(Persia Digest) - Kay Rodriguez writes in Jet Farer that while perusing the Internet for information about Iran, you might notice that travelers to Iran act and dress in certain ways that are pretty different than in Westernized countries. Don’t let these dress codes scare you out of visiting this beautiful country! With the right guide (aka this one), packing for Iran is as simple as going anywhere else! If you’re preparing for an upcoming trip to Iran, or are just curious what women and men should wear while traveling in Iran, read on for our ultimate Iran packing list.
Packing for Iran: Why is it Different Than Anywhere Else?
Traveling to Iran might feel intimidating, but once you arrive, you’ll be greeted with warm welcomes, friendly smiles, and incredible hospitality. However, traveling in Iran is unique in that the government has very particular regulations, in line with Islamic mandates, regarding dress codes and public behavior. Because of these rules, you will need to pack a little bit differently than you would if you were headed to other Muslim-majority countries like Turkey, Azerbaijan, or Morocco.
To make this post easier to navigate, I’ve split it up into four sections: (1) what NOT to bring to Iran, (2) essential data-x-items for all travelers, (3) what to bring to Iran as a female traveler, and (4) what to bring to Iran as a male traveler.
What NOT to Bring to Iran
You won’t find many packing lists that start with what NOT to bring, but because of the laws in place in Iran, it’s important to make sure your bases are covered. Below are a few things you should be sure you do not have with you while traveling in Iran. (Yes, this applies even if you’re coming overland from another country where they are legal.)
Your Passport With an Israeli Stamp
Due to the strained relationship between Iran and Israel, you’ll be denied a visa and stopped at immigration if you have an Israel stamp in your passport. However, if you enter Iran with a clean (i.e. Israel-free) passport, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Alcohol or Drugs
According to Iranian law, alcohol and drug use is strictly prohibited. Don’t try and bend the rules here. Get rid of any alcohol (even small bottles) you have in your bag. Before you enter Iran, throw a party for your friends or offer any leftover bottles up as a thanks to your waiter/cab driver/etc.
If you’re really missing your cold ones, Iran has some nice non-alcoholic beer varieties you can try. Malty, refreshing, and cheap, it’s a great way to get your cold sugar fix without breaking any rules. (It doesn’t really taste like beer, though…)
As an Islamic country, pork products are strictly prohibited. Hopefully, this won’t be a problem for you as most travelers don’t travel with a ham hock in their rucksacks. But just in case, be sure to leave your bacon jerky, ham sandwiches, etc. at home.
Going sleeveless in public is forbidden for both men and women in Iran, so you should definitely stow away your tank tops, halters, and bro tanks for a later time. You won’t have any issues if you bring these into Iran, but you will definitely get in trouble if you wear them without some kind of covering in public.
Now that that’s out of the way… see below what data-x-items you absolutely SHOULD pack for traveling in Iran.
Basic Packing List: Essential data-x-Items to Bring to Iran
An Unlocked Cell Phone
Most foreign SIMs are blocked in Iran, so you’ll need to purchase a SIM card once you arrive. In order to use an Iranian SIM, you need to make sure your phone is unlocked BEFORE you enter. Get in contact with your carrier to ensure your phone is unlocked, and if necessary, follow the instructions to unlock it.
An Electrical Adapter
Iran uses electrical sockets similar to Europe (two round prongs), so if you are coming from the US, the UK, or Canada, you’ll probably need an electronics adapter. Here’s a compact universal adapter that works well.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray
This is a no-brainer, but much of Iran is a desert. Be sure to protect yourself against direct sunlight and hungry bugs waiting to bite.
It’s extremely dry and sunny in Iran, so you’ll probably want to bring a good pair of durable, UV-protective sunglasses with you.
A Durable Day Bag
You’ll be out and about most of your days in Iran, so be sure to bring a durable, comfy day bag to put your things in. The smaller the better.
Sustainable Travel Items
You know I really heavily push for more sustainable travel, and packing for Iran is no exception. Bring all of your reusables, your compressables, etc. to cut down on single-use plastic waste. While I traveled in Iran, I didn’t do much of this and I really, REALLY regretted it. Don’t be like Kay! Use reusable data-x-items and reduce your plastic waste!
