One of Iran’s main selling points as a tourist destination is its affordability, thanks to the steep depreciation of its currency over the past four decades. The low value of Iranian money compared to strong, popular currencies such as the US dollar or euro puts a dent in the locals’ purchasing power, but is a boon to the country’s foreign tourism market.
Having been isolated for years, Iran is still a mysterious – even exotic – destination for many with a lot of unknowns. For instance, did you know Iranians use two currencies? Or that your international credit and debit cards are completely useless in Iran?
This article aims to answer those questions and essentially serve as a brief guide to Iranian money and average cost of traveling in Iran.
Value of Iranian Money
As stated above, Iran’s currency is pretty weak, which is why the notes have high denominations. You’re also unlikely to find much use for coins, if it all. Traveler’s checks are also commonly used, particularly the one valued at 500,000 rials.
Rial vs. Toman: What’s the Difference?
Iran’s official currency is the rial, but you’ll rarely hear people using it in everyday speech. The prevailing, yet unofficial, currency is toman (also pronounced toomaan), and many shops list their prices in toman. One toman is equal to 10 rials.
If it seems confusing, maybe this example can help: A 1-liter bottle of milk costs 2,500 tomans. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you buy two bottles, which comes out to 5,000 tomans. All you need to do is hand the cashier a 50,000-rial note.
In Iran, people tend to omit “thousand” and “million” when stating prices, under the assumption that you already know what they mean. For instance, a shopkeeper at a minimart might say your groceries cost “10 toman”, whereas he actually means 10,000 toman.
Unless you’re buying something like a car or handmade Persian rugs (which cost in the millions), you can be certain the price quoted by the cashier is in the thousands.
- An Easy Guide to Iran Visa on Arrival [infographic]
- A Simple Guide to Tourist Visa Extension in Iran!
- A Guide to Train Travel in Iran
Why Do You Need to Bring Cash?
Bring cash with you. It is inconvenient but necessary, because Iran is not connected to the international banking system, i.e. your debit or credit cards do not work here. Whatever amount you think you may need, bring a bit extra just in case.
With that said, certain banks such as Sepah and Melli offer what they call Tourist Card: a pre-paid debit card that can hold up to $5,000 at a time. The card is rechargeable and can be obtained at any branch of banks that offer it.
If you opt to carry cash around instead, you can exchange your money at authorized offices. In Tehran, they are mostly concentrated on Ferdowsi Street.
Where to exchange money?
Keep in mind that Iran operates two exchange rates: an official rate used by banks for some transactions, and a free market rate offered by currency exchange offices which are higher than those announced by the Central Bank of Iran. Official rates are used by currency converter websites such as Xe.com.
Never trust street vendors that offer currency exchange services. You’ll run into them all over Ferdowsi Street, and they are highly skilled in making it seem like their rates are better. They do not have a license to practice and, more often than not, they dupe unsuspecting customers.
You can also exchange currency at banks, but not all branches offer the service. If you’d rather go to the bank, ask for its “currency branch” (Persian: Shobeh arzi).
Most currencies can be exchanged in Iran, but you’re advised to bring strong currencies such as US dollars, euro, or British pounds.
What Are Expenses Like in Iran?
Iran has been listed as one of the most affordable travel destinations by the World Travel and Tourism Council for the past three years, mostly due to its weak currency. Here is a simple infographic showing what are expenses like in Iran: