TRAVELING TO IRAQ FROM USA
Here is important information you should know about traveling to Iraq.
VISA FROM USA
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, so check online.
Requirements for Obtaining 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.
EAST COAST AIR TRAVEL (US)
Many airlines fly to Najaf from Washington DC or New York. We took Turkish Airlines from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Najaf via Istanbul. Total travel time: 10 hours to Istanbul and 3 hours to Najaf.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PROPOSED ITINERARY TO SOUTH IRAQ
We are proposing the below itinerary based on information gathered from various friends and family members that have traveled to Iraq over the years. It is recommended that pilgrims spend at least 3 nights each in Najaf and Karbala at a minimum. Travel to other can be undertaken, keeping in mind the security situation, travel conditions and local weather.
Note: The sequence of cities will vary based on your city of arrival and personal preference. Given the security situation in Baghdad currently, many tour operators recommend flying into Najaf airport and initiating the pilgrimage from there, rather than from Baghdad. Again, this is something that you will have to decide, since the situation on the group is very dynamic.
1. Najaf (5 days)
2. Karbala (5 days) - besides the two major shrines there are other important places around: khemagah, and many locations around - there are no signs so ask for guidance
3. Kazmain/Baghdad (1 day) - ideally go early morning and return next morning: security situation in Baghdad is terrible so be very very careful there.
4. Najaf (2 days) - on return from Kazmain, if departing from Najaf.
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. We propose that you spend at least 3 days in Najaf, 3 days in Karbala, and 1 day in Kadhimiya.
The US State Department publishes travel advisories per country at the following site: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html