Here are a few reusable data-x-items you should consider bringing:
Reusable water bottle – I love my Hydro Flask, as it keeps my water cold all day. This is especially helpful in the summer heat of Iran’s desert.
Water purification system – I use two purification systems to make sure I cover my bases, the Sawyer Mini Water Filter and the SteriPen UV Purifier. There’s more on water purification systems for travel in this article.
Mesh or cloth reusable bags for the bazaar/markets
What to Wear in Iran as a Female Traveler
There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about what to wear in Iran as a female traveler. According to Iranian law, there’s a women’s dress code that mandates a hijab and other conservative attire. As you’ll see when you go to Iran, however, this regulation has a wide range of interpretations. In summary, here are the rules for women’s clothing in Iran:
Men’s Clothing in Iran
Luckily, if you’re a male traveler, packing for Iran is much more straightforward than for women. It’s likely not very different from your attire back at home. Men in Iran tend to dress cleanly but casually, wearing long pants and button-down shirts or polos.
Male travelers in Iran should be sure to pack a few pairs of long pants and a mixture of short- and long-sleeved shirts in breathable fabrics such as cotton or silk. Shorts are typically frowned upon, especially at religious sites, so I would leave these at home. Sleeveless shirts are forbidden except in private spaces.
Men often dress nicely in Iran, but there are no strict rules other than to keep your shoulders and knees covered
While packing for Iran, you’ll also want to bring some comfortable, easily removable shoes for walking and entering into homes and mosques. Both open- and closed-toed shoes are acceptable for men in Iran. Here are some I would recommend for male travelers:
Birkenstocks – Same as in the women’s section, there’s no beating a good old pair of Birkenstocks for summer travel in Iran. They’re easy to put on and take off, durable, and comfortable for walking.
Keds – The perfect casual sneaker, Keds are a great closed-toed companion for men traveling in Iran. Just make sure you wear socks with them in warmer weather to avoid sweaty feet.
Boots – For travelers in the late fall or winter, you’ll want some warm, durable shoes for traveling in Iran. A pair of these Clarks boots would work really well for winter adventures.
Packing for Iran: The Bottom Line
Traveling in Iran is unlike any other experience in the world, and the dress codes there don’t have to prohibit you from choosing to travel there. Packing for Iran is simple and straightforward if you know the rules and follow a few simple guidelines. Luckily, there is also a lot available in the bazaars should you forget something or need additional Islam-appropriate clothing. When packing for Iran, be sure to err on the conservative side and opt for layers rather than bulky items. Most importantly, get ready to enjoy the trip of a lifetime!
All women must wear a hijab at all times in public
You must cover your butt with a long tunic or sweater
Your arms and legs must be covered
It’s not required to wear black (and many Persian women don’t)
Women don’t have to cover their faces
You don’t have to cover every single strand of your hair
It’s not required to wear a chador (except in a mosque or religious site)
Those are the very basic rules, but I’ve outlined more clothing details (including where to buy Islam-appropriate attire) below.
Likely the most drastic cultural adjustment for women traveling in Iran is the mandatory hijab. As a tourist, you are expected and required to abide by this rule, just like the locals. Any kind of rectangular scarf will do, but I recommend bringing a few in light, breathable fabrics like chiffon, silk, or cotton.
If (like me) you’re using your trip to Iran as an excuse to buy a bunch of cute new scarves, here are some of my favorite shops that sell scarves in gorgeous styles and at affordable prices:
East Essence* – While researching clothing before my Iran trip, I discovered this lovely online shop that has a HUGE variety of options. I bought a lot of stuff on here for my trip. A website for conservative women’s clothing, East Essence sells scarves in addition to Islam-appropriate clothing. With its affordable prices and large selection, this was my go-to for buying the tunics, cardigans, and maxi dresses I brought for my two-week trip.
Haute Hijab – A little more upmarket, Haute Hijab‘s headscarves are beautiful and breathable. This swanky startup is making waves in the conservative fashion market, and they have the products to prove it.
