August 3rd, 2016
WARNING! Don’t let the story of this border crossing influence your opinion of Iran. It has nothing to do with the rest of travelers’ experiences in this wonderful country. As you will read in the coming posts we’ve had a very good time in Iran, mostly because of the people we’ve met there.
Oh, and borders are sensitive areas in these parts of the world, so no photos this time!
We’re leaving Doğubeyazıt over the same bumpy unpaved road through town that we used to get in. Once we reach the main road, there is not much traffic until we encounter the tail of a two-lane wide traffic jam of trucks, 9km (5.5mi) before the border. Because the road has two lanes in each direction and no guard rails, we use the ‘wrong’ side of the road and pass the trucks with a speed of 60km/h (40mph).
We manage to dodge the first fixer who greets us and asks for our passports on the Turkish border. Without you asking him, he will take you to all required offices and arranges the necessary work to be done. That sounds nice but he will only return your passport and other important paperwork to you if you pay him. This may even pay off for borders that are known to be very complicated but we consider it a waste of money here.
So, not every smiling man in an ironed shirt is an official — don’t hand him your passport immediately. Our approach is to take time upon arrival, ignoring everyone approaching us at first until we’ve parked the bikes and taken our helmets off. Most of them feel stupid enough when we take our earplugs out and they notice that they can start their story all over again. “Good morning!” (big smile)
The passport control in the Turkish booth is swift. When I come back, fixer number one tries to sell us Iranian Rial at 10% over the official rate. He warns us that no money can be changed anywhere else. Bullshit. Moving on.
The Turkish customs booth is where the bikes are officially cleared. They’ve put a vehicle stamp in our passports when we entered Turkey to make sure that customs at the the exit border check that we take our bikes out again.
Then the big gate to Iran opens. We ride through it and stop after 50 meters (yards) and ignore a friendly man in an ironed shirt. Petra keeps her helmet liner on because the headscarf is too much hassle now. She stays with the bikes and I go into the next building. I’m looking for passport control while ignoring anyone who ends his sentence with “my friend”.
When informing ourselves about this border crossing on the Horizons Unlimited website, we found out that the fixers in this place work together with the officials to maximize the money they can squeeze out of you. It is not entirely clear who works here and who doesn’t. Most people here don’t wear uniforms that would identify them as officials. Often you have to go by gut feeling (and be lucky). I tend to trust people behind desks and counter windows more than anyone who walks around freely and tries to get my attention.
The Iranian passport control is easy. Obviously they want to see Petra as well so I have to get her outside. We ignore two more people offering money changing services. They will never give you a good rate here because they think that you think that you don’t have a choice. Supply but no demand (yet). Moving on.
Carnet de Passages en Douane
Iran’s customs (and tax office) require that we use a Carnet de Passages en Douane(*). This is a document that we arranged before leaving (one for each bike). It identifies the vehicle and states its value. Some countries use this document to keep track of temporarily imported vehicles. They stamp it when you import your vehicle, and stamp it upon exit as well. They keep their parts of the carnet page and can thereby verify whether you’ve exported the vehicle you’ve imported.
(*) Some overlanders have managed to travel in Iran without a carnet with the help of an Iranian who seems to know his stuff (or has friends in high places?). Because we also need the carnet for other countries, we didn’t bother to pursue this option.
If you fail to export your vehicle within a certain time, the country’s tax office will contact your carnet-issuing authority and claim that import duties need to be paid. This is not to be taken lightly: in the countries on our planned route, these import duties vary from 100% to 450% of the bike’s value. To get the carnet in the first place, you must guarantee that you will pay these duties if this situation arises. So, for example, if we would enter Pakistan on our carnets and failed to export the bikes again, we’d be liable for approximately 19000 Swiss Francs (US$19000, €17500). Each.
After this short lecture it is no surprise that we are looking for the Carnet Man. He’s sitting at his desk somewhere in this big arrival hall and seems legit. As expected, he writes some notes in Farsi on the back of the Carnet’s entry voucher, fills out and stamps the counterfoil and the entry voucher and fills out parts of the exit voucher that we will need in a few weeks. The first Iranian who approached us when we entered takes the carnets and walks off. We didn’t trust him at first, but he walks to our bikes and verifies the vehicle identification numbers on the frames. Let’s hope he’s not asking money for our carnets later.
There is some more bureaucracy at a counter window. One of My Friends is actually helping here. It is very unclear who works here officially and who doesn’t. Quite interesting if you only have experience with uniformed officials in Western Europe.
We’re sent off with a white piece of paper with some stamps on it. Before leaving here, we search for an official money exchange office or an insurance company but all we find are fat and sweaty money changers waving with big wads of money. We wonder whether this money changing would be illegal, but this is not the place to find out.
So far we’re happy with how things went. We’ve got all stamps and a piece of paper that should be our way out. People have not been unfriendly and none of our money has landed in anyone’s back pocket.
When returning to the bikes, we see that some strange guys are sitting on the narrow sidewalk between our bikes and a small building. They are being chased away by a guard. One of them passes me at close distance with a zombie-like walk, bumps into Petra’s shoulder with his own and moves on. I hate being too late to shove him aside. He is shooed away by the guard and hides on the ground between my bike and the building again. He is probably a harmless local nutcase, but I’m on my guard. What he doesn’t know is that he has put his head 50cm (1.5ft) from The Horn and my thumb is hovering over its button. If he tries anything from where he is now, he will be deaf until the middle of next week. But the threat fizzles out and we’re on our way again.
