Getting an Iranian Visa in London, UK (2017).
This information was correct as of June 2017 and is reflective of my experience only. Please check for the current requirements, costs and procedures on the UK Iranian Embassy’s Website.
Iran is many things.
A country you can just show up to it is not. Especially if you happen to have an American, British or Canadian passport that you are travelling on.
All nationalities (except Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Georgia, Malaysia, Syria Turkey and Venezuela) are required to apply for a visa for travel to Iran.
Some nationalities are eligible for a ‘visa on arrival’ – Americans, Canadians and Brits are not.
As I experienced during my own visa application process, arrangements are constantly changing, requirements are tightened or relaxed, and can do so with little warning. The following is my experience of getting an Iranian visa in London in July 2017 with a British passport; please see your government’s travel advisory website for the most up to date information to check the current situation.
As a Brit longing for a taste of Iranian hospitality, culture and architecture, the first step I had to take towards getting my Iranian visa was booking a tour via an agency for the duration of my stay. I chose to travel with G Adventures given their commitment to responsible tourism.
Planning for your Visa & Letter of Invitation.
Tours are mandatory for Brits, Americans and Canadians travelling to Iran, unless you have a sponsor in Iran.
The only way to get around a tour as a Brit is to have an Iranian resident sponsor your visa application, or you are currently able to visit Kish Island (only) for up to 14 days without a visa. In the past there were ways to “get around” the tour requirement, but these seem to have been clamped down on.
Once my trip was booked I submitted the application for a “Letter of Invitation” (sometimes referred to as “Authorisation Number” or LOI) via G Adventures. Your travel agent files this application with the Ministry of Tourism in Iran who then reviews the application and returns the authorisation number to you around 21-14 days prior to the departure of your trip – so prepare for it being pretty last minute.
One grounds for refusal of your application is Israeli stamps in your passport – or even stamps from Jordan at the land border with Israel according to some sources. Those travelling on Israeli passports cannot enter Iran.
My application for an authorisation number was delayed because of a new requirement (June 2017) to ask British and Canadian applicants for CV’s as part of their application (previously this only applied to Americans wanting to visit Iran).
My number arrived 5 days prior to departure of my trip (!) so I had to practically run to the Embassy to get my visa on time
Once you have your authorisation number back, it’s time to go to the Consular section of the Iranian Embassy in London to get your actual Visa.
For Brits, an authorisation number alone is not enough to enter Iran with.
British passport holders are only able to collect their Visa from an Iranian Embassy – in the UK that means a trip to London. It’s not possible to pick it up on arrival in Iran.
At the Iranian Embassy in London.
What you’ll need for your visit to the embassy:
– issued letter of invitation / authorisation number (print it out)
– payment in CASH, UK pounds only (165 GBP for standard service, 250 GBP for same day/rush)
– 2 passport photos (women need to cover their hair)
– completed application form (downloadable here)
– your passport
– Addressed Special Delivery envelope (available from post offices) if you are not doing the same day express service.
Ladies – bring a scarf to the embassy and dress modestly (cover legs and arms) – most women including foreigners covered their hair inside the embassy although this seemed to be more out of respect than being enforced.
The consular section of the Iranian Embassy is located off Kensington High Street in central London, and is open for Visas on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons between 2pm and 5pm for visa processing.
From what limited information I could find about going to the Embassy in London online I surmised that: a) there is usually a long queue well before 2pm b) the Embassy does not answer the phone c) the Embassy does not answer emails. I spoke to several disgruntled Brits of Iranian descent who had been trying to get answers as to whether their children needed to be present in person or not. Who in the send had had to turn up in person to find out.
I joined the queue at around 1.15 pm and there were already about 30 people in front of me. We waited until around 2.30pm to be let in – all the while watching as a variety of Iranians, Brits and other nationalities arrived, tried to get in, were told that there was a queue and either decided to just sidle in at the front (much to the loud protest of some) or head to the back.
During the 1.15hr wait I got chatting to two ladies of Iranian descent that were standing next to me. One was going on a pilgrimage there, one was taking her youngest child home to meet his grandparents for the first time. Within a few minutes we had a group of us chatting away about travel in Iran and I had several invitations to dinner!
If this is the famous Iranian hospitality – I thought – things are off to a good start.
Once inside the embassy we were given numbers, called forward, submitted our paperwork and cash for the visa.
At the time of my visit (July 2017) the cost of a standard tourist visa for UK passport holders was 165 GBP.
The embassy only accepts payment in cash.
Because I only received my authorisation number 5 days prior to departure I had to fork out the extra cash (90 GBP) for the same day service. That meant that I came back to collect my passport with visa in it the same day at 5.30pm.
For standard service, the embassy posts your passport back to you (via the envelope you provide) – it is NOT possible to pick up your passport in person.
Now, you should be all set for travel in Iran!
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A Londoner by birth Ellie has lived in the UK, Netherlands, India and now Canada. Prior to blogging, she worked for 12 years in hospitality and online travel. Ellie started this blog during a sabbatical trip in 2015 around South Asia, to help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. When not travelling, she is happiest with wine, pasta and a good (travel) book. Ellie is also Founder of Soul Travel Consulting which helps travel brands communicate their sustainability initiatives.