Iraq Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Visit in 2022
Updated February 2022, Iraq Travel Guide was originally published in January 2022
I first stepped foot in Iraq back in 2019, visiting the far north- only to spiral my curiosity into the country even further (the same thing happened to me in Afghanistan years ago, so I should have known better), bringing me back to travel Iraq yet again in 2021 (and spilling into 2022). So without too much carrying on, I’ve created a quick guide to traveling Iraq after traveling both independently and running a tour here, including everything you need to know to plan your visit in 2022.
Going to Iraq and don’t have much time? Check out my 7 Day Iraq Itinerary for ideas
- Iraq Travel Basics
- Iraqi Visas For Travelers
- Iraq Travel Restrictions (Covid)
- Getting to Iraq
- Traveling Iraq: Independent Travel or Organized Tour?
- The Best Time to Travel in Iraq
- Destinations in Iraq
- Getting Around in Iraq
- Checkpoints in Iraq
- Getting an Iraqi SIM Card
- What to Wear in Iraq
- Safety in Iraq
Iraq Travel Basics
Language: Iraqi Arabic in Federal Iraq and Kurdish dialects (mainly Kurmanji and Sorani) in Iraqi Kurdistan. Note that English as a second language is popular in all of Iraq, so getting around without knowledge of Arabic is not too difficult. I’d recommend memorizing the Arabic numbers to make reading distances, times, license plates, etc. a little easier and learning a few keywords such as hello ‘salaam’, thank you ‘shrukran’ (Arabic) ‘spos’ (Kurdish), etc.
Money: The Iraqi Dinar is the official currency of Iraq and is currently (February 2022) exchanging at 1,450 ID to $1 USD. You can easily exchange from dollars (Euro and GBP aren’t as popular with exchangers) to dinars at stalls and exchange shops in most cities. Many hotels will also offer exchange services (at a slightly less favorable rate) and larger purchases can usually be done in US dollars.
Cash is still king in Iraq, so you will inevitably pay in cash for most things, however, in some more upscale hotels and restaurants you may be able to pay with a card (but don’t always count on it, it’s common for only one or two staff members knowing how to use the card machine or for it to be out of service).
ATMs: In general, ATMs in Iraqi Kurdistan are more reliable namely in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Dohuk. In southern Iraq it’s a bit more likely that ATMs will be out of service, but it’s not impossible to withdraw money. That said, bringing cash to exchange is a smart idea. Worst case scenario Western Union and Moneygram are both available in Iraq).
Only have a week to explore Iraq? Check out my 7 day Iraq itinerary and start planning
Iraqi Visas For Travelers
Note that there are actually two different visas for Iraq, the visa for Federal Iraq and an Iraqi Kurdistan visa. You can enter Iraqi Kurdistan with a Federal Iraq visa but you cannot enter Federal (south/Arab) Iraq on an Iraqi Kurdistan visa.
Visa for Federal Iraq
Starting in March 2021, it became possible for 38 nationalities to purchase an Iraqi visa on arrival ($77 USD) good for 60 days at Iraqi international airports in Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf. These nationalities include Australia, Canada, China, European Union (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden), Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States.
Citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are eligible for a visa on arrival free of charge at Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf airports.
Those not on either list above will need to apply for a full on visa the old fashioned way- through an embassy.
The Iraqi visa on arrival officially costs $75 USD, but at the visa window in the airport they will tell you $77. If you don’t have exact change they’ll gladly take your $80. This was my experience as I forgot to grab cash for the visa before leaving home and withdrew $80 from an ATM on a layover- though this is exactly what I expected to happen and was met with an ear to ear grin and a wink from the guy at the counter.
In total, it took all of about five minutes to receive my Iraqi visa on arrival and go through the immigration window, but fair warning my flight to Baghdad was nearly empty (don’t be surprised if the guy at the immigration window is smoking a cig when he stamps you in, welcome to Iraq!). Most travelers report waiting 30 minutes to an hour for their visa on arrival so plan for it to take approximately that long.
