Update to IRN24513E of 1 August 1996 on whether there are penalties for individuals in possession of U.S. currency and/or trading in U.S. currency [IRN31564.E]

An attorney with a Tehran law firm that maintains liaison offices in Paris and New York stated in an 8 April 1999 telephone interview that permission to possess foreign currency in Iran is "multi-tiered." That is, the regulations governing business people, government employees, foreign tourists and ordinary Iranian citizens are different. However, in terms of a "general" answer he stated that if a citizen is in possession of US dollars they are "expected" to take them to the bank and change them into Iranian rials at the official rate. He stated that it is not legal for dollars to be exchanged on the street in the black market, although this does occur. He added that the country has been short of foreign currency recently and that regulations have been tightened in order for the government to have a greater access to foreign currency. A 15 March 1998 Xinhua report corroborated the attorney's description of Iran's shortage of foreign currency: "the Iranian government has decided to stop supplying foreign exchanges to Iranian travelers due to a reduction of the country's foreign exchange incomes." Previously, depending on the traveller's destination, each person could buy US$300 to US$1,000 (ibid.). The Research Directorate was unable to determine if there are penalties for the possession of foreign currency in Iran.

While the Research Directorate could find no information on what the penalties are for illegal trading in foreign currency, this activity, as well as legal trading in foreign currency, is common according to Lonely Planet Publications. Iran: A Travel Survival Kit advises foreign travellers to bring American currency to Iran because "the major currency for foreign tourism and trade is the mighty US greenback" (May 1998, 66). Furthermore, it states: "there are three ways to change money (preferably US dollars) at the official, and unfavourable, exchange rate at a bank; at the favourable 'street rate" at a legal, though uncommon, money exchange office; and on the illegal black market, anywhere" (ibid., 67). However, a March 1999 update to this publication refers to four exchange rates: the "official" rate, the rate offered at banks, the "'street rate' at the safe, legal money exchange offices," and "the dodgy black market rate." The update goes on to outline the location in various cities of the legal money exchange offices. Iran: A Travel Survival Kit goes on to describe a traveller's story whereby a bank would not change a small American amount of currency and referred the traveller "to the black market moneychangers just outside the front door" (May 1998, 67). This source provided the following information on money exchange offices:

Easily the safest, and most advantageous, way of changing cash is with an official, and legal, money exchange office. ... Look for a small shop, with the words 'currency' or 'exchange' in English. ... These exchange offices list (in Farsi) the official government exchange rate on their window, or somewhere in the shop, yet without asking (but you should always confirm anyway) they will happily give you the unofficial, 'street rate' of exchange. ... Changing money in the an exchange shop, rather than out in the street, gives you far more security from prying eyes of potential robbers and police (or informers). You are also less likely to get ripped off because they do not want to be visited by the police if you complain... (ibid., 68)

The following information was provided in regard to the black market:

In some parts of Tehran, and outside main banks in some cities, it is common to see black market traders flashing wads of banknotes at passing traffic and pedestrians. They offer the same unofficial 'street rate' as the money exchange offices mentioned above, but changing on the street is illegal, and there is an increased chance of being arrested, robbed or ripped off (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Iran: A Travel Survival Kit. May 1998. Paul Greenway and David St. Vincent. Victoria: Lonely Planet.

Iran: A Travel Survival Kit. March 1999. Paul Greenway. "Upgrade." [Internet] http://www.lonelyplanet.com.au/upgrades/up-ira.htm [Accessed 7 Apr. 1999]

Law Offices of Alexander Aghayan, New York. 8 April 1999. Telephone interview with lawyer.

Xinhua News Agency. 15 March 1999. "Iran to Halt Foreign Exchange Supply to Travellers." (NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

Keesing's Record of World Events [Cambridge]. 1995 - 1998.

Resource Centre. Iran country file. September 1997 - April 1998.

_____. Iran: Amnesty International country file. August 1996 - April 1998.

Electronic sources: IRB Databases, LEXIS/NEXIS, Internet, REFWORLD, World News Connection (WNC).