TRAVELING TO IRAQ
Here is important information you should know about traveling to Iraq.
Due to the current domestic situation in Iraq, it is advisable to check the travel advisories before selecting the cities you should visit.
The south of Iraq is relatively safer for travel. If you are traveling for Ziarat, we propose that you spend at least 3 days in Najaf, 3 days in Karbala, and 1 day in Kadhimiya. You can determine viabiliy of traveling to Samarra and other cities, based on the local security situation.
The US State Department publishes travel advisories per country at the following site: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html
One can only hope that this great and ancient region soon sees increased security and stability, for it makes a fascinating travel destination for anyone interested in history, be it in ancient history (4,000 years old), medieval Islamic and later Ottoman history, or the modern history of the early 21st century. The aforementioned conflicts and poor governance have not been kind to Iraq, especially in terms of the massive rebuilding done on ancient Babylon by the Hussein government and later negligence by foreign military contingents. But the attraction of such ancient cities as the Babylonian capital Babylon; the ancient city of Ur, of mankind's first great civilizations, Sumeria; major Parthian cities at magnificent Hatra and the capital Ctesiphon; and the Assyrian capital of Ashur, remains great enough to overlook the damage done and the present security situation.
Absolutely fabulous and we have not even begun to mention the ordinary and not so ordinary Iraqi people, Kurds, Sunnis, Shias. If this is to be your first encounter with the open hearted Arab hospitality and friendship that you will find in Iraq, then beware because the love affair never ends.
Citizens of Turkey are allowed visa free access only if arriving at the Baghdad International Airport from Turkey. They can, in addition, obtain a visa on arrival at the Al Najaf International Airport. Citizens of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia can obtain a visa on arrival at the Basra and Al Najaf International Airports. If you fly into Iraq without an entry or working visa you risk getting deported (see below).The main rule is, except for nationals mentioned above, you have to get a visa in advance. However, according to the MFA website a so-called urgent visa can be issued on arrival if, and only if, your circumstances made it impossible for you to get a visa in advance and you can convince the immigration officer of this. It is not known whether this facility is limited to certain ports of entry.Obtaining a travel visa to Iraq is complicated and time consuming. You can obtain an application at the Embassy of Iraq. However, all applications are vetted in Baghdad. Even if you do obtain a visa, you may still be refused entry into Iraq once you arrive.
VISA FROM USA
(CLICK HERE TO SEE VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR YOUR COUNTRY)
SIGHTSEEING OR RELIGIOUS PILGRIMAGE (ZIARAT)
Traveling with a tour group is the recommended option, since the the tour operator handles all the visa formalities and boarding and lodging. This is the easiest option to go with.
Iraq normally doesn’t give visas for individuals traveling by themselves, unless you have contacts there or are going for business. If you are traveling separately (not with a group) then you have to get visa approval from Iraq first (via a travel agent, travel operator or local contact) and they will communicate to the Iraq Consular Section in the US (Washington DC etc.), who will issue the visa right away.
Link to the appropriate forms and documentation requirements are at - Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in the USA - Telephone: (202) 483 7500. Website: http://www.iraqiembassy.us - Opening times: Mon-Fri: 0900-1700. The consular section is only open Mon - Thursday between 10 am and 12 noon for visa applications, so check the details online before proceeding.
Iraqi Visas for Foreign Nationals
Complete the Visa Application Form, type the information requested into the appropriate spaces on the form and print the completed application.
Submit two recent identical front-view color photographs with white background measuring 2 inches × 2 inches (5×5 centimeters).
Color copy of passport – passport must be valid for six months from the date the visa application is submitted.
An official letter stating the purpose of travel (visit, work…etc), duration of stay, and/or an invitation letter from Iraqi authorities, the host company, meeting or exhibition organizers in Iraq.
Applicants must provide with their applications a valid phone number.
Please allow 4 to 8 weeks for visas to be processed. Applicants will be contacted once the embassy is in receipt of the approval from authorities in Iraq.
Approved applicants will be issued single-entry visas valid for three months from the date of issuance.
In some cases, multi entry-visas valid for six months and one year will be granted.
