Doing Business in Iran? 

Few countries in the world have as poor a reputation as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yet, few countries in the world possess such wealth as this state, which transformed into an Islamic theocracy in 1979 under the slogan ‚Neither East nor West‘. Under what conditions is it possible for foreign businessmen to penetrate the walls of sanctions, and what are the possibilities for doing business in a country where spiritual leaders hold sway?

Iran’s population, soon to reach 90 million, is not homogenous. While Shia Islam is the official religion, official estimates of active followers are non-existent, with lower estimates hovering around 30%. Alongside them reside the state-recognized minorities of Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. Unofficially, Iranian peoples govern the nation, but numerous non-Iranian ethnicities (primarily of Turkic and Semitic origin) also inhabit the country’s peripheries, speaking their own languages and dialects and harboring their own geopolitical inclinations; some, like Kurds or Baluchis, tend to form separatist movements. While many Iranians are deeply religious and the republic itself is a theocracy, it boasts the highest percentage of atheists in the Middle East. These divisions undermine Iranian stability, manifesting in frequent protests and demonstrations sparked by the regime’s stance on human rights, economic instability, or environmental issues (the country faces recurring droughts). About 70% of the population holds a university degree, yet their employment rate is low, with around 40% living below the poverty line. The country also hosts millions of Afghan refugees.

At the helm of Iran is the Supreme Leader, with an elected president heading the government. Significant positions are held by religious figures and members of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). State elites control bonyads, tax-exempt religious endowments, amassing immense and untraceable wealth. Foreign policy orientation is towards Russia, China, and neighboring countries. The risk of open armed conflict with Israel and the West remains. Iran remains one of the last economies outside the globalized market, offering tremendous potential should the country’s situation and orientation change.

For over 30 years, the USA, UN, and EU have imposed sanctions on Iran due to its nuclear program and human rights violations. These sanctions (among them is the cut-off from SWIFT), coupled with high inflation, significantly affect citizens‘ lives and access to various commodities. However, the country has managed to achieve relative independence in several sectors. During the validity of the existing anti-Iranian sanctions, certain forms of cooperation in various sectors can be pursued, although it is extremely difficult.  Specifically, we’re talking about the sector of agriculture, electrical engineering (many products in the country are counterfeit due to restrictions imposed by sanctions), food industry (Iran relies on food imports for a quarter of its needs), water management and waste industry, and the associated recycling sector. Other promising sectors for the future include petrochemicals, which, like other sectors, require modernization, steel production, and mining. Iran possesses immense mineral wealth, with 81 types of minerals present (it ranks highest in zinc reserves, second in lithium, and ninth in copper, and also holds reserves of coal, iron ore, precious metals, and gemstones. Its uranium reserves rank tenth globally.) Additionally, it has the fourth-largest oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves.

Negotiations in Iran are often limited by language barriers and a lack of knowledge of the partner’s languages. Interpreters are therefore necessary, and it is advisable to arrange for an interpreter experienced not only in the field of commerce but also proven and trustworthy; ideally, one capable of consulting on complex cultural and religious matters. Iranians are very formal and polite, as well as immensely kind and generous people who value good manners. Loud expressions of negative emotions are rare, and it is impossible to elicit a response through shouting and anger. They take pride in their country, so it’s best to avoid criticizing either the country itself or its political or foreign policy orientation. Likewise, it’s better to keep opinions on religious matters to oneself. Iranians enjoy talking about politics, but it’s best to listen and respond vaguely if prompted. During negotiations, and especially while waiting for negotiation results, it’s best to arm oneself with patience – time in Iran moves slowly. A partner may suddenly reach out after months or even years, when the meeting from the European side is almost forgotten.

Iran is a relatively safe country, but it’s necessary to avoid demonstrations and larger gatherings hostile to the state/regime/government. Petty thefts increase with rising inflation. Several border areas are off-limits to foreigners due to safety concerns. Caution is also advised around military bases and garrisons. Tehran and other major cities offer a range of quality accommodations, which must be booked via email, as booking websites do not function in the country. Quality accommodation can be found at the Espinas, Ferdowsi, and Grand hotels. Major cities have domestic and international airports, facilitating movement within the country.

Despite sanctions, the country hosts international trade fairs such as Iran Health – a fair for medical and dental technology and pharmaceutical products; Watex – the Iran International Water and Wastewater Exhibition – an international exhibition on water management and waste management; Minex – the Iran Mines and Mining Industries Exhibition – a prestigious exhibition of mining and mining technology; and IInEx – the Industry International Exhibition – an international engineering fair in Tehran.

The list of sanctions against the regime, as well as against individuals or entities, can be found at