50 Useful tips for traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan

In May 2021, I will be personally running a tour-expedition to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Located in the north of Iraq, nestled between Iran and Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan is today a safe but turbulent region, home to some of the most breathtaking landscape in the Middle East, composed of green mountains with snow-capped peaks that, definitely, will break with all the stereotypes you have about Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan is no desert and, most importantly, it is not a war zone filled with ISIS terrorists but an autonomous region which, for the last couple of years, has done a tremendous job defending its borders.

Kurdistan is one of the safest countries in the Middle East and the most ultimate destination for travelers looking for something unique, very off the beaten track, and who are willing to meet the Kurds, a very proud and brave nation, who turn out to also be some of the most hospitable people I have ever encountered, with similar experiences to Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan.

From visiting refugee camps to crazy stories involving the Peshmerga military, great hitchhiking and camping experiences and just amazing people with unbelievable stories to tell, Kurdistan may be the high point of all your backpacking travels.

After visiting Kurdistan twice, I have compiled a guide with 50 useful tips which, hopefully, will help you traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan.

This guide contains all the practical information. For places to visit read: 2-week itinerary in Iraqi Kurdistan

Kurdistan travel

In this Iraqi Kurdistan travel guide you will find:

COVID-19 travel restrictions
Quick tips
Travel insurance
Getting in
Useful books
Solo female travel
People and culture
Internet & SIM Card
More information

COVID-19 travel restrictions for Iraqi Kurdistan

For entering Iraqi Kurdistan, the following requirements apply:

  • Negative PCR test done no later than 72 hours before arrival in Iraqi Kurdistan
  • Upon your arrival at the airport, you must undergo a second PCR test, which costs 50USD. Results will be notified on the next day and meanwhile, the authorities will keep your passport, but you will be able to roam around freely in Erbil and pick up your passport on the next day
  • For leaving the country, you must also hold a negative PCR test, which you can do in the Zanko Health Center in Erbil

A few quick tips before traveling to Kurdistan

1 – What to do in Kurdistan

You may be wondering why the hell you should visit Kurdistan, but there is actually a lot of potential in this country.

From visiting historical sites to volunteering in refugee camps, hanging out with local people, war heritage stuff and even outdoor adventures, I think that Kurdistan is a pretty complete destination with plenty of stuff to do.

For more information, read: Places to visit in Kurdistan

2 – When to visit Iraqi Kurdistan

Spring and fall are the ideal months to travel, when the temperatures are mild. Winters are surprisingly cold, even in Erbil, and summers are hot. However, the weather is never really extreme, so I would say that Kurdistan is a year-round destination.

3 – Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region

Kurdistan has a lot of autonomy from the rest of Iraq, to the extent that they control the airport, immigration, their borders; they have their own army and, of course, they have their own Parliament.

This is one of the main reasons why Kurdistan is a safe destination and whatever unfortunate event you heard recently in the news about Iraq, doesn’t really affect Kurdistan.

Travel to Kurdistan
This is the town of Aqrah – Travel to Kurdistan

Visa for traveling to Kurdistan

4 – Many Western nationalities can get a free visa on arrival

EU countries, the USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand can get a free 30-day free visa on arrival, both at the airport and the land border. You just get a tiny, insignificant stamp and that’s it.

Update April 2021

Since very recently, visa no arrival now costs 70USD. Travel reports on this particular topic are very welcome.

5 – The other countries though, need to go through a very tedious process

For people of other nationalities, getting a visa can be a difficult and expensive process. I suggest you contact your nearest Iraqi Embassy or email the KRG Representation at dfr@krg.org.

6 – Iraqi Kurdistan visas can’t be used to visit the Arab Iraq

This is important. A valid visa for traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan doesn’t allow you to visit outside of Kurdistan, that is to enter actual Iraq. If you try to enter, you will just bump into very strict military control who will send you back home.

Just to clarify, because many people ask me, this also includes Mosul. You can’t go to Mosul with a Kurdistan visa.

Intersection to Mosul, Baghdad and Kirkuk

Travel Insurance for Iraqi Kurdistan

7 – Don’t get any regular travel insurance

Iraqi Kurdistan is no normal destination and, most likely, it is a country that your Government advises against all travel to, so most travel insurance companies will not offer coverage for Iraq. 

