Iran uses the rial as its official currency. Each rial is worth 100 dinar, yet because the dinar is so worthless, it is not used as a standard within accounting practices.
Another measure of money used in Iran is the toman, although in fact this has not been an official currency since 1932! Often prices will be marked according to the toman, so you will see something priced at 1,000 toman, which means 10,000 rial. Each toman is worth ten rial.
History of the Rial
Originally introduced in 1798, a rial was a coin that was worth 1250 dinar (thus it was not a decimal system) or worth one eighth of a toman. Then the rial ceased to be in circulation as of 1825. The qiran replaced it, which was worth 1000 dinars being brought in to decimalise the system. Then the rial came back into use in 1932, replacing the qiran at equal worth, although it was sub-divided into 100 dinars (which were also new).
The rial looks as if it will soon be changing. It has a very low worth (hence why the term toman is used to give a measure of worth) and in 2007, the Economics Commission of the Parliament intimated that it was drafting a statute to radically change the rial, citing as a reason the fact that this had significantly helped other countries to reduce their inflation levels. Turkey was listed as one of the countries who has benefited from this re-denomination.
Coins that are in current use are namely, the 50,100, 250 and 500 rial. It is still possible to use 5 and 10 rial coins, since they are legal tender, but they are not actually in circulation. Moreover, you would need quite a few of them to pay for anything!
Banknotes that are currently in use are quite extensive in denomination, ranging from 100 rial notes, right the way up to 50,000 rial notes, such is the problem of the currency being of little value.
In addition to these, cash cheques are also legal tender. These are issued by the major state banks and are, in effect, banknotes issued by the banks. They have fixed amounts, which are printed like official banknotes. Once purchased, they act as legal tender for one year. Yet some stores may not accept the higher value notes. These are available in two forms. One is the Iran Cheque, which can be used in any financial institution and the other must be taken back to the issuing bank for financial remuneration. These are issued from 200,000 right up to 5,000,000 rials.
Getting Your Rials
Iran is still very much a cash based economy, so it is important to bring cash that will be enough to see you through your trip. It is probably best to bring for Euros or US dollars. If you can bring some higher denomination bills/euros of 100 and higher, particularly notes that are in a very good condition, then you are likely to get a better exchange rate for your money.
Due to trade embargoes you will find that banks cannot give you a cash advance on your foreign credit card. You may be able to use a credit card in some of the largest stores, but these are mainly for luxury items such as, Persian rugs. However, if a store will accept your credit-card, then you can ask them to advance use some money on your credit card at the same time that you make your purchase. If you are absolutely desperate for cash you can ask a shop whether or not they will give you a cash advance on your credit card without you making a purchase, but you should bear in mind that this is likely to cost you a fortune.
You may read that traveller's cheques can be taken to Iran. However the reality is that whilst the bigger banks in provincial capitals will be able to exchange them for money, this creates an inordinate amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, which means that it will take you a long time to sort this out and it is likely that the bank will be extremely resistant to actually catching your cheques. As a result traveller's cheques are not very practical.
You may also read that ATM machines are located in most towns and cities in Iran. Whilst this is true, their only accept the local bank cards and even if you get all local bank card you should also be aware that ATM machines often break down and take some time to be fixed. So always make sure that you have some cash with you.
While still in Iran you may be approached by money changers but you will offer you a better exchange rate than the bank. They operate purely in the black market. Usually, they will approach you outside a bank and attempt to persuade you to use their services. Do not be tempted, this is purely illegal and may result in you getting into serious trouble with the police and this is not a situation that you would wish to be in. You also risk being ripped off and so it really is not worth the risk.
There are some money exchange kiosks around which will offer you a reasonable rate and they are generally more reputable than the black market money changers.
Using Your Rials
Whilst in Iran, you will find that your rials do go quite a long way. It is actually quite a cheap travel destination. However, you will find that there are two pricing systems in operation one for foreigners and one for locals. Sometimes foreigners can pay up to 10 times as much for something, than would be paid by a local person. The government has attempted to address this issue, particularly in some of the tourist areas, such as Persepolis.
Whilst in Iran, you will have to get used to the art of haggling. If you want to buy anything such as a role or craft items or even anything that is quite expensive then it is expected that you will haggle over the price quoted and negotiate with the seller until you reach a price that you are both happy with. Sometimes this can be quite a lengthy process.
In addition, there may be a problem communicating effectively, since although English is spoken, many people do not speak it very well and most foreign visitors do not have more than a few basic words of Persian. Many of the younger people in Iran do speak English and may act as informal interpreters at times.
Iran is a relatively safe place to visit and generally you will not have any problems. Obviously, if you are in a very crowded area, then just take some sensible precautions and ensure that your money is safe and that you cannot be pick pocketed with ease.
Iran is a very religious country and many things that are standard in Western countries is regarded as unacceptable in Iran. Drinking is not allowed and is illegal, but you may actually see some people drinking at parties. However, if you are caught drinking you will be arrested and punished.
If you are lesbian or gay then be very careful not to openly display your sexuality in public. This means no public demonstrations of affection and you should not attempt to strike up a same sex relationship with a local.
Western music cannot be played in public in Iran and if you bring in CDs or music on your I-pod then you may find that these are seized when you arrive, because there are viewed as anti-Islamic.
Things to see and do in Iran
Tehran is the capital of Iran and is a very beautiful city with a very rich history. Many people who have not been to Tehran think of it as a very closed and isolated city, but the reality is it is actually a very vibrant and cosmopolitan city. It has excellent museums that are of a world class standard, some wonderful places to eat and a very warm and friendly people even though this is a city.
Tehran is also quite safe for people to visit, but the traffic is an absolute nightmare and should be viewed as a major risk to health and safety: you have been warned! You should be very careful when crossing the road.
Iran has the usual mix of excellent facilities that you would expect to find in any capital city and the architecture is quite breathtaking.
Another very popular destination in Iran is Isfahan, located in central Iran and south of Tehran. It is often described as one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world. Its roots date back to ancient times and it was the capital of Persia for almost 200 years. The architecture here is again quite stunning.
Qom is a city that is one of the holiest within the Middle East and is often described as the jewel of Iran and for this reason alone, it is well worth a visit. However if you are not a Muslim then you will not be permitted to enter the holy shrine unless you are accompanied by a practising Muslim.
Kish Island is also a great place to visit. It is an island and a tourist resort that is based on the north east coast of the Persian Gulf. It is one of the best tourist resorts in the Middle-East and it has a much more liberal and relaxed attitude to Western customs and is a fantastic place to visit. It is also a free-trade zone which means that you can buy things here for much less than they would cost in mainland Iran.
Despite the fact that many people do not consider Iran to be the kind of place that you would choose to go on holiday to, it really does have a lot to offer visitors and guests. One of the main beauties of Iran is not just the fact that it is very friendly, warm and safe, but the fact that to a large extent it is undiscovered and not overrun with tourists, means that you actually get to enjoy the country and its people and learn more about their way of life. This surely, is one of the main reasons for travelling in the first place.