The Islamic Republic of Iran, formerly known as Persia, is one of the most westernized countries in the Middle East. The supreme leader of the country is now the chief Ayatollah, as the Shah was removed from power in 1978, but links with the west have been at times cordial, and at other times somewhat strained, particularly over its nuclear program and opposition to the state of Israel.

The capital of the huge country of Iran is Tehran and it is also the political, cultural, industrial and commercial center of the country. The currency is the Iranian rial and the main language is Persian although English is spoken in business circles too.

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New arrivals in Iran may be surprised by the varied climate due to the altitude and varied terrain. Heavy snowfall is not uncommon in the west, whilst summer temperatures in the central and eastern areas can exceed 38C (100F) and it is extremely hot and humid there. Rainfall varies from 27 inches (680mm) in the east to 67 inches (1700mm) in the west.

Many Muslims visit Iran each year from other countries, to pay homage at the Imam Reza shrine in Mashahd. It is the 10th most touristic country in the world as it has a wealth of historical relics and a rich culture which is not advertised and promoted to the rest of the world. More than 1.6 million tourists visit Iran each year, mainly from central Asia. As well as the architecture, visitors to Iran will be amazed by the mosques, fountains, monuments and squares in this little-known country. Tehran has a National Jewels Treasury with a gem-studded globe of the world made of 34 kilos of gold and 51,366 precious stones and many other priceless treasures.

All visitors to Iran will need a visa and there are many visas available including tourist visas, student visas and work permits. Most of the jobs in Iran for foreign workers are in the state owned oil and natural gas sectors, and Iran’s economy is based mainly upon these commodities. It has the second largest oil and gas reserves in the world. Westerners may find it very difficult to integrate into Iranian culture, as it is wholly centred on the Shia Islamic faith.

Shopping is bazaar-based and shoes, food, clothing and tools are all available, but the price is usually negotiated or bartered. Real estate is available in the cities either for rent or to buy. Standards are high in European-style condo units and prices can exceed $350,000 for a 3-bedroom apartment in Tehran.

Although health care in the cities is good for the wealthy, Iran has begun a health care system for the disadvantaged based on health houses, particularly in remote villages. Ex-Pats moving to Iran will need to investigate private health insurance cover.