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This article is meant to be used as a guideline for the Iranian visitors to America, Europe and other western countries for business and personal affairs. It was written for Iranians so that they can adapt to the culture in different regions of the world. This guide was also written for non-Iranians in order for them to understand the basics of Iranian culture and hence make their relations with Iranians more understandable. Iran is a great and proud country with a very old history, traditions and culture. Iran is way more different from other countries than it is similar to them and this article covers most of these aspects.
In different parts of the world, people communicate and interact with each other in different ways. It’s our job to master it to the best of our ability, since this is the only way we can improve and maintain relations with others. In this article, I first discuss the questions of communication and interaction, and then I move on to explain the other aspects of business etiquette in Iran. My primary goal is to help and guide the Iranian businessmen in their new ventures. I also put myself in the shoes of the non-Iranian businessman and tourist for a second so that I can offer some suggestions for better understanding and relations with the Iranians.
An important point was covered in the Introduction and that was “Iranians believe in their culture very strongly and they are very proud of it. They don’t like it when other people treat their culture with contempt, especially if the other person is from another country. We Iranians would like to be treated in the same way that we treat others. Iran is a great country and Iranians are very proud of their country. They would like to show their great culture to other countries and they would like that other countries recognize this culture as well. And they would like other people to be as proud and respectful toward their culture as they are.”
It’s important to remember them when you are in Iran. Your last name is just as important as your first one in Iran. For example if your name is John and you are visiting Iran, call yourself Dr. John. If you are an engineer and you are visiting Iran, call yourself doctor engineer John. If you are an engineer with master degree and working on your Ph.D., then call yourself Dr. Engineer John.
The word hello (less common than the one listed below) is used to greet someone on their birthdays, or to greet someone who you haven’t seen in a while. For example if name is Saleh, the common greeting is “Tavvfel Saleh” (“Happy Birthday Saleh”). The familiar word for hello in Farsi is “Namaste” (“Blessings to you”). Only close friends and family address each other as “you”. In formal situations, It’s a must to address them either as “Mr. and Mrs.” or as “Doctor/Engineer/Professor Uncle/Aunt/Brother/Sister”, etc. The traditional way of addressing elders in Iran is by saying “Khanom Jan” which means “Mr. Mrs.”. In Persian language this is very elegant and pleasant. In formal situations, it’s polite to greet everyone when you enter the room. The common response is, “May God bless you”. The general response to “How are you” in Iran is “Chub-Darya-Haftam Ya-Ali” (literally “seven-day-week-what-can-I-do”) or “Che Sabah Haftom Chaghabe Man” (literally “what can I do on a morning like this”).
Iranians are very warm and hospitable people. When you are in Iran, you can ask anyone for help and you will always get a big warm smile and help. If you ask an Iranian person for some info or some directions and you are not sure that he understood you correctly, you can ask him again and he won’t be offended or annoyed. Don’t forget that in Iran you can always get help from other people. If your hotel manager doesn’t know the answer, he can call someone else to find it for you.
You should respect the Islamic traditions and be aware of the Islamic laws when you are in Iran. You are an Iranian guest so you should respect the Islamic heritage. You should be careful when you interact with Iranian women. Do not flirt with them or ask them for a date, because they could get into a lot of trouble for this. If your wife goes to the ladies’ room and you see an Iranian lady coming toward the ladies’ room, you should let her pass. Don’t follow your wife into the ladies’ room because it could get your wife into trouble.
Iranian Business laws and Customs:
Iran is a very interesting country for foreign companies and organizations. There are many reasons for that. One of the reasons is that no similar business opportunities exist in Iran since security is the most important issue in Iran and the other reason is that the Iranian people are very friendly and hospitable. Unfortunately some of the good features of Iran are not officially recognized and some of them are not treated with respect by the Iranian politicians.
Islam forbids “interest” in any shapes or forms. This is the main reason why Iranian banks don’t work the way western banks should work. The laws are different and the way things are run is different. For example you can’t own your business in Iran, you can’t sell your business in Iran. Also you can’t collect the money from your bank account without a permission stamp from the government or organization that you work for. This is one of the reasons why foreign companies and western companies have hard time operating in Iran. Also in Iran, you should have a special permission from the government to do business abroad. You will not be able to get this permission without any Iranian partners in your company. That means that if you are in Iran and you want to open a business in the United States, you won’t be able to do it without an Iranian partner in the United States. Also you won’t be able to open a franchise or incorporation in the US without an Iranian partner. Foreign companies have to have an Iranian partner and Iranian companies have to have a foreign partner before they will be allowed to do business abroad. Even if you do have an Iranian partner in the US for example, you won’t be able to open a company by yourself, you will have to open it with your Iranian partner.