Note that visa on arrival is NOT available on land borders, they are only possible at international airports.
Iraqi Kurdistan Visa
Citizens of Australia, Brazil, Canada, European Union, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, New Zealand, Qatar, South Korea, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States are eligible for a visa on arrival in Iraqi Kurdistan both by land border crossings and at the airports in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. The visa is good for 30 days.
A change from my initial visit in 2019 is that the Iraqi Kurdistan visa on arrival now costs $75 (it was free back then).
As mentioned earlier, you cannot travel to Federal (South/Arab) Iraq on the Iraqi Kurdistan visa, legally anyway (there are reports of people sneaking past checkpoints successfully, but personally I wouldn’t want to deal with the hassle). You can, however, travel to Iraqi Kurdistan from Federal Iraq on an Iraqi visa.
Plan your trip to Iraqi Kurdistan with this 10 day itinerary
Iraq Travel Restrictions (Covid)
Traveling in Covid-era sucks, to be honest. But with that said you can easily visit Iraq currently.
Federal Iraq Travel Restrictions
Officially travelers need proof of a negative PCR administered no more than 72 hours prior to departure to enter Federal Iraq. PCRs were glanced at by a man in a white coat as we entered the immigration area in Baghdad Airport.
February 1, 2022 update: It is now required to present evidence of Covid vaccination in addition to the negative PCR in order to enter Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdistan Travel Restrictions
Travelers will need to present a negative PCR test taken no more than 48 hours prior to entering Iraqi Kurdistan. Note that you do not need a PCR test if you are traveling between Federal Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Leaving Iraqi Kurdistan: Required PCR
If you will be flying out of the country from Erbil or Sulaymaniyah airports, you will need to present a negative PCR no older than 48 hours to enter the airport. Chances are you will have needed a PCR to go home or onto your next destination anyways.
Where to Get a PCR Covid Test in Iraq
PCR in Baghdad
Ibn al Nafees Medical Center
70,000 ID. Results ready within 24 hours.
PCR in Basra
Al-Awael test center
Located about one block southeast of Al Noor Hospital
100,000 ID. Results ready in 24 hours.
PCR in Erbil
Zanko Health Center
Salahuddin University College of Science, Kirkuk Street
40,000 ID. Results for tests administered before noon ready by 7 pm same day, tests completed in the afternoon usually ready by 10 pm or next morning.
PCR in Sulaymaniyah
Ali Naji Hospital
5 Ali Naji Street
40,000 ID. Results for tests administered in the morning (before noon) will be ready at 4 pm the same day. Wait time is minimal to none.
113 63 Jawahiri Road
40,000 ID. Results ready within 24 hours. Friends in Sulaymaniyah did not recommend Sarchnar Hospital though as wait times can sometimes be a few hours at times. Ali Naji is a better option.
Getting to Iraq
The easiest way to enter Iraq is via one of the international airports. In Federal Iraq, you can enter at Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf Airports. In Kurdistan at Erbil and Sulaymaniyah Airports.
Iraqi Land Borders
There are land border crossings with Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. The only ones that I am certain are possible for foreigners to cross are between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran and Iraq/Iraqi Kurdistan.
Any travelers that may have first-hand experience crossing land borders with Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria please leave a comment at the end of this article, I’d love to hear about it and add relevant information to this Iraq travel guide to help others.
Traveling Iraq: Independent Travel or Organized Tour?
Both independent travel and organized tours of Iraq have their advantages. I have actually done both, having traveled on my own and leading a tour.
Of course, the easiest way is to travel on an organized tour of Iraq. Your local guides will handle all the headaches like checkpoints, permits/permissions, hotel bookings, etc. If you are interested in joining a group tour check out the April Baghdad to Basra tour being offered through my local partners.
Independent travelers will need to navigate checkpoints and everything on their own. It’s not the most difficult undertaking but you really have to ask yourself if this is something you want to deal with. If you have a lot of experience traveling independently, especially in the Middle East region, and aren’t on a time crunch then independent travel in Iraq can be quite rewarding.
