For the Chinese New Year holiday we decided to visit Iran. Listed as one of the best up and coming destinations for the last few years I was excited about finally getting there.
British tourists need a letter of invitation from an Iranian travel agency, and to have booked a tour guide who would accompany them throughout the trip. The agency said it would take 45-60 days for the letter to be issued. 80 days later it arrived…
Visiting the Iranian embassy is straightforward enough, unlike the staff. We queued up. They gave us a form to fill out. We did so. We queued up. They gave us a near identical form to fill out. On asking if there were any other forms we could fill out whilst waiting we were told it could only be done one at a time.
Parts of the form were in Persian script, but on queueing up and asking for clarification of one of the questions they got annoyed and curtly said that we asked too many questions.
With the forms filled in to the best of our ability they decided I needed to give my fingerprints, then as an afterthought that they’d need to be notarised.
This meant a trip to the Beijing Notary Office, a busy but friendly place in Fangyuan. On asking for fingerprints to be notarised they immediately guessed it was for an Iranian visa. They warned us that the Iranian visa office is particularly picky about the quality of the fingerprints and rejects most of them without reason. They then gave me a sheet of paper and some ink to practice.
This looks easy enough on TV, but without any experience it’s surprisingly tricky to get a clear and complete fingerprint, especially getting it to fit in a very small box on a form.
After practicing on paper just to get a full fingerprint, then contorting myself to get it at the right angle, then trying to get it in the right place, I felt like I was ready to try for real. By now both the paper and the desk were covered in ink and I was getting some unimpressed looks from the cleaner.
Finally it was time to fill in the form. Looking at the boxes they also wanted a knuckle print of all four fingers together. My four fingers are ~10cm wide. The box was 5cm wide. I called the visa office to ask whether I can do the palm print on a separate, larger sheet. “Why would you need to ask that?”. She wouldn’t actually answer the question, so I try and do both.
Before making the phone call I tried to wash my hands but the ink was disturbingly permanent. The cleaner refused to let me use any of her cleaning fluid or toilet tissues to wipe my hands.
Pinching the completed form between my outer two fingers I dropped it on the desk of the notary and she gave me some tissues to wipe off the worst of the ink from my hands before I messed up her desk as well.
Getting the Iranian Visa
The notarisation took three days so required another trip back to the notary office, which opens at 10.30. There wasn’t time afterwards to get to the Iranian Visa office which closes at 12 but seems to stop letting people in at around 11.
They said to come back on Monday.
On Monday they told us they don’t handle visa applications on a Monday. On Tuesday they finally took the application, but wouldn’t commit to saying whether the fingerprints were accurate enough, but that it would take 5 days.
They said to come back on Monday.
By now wary of Mondays we went back on Tuesday.
Because of the irregular timings of flights from Beijing to Tehran we could only fit our 12 day tour in by flying two days before and after the tour. The visa was ready and utterly useless, mine being for only 12 days and H’s for 15 days when we’d requested 16 days.
The visa is tied to the exact tour itinerary, so we couldn’t even just go for 8 days.
In total, with visa fees and notary fees, the whole process cost nearly $800 and many hours, not including travelling back and forth repeatedly.
Looking at the visa fees on the wall it’s apparent that British passport holders get charged the most of any nationality – currently four and a half times that of a Chinese passport holder.
I would have loved to go to Iran, but it seems they’re not so keen on having me.