8 – One of the very few which does is IATI Insurance

I recommend it for the following reasons:

  • It provides coverage to a big bunch of adventurous destinations which other don’t, like Iraq, Syria or Sudan
  • It has loads of different plans at very competitive prices
  • Readers of Against the Compass can get an exclusive 5% discount


How to get to Iraqi Kurdistan

9 – How to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan by air

Kurdistan has two international airports: Erbil and Sulaymaniyah and, most likely, you will be flying to Erbil. Pegasus (via Istanbul) and Fly Dubai (via Dubai) are the cheapest and most common routes.

10 – How to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan by land

You can enter Kurdistan from either Iran or Turkey. The Iranian side is very easy and straightforward but the Turkish authorities will give you a lot of trouble.

Travel Iraqi Kurdistan
The main square of Erbil – Travel Iraqi Kurdistan

Books for traveling in Iraqi Kurdistan

11 – Iraq Travel Guide by Bradt

If you follow my blog, you will see that I always recommend their guides for all destinations, so Iraq will be no different. They have, obviously, the only travel guide to the country, with a pretty long chapter focused on Kurdistan. Bradt has the most insightful guidebooks I have ever read.


12 – The Rise of the Islamic State

This is my favorite journalism book ever and it is written by Patrick Cockburn, one of the world’s top experts on the Middle Eastern conflict. In this book, he gives an extremely perceptive introduction to the origins of ISIS, with many references to Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq, of course. A really useful book to understand the complexity and origin of the conflict.


Is it safe to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan?

13 – The bad things that happen in Iraq don’t happen in Kurdistan

Whatever you have been hearing in the news about Iraq for the last few years, happened in Arab Iraq, not in Kurdistan.

The last terrorist attack that occurred in Kurdistan was in Erbil back in 2014. This means that London and Paris have suffered more attacks than the whole of Kurdistan itself.

14 – However, the region is very unstable

I never meant that traveling to Kurdistan will be as peaceful as your spiritual journey through Bhutan, not even close.

Despite being safe, the region is highly volatile and effective military operations are the only reason why it is safe. This means that things may change overnight, so being extra careful is more than wise. 

15 – There are military controls everywhere

When you travel between towns and cities, you will find so many military checkpoints run by Kurdish Army guys named Peshmergas.

As a Western passport holder, they don’t give you any trouble but, once, I was traveling with an Iraqi from Baghdad and they held him for 15 minutes, at least. They don’t trust Arabs at all as any Arab could, potentially, be an ISIS spy.

16 – Crime rates are ridiculously low

Kurdistan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. It is one of those places where you may forget your phone in a café, come back in a few hours and still recover it.

For a more complete and detailed analysis, read: Is it safe to travel to Iraq?

Kurdistan tourism travel guide
The old tanks from Sadam Hussein’s regime, in Sulaymaniyah – Kurdistan tourism travel guide

Solo female travel in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan is a very safe region of Iraq, regardless of your gender. 

Actually, I personally think that, for women, it is much safer than other mass tourism destinations such as Egypt. 

If you want to know more, read this article that a kick ass female traveler posted on my blog: 6 Tips for solo female travel in Iraqi Kurdistan

Andrea from Hunting Rarities in Amedi

Money when travel in Kurdistan

17 – The official currency is the Iraqi Dinar

And, in September 2018, 1USD = 1,200ID.

18 – Money exchange

You can easily exchange €, USD and GBP in all the main cities.

19 – Some exchange offices are, somehow, peculiar

Some exchange offices are just stalls in the middle of the street, with no surveillance, no security and no glass screen with lots of huge bundles of cash. The reason is that the crime rates here are very low.

20 – Credit cards and ATMs

Most ATMs will accept foreign cards but most places, even in expensive restaurants where I ate, didn’t accept credit cards, so remember to always have cash with you.

21 – How much does to cost to travel in Iraqi Kurdistan

Compared to its neighbors, traveling in Kurdistan isn’t very cheap.

  • Budget Hotels: 20,000-25,000ID (16-21USD)
  • Beer: 1,200ID (1USD) at the supermarket and 10,000ID (8.40USD) in a bar
  • Fast food: 1,000-1,200ID (around 1USD) for a shawarma
  • Local eateries: 5,000 to 8,000ID (4 to 7USD) for a local meal, consisting of rice, beans and chicken
  • Fancy restaurants: Main courses starting at 14,000ID (12USD)
  • Taxi rides within cities: from 3,000ID to 5,000ID (from 4 to 7USD)
  • Transportation between cities: Local shared taxi from Suleymaniyah to Erbil costs 15,000ID (12USD)
Money in Iraq
Some money exchange stalls – No surveillance? – Traveling to Kurdistan

The Kurds and their country and culture – Kurdistan Travel Guide

22 – Kurds are spread over 4 countries

Kurds are spread over Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, the last one being the most autonomous region.

