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Can I Do Business in Iran?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Just like the recent reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, business owners are wondering what the new nuclear deal with Iran will mean for commercial opportunities in the country.

While some American companies are already doing business in Iran, certain barriers, both legal and cultural, still remain. So here's what you need to know about setting up shop in post-sanction Iran.

Tread Lightly

As of today, the lifting of economic sanctions remains dependent on Iran's cooperation and compliance with nuclear-related measures. And until the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that cooperation, current Iran sanctions remain in place.

These sanctions remain pretty strict. Unless licensed by the U.S. Treasury
Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, all U.S. exports to Iran are prohibited, even if it's going somewhere else first. The only permitted exports are:

  • Donations of articles intended to relieve human suffering (such as food, clothing, and medicine)
  • Gifts valued at $100 or less
  • Licensed exports of agricultural commodities
  • Medicine and medical devices
  • Trade in "information and informational materials" (i.e., books, films, artworks, and music)

This is why so many of the businesses in Iran highlighted by the Wall Street Journal are medical device manufacturers and agricultural companies.

Industries Allowed in Iran

So what industries are allowed in Iran? American tourists can generally travel freely to and from Iran (although they are required to have a guide while visiting. This has led to some investment from aviation companies as well as hospitality services.

Financial firms still face an up-hill battle in Iran, and cultural and educational projects in the country are still strictly regulated. In case you're wondering whether the U.S. government takes violations of the trade embargo seriously, remember that the CEO of an industrial machine manufacturer is in jail for trading with Iranian businesses.

So before you open that Tehran branch of your business, you might want to consult with an experienced international law attorney near you.

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