We still haven’t left the border premises. The biggest hurdle is yet to be taken. After a 2km (1.5mi) ride we reach the last fence before Iran. On various internet fora I’ve read that getting an insurance here is an excellent opportunity for being ripped off. Apparently it’s another profitable cooperation between border officials and people who don’t work there but spend their days lurking in the shade for new victims.
We know that the insurance premium stated in Persian numbers on the documents that other travelers got is about 214000 Rial (US$6.00, €5,50). Do note that they got these documents after they paid 100 euros or 100 dollars. We’re not sure whether a third-party liability insurance for the bikes is mandatory in Iran. Neither do we know whether we would have a big problem at the next police check without insurance, let alone if we have an accident, regardless whose fault it is. So our goal is to get insurance policies, pay much less than €100 per bike and get a proof of payment. The question remains what such an insurance is worth in case of an accident, but that is besides the point: it may just be mandatory.
Petra stays with the bikes as I enter the ‘Iran Insurance’ building. A man is sitting behind a desk with two laptops. He pretends not to speak English very well. ‘Fortunately’ one of his buddies has left his place in the shade of a small shack outside and comes in to mind my business. Some typing on a laptop magically produces the round insurance premium of €100 per bike. I tell him that that is far too much for an insurance of 30 days, pointing out the duration of our visa. Laptop Man seems to understand me perfectly fine now. He says that we can only get an insurance for one whole year. I tell him that this does not make sense and ask him again whether he can sell me an insurance for 30 days. Even with a lot of ‘to and fro’ he remains firm. “It’s too expensive. I’ll get my insurance in town”, I tell him and leave the building.
His buddy follows me and now speaks of 80 euros. “Ah, great, 40+40 euros for two bikes!”, I invent. More negotiating, because this is obviously not what he meant. I’ve asked Laptop Man inside whether this premium of 100 euros is the official insurance premium set by the government of Iran, which he confirmed, of course. I only asked him this to be able to confront him with a printed premium of 214000 Rial later. Interestingly, the fixed premium starts to become quite flexible now that we’re standing in the blazing Iranian afternoon sunshine.
I continue to walk to Petra and the bikes. The price now drops to 60 euros. “Very good, 30+30 euros for two bikes!”, I say with enthusiasm. More discussion and it’s not going anywhere. At some point I just walk away in the middle of the guy’s sentence. I am surprised how much fun playing the a**hole actually is.
Wasting Mr. Beige
I walk to a small building next to the final barrier to Iran. There seem to be officials here, or at least they’re wearing beige uniforms. I explain that we got this white piece of paper and that we’re supposed to have it signed here. Mr. Beige’s English isn’t great either, but he manages to tell me that he can’t let us through without insurance. No surprises there.
A new character emerges from the shade of the shack, where about fifteen other men are biding their time. He starts to mingle with Mr. Beige and me. He follows me after my well-timed departure in the middle of whatever he is trying to tell me. I am talking to Petra meanwhile, explaining our ‘progress’ and I send him away when he dares to break into our conversation.
More low-life creatures emerge from the shade now. One of them starts talking numbers again and mentions 60 euros. I put some words in his mouth too. I wonder how low they want to go or how much time they are willing to waste on us. Petra takes a sip of water from the bladder on her back and one of the creatures asks whether that’s water. Sure, 2 liters (half a gallon). Enough to last quite a while in the sunshine. He seems disappointed.
Not knowing what to do next, I walk to the colleague of Mr. Beige near the barrier and explain our need for his signature. I tell him that we want an insurance for a month, not a year, and repeat my arguments at least four times, pretending that it’s new information every time. The most irritating man of the group appears again he remains firm about the 60 euros per motorcycle. I tell him that he should show me the official insurance policy, in Farsi, because I want to rub his face all over the ۲۱۴۰۰۰Rial stated in there. I don’t tell him that last bit.
He keeps muttering and remains recalcitrant. I’m really sick of this guy now.
“DO YOU WORK HERE? WHAT IS YOUR JOB?”, I yell to his face. I may have called him “little man” at some point.
Unsurprisingly his answer to my question is “yes”.
“SHOW ME PROOF! WHERE IS YOUR BADGE?!”.
I don’t wait for the answer and walk to the shack where most of them were hiding in the shade. I take care not to go inside because there are reports of people being physically harassed in there. I don’t want to give them this opportunity. It would also become quite loud quite quickly in that shack. Mr. Beige is outside. He has had enough of me. He tells me “You have international insurance. You can go now.” and signs the white paper I’ve given him. He makes gestures that we can bugger off.
So we’ve wasted almost two hours here. Two hours of fifteen people. Cost: zero euros. We don’t count our own hours as wasted — we’ll post them as ‘entertainment’ in our administration. We give them all greetings and big waves before we ride under the open barrier. Moving on.
We believe third-party vehicle insurance is mandatory in Iran but you’re not required to buy it at the border. You seem to be able to use any vehicle insurance company in Iran. I think the applications all go through the same state insurance service in Tehran anyway. We also learned that it is possible to get a ‘green insurance card’ (proof of insurance like in Europe) for a period that roughly matches your visa duration, not a whole year. We didn’t know about this so it makes sense to prepare for this at home. It may save you time and money.
I think that the best way to deal with the insurance scum in Bazargan is — as I read later on an internet forum — to ride all the way to the barrier, keep your helmet on and yell “I have international insurance” to Mr. Beige and mandate that he signs the white A5-size paper that you got before you left Iranian customs in the first building. Pretend not to understand anything he says and keep repeating “I have international insurance” as often as necessary. The green card mentioned above would probably help here too. Once you succumb to taking your helmet off, have a discussion or go into the ‘Iran Insurance’ building, you’ll need some effort to get out of this theater. If you do, bring enough food and water and enjoy.