Many years ago, they used to be one single country but, at the end of the British Empire, the British themselves decided to draw the Middle Eastern map like that.

23 – Kurds are not Arabs

Kurds are a different nation and ethnicity who are closer to Persians than Arabs. Never tell a Kurd that they are Arabs, or like Arabs, because they won’t like it.

24 – Kurdish is the main language

Kurdish, a language with many similarities to Farsi and Turkish is the official language in Kurdistan.

25 – Young people don’t speak Arabic anymore

People who are less than 30-years old don’t speak Arabic. They don’t teach it in schools anymore and this was a very drastic measure from the Kurdish Government after the Saddam Hussein invasion, when their national pride and differences versus the Arabs accentuated even more.

26 – English

Young, well-educated people speak English but that’s it. With the rest of the population, you will have to talk using signs or Google Translate.

27 – Many Kurds don’t like Arabs, at all

Educated Kurds are aware that their problems with the Arabs are more political but, during my journey, I met many closed-minded Kurds, especially in the villages, who told me that they really hate Arabs.

travel Kurdistan Iraq
The Kurds, in Rawandiz – Travel Kurdistan Iraq

28 – They are Sunni Muslims

Kurdistan is a Muslim country and most of them are Sunni.

29 – However, they are some of the least religious people in the Middle East

My good Kurdish friend Badarkhan (@baderkhanamerbadran) once told me that, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kurdistan, he committed the most brutal atrocities in the name of God so, after this, many Kurds lost faith in Islam.

You will quickly realize that Kurdistan is not as religious as many other Middle Eastern countries and people are much more liberal.

30 – There is also a huge Christian community

Erbil has a big Christian district and there are several Christian villages throughout the region. There are also other religious minorities, such as Yazidis and Zoroastrians.

31 – Kurdish hospitality

Like when you are traveling in Iran, in Kurdistan you will also receive so many house, lunch and chai invitations. Being hospitable with their guests is in their blood and, on top of this, they absolutely love foreigners.

32 – Kurdistan is the most developed region in Iraq

And not only due to the fact that they have some of the largest oil reserves in the country, an important business hub like Erbil and control the main borders with Turkey and Iran but also, because Kurdistan hasn’t been so affected by the current war.

33 – Because of all the above, it is not surprising that they would like to separate

More than 90% of the Kurds want to separate from Iraq and, in fact, they had a referendum in October 2017 but, due to the international pressure and threats from Iraq and its neighbors, they couldn’t move it forward.

Kurdistan travel guide
The Kurdish flag and Amadiya in the background – Kurdistan travel guide

The food in Iraqi Kurdistan

34 – A shawarma economy

During your trip to Kurdistan, you will get absolutely sick of shawarmas. In 90% of the cases, they will be the only option. They are extremely cheap but they are also extremely nasty and unhealthy. I hated them but this is what their street food culture is about. 

I used to tell one joke to my Kurdish friends: I think that your economy is based on oil and shawarmas. Being such an oil-dependent country having shawarmas absolutely everywhere made me come up with this.

It is obviously a joke which you may not find funny but I do.

By the way, many places serving shawarma also serve falafel, a healthier option.

35 – You may find kebabs

On a lucky day, you may find some places serving good kebabs, of all types. The good ones aren’t cheap though and you will realize that you may end up paying almost 10USD for just a few kebabs.

36 – And if you are extremely lucky, you may find a local eatery

Local eateries typically serve red beans with rice and chicken. However, I never found any of these in small towns and villages and very few in both Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.

37 – The best Kurdish food is served at home

When I visited Iraqi Kurdistan, I was very lucky when a friend invited me to his house and his mother had cooked lunch for a whole army. She made loads of different traditional dishes, so I could try a lot of new things. 

Their cuisine is mostly rice and meat-based, always quite fatty and with many stews. Red beans will always accompany any meal and, when they have guests or on any special occasion, they don’t care about making you eat chicken, lamb, and beef at the same time, along with fried rice with meat in it and a lot of flatbread. I left his house completely rolling.