Some foreign companies don’t have any Iranian partners and they usually register their companies in the name of a famous and trusted Iranian lawyer or they have an Iranian employee and they register their company in the name of their employee. This works and it is not considered a crime by the government of Iran but it’s a tight rope to walk on and you need to be careful because the government of Iran can close your company anytime they want. Luckily this has not happened in many years although it could happen anytime they like.
It’s very important to know that a company isn’t considered a company in Iran and the bank account can’t be opened without the permission from the government for almost all types of business. For example if you start a business in Iran and you register it officially, the government will have to decide and give you a specific permission to operate this business. This process will take time and sometimes it will take years. Only after this process is finished, you will be able to officially start your business. If this doesn’t scare you enough, remember that you will be unable to sell your business. What happens is that you will be able to sell your company to have more partners or for example to buy another company. If you sell your company, you will not be paying taxes and you will not be considered to be violating any law but you will not be able to sell your company for cash. However you will be able to sell your company and give part of the shares or rights to one of your partners or your employees by using a “Voucher system”. You will be able to buy “vouchers”. There are no company rules and no company laws, everything is based on what the government has to say.
Also the salaries of the employees have to be approved by the government. You can’t pay the employee more than a set amount above a minimum wage. This is even if the company is a huge company with lots of profit. Many foreign companies have the same approach because they want to invest in Iran. Another thing is that foreign companies have to have a contract for a minimum of one year with the Iranian company that they sell their product to. This is because of the Iranian customs laws. In the Iranian market, a company is not considered a company if it’s new or small. The main reason is security. Foreign companies that sell their products or services in Iran should have at least one year of experience in the Iranian market. This is mandatory because of the Iranian laws.
Private companies cannot sell their products and services abroad. That means that if your business is based in Iran, you can sell your products and services in Iran only.
Unlike the United States, in Iran there are strict rules that forbid foreign companies, banks, and individuals from trading with the government. If a foreign company wants to do business in Iran, they need to have an Iranian partner and they must do business through the government. They cannot bypass the government laws.
In Iran there are four different industrial and commercial licenses:
Those licenses (permits) are given by the government. There are three different types of companies in Iran: companies, workshops and factories. In order to get those licenses, you need to have a special permission from the government and you need to work with an Iranian partner. If you already have an Iranian partner or if you already work with the government, you won’t be able to obtain these licenses. So basically if you have an Iranian partner and you do business with the government you will not be able to obtain a license.
In Iran, there is no such thing as “selling to a company”. (For example selling to ABC company is illegal). The only way to do business is to sell to the government and the only way to do business with the government is to do business with companies and organizations that work with the government. Foreign companies cannot do business with the government. If you work with the government, you cannot work directly with a private company but you will be able to work with other organizations and companies that are related to the government.
Some people say that Iranians are racist or discriminative towards non-Iranians. They say Iran is not a place for foreigners. The truth is that many Iranians love Americans and other non-Iranians. Iranians, their culture, their food, their historical sites and their ancient and sophisticated language are not well known and appreciated all over the world. Foreigners confuse Middle Easterns in general and Iranians in particular with Arabs, something that is far from being true. They do not realize that Iranians have a totally different culture and civilization since they are from a different region (Asia vs. the Middle East). Iranians are not Arabs although they speak a language that is directly related to Arabic, they feel as if they are Arabs and they have adopted a lot of the Arab culture and traditions. One of the biggest reasons why Iranians feel as if they are Arabs is because they have been through many invasions and conquests just like the Arabs in the past. Iranians are not Arabs however, they are culturally and ethnically different.
In Iran, you can go online and you can find many Iranians who say that they want to sell or rent their apartment or house to a foreigner. This is very common. Many Iranians want to show foreigners around their city even if they are not business partners. The Iranian hospitality is known worldwide. Iranian people are warm and friendly towards foreigners and they are not racist at all or even discriminative. They will embrace you and they will show you their culture and their part of the world. If you visit Iran, you can feel how the Iranian hospitality is. Iranians truly love foreigners and the Iranians government try to attract foreign investors, technicians and other specialists. Many Iranians want to do business with foreign companies and they welcome foreigners. Many Iranians want to learn English. Some foreigners say that Iranians don’t want to learn English but this is not true. Some Iranians are not lazy and some Iranians do want to learn English. Some of them never had the chance and others have more important things to do. However, this is not a good excuse because not being able to speak English is not healthy for a country, a business and the citizens.
No matter what, there are some Iranians who do not want to work with foreigners and there are some Iranians who are racist against westerners and Americans in particular.