TEHRAN | On Manouchehri Alley, a main street in central Tehran that is lined with currency exchange and pawn shops, a group of men congregate in a public park. There’s a lot of shouting and commotion, and the scene is very lively. Scenes like this are common when you stumble across Iran’s black market currency dealers. In Iran there are always 2 exchange rates – the official rate and the black market rate. As long as the black market rate doesn’t differ from the official rate too much, the authorities turn a blind eye but when the rate varies too much, the government takes action.
During the Ahmadinejad presidency, the value of the Rial (Iran’s currency) against the US Dollar varied wildly from day to day which meant that many were able to make good cash trading currency in the underground market. Since President Rouhani has come into power though and attempted to stabilise the rial, the black market has become a lot less lucrative. Coupled with the lifting of US sanctions and stricter legal repercussions for black market trading, the days of the black market in currency are numbered.
Walk down Manouchehri Alley today and you’ll still see the currency exchange stores and pawn shops who also deal in currency. The days of hundreds of people yelling and wildly waving around bundles of cash may be nearing and end, but the black market still exists – it’s just a lot less obvious and boisterous than before.
When you’re in Iran and looking to exchange cash, the same rule as in any other country applies – shop around for the best deal as you’ll almost always be able to find an exchange rate that’s better than the official rate.