Before I went to Iran there were some things I did before, which were an absolute must. There were also some things I did not do before I went, but wish I did. Here is a list of 5 things you should do before visiting Iran.
1. Get cash
Most trade sanctions have been lifted from Iran by Obama. Despite this most banks are still reluctant to do business with Iranian banks, because they are afraid of ending up on a black list. Therefore most bank cards are not excepted in Iran.
Instead you should bring all the money you plan to use during your stay in euros or US dollars. I checked this with my bank the day before I left and my card would not be accepted in Iran. I was just in time, but I have met people that were not. These people entered Iran and were completely depended on other travellers to loan them some money.
Every city has a street where exchange offices are located. The rate that they use varies a lot. In exchange for one euro I have received anything between 36000 and 49000 Rials!
2. Learn to eat sunflower seeds
In Western countries eating sunflower seeds, or any seeds for that matter, is considered something for animals. In Iran this is not the case. It is a snack that people can eat all day long. You can buy them at almost every street corner and you will learn to appreciate them.
However, there is a technique to eating sunflower seeds. You do not want to eat the shell, but only the seed inside. I did not know this beforehand, but learned it during one of my last days. People are not used to foreigners being able to properly eat these. Therefore I recommend you learn this beforehand as you will immediately have a connection with the locals.
This video will teach you one technique to eating sunflower seeds.
This is basically a rule when visiting any country, where they use different numbers. However, the Persian numbers are much easier to learn than you would expect. They also count from 0 to 9 and make up their higher numbers in the same way. The keypad on the right shows the numbers 0 to 9 with their Persian counterpart.
4. Go on Couchsurfing
Iran is a country where Couchsurfing has been a true success. Persian people are known for their incredible hospitality and Couchsurfing is a perfect way for them to show this to foreign travellers.
Even if you have never experienced Couchsurfing before I highly recommend you to try it in Iran. Simply sign up and create a ‘public trip’. People living in the city you want to visit will then send you messages offering to host you and do some really special things.
I have met some truly incredible people while Couchsurfing in Iran and made some friends for life. Next to this hanging out with locals is the best way to learn about Iranian culture and gain an insight into their daily lives.
5. Get a VPN
Various social media platforms, e.g. Facebook and YouTube, are blocked in Iran. This does not stop people from using these platforms. Many people have installed a VPN on their mobile phones in order to access these platforms.
I did not install the VPN before going, because I figured I could do without for two weeks. I wish I did though. Not because I could not do without, but because local people want to connect with you. Using these platforms is a great way to share your interests and stay in touch after returning home.
There are multiple VPNs around that work, but this changes regularly. Therefore I recommend you to check on Google which one works several days or weeks before you go to Iran.