Desigual – One of my personal favorite brands, Desigual, carries headscarves in bold patterns and wild colors. They are loud, they are funky, and they really make a statement. Not for the faint of fashion.
If you don’t want to buy a bunch of new scarves, however, just bring one headscarf in your carry-on for your arrival and a few to wear while traveling around the country. Also, there are local vendors in every single bazaar that sell hundreds of scarves in regional designs and stunning patterns.
Like I mentioned above, you’ll need to cover your butt at all times with some kind of loose fabric. Skinny jeans are acceptable, but you’ll need to wear a long cardigan on top of them. Here’s an example of an acceptable outfit with a cardigan:
What kind of overcoat or cardigan you wear will depend on the season. Here are a few examples of acceptable wear for different seasons in Iran:
Winter: Bring a long, warm manteau or parka for outdoor use, and a few tunics and/or cardigans to wear with pants underneath.
Summer: I recommend bringing 1-2 breathable (e.g. cotton or synthetic) long cardigans and a few tunics (see below) to wear over your normal clothes. I bought my cotton duster (above) on East Essence.
Aside from a manteau or cardigan, tunics are your best friend, especially in the summer. Instead of wearing normal clothes underneath a long sweater, you can opt for a tunic that covers your arms and butt. Many women in Iran wear these with skinny jeans and a hijab. Here’s an example of an outfit with an Islam-appropriate tunic:
My favorite place to buy tunics before my trip was East Essence. On their website, they literally have hundreds of styles and colors you can choose from, and they’re super affordable. You can also wear knee-length long sleeve dresses from home on top of your jeans in lieu of a tunic.
Jeans and loose leggings are allowed as long as you follow the top length rules above. I wore my normal black and blue skinny jeans underneath almost every single one of my outfits and I was perfectly fine. Thick leggings work too, as long as they’re not see through, but I recommend wearing looser ones in more conservative areas.
As a traveler, I love my black Madewell Roadtripper jeans. They’re comfy, lightweight, and considerably more affordable than some of their other denim varieties. I brought them to Iran and wore them all the time under my tunics and cardigans.
Personally, I like wearing dresses while traveling for their breathability and flowy-ness, and Iran was a great place to do so. Long-sleeve maxi dresses are a great alternative to pants and long tops if you prefer to wear something a bit more feminine.
Before I left, I bought a few Turkish-style abayas on East Essence, which I used several times (typically for nice dinners and outings) during my trip to Iran. Here’s an example of a loose-fitting maxi dress I wore during my trip:
A chador is a long piece of fabric worn by Muslim women. It is typically worn over the head and wrapped around the body, held shut with your hands. You don’t need to own one or bring one with you, but be prepared to borrow and wear one at most mosques or religious sites (this is usually free of charge). If you do want to buy a chador, they’re available in the local bazaars.
In Iran, you can plan on walking quite a bit, whether it’s through the winding, chaotic alleys of the bazaars or up the many steps to the Towers of Silence. You’ll want some comfy and durable shoes to accompany you on your way.
Contrary to some sources, both open- and closed-toed shoes are acceptable in Iran. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to wear shoes you can put on and take off easily, since most homes, mosques, and even restaurants will require you to remove your shoes. Here are some of my personal recommendations for shoes to bring to Iran:
Birkenstocks – As a traveler in the summer, my Birkenstocks were my best friend in Iran. They’re easy to slip on, super comfortable, and not too flashy. These shoes are really polarizing with travelers, but I don’t go anywhere without my trusty Birks. (Vegan version available here.)
Ballet flats – For something a little more dressy, I recommend a good pair of ballet flats. I own a cheap, faux-leather pair from Target that I love.
Toms – Easy-on, easy-off, and lightweight, Toms are a perfect choice for travelers to Iran. However, to avoid the notorious stinky feet from Toms, I recommend accompanying them with some low socks or buying a breathable crochet pair.
Chelsea boots – In the colder months, you might want to pick up a pair of Chelsea-style boots to keep your feet warm and comfortable while walking. I recently had to get rid of a pair of wonderful Chelsea boots, but these Joules boots are on my wish list next!
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