You probably have heard it: sanctions imposed on Iran include the prohibition of any financial transaction. That means that no credit card (Visa, Mastercard or AmEx) nor debit cards will work in the country. So very simply put: you must bring enough cash to cover all your expenses.
Both US Dollars and Euro are generally accepted everywhere – so if you live in Europe just bring Euros. Do NOT exchange your Euro into Dollars before departure: this way you will just pay a commission to your bank (in the region of 3%) for nothing! Iran is not South America where you receive a much worse exchange rate for Euro than for Dollars.OK, I will bring cash. But how to exchange it?
There are basically three places where you can exchange money in Iran: Banks, Sarafis, black market. You will always be better off with Sarafis.
Banks: avoid at any cost! They offer the “official” exchange rate – which is generally far away from the “real” rate. You are excused for using banks, only if you need some cash when you arrive at the airport: very likely you will only be able to find bad rates there. Exchange only a small amount of money, enough to get you into the city and exchange the rest in a Sarafi.
Sarafis: exchange your money here!! These legal exchange shops offer the best rate you will ever find: it is on average 15-20% better than the official rate offered by banks.
Black Market: if you walk around a bit, you will likely hear “dollars..exchange” as you walk past a group of man standing next to a motorbike. From my experience, the rate is just marginally better than the sarafi, but you lack any kind of safety: after all you are dealing illegally in the street with somebody who could scam you and disappear forever. Don’t make a mistake you might regret, just go to a good sarafi and you will be more than fine!
You can check the current sarafi rate here: http://www.mesghall.com/
Rials & Toman: thick wallet and confusion!
The Iranian currency is called Rial. You will probably get in contact with notes of between 10.000 Rial and 1.000.000 Rial. If you exchange 100 euros you will receive back three 1 milion notes, one 500k note and two 100k = six notes. In reality, most of the time it is going to be more as for some reasons not every sarafi have 1 milion notes, so the highest bill you will receive is 500k (that means for each 100 euro you receive at least 9 notes). I suggest not to exchange all your money in one go or you might not even be able to close your wallet. Just remember to have some cash available before traveling and before going to small cities. In large cities like Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz you will have no problems in finding a good sarafi.
To make things worse: the currency is Rial but all prices (food, taxi, anything really) are quoted in Toman – where 1 Toman = 10 Rial.
I will not stress this enough: get used to think in Toman and not in Rial. Memorize your exchange rate in Toman so you will always know how much you are paying! And when you pay, remember to add a zero back as the notes are in Rial and not Toman 🙂Got it! Where can I exchange my cash?
So now that you know the basics, where can you exchange money? My suggestion is to first check with your hotel: chances are that they are also exchanging money, but the rate is generally not good. Kindly decline and move forward. You can ask a shopkeeper or you can simply have a look at the maps below: I pointed the areas where sarafis are located. There are gererally 5-10 next to each other, have a look, compare the rates and choose one that gives you a safety feeling.
In Isfahan (look for the carpet shop)