The Best Time to Travel in Iraq
Undoubtedly the fall and spring months of October, November, March, and April are the best time to travel in Iraq with comfortable temperatures for exploring. Kurdistan’s weather is a bit cooler, making September and May good months additionally too.
The summer months are best avoided (June, July, August) due to scorching temperatures throughout the country.
Winter can be a nice time to visit Iraq, but you can expect cool temperatures, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan. Pack a warm waterproof jacket too as rain is a bit more prevalent this time of year.
Destinations in Iraq
I’ve listed the main destinations around Iraq that most travelers would visit and the main sites in each of them below. If I’ve written an in-depth mini-guide to an Iraqi destination you’ll find it linked below, and expect more to pop up here as I get caught up on all these blog posts in the coming months!
Baghdad is the capital of Federal Iraq and its most populous city. Most likely, Baghdad will be your first stop in Iraq so get ready for a dizzying array of sites, smells, foods, and interactions. Also, be prepared for some of the worst traffic you’ll ever see (it takes forever to get anywhere unless it’s late-night or early morning).
Things to do in Baghdad
- Baghdad National Museum (best organized by a guide to get permissions to visit)
- Al Shaheed (Martyr Monument)
- Al Khadimhiya (Yassin) Mosque
- Tahrir Square
- Mustanasiryah Madrasa
- Al Mutanabi Street
- Shabandr Cafe
- Safafeer Copper Market
Best Hotels in Baghdad
Samarra is most famous for its 9th century Grand Mosque of Samarra and 52 meter Malwiya Minaret that offers sweeping views over the city. Note that the Shia militant group Saryat as Salaam mans the checkpoint leading into Samarra and can lead to some hold-ups while crossing through- you’ll find more on the checkpoint later in the post.
- Malwiya Minaret & Great Mosque of Samarra
- Al Askari Shrine
Hatra is famous for its iconic ruins but has been notably difficult to visit in the past. I didn’t get to Hatra myself, but others have- check out this post by Quit and Go Travel who visited Hatra along with Mosul.
- Hatra ruins
- Officially Hatra is closed for foreigners, though people can and have gotten there. It may be easiest to arrange a visit with the help of a local guide
To be totally honest, there’s not a whole lot to see in Kirkuk. Most who go to Kirkuk are just passing through between Baghdad and Erbil, though if you’re bound and determined you can take a shared taxi there and make Kirkuk a brief stopover between the two cities.
- Kirkuk Citadel
- Tomb of Daniel
Mosul was one of my favorite destinations I visited in Iraq actually. I found the city and its history quite fascinating and worthy of a spot on any Iraq itinerary.
Sadly, many people know Mosul because of the brutal attacks that gravely damaged much of the city at the hands of ISIS in 2014.
- Mosque of the Prophet Yunus
- Ruined buildings of Old Mosul
- Mosul Souks
- Saddam’s Mosque
- Ancient Walls of Ninevah
- Al Nuri Mosque
- Bash Tapia Castle
Ctesiphon is a famed ancient Persian city that was founded in the 2nd century and served as the winter capital of the Sassanian Empire. The building is impressively large, though much of the wall section has been more recently rebuilt. The grand arch Ctesiphon is most famous for is in danger of collapse and as of January 2022 had extensive scaffolding inside to prop it up.
- Taq Kasra
The main attraction of Hillah is the ruins of ancient Babylon and Saddam’s Babylonian Palace that overlooked the ruins.
- Saddam’s Babylonian Palace
No Iraq itinerary would be complete without a visit to ancient Babylon. You’ll likely end up spending most of a day here taking in all the historic sites that would have made up the famed ancient capital.
- Ishtar Gate
- Labyrinth of Babylon
- Walls of Babylon
- Lion Statue
Karbala is one of Iraq’s holiest cities. The city is home to the Imam Hussein Shrine that millions of followers make a pilgrimage to each year for Arbaeen.
