We spent almost a week in Tbilisi waiting for Iran visa to come through. I think we could have got it done sooner, but we were in the city for a national holiday St. George’s day and also didn’t get our forms in until Friday so that delayed the process a bit.
I know when we were researching the trip we spent a lot of time looking online for information about getting visas on the road, so coming up will be some boring visa information.
Boring visa information below
Getting an Iran Visa in Tbilisi (November 2015)
There’s a lot of conflicting information online about what you need to do to get a visa for Iran. With the sanctions being lifted I think the process is probably going to go through a lot of change. I’ve been reading online that the Iranian government are looking to increase tourism to the country drastically over the next couple of years. You can already get a Visa on arrival if you fly in but that’s useless for overland travellers.
Anyway, all I know about is the process we went through. Hopefully this can clear some things up.
Step 1: Personal Reference Number
Before you even go to the embassy you need to get a Personal Reference Number from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Affairs in Tehran. It’s basically a rubber stamp pre-approving your visit. You might read about some people getting a visa at this or that embassy without the Reference Number, but everybody I’ve spoken to so far who got a Visa had a Reference Number, and anyone who didn’t, hadn’t.
There are two ways to get a Reference Number.
The first way is to get in contact with someone in Iran who will make the application for your reference number to the MFA on your behalf. This person will have to be happy to interface with the bureaucracy in Tehran, fill out the forms etc. the advantage with this method is that it is free, the disadvantage is that it is hard to organise and (apparently) takes longer. Up to six weeks, or so they say. I don’t know first hand as we didn’t go this route but it is an option.
The other method is going through an agency. We got in contact with Dave from Stan tours . Dave was really helpful, gave us a bunch of information and at a cost of $50 per person made the reference number application for us. Once we sent them our details over they had the reference number in a week.
You don’t get the reference number yourself by the way, it gets sent to a consulate or embassy of Iran that you designate. They say to be there three days after you get the message your number has arrived, but you can get there later. I think our number would have been sitting in the embassy in Tbilisi for over a month. Once you have the reference number you’re ready for Step 2.
Step 2: Visa Application
This is only relevant to Tbilisi, but might carry over to other consulates. I can say about the staff in Tbilisi is that they are very friendly, but by the book.
The Embassy is open ONLY from 10:00 – 13:00. There is no later opening to pick up a visa, so almost no chance of getting a same day Visa. If you arrive right as they open and have everything ready to go you can hand the form back the same day and get the visa in 1 – 2 days.
When you arrive first you have a short interview with one of the staff. It’s quite informal, they asked us where we are from, when we want to go and for how long. Then they asked if we have a reference number and when he found it in his stack of reference numbers he then gave us the form to fill out.
You need to have an address in Iran for the form, but the guy at the embassy told us directly that booking a hotel for one night and using that address was fine.
He also asked us for travel insurance information. Even just your policy card will do for this, you hand it in during the application and get it back at the end.
Those are the only slightly awkward parts of the application, the rest of the form is pretty easy to fill out. With the form you are also handed a slip of paper with the embassy’s bank info on it. Walk back down the hill, past the fork in the road and back to the wide intersection (about 15 min) to find a branch of their bank. Here just go to a teller, say ‘Iran Visa’ and hand them the slip. Make the deposit (in Euros, our charge was €40)Take the deposit receipt.
You also need passport photos, we didn’t find anywhere that close to the embassy so maybe have these on hand before you go of you want to get all done fast.
So if you have
– a reference number
– passport photos (2)
-Euros in cash
-the number and address of a hotel for one night in Iran
-potentially your travel insurance policy card (this isn’t always required, I think they decide on case by case)
Then all you have to do is arrive for a short interview, get the form, fill out the form, walk 15min down the street to the bank make the deposit and then back up to hand in the form before 13:00. Return the following day or so and pick up your visa. Simple.
End of Visa information
Apart from visa stuff Tbilisi is quite a nice place to visit, if a bit unfriendly to pedestrians. It’s position as an important trade hub between Central Asia and Eastern Europe over the centuries meant it’s been hotly contested by the Persians of antiquity, native Georgians, the khans of the steppe, the Tzars and Bolsheviks of Russia and even the Ottomans. You can get a real feel for all this walking around the city, a twenty minute walk from the old town to the newer side of the city takes you past all sorts of different architecture. There are wide European style avenues and narrow ottoman alleys next to each other.
We spent a good while in the hostel cleaning, repairing and re waterproofing a lot of our gear for the coming winter. The poor weather from Batumi to Tbilisi really put us in our place, and while we are pretty well prepared for winter weather there were a few niggling issues that it was nice to have the time to work on while waiting for the visas.
After a week in Tbilisi we returned to the embassy to pick up our visas. We got them no problem and left the city the same day. We rode up out of the valley that cradled the city and onto the main road to to the Azerbaijan border.
Following this busy road for a while, maybe 20km, we decided in the end to turn off and ride North over the next day. There was a road closer North that skirted the foot of the greater Caucuses that offered a nicer ride into and through Azerbaijan than the busy main artery highway constructed on the flat. It was getting dark so after cycling along the north bound road we pulled off into a field and set up camp