Applicants are then required to send – via registered mail – their passports along with a money order of $40 (forty US Dollars) for single-entry visas and $100 (one hundred US Dollars) for multi-entry visas payable to the Embassy of Iraq along with an addressed pre-paid return envelope with sufficient postage.
The embassy is not responsible for any loss or damage due to any mishandling by delivery services.
TRAVELING FOR BUSINESS
For foreign business people traveling to Iraq, a business visa is required, and can be applied for through the nearest Iraqi Consulate, located in major cities worldwide. In order to apply, individuals need to possess an official invitation from the Iraqi ministry, and/or a signed agreement between the United States government and the governing Iraqi authority.
A business letter, detailing the purpose of the trip, the individuals involved, as well as who is financially responsible for the individual applicant(s) is required. This letter can be generated through free services online.
Proof of departure, such as a purchased air ticket itinerary, is also necessary. Iraqi business visas are valid for 3 months. It typically takes between 3-4 weeks for a visa to be processed if it is approved.
Americans are recommended to register their trip with the US State Department, which can be accomplished online.
AIR TRAVEL TO IRAQ
Iraq’s largest international airport is the Baghdad International Airport, located approximately 10 miles outside downtown Baghdad. It is the hub of Iraqi Airways and Al-Naser Airlines. Since 2010, more international airlines have started direct flights to and from Baghdad, making it easier for business people to arrive and depart from the country with ease.
Airlines such as Emirates, EgyptAir, Qatar airlines, and Turkish airlines now have direct flights flying to Baghdad from nearby hubs including Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul and Dubai. Besides Baghdad, many international business people may also find themselves called to two other major cities that deal with trade and oil: Basra (southern Iraq) and Erbil (northern Kurdish territories). Both can be reached by vehicle or plane. For successful business travel in Iraq, it is important to have reliable local contacts who can offer connections, networking and advise.
If you are traveling for Ziarat, you have the option of flying into Baghdad or Najaf. Due to the security situation in Baghdad, some travelers may find it safer and convenient to fly into Najaf airport.
Here are the major airports that accomodate international flights.
Baghdad International Airport(IATA: BGW) is about 16km from the centre of Baghdad.
Basra Intl. Airport (ORMM/BSR)
Erbil Intl. Airport (ORER/EBL)
Najaf Intl. Airport (ORNI/NJF)
Sulaimaniyah Intl. Airport (ORSU/ISU)
Mosul International Airport (ORBM/OSM)
Following airlines have flights to Iraqi cities:
Austrian Airlines to/from Vienna
Air Arabia to/from Sharjah
Egypt Air to/from Cairo
Emirates to/from Dubai
Etihad Airways to/from Abu Dhabi
flydubai to/from Dubai
Gulf Air to/from Bahrain
Iraqi Airways to/from Amman, Basra, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Delhi, Karachi, Frankfurt, Dubai, Erbil, Isfahan, Istanbul, Kuwait, London, Delhi, Najaf, Sulaymaniyah, Tehran
Middle East Airlines to/from Beirut
Qatar Airways to/from Doha
Royal Jordanian to/from Amman
Syrian Air to/from Damascus
Turkish Airlines to/from Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya
Erbil International Airport:
Flights into the Kurdish region in northern Iraq arrive at Erbil International Airport. International carriers include Emirates, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Royal Jordanian, Qatar Airways which flies to Doha. The Kurdish Region, being relatively safer than the rest of Iraq, has seen enormous growth and investment since 2003, making Erbil a convenient destination for business in the region.
LOCAL TRANSPORTATION IN IRAQ
Tourists can rent taxis or minivans to travel between cities. It is recommended that you take a Arabic speaking guide/local with you on your travels, in case you encounter security check points or need to communicate with locals. A knowledgeable guide can also provide historical context and show you the local attractions with ease. Members of the Iraq armed forces tend to moonlight as Taxi drivers and carry their military ID cards, which help them get through checkpoints and any areas that are sensitive. They may also have detailed knowledge of various holy sites, that don’t show up on maps or travel brochures.
Iraqi accommodations are improving, with more hotels achieving Western standards of excellence. There is still much room for growth in the Iraqi Tourism sector. Many cities in Iraq are still without a Five Star Hotel. Click here for a partial list of hotels by city.