- Imam Hussein Shrine
- Imam Abbas Shrine
Best Hotels in Karbala
Like Karbala, Najaf is another holy city for the Shia and no visit would be complete without at least a visit to the Imam Ali Mosque & Shrine and the Wadi as Salaam Cemetery.
- Imam Ali Mosque & Shrine
- Wadi as Salaam Cemetery
Best Hotels in Najaf
Kufa is a short taxi ride away from Najaf and is worth tacking on to your day in the holy city. Its main attraction of course is the Grand Mosque of Kufa.
- Grand Mosque of Kufa
- Al Saleh Mosque
Nasiriyah & Chibayesh
- Ziggurat of Ur
- Jumping off point for the Mesopotamian Marshes (Chibayesh)
- Cruise around in a mashuuf (traditional boat) in the marshes
- Visit the Marshland reed houses
There isn’t a lot to do in Nasiriyah itself but it is a great jumping-off point for other adventures in the general vicinity but the Nasiriyah Museum and the Euphrates Riverfront are worth checking out.
Outside Nasiriyah, the Ziggurat of Ur is a must. It’s a well-maintained relic to the ancient city-state of Ur that would have ruled over the Mesopotamia region around 2200 BC.
The other attraction outside of Nasiriyah is the fascinating Mesopotamian Marshes. Personally, cruising the Mesopotamian Marshes by mashuuf (a traditional canoe-like boat) to see the traditional marshland reed houses were a highlight of traveling around Iraq for me.
Note that there is a checkpoint going into Nasiriyah that is notoriously difficult to get through. You do need to have a local contact in the city and possibly for them to come met you at the checkpoint (though in February 2022 I had seen posts of people stating that this is no longer the case). For updates from recent travelers and to find contacts in Nasiriyah, check out the Iraqi Travellers Cafe page on Facebook.
Best Hotels in Nasiriyah
Basra is the southern port city of Iraq, situated close to both Iran and Kuwait. A river cruise on a small boat on the Shatt al Arab is a must in Basra, as well as wandering the streets of Old Basra (Shanasheel) and visiting the photogenic fish markets. The Basra Museum is supposed to be quite nice, but getting through the checkpoint at the gate can sometimes be a pain, they wouldn’t let us through when I visited Basra.
- Take a cruise on the Shatt al Arab
- Wander around Shanasheel (Old Basra)
- Visit the fish markets
- Basra Museum
- Imam Ali Mosque (Old Mosque of Basra)
Best Hotels in Basra
Heading to Iraqi Kurdistan? Check out this quick Iraqi Kurdistan Travel Guide
Erbil is a quite modern city despite its long history. No visit to Erbil would be complete without a stop at the Erbil Citadel and Erbil Square. The meandering maze-like Qaysari Bazaar is another favorite spot of mine in the city too.
If beautiful architecture is what you’re after, don’t miss Jalil Khayyat Mosque. Of course, Shanider Park and Minaret Park are worth visits on a nice day.
- Erbil Citadel
- Erbil Square
- Qaysari Bazaar
- Jalil Khayyat Mosque
- Shanidar Park
- Minaret Park
Best Hotels in Erbil
Lalish is a fascinating destination and one of my favorite places in all of Iraqi Kurdistan. Lalish serves at the holiest location for the Yazidi, an ethnoreligious group that practices Sharfadism (the Yazidi religion) which blends a number of aspects from Islam, Christianity, ancient Mesopotamian religions, Zoroastrianism, among others.
The Yazidi have been heavily persecuted historically with their most recent being in 2014 at the ISIS. Despite this, I found the Yazidi quite welcoming.
Visiting the Sheikh Abi Ibn Musafir Temple is an absolute must for those coming to Lalish.
- Temple of Sheikh Abi Ibn Musafir (note that to enter Lalish you need to be barefoot, so leave your socks and shoes in the car)
Alqosh is home to the Chaldean Catholic Church’s holy site of Rabban Hormizd Monastery that clings impossibly to a beautiful mountainside. Similar to Lalish, Alqosh was brutally attacked by ISIS in 2014.
- Rabban Hormizd Monastery
Mar Mattai’s main attraction is its monastery.
