my guide to Tabriz, Iran
Once In Urmia Purchase Your Bus Ticket
Several bus companies sell tickets from Urmia to Erbil at the main bus station. I personally went with Hamsafar. A VIP ticket costs 1,000,000 IRR (~$7.25 USD) for the journey to Erbil. The Hamsafar bus leaves daily at 9:15am. I was told other companies have buses departing at 6am and 8am as well.
Arrive To The Tamarchin Border
Plan for about 3h driving time to the Iran-Iraq border at Tamarchin on the Iranian side (My 9:15 bus arrived at 12pm) from Urmia. Once you arrive you will get off the bus taking all your belongings with you and go inside the building. Get in the queue for Iranian exit immigration. Your passport will be checked and your visa paper will be stamped. Once finished you will walk out the backside of the building where you will have to show your visa and the exit stamp on your paper before continuing on to the Iraqi side of the border. If you have any Iranian rials to exchange there is a bank window before the Iranian immigration line when you first enter the building on your left side.
The Tamarchin border is orderly and efficient. It took about 10 minutes to complete the entire procedure.
The Border At Haji Omaran
The Kurdish side of the Iran-Iraq border is a bit more chaotic. Once you officially exit from the Iranian side you will continue onto the Iraqi side and enter a building. Once inside you will walk to the front of the room where there is a desk and hand over your passport to the official there. He will call up people one by one to the immigration counter. There are seats in the room and a toilet. Wait with your bags until your name is called and go up to immigration and finally get stamped into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Once you have officially entered Iraqi Kurdistan you will exit into another room that looks very similar to the first. Again, go to the front and hand over your passport to the man at the desk and sit down and wait for your name to be called. At that point, you will take your bags and place them through an x-ray. After you have put them on the conveyor you will be directed to another room for a body check. Once through the body check you will go pick up your bags and exit out into a parking lot, you likely will board your bus on the other side of a tall black wall from where you walk out (on your left).
In all the immigration and customs process entering Iraqi Kurdistan took about 1 hour.
But Alas, you’re not quite done yet! Your bus still needs to clear through customs. This typically takes about 1 hour longer than it takes for the passengers to get through, however in my case the bus took two hours longer. Many buses look very similar so do pay attention to some details of the bus (license plate number is a smart identifier) or pay attention to who else was on your bus and wait with them. The border is up in the mountains so it can get quite cold so dress accordingly– in late April 2019, it was snowing when I crossed. There is a cafeteria-style restaurant in the parking lot with a toilet. I did not see any currency exchange office on the Iraqi side of the border.
Once your bus clears customs, plan for it to take about 30 minutes to load everyone and everything back up and depart.
Your bus will probably make a 30 minute stop at a chaikhana in the Rawanduz area for a toilet and meal break. I was able to pay for my meal in USD and they gave me change in Iraqi Dinar (at market rate even!), so do ask if they can do this if you need to exchange a little money.
Getting to Erbil
Coming out of the pass the border sits in requires several switchbacks to get down thus making the road take longer than expected by a quick glance at a map. About 1.5 hours after departing we stopped at a chaikhana for a toilet and food break for about 30 minutes before continuing the rest of the way. You will have to cross through many Peshmerga (military) checkpoints on the road in your travels in Iraqi Kurdistan. On the bus, an officer got on at every checkpoint and checked passports. We finally arrived in Erbil at 6:30pm Iraq time. You will be dropped off at the Erbil bus station 4km northeast of the Erbil Citadel. A taxi to the city center taxi should only cost about 4,000 Iraqi Dinar.
Plan your stay in Erbil: The Erbil Travel Guide
And That’s How You Cross The Iran-Iraqi Kurdistan border
In my experience crossing the Iran-Iraq border was pretty painless, though long. In total from Urmia to Erbil my day lasted 11 hours and 45 minutes, so do plan for a lengthy day. I did find a couple of forum posts in my research that had travel times of roughly 10 hours and costs of up to $30 USD for the bus ticket, so there may possibly be some different times/costs from my experience.
A Few Tips For Crossing The Iran-Iraq Border At Tamarchin-Haji Omaran
- Note that Iraq and Iran are on different time zones. Iran observes daylight savings and Iraq does not, so in summer months Iran is 1 hr 30 min ahead of Iraq and during winter months Iran is only 30 min ahead.
- There is a restaurant on the Iraqi side of the border and there will typically be a chaikhana stop shortly after crossing the border.
- Money exchange was available on the Iranian side of the border, but I did not see an exchange office on the Iraqi side. Though worth mentioning I had no problem making a purchase in USD on the Iraqi side and receiving change in Iraqi Dinar.
- Make a mental note of which bus is yours (I recommend memorizing/taking a photo of the license plate) at the border because many look nearly identical.
- If you want to visit Iraq (as in Arab Iraq) you will need a full-on Iraqi visa which is expensive and not easy to obtain. You will need a letter of invitation from the licensed tour operator you will be traveling there with prior to applying for the visa at an Iraqi Embassy or consulate.
- I recommend picking up copies of Bradt’s Iran guidebook and Iraq guidebook to help you plan further adventures in either country.