Kurdish food
This is what my friend’s mother cooked for just 5 or 6 people -Traveling to Kurdistan

Drinking alcohol when you travel in Kurdistan

38 – Good news: Alcohol is widely available in Kurdistan

Unlike the rest of Iraq, liquor stores are available everywhere. You can buy fresh, cold beer, wine and any type of liquor. In Erbil and Sulaymaniyah you can find plenty of bars, as well.

39 – You can actually drink on the street

I didn’t really drink in the center of Erbil but I had some beers in a few parks in both Erbil and Suleymaniyah, as well as in villages throughout the country and I never had any problems.

Well, this is not actually true because, in Suleymaniyah, I had a beer in the main square, basically because my Couchsurfing host told me it was OK but the police came to me quite annoyed, but they just made me put it away. Apparently, it is legal to drink but some police don’t like it anyways.

40 – In supermarkets, beer is cheap, not in bars

In the stores, a beer costs not much more than a dollar but, in bars, they charge 10 times more, unfortunately, so if you are on a budget, don’t get drunk in bars.

41 – Chai and cafés

Like pretty much all countries in the Middle East, chai is a big deal and it always comes with sugar by default. Hanging out in cafés is one of the highlights of any trip to Kurdistan, as it is the best place to socialize with friendly locals.

Iraqi Kurdistan travel blog
A tea house in Erbil – Iraqi Kurdistan travel blog

Transportation – Traveling around Kurdistan

42 – Moving around by buses

Buses are basically mini-vans but they don’t really run to many places, except between the main cities. They are much slower than shared taxis and not much cheaper.

43 – Local shared taxis

The way to go. They go everywhere and are the most common way of transportation among locals. They aren’t cheap as in Iran and Central Asia but still quite affordable.

44 – Hitchhiking in Kurdistan

Super safe and convenient. I hitchhiked all the way from Soran to Dohuk via Amedi, which is around 300km. Nobody never asked me for money and I had great experiences with many of the people, which a few times involved stopping for lunch or even making a detour so they could drop me just at the place I wanted.

However, I have to say that many people didn’t stop, so I had to wait for some time on a couple of occasions.

Visit Iraqi Kurdistan
Crazy roads in Iraqi Kurdistan – Visit Iraqi Kurdistan

Internet and SIM Card

45 – Wi-Fi

It is not the fastest Wi-Fi in the world but it is pretty decent and you find it all across the country. Internet is not much of an issue when you travel in Iraqi Kurdistan.

46 – SIM Card and 3

You can buy a local SIM Card but buying data is rather expensive. The locals recommended me Ana Cell and I paid 5,000ID (4.20USD) for the SIM Card and 18,500ID (15USD) for 5GB of data.

Accommodation when you travel in Iraqi Kurdistan

47 – Couchsurfing

In Suleymaniyah and Erbil there are so many active profiles. You may also find a few in Dohuk but outside of the main cities, I never got a couch.

48 – Budget Hotels

Like I said before, the cheapest hotels will cost you around 12 or 15USD but they can’t be booked online. You can check all the hotels I stayed at in my Kurdistan itinerary.

49 – Mid-range / Top-end Hotels

In Erbil, Suleymaniyah and Dohuk you can find endless hotels and deals on Booking.

Click here to find the latest hotel deals in Kurdistan

More useful information to visit Iraqi Kurdistan

50 – Drones

I am telling you this based on my own experience. When I was traveling in Kurdistan, I got arrested for having a drone and I didn’t even fly it. They found it in my backpack and they took me to a military base, where they interrogated me for a few hours.

I really thought they I would not get my drone back but, in the end, they believed my story. Basically, they are used by ISIS to spy, so if you do have one because you are overlanding, hide it and don’t fly it!

51 – Tourists visiting refugee camps

It is possible to visit some Syrian refugee camps, but just some of them. They are outside the cities and you should go with a local. I visited Darashakran and you can read about my experience: Visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq.

52 – Traveling to Iran next?

No problem, don’t forget to check all my articles and guides to Iran.

And remember to read all my articles and guides to Iraqi Kurdistan

traveling to Kurdistan

Disclosure: As a traveler, I use all the companies I recommend and you should know that, if you buy any service through any of these links, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Start planning and booking your trip

For booking accommodation

Use Booking.com for hotels and guesthouses

Check on Hostelworld for for backpacker hostels

For travel insurance (with COVID-19 coverage), I recommend:

1 – IATI Insurance (5% discount) – Cheapest travel insurance and for travelers above 70

2 – True Traveller – Best backpacking insurance (only Europeans)


For all your travel gear

Trekking equipment, books, etc, check on Amazon

If you want to know all the companies I use to plan my trips, check my travel resources page


  1. Wow, what an adventure. Like most people, I know little about Iraqi Kurdistan and you provided an incredibly comprehensive guide to an undiscovered region of the world for tourists. The landscape looks beautiful. It’s always great to read about a region that is different and unique and makes me want to explore. Thanks for sharing!