- Mar Mattai Monastery
There’s not really much to see in terms of sites but is a good place to stay when exploring Amedi, Zakho, and other destinations in the far northwest of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Best Hotels in Dohuk
Amedi is an ancient Assyrian citadel that rises impossibly from a wide valley floor in the far north of Iraqi Kurdistan and was another of my favorite places I visited in Iraqi Kurdistan. It’s believed to have been home to the biblical three wise men.
I would recommend taking a hike opposite the citadel to get the best aerial views from a distance before going through the Bahdinian Gates and exploring the citadel itself.
- Go to the viewpoint opposite Amedi
- Bahdinian Gate
- Great Mosque of Amedi
- Tomb of the Prophet Hazkial
Akre is a beautiful spot, the main thing to do is to the famous viewpoint for the past panorama of the picturesque town.
Rawanduz Canyon is an outdoor lover’s paradise with a canyon to trek all over, waterfalls, and gorgeous nature.
- Hike along Rawanduz Canyon
- Trek to Bekhal Waterfall
- Visit Geli Ali Beg Waterfall
Halgurd-Sakran National Park
Halgurd-Sakran National Park is another outdoor junkie’s dream. There is an endless array of mountains to be hiked in, including a summit of Iraq’s highest peak, Mount Halgurd (permit required, but it’s free of charge).
Gomi Felaw overlooks Halgurd-Sakran National Park and was my favorite nature spot in all of Iraq with its dazzling little pond overlooking snow-capped mountain views. Gomi Felaw is accessible by heading off the famous Hamilton Highway as you near the Iranian border at Choman.
Dore Canyon has been nicknamed ‘Iraq’s Horseshoe Bend’ and is yet another beautiful scenic spot in Iraqi Kurdistan. From the town of Barzan, it’s possible to follow a 4WD track or walk to Dore Canyon.
Dukan Lake is the largest lake in Iraq and is actually a reservoir. It’s a great place for a picnic and there are a scattering of restaurants near the lake too.
Sulaymaniyah (also called Slemani or Suli) is a modern city and you’ll find a lot of university students here as many people come from all over Iraq to study here. There isn’t a lot in terms of things to do for tourists in Suli, but the Amna Suraka Museum and the Sulaymaniyah Archeological Museum are well worth a visit.
Suli is surrounded by mountains, some of which have roads leading up where it’s perfect to have a picnic or enjoy the sunset. There’s also the possibility of paragliding from the mountaintops.
- Amna Suraka Museum
- Sulaymaniyah Bazaar
- Sulaymaniyah Archeological Museum
Best Hotels in Sulaymaniyah
Halabja is a nice city break from nearby Suli. Halabja sadly suffered one of Saddam’s brutal chemical attacks that killed many of its residents.
- Halabja Museum
- Memorial Cemetery
Getting Around in Iraq
For independent travelers, getting around Iraq is pretty straightforward with minibusses and shared taxis plying routes between most major cities. There’s also a train between Baghdad and Basra on certain nights. For those wanting ultimate freedom, it’s possible to rent cars in both Federal Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Small buses are a common way to get from city to city in Iraq. They can be a bit cramped but it’s a convenient and cheap way to get around.
You’ll find two different types of shared taxis between cities in Iraq, standard cars that hold up to four passengers and larger SUV (usually a GMC) that hold up to seven. Note that the front seat will cost a little more than a backseat.
Shared Taxi Prices on Common Routes
Note that prices listed are one-way and are for regular shared taxis unless stated otherwise. You can expect prices to be a bit higher for GMC/SUV shared taxis and a little lower for a seat in a minibus. You can usually add 2,000-5,000 ID to the price (depending on the length of the ride) if you want the front seat.
