Doing Business in Tehran

Doing Business in Tehran

If you’re interested in doing business in Iran, then here are a list of tips and hints which should save you any faux pas in conducting your business in Tehran.

Making appointments

“Tehran works on its own special form of time,” one foreign businessman in the city said to LIT once. This comment may seem flippant, but the gist of it means you will need to take extra special care in getting to that appointment. Tehrani businessmen (and its men mostly) are very “relaxed” on specific appointment times to put it politely.

An Email from a stranger will not be a priority, and if you want to meet a specific businessperson, you would be better calling on the phone, “phones are still king” as one person also said to us in previous meetings.

Also, avoid sending WhatsApp messages from anonymous numbers, this will be seen as unprofessional, but a telephone call, well, that will always get noticed!

Doing business in IranDress to impress

DO NOT TURN UP TO A MEETING IN IRAN IN A T-SHIRT! Ok, I think we got that through. Formal dress is still very much de jure in the Iranian capital, and a good fitting suit, irrespective of the heat outside, will impress upon your counterpart you mean business.

Women should wear modest clothing that covers arms, legs, and hair. A shawl or manteau and light-coloured scarf loosely fit will be more than fine (you are not local after all), also don’t panic, Iranian businesses are worldly. But don’t go the whole hog and dress in an Arab-style Abaya as one diplomat’s wife insisted on only to be ridiculed on stage at conference once.

Times to Avoid

Avoid flying to Iran during holiday periods like Nowruz or Ramadan, the country often grinds to a halt from March 20, until April 4 and with the shifting dates of Ramadan people are generally in low-power mode as many people are fasting. Two Islamic Eids (Aid in Persian pronunciation), holy days such as Ashura are also days to avoid meetings.


When meeting someone in a business or official context for the first time, it can be very formal and a lot of ‘hands-on chest’ will be done. Especially since coronavirus (COVID-19) the Iranian hand on chest as a sign of respect remains popular in meetings. Also, do not forget to take a gift to your host, this will be taken as sign that you are serious. A sense of ceremony is given to proceedings which can catch many foreigners out.

Hand shakes

Be aware that some Iranians will not shake hands with the other gender. In such cases simply place your hand on your heart, smile and give a very slight bow of respect. Again because of COVID-19, this has become a regular thing again, and you don’t spread germs!

Traffic will delay you

Do not expect to get to your meeting at your advised time, like we mentioned above, it is a given that you will be late unless you are staying near the location of the meeting and can go on foot. Because of this and a generally easy-going attitude for specific times for meetings try and pitch your meeting for 11AM, they will be eager to talk and you may get a lunch out of it!

If you are doing business with government officials or municipality departments, be prepared to be kept waiting. Be patient and courteous as these people have heavy schedules and will fit you in.


It’s all about charm in Tehran, and Iranians are very savvy businesspeople. Be prepared to have “watermelons under your arms” as your counterpart suggests your business acumen is astounding. Also be prepared for the silent treatment. This is one of the biggest problems foreigners deal with when working in Iran and the “Persian silent treatment” as we have been previously told about is a serious problem with cross-cultural communication.

“Meetings for meeting’s sake”, this is a massive issue with people, many Iranian business people will be often sounding the foreigner out, so they may offer you several meetings, but many of them will just be ceremonial.


Top tips for working in Tehran

Business hours
Saturday to Thursday, 9 am to 5 pm.

Business language
Persian is the official language of Iran. English is spoken in many business circles and higher levels of government, but it’s still best to arrange an interpreter if you are unsure your business host will understand you.

Dress code for men and women
Business dress should be smart and conservative. Suits are standard but wearing a tie is not necessary. Women should be particularly careful about covering up their arms, legs and hair in public.

Gifts for business meetings
Gifts are not necessary for business proceedings. If invited to a colleague’s home, flowers or chocolates are a good option. Do not give gifts that contain alcohol or pork.

Gender Equality
While the number of women in business in Iran is increasing steadily, the country still has a long way to go regarding achieving equality. Women rarely occupy the most senior positions. However, recent appointments are beginning to change the perception of women in top roles. The attitude towards expat women in business in Iran will be quite conservative in some social circles.


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