Planning your visit to Iran, you may get surprised learning that due to sanctions international payment in Iran is not an option! This is where you may get stressed out that you can’t use your credit cards and therefore in-advance booking is almost out of question and also you need to carry around large amount of money in a foreign country!
While those traveling to Iran for educational or business purposes (with educational or work visas) are granted a permanent Iranian bank card (referred to as “Aber Bank” in Iran) which they can use in their daily transactions, a majority of regular tourists can’t apply for an Iranian bank card due to their short term residence in Iran.
To deal with this challenge, some solutions have been offered so far. Stay with us to learn how international tourists can ease payment problems while they are visiting Iran.
Can I Borrow an Iranian bank card?
A traveler may think that: “Ok! I see, maybe when I land in Iran I can borrow a local’s bank card or my tour guide’s and pay them instead in dollars or in other hard currencies.
Even though that sounds like a way to get out of this head-blowing problem, it won’t be always as successful as you may think.
Keep in mind that if you borrow somebody else’s bank card, notifications of your financial activities will straightly pop up on the owner’s cell phone and information about your account balance could accidentally be revealed to them.
Also, there’s no way to link your phone number to the bank account unless the account owner asks the bank in writing. Don’t forget, sometimes local guides are willing to lend tourists their bank cards and sometimes they are reluctant. Let’s say they do, what
happens if you spend all the money on the card and you find yourself needing more and the owner has no more money to give? So don’t count on this.
What’s the problem with carrying around cash?
Some of the travelers exchange all their money as soon as they arrive in Iran and keep it on them all the time. We all know how dangerous it can be. Well, first of all, carrying a pile of cash in your pocket doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do as it can get easily stolen, especially if you are planning to stay in overcrowded cities for a long time.
Second, dealing with Iran’s official currency (rial) and its super unit (toman) just makes you want to tear your hair out (to learn more read our guide to Iranian money). While you are staying in Iran, you will always see big numbers with 9 or more digits popping up on the register’s LCD, which makes shopping much harder, not to mention counting the bills, especially in those situations when you got your hands full or you’re in a rush. It takes a while before you get the hang of it.
Third, exchange centers in Iran don’t work around the clock. It means that if by any chance you run out of rials or you need Iranian cash in dire moments, you have to know the exact working hours of the exchange shops and sometimes stand in a long waiting line just to exchange your money.
To even add more salt to the wound, national holidays come in to mix up everything. Because exchange centers are expected to be closed on these holidays, so always be sure to pack a Persian calendar and get yourself familiarized with them.
What about getting a prepaid gift card?
In the past few years, prepaid gift cards, as good as they sound, were the primary (but not the best) solution to this problem. The amount of money available in your gift card is fixed and you cannot deposit more money to it or do any kind of transactions.
So if you run out of money and your gift card depletes you have to return back to the exchange center and ask for another one or ask your guide to do it for you which will cost you a lot of valuable time and energy especially if you are in smaller towns or in villages.
Besides, there is a 500,0000 rials (€80, as of May 2018) limit for these cards. It means that on each gift card you can only get a total amount of € 80. Considering tourism costs in Iran, this amount would only last 2-3 days if you are traveling on budget. Moreover, if you happen to lose your gift card, there is no way to recover the money left on the card. So, it’s very much similar to carrying cash around, expect the fact that is only a small PVCA plasticized sheet!
So! What else can you do?
Next is traveler or tourist cards. These are debit cards issued by some Iranian banks for international tourists visiting Iran. Although many attempts have been made, there were unsuccessful in meeting the need for an effective and insured tourist card that can put an end to all the troubles tourists are going through.
However, a small yet insightful group of people have managed to turn some heads by introducing a new prepaid debit card for tourists called “MahCard”. Let’s see what MahCard is, how it works and why you should use it while traveling in Iran.
What is MahCard?
MahCard is a prepaid travel debit card designed specifically for tourists and international travelers in Iran. You can instantly add funds to your MahCard and do all kind of online and offline transactions with it. Just as normal Iranians do.
How does it work?
First, you sign up and order your MahCard through its online platform. After arriving at your accommodation in Iran, a representative from the company will meet you there and deliver your card, exchange your money and deposit it all into your MahCard and you don’t need to do anything else.
- It’s safer. Unlike gift cards, if you lose your MahCard, your money is safe and you will be reissued a new card.
It’s more flexible. Unlike the 500,0000 rials limit on gift cards, there is no limit on the amount of money you can transfer to your MahCard.
- You will have the option to transfer the remaining balance on your card when you leave Iran.
- A team whose members are fluent in both English and Farsi will support you.
- It lets you easily keep track of all of your expenditures.
- Works everywhere and anytime, even in a small traditional tea house in the middle of the night.
- No transaction fee
Useful facts about bank cards in Iran
- Every Iranian bank can issue its own card.
- All the bank cards have two sets of pin codes, one for daily withdrawals from the ATM machines (the same as almost everywhere) and the other is used for online payments and transactions that could become tricky for an unaware traveler. None are visible on the card and you have to memorize them.
- All bank cards in Iran are connected to an electronic banking clearance and automated payment system called “ Shetab”. You can withdraw money from any ATM as long as they are registered in the “Shetab” system (almost all banks in Iran are connected to Shetab).
- Every bank cards in Iran works flawlessly on POS terminals because they are connected to the same “Shetab “ network .