- Baghdad-Samarra: 15,000 ID (130 km)
- Baghdad – Hillah: 10,000 ID (115 km)
- Baghdad – Karbala: 10,000 ID (115 km)
- Hillah (Babylon) – Karbala: 2,000 ID (45 km)
- Karbala – Najaf: 8,000 ID (85 km)
- Hillah – Najaf: 7,500 ID (60 km)
- Najaf – Nasiriyah: 15,000 ID (250 km)
- Nasiriyah – Chibayesh (Marshes): – 5,000 ID (90 km)
- Nasiriyah – Basra: 15,000 ID (195 km)
- Basra – Baghdad: 30,000 ID (350 km)
- Baghdad – Mosul: 25,000 ID (400 km)
- Baghdad – Erbil: 30,000 ID (365 km)
- Baghdad – Sulaymaniyah: 30,000 ID (340 km)
- Mosul – Erbil: 10,000 ID (90 km)
- Erbil – Sulaymaniyah: 15,000 ID (180 km)
- Erbil – Dohuk: 15,000 ID (160 km)
- Sulaymaniyah – Halabja: 6,000 ID (80 km)
- Erbil – Akre: 10,000 ID (95 km)
Looking for Shared Rides in Iraq?
If you aren’t sure where to go to catch a shared taxi, SUV, or minibus, just ask for the name of the city you’re going + garage (ie: Karbala Garage). Garage is the word used in Iraq rather than bus station or taxi stand.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights trains go between Baghdad and Basra, leaving around 7 pm and arriving around 6 am. Seats go for 10,000 ID and beds (inside a two-bed compartment) go for 40,000 ID.
Tickets must be bought at the train station, but I’ve read and been told conflicting information on when you can do so. Recently I have seen people saying that you need to go to the station at 7 am the day of departure to purchase your ticket, but I’ve also been told that you should go to the station a day or two before departure to purchase the ticket.
In order to book a ticket, you will need to go down to the train station with your passport and visa in order to book. One thing to note is that you can send someone to purchase the ticket for you. All they need is a copy of your passport and visa.
I didn’t take the train myself as I wasn’t going to be traveling on the right day when there was a departure.
Within the cities of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Najaf, and Erbil the Careem app is available, making getting from one place in the city to another a breeze. Of course, regular taxis are always available too but plan to haggle.
Checkpoints in Iraq
You will inevitably cross through many checkpoints on your travels in Iraq. In general, they’re pretty straightforward, though some are a bigger pain in the ass than others.
Checkpoints can be found as you enter pretty much every city and along roads between them. Typically they will just flick through your passport to look at your ID page and for your Iraqi visa and sometimes the officers will even chat with you or ask for a photo. Some checkpoints they may not even stop to check at all (I found this to be the case a lot for me, but mostly on the account that I can pass as Arab I was told).
Checkpoints are mostly manned by the Iraqi police or military in South/Arab Iraq and by Peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdistan. Though you will find some checkpoints are controlled by armed militia groups.
Checkpoints with a reputation for being more difficult or require some more checking include Samarra, Nasiriyah, Mosul, and between Iraq-Iraqi Kurdistan, all of which I’ve included some info about below.
The armed Shia militia group Saryat as Salaam mans the checkpoint to Samarra and they are very suspicious of foreigners. Even those on a guided group tour can expect a bit of a hold-up at the Samarra checkpoint. Just be patient.
If visiting independently, it would be wise to find some local Iraqis to accompany you on your day trip to Samarra to make getting through the checkpoint easier and without wasting hours waiting to get through.
Nasiriyah is home to the high-security al Hoot prison where many dangerous ISIS fighters are held (you will drive past the prison on your way to the Ziggurat of Ur). Because of this the Nasiriyah checkpoint usually takes a little while. Technically you need to have a sponsor in Nasiriyah (ask in Iraqi Travelers Cafe and you will easily find one) with a phone number you can give to the guards at the checkpoint.
Recently (February 2022), I’ve seen a couple of posts in Iraqi Travellers Cafe saying that they went through the Nasiriyah Checkpoint with a local contact and that it is no longer a requirement to cross through. I am not certain that this is an actual change to the rules or if the officers were being lax or whatever. Either way, I would still have a contact lined up just in case you end up needing them.