  2. It is quite a shame that not more traveled and to be honest Iraqi in not on the top of my list either, but may consider some time and you are right, I would actually go there before Paris, It seems like so much terror activity goes on in Paris that as close as it is I have no desire to go. I love the middle east and always looking for new places to visit there. I love the UAE and Oman and maybe someday Iraqi

  3. It does look pretty and I am not the kind of person who considers “safety” while traveling – maybe its not wise, but coming from India, I somehow feel like there is so much happening here, how can any place be rosy or perfect anyways. I am glad you introduced one such destination and it looks amazing. The canyon of Rawandiz is simply stunning.

  4. I think it’s a shame that more people don’t realize how much this country has to offer. It’s beautiful and with a lot of history. I’m glad you put together this guide which is so thorough. I’m sure a lot of people will find it handy.

  5. Your facts at the beginning of the post are so eye-opening. Amazing how different our perception of a place is compared to the reality. The landscapes look beautiful and the culture truly unique. This guide is such a great resource for anyone visiting Iraqi Kurdistan. Hopefully more people will get to venture there.

  6. I’ve heard of Erbil so many times owing to the fact that I have a friend who used to work there. I think another travel blogger, Shane of The Travel Camel has been there too, and if IIRIC, he’s previously recommended me to go to Iraqi Kurdistan too although I’ve never really given it much thought – mostly due to misplaced security concern. The northern road looks crazy beautiful, by the way, and is definitely something that I’d consider covering if I were to travel there one day.

    1. I know Shane! Not in person, but I’ve exchanged a couple of tweets with him and read his posts about Kurdistan. It’s totally safe! If you ever go, let me know 😉

      1. Do u know by any chance how to get there ( airport wize) from istambul to ( im going to Mardin there) and not sure whats the closer airport!

        1. Under current pandemic circumstances, airports in Iraqi Kurdistan are closed until August 1st, which might be extended as it has often been. Once airports are reopened, it will take time for regular commercial flights to restart. There is an occasional flight from Doha. It might be possible to come overland from Turkey via Sirnak Airport, which is closest to the border with Iraq. Whichever way you come, currently you will be required to be quarantined for 14 days. Another feature to keep in mind is that August is the hottest time of the year with temperatures up to 50 degrees C. Temperatures start going down in September. November is one of the best months.

  7. Great adventure! I went to Iraqi Kurdistan a few years ago and had an amazing time there. I still can’t decide whether I like Erbil or Sulaymaniyah most. Great tips there.

  8. This is a really great post to get out there. I had a friend travel to Iraq a few years ago and he just loved it and raved about it. I’m just a little afraid to go as I will obviously stick out like an outsider. I know there are safe ways to travel in Iraq though and this is good to remember. It looks like there are a million great things to do in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    1. Iraqi is totally safe, but as I say, it’s relatively safe. Things could change overnight and you need to be cautious. You can’t just go anywhere on your own. If you go, you need to be cautious. If you are afraid of going, you could just hire a local guide. That way, you would be safer than in your home country 😉

  9. It’s a shame that such a beautiful place is not traveled and explored more due to fear. I like the stats that you put up, but to be honest I’m not sure that it is enough to inspire me to go. I do love the middle east and have been several times to surrounding area’s and maybe a possibility in the future I would consider Iraqui

  10. I’m really glad you started the post with safety. Unfortunately (and as a traveller, I know, I know better) when we in the West think of the Middle East we think war and terrorism. Our news channels also don’t help as they only report negative stories. Also, when I think Iraq I think desert. I didn’t think of Iraq with all that beautiful green scenery. Excellent post. Very informative.

  11. You don’t need to pay as much as $30 for a hotel in Erbil. I am paying half that (15 000IQD) in a little place off Bata St West of the bazaar and there are other cheap ones in the area. I am in Leyli Baghdad , Google map location 36.188962,44.007374 They don’t speak English but the guy is friendly, the owner has other places nearby if it’s full.