SIM CARD FOR MOBILE PHONES AND CURRENCY
(From Lonely Planet guide) - I would recommend Asiacell or Zain for SIM cards. It is suggested to buy the card at an official outlet as street vendors in Iraq do not register them properly in most cases and it might get barred after a short time.
It is not necessary to change $ as the currency is used widely in Iraq. Change may or may not be given in Dinars. Small cuts up to 20$ are recommended (printed 2006 or later). To get Iraqi SD change 50 or 100$, typically only hotels or larger supermarkets will readily do it. You can change your money in the street which is less complicated than at banks and no commission is taken.
Advisory: For travelers from US - You can switch to an international plan with your carrier, if you want to keep your phone number and stay in touch with friends and relatives while in Iraq. Most carriers will provide this option. In order to ensure constant communication with your party inside Iraq get multiple phones switched over to the international plan.
Here’s the link to the Sprint International Plan - http://shop2.sprint.com/assets/pdfs/en/support/guides/services/worldwide/Worldwide_eflyer.pdf
Here’s the link to the AT&T International Plan -
Here’s the link to the T-Mobile International Plan -
CREDIT CARDS VS. CASH
Credit cards aren’t accepted at most stores, so make sure you take adequate cash to cover local expenses for food, lodging and local travel. Cash is preferred and foreign currency can be exchanged at shops that are around the Harams.
Iraqi dinar is the official currency, however you will also be able to spend Euros € and US Dollars $ almost everywhere. Be aware that most people do not like to make change for large bills. Also note that any defects in the bills (creases, ink stamps from banks, tears, etc.) will raise suspicion that you are a counterfeiter. Don't bring old bills with you, either. Carry mostly small bills in the form of Iraqi dinars for daily spending cash. Since the introduction of the new Iraqi dinar, its widespread acceptance and confidence has reduced the prominence of the USD, and many shopkeepers are now refusing to accept them. However, most people will still pay large hotel bills or rent payments using USD or EUR due to the sheer volume of notes required to pay with dinars.
The conversion rate fluctuates from day to day and from town to town, but is around 1175 dinar to US$1. Inflation used to be relative high (65% a year since 2003) but in recent years it is much lower than before (11% in 2008), which makes the Iraqi dinar becomes an attractive target for investors, unlike the Vietnamese dong.
Learn the security features of the new dinar and dollar notes; the former Iraqi government was known to be making passable $20, $10, and $5 U.S. notes, and these counterfeiters are apparently still in business.
Advisory: Do not exchange foreign currency at the airport, since they charge a higher exchange fee. Use currency exchange shops in the city to get a better rate.
It is best to always drink bottled water. It will usually be sold at vendors and large stores, and will be easy to find. Most Iraqi water companies pump their water directly from the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, treat it with ozone, and then filter it into bottles. The taste is often not very good, and those with sensitive systems should not drink it. Many street vendors will offer drinks such as water with a lemon twist, which should be presumed unsafe for foreign visitors.
Those with experience in Iraq should use their discretion and past experience when purchasing drinks.
Drinking the local tea (chai) can be safe for some people since it is brought to a boil before serving, but when in doubt, insist that bottled water be used. Many kinds of water-borne disease, pollution, and infectious agents are not affected by boiling of water, and are still present in the water after boiling.
As a walk past an Iraqi butcher shop will demonstrate, food preparation standards are not the same as in Western countries, and consumption of local food can make a visitor ill. Try to bring your own. As tap water is generally not potable, you should especially avoid uncooked foods.
Should you find your body in the uncomfortable position of rejecting food and water due to something you shouldn't have drunk, immediately find someone who speaks Arabic and send them to a local pharmacist and request a product known locally as "InterStop" (similar to co-phenotrope/Lomotil). This works better than any well-known western brands.
Medical facilities may be lacking in many cities within Iraq and the right medication may not be readily available.
Advisory: If you have specific health conditions or allergies, please carry enough medication with you to last the trip. Do not depend on local hospitals or pharmacies.
Never show the soles of your feet to others. This may be considered very disrespectful by most Iraqis, unless you are in the company of friends. When in the company of friends, it's still best to excuse yourself before putting your feet up in the air with the soles of your feet in the direction of any person.
Don't spit in public or in the direction of others, even when obviously done without malice