Despite all the rumors, after the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum, the Iran-Iraq border is open to tourists and, actually, it is a pretty quick border to cross.
This guide will show you all the steps to cross it successfully. Note that I crossed the border in 2018.
How to cross the Iran-Iraq border
Border crossings are always exciting and the Iran-Iraq border was, definitely, no exception.
Being the place where some of the largest amounts of oil in the world go through, at the border, you will find, literally, hundreds and hundreds of trucks full of petrol, going mainly towards Iran.
However, despite being such a sensitive spot, the authorities will not give you any trouble, especially on the Iraqi site, which is totally controlled by the Kurds and not the Iraqi government.
Iran-Iraq border crossing – Which borders are open?
The only borders which are certainly open are those connecting with Iraqi Kurdistan.
The others might be open to the locals but not to foreign travelers and, in any case, you need to be in possession of an actual Iraqi visa, which is very difficult to get, apart from quite a few security concerns.
These are the open borders:
Piranshahr – Haji Omran – On the Iranian site, this border is more convenient for those who are in Tabriz and the surrounding area. On the Iraqi side, it is 154km from Erbil and, on the way to the border, you pass by Rawandiz, a popular tourist destination within Iraqi Kurdistan.
Bashmaq – Penjwen – On the Iranian side, this border is physically closer to Tehran and very convenient if you are already in Iranian Kurdistan. On the Iraqi site, it is very close to Sulaymaniyah, the second largest city.
I crossed from Iran to Iraqi Kurdistan at Bashmaq, so the guide will focus on this border.
Iran-Iraq border map
This is where the 2 open borders are located:
Things you need to know before crossing the border
Visa for Iraqi Kurdistan – Most nationalities, including Europeans, Canadians, Australians, the USA some countries in Latin America and Asia can get a 1-month free visa on arrival. Other nationalities need to go through a very tedious process. For more information, contact the embassy in your home country.
For more information, read my 50 Useful tips for traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan
Visa for Iran – If you enter Iran overland, you can’t get a visa on arrival but you need to get it through the embassy. For this, you should first get an authorization code from a reliable local company and then present it to the embassy. I recommend the guys from 1stQuest, who provide this service for only 29€ and it only takes 1-2 working days. Moreover, the readers of this blog can get an exclusive 5% discount by using my promo code: ATC-QST
PS: Note that this code can be used whenever you want, as many times as you want, to purchase other services like travel insurance for Iran, booking hotels and domestic flights within Iran, among other stuff.
Safety – There are no security concerns when crossing this border. Iran is absolutely safe and Iraqi Kurdistan has been safe and stable for quite a couple of years now. For more information, read: Is it safe to travel to Iraq?
Customs – When I crossed, I was a little bit concerned that they would find my drone, as it is forbidden in both Iran and Iraq, but they didn’t even check my luggage. They just stamped my passport and I was good to go.
Travel insurance for Iraq – Remember that regular travel insurances companies, such as World Nomads, don’t provide cover for Iraq and the ones which seem to don’t offer full coverage in regions where governments advise against all travel, and that includes Iraqi Kurdistan. For this, you should get travel insurance from a company specializing in high-risk countries like First Allied.
If you want to know more about this topic, read: How to find the right insurance for high-risk destinations
Travel insurance for Iran – Because of the sanctions, World Nomads, First Allied and many others don’t cover for Iran, so you will need to find a specific insurance. For this, read my tutorial: How to choose the right travel insurance for Iran
Money exchange – I didn’t see any exchange office at the border itself but you can change money on the black market in the nearest towns.
Timings – The border opens every day.
Iran-Iraq border crossing at Bashmaq
I crossed it from Iran, so if you are coming from Iraq, you just need to do the reverse.
Step 1 – Go to Sanandaj. One of the largest cities in Iranian Kurdistan. You can get there by bus from pretty much any important city in Iran. I personally came from Esfahan, on a 12-hour bus and paid 450,000IR, but you can also come straight from Tehran. Remember that you can buy your bus tickets through 1stQuest, which is one of the very few local companies that accepts international credit cards. Remember to use my promo code to get your 5% discount: ATC-QST.
Step 2 – Shared taxi to Marivan. At Sanandaj’s bus station, there are local shared taxis going to Marivan, the nearest border town. There, you can exchange money and get some food. The taxi costs 170,000IR per person, and it is a 127-kilometer journey.
Step 3 – Shared taxi to the border. At the center of Marivan, there are shared taxis to the border. The price is 25,000IR per person.
Step 4 – Go to the customs. The taxi will drop you 1 or 2km away from the customs. Some taxi drivers will want to take you there but I recommend you walk, as you will be passing through all the petrol trucks.
Step 5 – Iranian customs – For me, it took a little longer than expected, around 1 hour, basically because I crossed soon after Iran implemented an e-visa system, so they were a little bit confused by my Iranian visa, as it was on a separate piece of paper, but the visa extension was in my passport.
Step 6 – Iraqi customs – Super quick, perhaps less than 10 minutes. They checked my nationality, made a few jokes about Spain, smiled and I was already in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Step 7 – Go to Sulaymaniyah – Right next to the customs, there are taxis which go straight to Suleimaniyah but they are expensive and cost 50,000ID (41USD). Alternatively, you can walk for one kilometer and you will see shared taxis going to Penjwen, the closest village to the border. The price per person is 2,000ID (1.60USD). In Penjwen, you can get on a bus to Sulaymaniyah (4,000ID – 3.40USD) or take a local shared taxi (7,000ID-5.88USD). I personally hitchhiked all this part. It was very easy and we even stopped on the way for lunch.
As you can see, crossing the Iraqi-Iranian border is extremely simple. If you have any more input/concerns to add, let us know in the comments section.
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