    1. Hey Graham, this is real amazing information. I will update this post accordingly. Thank you so much! Hope you are enjoying Kurdistan! i am in Palestine 😉

      1. Been meeting lots of nice people but that’s no surprise really. If i get any more info I’ll let you know. Think we’re following each other around, i am hoping to go to Palestine this year as well so i am looking forward to your write up

  12. Ah, thank you for the post! I came across this whilst googling about moving to Erbil. Not many blogs / videos really manage to give you a good sense of the place, but I really enjoyed your post!

    1. thanks! That’s amazing that you are moving to Erbil. I’ve heard only good things from expats living there! I was in Erbil for just 3-4 days but I also enjoyed it a lot!

  13. Haval Qaraman Rawandwzy is a fantastic tour guide for this region. I am used to traveling solo, but in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan I decided I needed a guide. I used Haval . Haval knows every part of Kurdistan (especially its natural wonders) and showed me some of the most amazing places. From cities to mountains to the rich history of this land, Kurdistan is an incredible opportunity.

  14. We are off to Kurdistan next month. Really looking forward to it. Some excellent information on your site. Do you know to find good maps of the country please?
    Mike & Anthea

  15. On Sunday I’m leaving for a 2.5 month trip from Iran to Eritrea, largely using your guides for help (will be basically doing your exact Sudan itinerary – thanks!). Had planned to visit Iraqi Kurdistan, but unfortunately due to the current flight ban/border closure it’s going to be too much hassle and expense. Even though I’m not able to go, I already have first hand knowledge of how friendly and welcoming the Kurdish people are – within a week of posting my trip on CS I had about 10 couches offered to me by people extremely keen to show me around. Absolutely gutted to tell them that I can’t come. Anyway, keep up the good work and safe travels!

    1. Hi Caleb, thanks for your kind comment man! Yeah it’s really a shame that traveling to Kurdistan is a bit of a struggle right now! I was supposed to be there now as well but, because of the situation, I decided to stay in Central Asia a bit longer. I will travel to Kurdistan in March, inshallah. By the way, that’s awesome that you go an Eritrean visa. Looking forward to go there as well! Good luck in your travels. Cheers mate,

      1. Thanks for putting together this guide! I hope to be able to visit in 2018, maybe April or May. Hope it is not too hot and hope everything fine by that time!

        1. I don’t think it will be very hot… Iraqi Kurdistan is a mountainous region and when I went there in March, nights were a bit chilly. I am also going back there in April, as I need I want to re-write this travel guide, as well as visiting so many places which didn’t have the chance the last time. I also hope that situation will be OK by that time. All the best,

  16. Travelled there for 7 days and it was an amazing experience. People were lovely and lots of sites to be visited. We could have stayed for two weeks but we had to spend some time in Turkey as well. We highly recommend Kurdistan.
    Karwan Wahed was an invaluable guide for us. He provided rich insights into the region. Speaks English really well and possesses the traits of a hospitable Kurd.

    1. Hi Andrew, I just came back from there too! Wanted to re-write all my content, as well as visiting new places. Readers keep on asking me about guides all the time but I never know what to tell them, as I have always traveled there independently. Is that guy really good? I just hesitate to advertise one guy who I don’t even know…

      1. I have used Karwan Wahed and he’s great. He’s very reliable, trustworthy, humble and takes care of his clients quite well. He’s highly recommended by other travelers, the reason why we hired him. Perhaps worth checking his reviews on his website. I personally highly recommend him.

  17. Thank you for this article I will be travelling in 3 weeks. Does anyone have any information on renting a car un Kurdistan.

  18. Your thoughts on travel in Kurdistan as an American. To be specific, an Asian American. Nobody will know that I am an American unless I show them my passport. I can fake it as I am a Chinese, because I am an Asian 🙂 Thank you!

    1. Hi Dean, I am not American and I don’t know about the local’s reactions to specific nationalities but in my experience, they are friendly with anyone, regardless of their nationality

        1. Which sources? I seriously doubt it… They closed Erbil’s airport for a couple of months last year after the referendum of independence but there is. What you may have heard is that there was a sandstorm this weekend and they canceled a lot of flights.

          1. Nevermind. I contacted a travel agency in Erbil, all good. What’s your thoughts on traveling by land from Turkey to Erbil, vice versa? I know the easiest way to go there is fly in and out. Comments and suggestions? Thank you!

  19. I guess it’s time to delete the nudes on my phone. Yikes… Thanks for the info my friend. You think the Israelis will question me at their airport for 6 hours because the Kurdistan stamp? I’m just a traveler. Not associated with anything but mother nature.

