Tehran, Iran Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Tehran, Iran

Tehran, Iran 08/05/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

First expat experience.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Brazil. The trip might take anything from 18 to 30 hours, depending on connections. I guess the easiest way is through Istanbul with Turkish Airlines.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Since January 2011.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomat.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most expatriates live in apartments (some of them quite large) in northern Tehran. If you have to work downtown, the commute might take up to 1 1/2 hours each way. As my workplace is in the north, I generally walk.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Almost everything can be found. European products have European prices. Iranian-made stuff is much cheaper.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Clothes and Textiles. The clothing style is quite different from the West and textiles are generally synthetic or poorly made.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are not really western fast food chains available. There are several Persian restaurants and a handful of other cuisines (Japanese, Indian, Lebanese). A dinner for two (no alcohol, of course) shall cost about US$50. A pizza is about US$10.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Organics are not easy to find. There are vegetarian restaurants, but I have no information about allergy stuff or meat substitutes.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

During summertime, cockroaches and mosquitoes might be a problem, but there are reasonable disinfecting services.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Diplomatic Pouch, but I know that DHL works here.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Language can be a problem for domestic help, but there is plenty available at a reasonable cost. The upside is that Iranians tend to be quite honest, so there are no concern about lost or stolen items.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, plenty of them. There are, however, different times for men and women.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Completely banned, because of the sanctions. Cash is king.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

No idea, but probably not.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

There are four local newspapers in English, but they are highly controlled by the regime. Satellite TV is illegal, but very easy and cheap to get.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

At least basic knowledge of Farsi is highly recommended, as ordinary people don't speak English at all.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, the transport system is pretty safe. A bus ride costs about US$ 0,20 and the subway, US$ 0,30. Private taxis are not metered, so the driver may charge whatever he wants, generally there's an informal surcharge for foreigners.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Roads are generally very good and you can see lots of very fancy cars (Porsche, BMW, etc.) around. I would recommend automatic cars, because of the huge traffic jams.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Not really. I guess 1Mb internet shall cost at least US$100 a month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There is, as yet, no 3G coverage in Iran. And the 2G one can be quite patchy.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

No idea, but pets are not normal in Iran.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Well, the language barrier is a major hindrance. I guess some teaching job might be got, but they tend not to be very well paid.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Women are expected to follow the Islamic dress code in public, including foreign women. Men cannot go out in shorts or sleeveless shirts.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

As a Brazilian man, I can say security is not an issue. Some European diplomats live in compounds on security reasons.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

I never really needed to use local health care, but it seems it can handle the day-to-day business. For operations or serious illness, better go abroad.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

I'd say very unhealthy. The pollution in Tehran can be a major problem.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Temperate. Very hot summers (up to 40 C) and very cold winter (as low as -5 C). Generally very dry also. Rain is rare, but happens.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I have no kids, but I heard there is a French school and an Italian one.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Quite sizable. There are about 100 embassies and several multinational companies represented here.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very mixed. Some love it, some hate it. I would not, however, recommend a mission longer than 3 years without careful planning.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

A bit complicated. Alcohol is banned, so there are no bars or clubs. Movies are generally Iranian and only in Farsi. Theater and music shows are quite limited.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Lots of expats here are either single or married without children. As a single man, I think there is a great time to be had here.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Not especially recommended, since the regime cracks down on homosexuals and there are no bars or clubs (gay or otherwise).

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Women must follow the Islamic dress code (cover their heads) in public. Other that that I don't think there are major problems. Even Jews (of not extremely Zionist) are generally welcome.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Definitely the Iranian people and foreign diplomats posted here. Visiting Isfahan and Persepolis is also very interesting.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Skiing, Hiking. Though alcohol is officially forbidden, expats have no trouble getting it, so there are quite some parties.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Carpets, most definitely. Other handicrafts items are also a good bet.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The culture and history is very interesting, so there is a lot of tourism to be done. As a diplomat, the political importance of Iran is also an attraction. The people is also very kind and love foreigners.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, you can, although prices are much higher than a couple of years ago.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Definitely.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

iPhone.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bed sheets and towels, computers and clothes. Some toilet paper might also seem a good idea.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer; The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd; The Persians: Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Iran
by Homa Katouzian.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

No One Knows About Persian Cats
by Bahman Ghobadi ; All films by Ashgar Farhadi

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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