May 2018 Issue –
Iran’s hunting locations have been open to foreign, mainly Eastern European, tourists since the early 2000’s. The Iranian Environmental Protection Agency exercises strict sanctions on the hunts and provides between 150 and 500 hunting permits each year. Travel agencies in Eastern Europe have long partnered with local guides to provide hunts to those interested in stalking rare species. The unique landscape and the variety of game have piqued the interest of US and Western European hunters. However, travel to Iran, particularly for US and Canadian citizens, is still ill-advised. The lack of diplomatic relations coupled with increasing political tensions substantially increases travel risk to the country. The US State Department has advised against all travel to the country.
After the signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015, many hoped diplomatic relations between the US and Iran would improve allowing the return of a US diplomatic mission which has been absent since the 1979 Islamic revolution. In 2016, due to probable connections with international terrorism, the US shifted to a hardline approach on Iranian relations and political tensions increased. The historic conflict between the US and Iran has led Iran to remain distrustful of any US visitors to the country. Iran’s government has detained and accused at least 30 US citizens of espionage since 2015. Many more US citizens have been arrested or gone missing prior to 2015. The law in Iran allows for arrests without due process, secret court hearings, and stiff penalties. Espionage is punishable by death in Iran and any political or religious taboo is punishable by life in prison. As no US diplomatic mission exists, those arrested have no recourse or defense once imprisoned. In one exceptional case, the US and Iran executed a prisoner trade deal that was negotiated through European liaisons. However, the trade deal was unpopular with many and it is unlikely that a similar deal would take place in the future.
Despite the State Department advisory against travel, US citizens can visit Iran. US citizens are not allowed to travel unaccompanied in the country and must be part of a tour. The traveler must coordinate a visa through the tour company which must be approved by the Iranian government. Travelers can expect both overt and covert monitoring at all times. If any law is broken, even if by mistake or ignorance, the traveler can be arrested and tried without explanation. Because of the extreme risk, travel to Iran is not advised for US citizens.