Banks in Iran is a straightforward affair, much like the rest of the world, the country now boasts more than 42,000 ATMs around the country, with much more popping up on a daily occasion. Bear in mind, however, these cash machines only work with Iran’s internal card system called Shetab which means your Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Union Pay and JCB cards are redundant while you are staying here.
What to do?
Well, fear not, there are plenty of options to make your stay in the country that bit easier than walking around with a fist full of rials.
Arrival at the airport
First of all, on your initial arrival in the country, you must have a ready supply of foreign currency (hard cash) to get yourself going in the first few weeks, we recommend United States Dollars or Euros as they are the most used currencies in Iran’s foreign exchange market.
(It is not advised to change all your money at the airport Bureaux de Change as in any other country they do not often give the best value for your money).
Bank Melli Iran (BMI) — operating at all airports — in the past year has begun offering Tourist Debt Cards to travellers coming to the country, and we recommend you head over to the branch where you can set up an account to get you moving. However, don’t change all your money with the branch and put an initial tranche of your cash on the card to get you moving.
Banks in Iran also offer Bureaux de Change services, so we recommend you load up your tourist card with an amount to get you to your destination for the first few days.
Changing your cash
Once you have arrived at your chosen destination, whether that be a hotel or apartment set up for you, you can then head over to the nearest cash machine and take out your chosen amount for petty cash spending.
Your hotel or company will then direct you to the near bureaux which will offer you the daily “free market rate” for your cash.
If you think the free market rate is a lot more than websites abroad report, that is because they report the government’s official rate of exchange which is invariably difficult to get. But not to worry, you now are assured to get the best rate for you foreign cash.
Opening a local branch account
From our experience, Iran’s newer private banks are usually better when it comes to foreigners looking to leave their cash in a safe location. There are several banks offering services to foreigners, however, even at the best of times, there may only be one cashier available who can speak English.
The best banks we’ve dealt with are Saman Bank, Middle East Bank and Pasargad, who on several occasions around the city have been able to deal with foreigners looking to do regular day-to-day banking in the city.
Saman Bank, comes in first place, as they have a lot of experience — especially in the north of the capital — of foreign students coming and going. So much so, that they now have one cashier who is able to deal customer queries in English at their Tajrish branch.
Pasargad Bank is also another contender for good customer service, that bank often has a cashier who will sit beside an expatriate and go through the paperwork (which is only in Persian) and get your account up and running.
Middle East Bank, whose CEO is a former HSBC professional also takes a special attention to foreign business people looking to open up in the country. They are especially well placed to deal with certain international banking transactions as they are one of the few local banks which were not placed under international sanctions.
So the choice is yours, we’ve selected what we think are the best banks for foreigners in the country, but let us know your thoughts.