Officially you need a sponsor (similar to visiting Nasiriyah) in Mosul in order to cross through the checkpoint independently, but you may be able to cross through eventually. Mosul is a sensitive destination due to the devastating attacks on the city at the hands of ISIS in 2014.
My friend Brett and I ended up opting to hire a driver from Mosul to do a day trip into the city from Erbil. There were three checkpoints (one-way). I was never checked, Brett’s passport was at each of them.
Of course, if you are visiting as a day trip like we did, or as part of an organized trip, your guide or driver will help facilitate this if there is any scrutiny.
Iraq-Iraqi Kurdistan Checkpoint
Crossing between the two Iraqs is straightforward but you do have to deal with being registered at the main checkpoint outside of Kirkuk. Local Iraqis have to register too, so all cars plying the route will stop here.
This requires you to go inside the building and show your passport at window #1. After, walk through to the far side of the building and go to window #2 where your passport will be scanned and you will be registered. If you appear at all confused you can almost certainly expect some friendly Iraqi locals to point you in the correct direction, I also found that the drivers tend to help tell you were to go- whether you have any shared language abilities or not.
Once this is complete you can go back out to your vehicle. As you leave the area you will cross a checkpoint where your passports will be checked again, but once out of this you’re officially crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Getting an Iraqi SIM Card
Getting an Iraqi SIM Card is easiest done at the airport on arrival, with Asiacell and Zain Iraq being the most popular mobile providers, Korek being another popular one mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan. You will need your passport and visa in order to purchase one.
You can pop into one of the mobile providers offices once you are in Iraq too.
What to Wear in Iraq
What to wear in Iraq obviously has more concerns for women than for men, but know that it’s not quite as conservative here as you might assume. Since the dudes can wear pretty much the same things they’d wear at home (though I’d advise against shorts and tanks/singlets) I’m going to focus this section on the ladies.
As a general rule for what to wear in Iraq, women will be most comfortable erring on the more modest side. Looser-fitting tunic-style tops or full-length dresses are good choices, but with that said, it’s not super uncommon to see girls and women out in jeans and t-shirts.
Always keep a scarf handy to cover your hair for certain sites and for the really holy sites you can pick up an all-enveloping abaya/chador for around 5,000-10,000 ID that can be found for sale outside.
Places to note include Karbala, which is a holy city requiring women to be fully covered in an abaya/chador to even enter the city itself. Najaf and Kufa are also holy cities but not quite as strict as Karbala- though the main reason for visiting them is to visit holy shrines and mosques so you may as well just pop the chador on for the entirety of your visit in both.
Safety in Iraq
I’ll split this section into two, separating safety in Federal Iraq from that in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Safety in Federal Iraq
Iraq has a reputation for being among the most dangerous countries in the world but more recently the security situation in the country has greatly improved. That said, there still are risks nonetheless, as the country has seen decades of strife from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the wrath of Saddam Hussein’s rule, the 2003 US Invasion, and the rise of the Islamic State.
It would be wise to do some research previous to your visit and keep an eye out on current events as your trip to Iraq nears- for this, the Iraq Travelers Cafe Facebook page can be a great resource.
From my personal experience, I felt quite safe in my travels in Iraq and faced few issues, but realize that the situation in Iraq could change at any moment.
It’s also a bit easy to forget the fragile state Iraq is in even as you travel around as a tourist. For example, on my most recent visit, there was a rocket attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone just before I was departing the country (though I was far from the action at the time at least).
For those more concerned about their safety while traveling Iraq, I would definitely recommend joining a group tour or organizing a private trip with a local guide/company where these details are handled and mitigated by a local team.
Safety in Iraqi Kurdistan
Iraqi Kurdistan, in terms of security, is a different world from Federal Iraq. I’ve found Iraqi Kurdistan to be incredibly safe on both my visits. Of course, the usual precautions apply but in general Iraqi Kurdistan is a breeze to travel around whether joining a group or solo backpacking your way across the region.
Have Any Questions About Traveling in Iraq?
Ask in the comments section below.
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