  20. Iraqi Kurdistan is developing its tourism potential with busloads of tourists coming mostly from other parts of Iraq to visit standard places like Shaqlawa and Rawanduz and the deepest canyons in the Middle East through the gorges of Gali Ali Beg along the famed Hamilton Road that is the focus of the book ‘Road Through Kurdistan’.
    Thank you for all your helpful information and insights and tips for expatriate travelers. Iraqi Kurdistan is wonderful adventure country to explore and discover. Within reason of course, Iraqi Kurdistan is indeed safe and secure where anyone, visitor or resident, women as well as men, can travel anywhere at anytime, alone, without security arrangements of any kind. Your photo and comments about the piles of cash says it well. It’s a place of virtually no crime, no drugs, and no taxes. Could be worse? Just stay away from some border areas, especially along the mountainous border with Turkey. And don’t mistake the border with Iran that in some areas is way down on the Iraqi side of the mountains, not along the tops. Main road areas are very safe. Another source of good information is ‘Kurdistan Tour Guide’ by The Other Iraq Tours.

  21. Wonderful guide, however, you forgot to mention the Assyrians in the area, especially in areas such as Duhok. Some Assyrians are complaining that Kurds are oppressing them and stole the land (their words, not mine).

  22. We are in Erbil now. The place is amazing. The people are the friendliest people we have ever met of anywhere in the world. I would say that this is probably the safest place we have ever visited.

  23. Joan, thanks for shedding some light on this area. What advice would you have for someone considering a 2 year work contract in Suleimaniyah?

    1. Just that you will have fun because there are quite a few foreigners. Also, there are a few Facebook/CS groups that organize weekly trips and treks to the mountains. A great way to meet open-minded locals and the mountains around Suli are gorgeous.

  24. What a bias article! You must be Kurdish to write such things!

    I disagree with most what you have said! That’s why Kurdish people are worse than Arabs! same thing to me! all liars! I have visited Iraq a few times and Kurds hate the country but they don’t realise that without Iraq they would be thrown outside just like in Iran!
    You are not a country but you are part of Iraq! No one will ever recognise Kurdistan as a country! Be real for a second in your life! I am a British and worked in Iraq for 8 years!

    1. Seriously, Jack, shut the fuck up, you are a racist, judging and generalizing entire nations. You aren’t welcome on this page, please don’t visit us again

    2. You are absolutely talking crap, Let me tel you, Kurdish people are one of the nicest people you could wish to meet , whether you like it or not Kurdish people have their own government. Please DONT visit their land and spread your hateful messages.

  25. Really interesting and helpful article, I will have a lot of free time to travel next year so looking at new places to visit. Just found out that I can get visa on arrival at Erbil and Suleymaniyah which could easily make Iraqi Kurdistan a starting point of a northbound journey. You just got a new follower.

  26. Hi hello I’m an American with an American passport woman wanting to travel to Kurdistan can I get tourist visa at the Kurdistan border crossing point upon arrival by land thank you in advance

  27. Hi Joan. I have a quick question: I was hoping to fly to Erbil from Dubai on flydubai, getting a visa on arrival (I am a Canadian citizen). But when I went to buy the airline ticket, the flydubai website came up with this warning that if you’re flying into Erbil, they won’t let you board without a visa, unless you are a citizen of Lebanon or a GCC country. Is this true, or is it just that they haven’t updated their warning message? Do you know of Westerners that have flown into Erbil on flydubai without a visa?

    1. Hi Glenn, I flew once from Dubai to Erbil with FlyDubai and there wasn’t any issue. It was during my visit to Kurdistan in 2016.
      In my experience, airlines will post a lot of bullshit on their site, stupid warnings which don’t make a lot of sense, like we won’t let you in if you don’t have travel insurance for the destination, etc. When I flew to Kenya, the airline said they would not allow you to get it if you didn’t have a yellow fever vaccination certificate, but they never asked for it.

      As a Canadian, you are 100% granted a visa on arrival. It would be strange they didn’t let you in but I don’t want to give you the wrong advice.

  28. Hi Joan, I read that it is not forbidden to take the drone for recreational purposes. When did you travel to Kurdistan or had your “incident” with the Military? We will be hiking in the mountains – do you have any experience with Camping there (safety aspect)?
    Best regards

    1. Hi there, it was 1 year ago in 2018. I assume recreational drones are OK to fly as long as you have a permit but I am not entirely sure anyways. The only thing I know is that they almost take it away from me.
      I haven’t really explored the mountains in Kurdistan.

