Iranian Transactions Regulations – The Basic Rules (and Some Exceptions)

Happy Thanksgiving all.   I get questions daily about the dos and don’ts of doing business in Iran.

Here they are in plain English—remember though to check with legal counsel for nuances.  I can’t give specific legal advice through a blog.

Basic Rule:

U.S. persons can’t do any business or facilitate any business or direct or control any business in Iran, period. This applies to exporting and importing things and services. Money is considered a thing, so sending it in either direction is forbidden.  A U.S. person means a U.S. citizen, a foreign person in the U.S. or any U.S.-registered business entity.  U.S. nationals who work for foreign companies, beware, the law applies to what you do at work, even if you work in a foreign country.  If you do it, you violate U.S. law.

As promised, I wanted to provide the list, albeit a short one, of what can be done in Iran by U.S. persons. Even with this list of “dos,” there are still permeating “don’ts,” so – like the warning that you get when taking a new medication – please consult your compliance officer or an attorney who works with the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) for the details.  In some cases you need a license, and in some cases you still won’t be able to do what you want to do unless you follow the correct process.  For instance, even though you can send remittances from Iran, you can’t use an Iranian government-owned bank, and if you are bringing the money over to qualify for an EB2 or EB5 investment visa, you may need a letter from OFAC.

Actions concerning Iran which are permitted:

  • Travel to Iran and related remittances and carrying of personal baggage are permitted.
  • Family remittances to and from Iran are not prohibited, provided they are undertaken through the conventional banking system (note: havaleh transfers are not permitted and can result in prosecution and even prison time). Such family remittances cannot be related to a family-owned enterprise.
  • A U.S. person may receive a monetary inheritance from Iran (however, prior consultation with counsel is suggested because the U.S. bank may require an OFAC letter).  This is a narrow exception.  Any associated sale of property requires a license.
  • Receipt of gifts worth less than $100 is allowed.
  • Importation of household effects from Iran that were actually used abroad for the use of the same household and not for sale or for the use of anyone else or prohibited for some other reason is okay.
  • Information and informational materials may be imported/exported in either direction.
  • Any action for which an individual or company receives a specific or general license from OFAC.

There are also “general licenses” that allow U.S. nationals who work for specific international organizations to do the work of those organizations, that permit certain remittances for humanitarian relief, that allow the transmission of certain services and software over the Internet, and for a few other purposes.  General licenses allow everyone within certain classes of people to do things that would otherwise be violations, but you should not rely on these general licenses without legal advice.

The penalties for violating these laws can be huge, and if you attempt a transaction that is not allowed and it is blocked, you may never get your money or items back.