  29. Hi and thanks so much for all your wonderful posts… I am actually traveling TOMORROW morning to Erbil on Turkish Airlines, through Istanbul, with my American Passport. I do not have a visa but from what I checked I can get the visa in Erbil once I arrive.. is this true or do you know if anything has changed??? I have read on trip advisor that Turkish airlines demand a visa before letting you, board… Do you know if that is true? I am not able to get through to Turkish airlines on the phone… Have you ever heard of anyone not being let on the plane to Erbil or visa not granted once they arrived in Erbil? Just trying to get my bases covered.. Thanks for any advice.

      1. If you want to know one: here I am.
        We are Citizens of Principality of Liechtenstein and went to Kurdistan without visa with Pegasus from Zurich via Istanbul in late 2018. As a Schengen country we get a visa on arrival, as the information states.
        Actionally, in Zurich at the checkin, they said no transport without visa. After 30 Minutes of waiting and insisting, that this is a wrong information, we got the tickets.
        At Istanbul when going through the gate to board the plane, we were asked again for the visa. We ansered “on arrival in Erbil” which was accepted.
        At Erbil Airport we didn’t get a visa, as we were not on the list in the counter. Bad. So we spent a night in the “not allowed the enter” area in the airport, with a guard and some other people. It was actionally a nice adventure and I have to state that all the guards and workers at the airport were very nice and helpful, as well as the other people who couldn’t enter the country.
        We finally managed to get the visa 12 hours later 🙂 So we got a free night at the airport. We were obviously the first visitors from our country.

        1. Ahh, so the officials at Erbil International Airport did not know of Liechtenstein. You are pioneers. Now they do and hopefully, your fellow citizens will receive visas easily in the future upon arrival without delay. There are people in our world who still do not know which part of Africa Kurdistan is in.
          Just to mention that airports in the Kurdistan Region have reopened after being closed for months due to the pandemic. Airlines are reactivating their services – Austrian, Turkish, Qatar. Others are likely, hopefully, to follow.

  30. Thanks so much!! now I just hope Turkish airlines will comply with that as well (-: crossing my fingers all will be well…

  31. You talked about 50 different important points of Erbil however you never talk about the korek mountain?
    This mountain is one of the best winter place for skiing in Erbil

  32. Hi ! Is it still possible to get a visa on arrival at Erbil airport as a Canadian citizen? I am planning to go there in March 2020! And how did you get a visa to go to Iraq? Because i am planning too going to Baghdad after visit Erbil for a few days!

  33. Hello,

    Is there any way to get a visa to Iraq in Erbil or Suleimaniyah (at least transit one) ?

    Wanna travel from Istanbul to Jerusalem through Kurdistan, Iraq and Jordan, as the border between Turkey and Syria is closed.


    1. you can only get into actual Arab Iraq by booking a full tour with a valid tour operator. As far as I am aware of, there’s no transit visa for Iraq.

      On the other hand, I don’t know if there is an immigration Iraqi office in Erbil, never heard of it.

  34. If you travel on a passport from a Western country and are just flying into and out of Iraqi Kurdistan, it’s possible and easy. You would be granted a 30-day visitor visa on arrival free of charge. Under current covid-19 circumstances, however, all Iraqi airports are closed. Under normal circumstances, you could fly into Iraqi Kurdistan (Erbil and Sulaimani) from Turkey (Turkish Airlines, Pagasus, Atlasjet), then fly to Amman on Royal Jordanian, then find your way to Jerusalem.
    To visit other parts of Iraq, you will need to go through the long and difficult process of obtaining an Iraqi visa before arrival.

  35. Travelling by Car:
    I have been travelling to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2018 and would like to add to your guide, that travelling yourself with a rented car is also a good option. We rented a car at Erbil Airport from a big company, the car was good and the price okay. We took the cheapest car available, there is no need for an SUV as the roads are good.

  36. Hagir Rashid Faizallah

    Hello, i am myself kurdish and live in Denmark…

    Right now i studying at the architectural school in Copenhagen.
    I am about to write a text about why there is so small amount of tourists in Kurdistan region. My main focus is how to attract backpackers.

    While you were there.
    Did u sometimes felt like there was no kind of information about where to visit, and how to travel around the different places etc.?
    Also did u meet any other backpackers on your journey at the Region?

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