This article is about payments for business transactions. For personal transactions, and sending money to family, please check other sources, like this article.
Alliance experts is an export consultant, we do not provide any money transfer services.
A bit of recent background: lifting the sanctions in 2016
The June 2013 Presidential election was a turning point in Iran’s policy towards the reopening of the country to the world and the reconciliation with the international community. Negotiations about the nuclear program with six countries (Germany, the USA, Britain, France, China and Russia) led to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the 14thof July 2015.
Iran sanctions were lifted in exchange for a reduction of Iran’s uranium enrichment. Sanctions were officially removed on the 16th of January 2016 (Implementation Day). Although sanctions related to human rights and missile programs are still in place, none of them specifically calls for a boycott of Iran's financial market. So it can be said that the remaining sanctions mostly deal with military affairs rather than with economic and financial ones.
USA sanctions remained in place
Even after 2016, USA primary sanctions remain in place and apply to USA financial institutions and companies, including non-USA branches (but not subsidiaries). USA dollar clearing restrictions have not been lifted and pose a significant challenge for larger non-USA global banks to re-establish Correspondent Banking Relationships. This in turn restricts access to corporate trade finance and limits access to reserves, foreign assets, and export earnings particularly from dollar-dominated oil sales.
Consequences for businesses
International banks and financial institutions are still at risk of prosecution by the Department of Justice if they are based in the USA or use the US dollar. These prosecutions can be civil or criminal and are mostly substantial. Quite a number of major banks have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for violating these sanction regimes. To avoid this risk, many banks have made the decision not to deal with Iran even when the transaction is completely legal in their home country. (source: Blackstone solicitors)
As an effect, for the Iranian government and for many companies, large funds remain inaccessible, and doing business with Iranian companies, although greedy to buy, remains difficult due to lack of foreign currency. Many of them will ask for flexible payment terms that will allow them to capitalise on their new investment before paying you.
For companies who want to do business in Iran, it is therefore important to work with a reputable local partner who if familiar with international payments and who also can assess the credit risk of delayed payment.
2018: the USA withdraws from JCPOA
On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced his decision to cease the United States’ participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and to begin re-imposing the U.S. nuclear-related sanctions. The announcement and all regulations currently in place can be found on the website of the USA Treasury. Europe currently does not seem to withdraw from the previous agreements.
Iranian banks are starting to connect
Following the lifting of many financial and economic sanctions, Iran’s financial institutions are starting to work with the international banking system. Banking changes include:
- more than 30 Iranian banks are reconnected to Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT)
- a network more than 200 international banks have started correspondent relations with Iranian banks
- Iranian banks have opened more than 400 accounts with non-Iranian banks some banks are seeking to either open foreign branches or start relationships with international banks
- some Asian and Middle Eastern banks are beginning operations within Iran
Foreign banks that support international payment
The foreign banks most willing to cooperate with Iranian banks are BCP BANK, KBC BANK and HALK BANK.
At present, Iranian banks have re-opened branches in some European countries - Germany, Britain, France, Italy. Branches of Iranian banks are also active in Iran’s neighboring countries such as the United Arabic Emirates and Turkey. In addition, the Central Bank of Iran has direct links with the Central Banks of Italy, Austria and some other countries.
There is no Iranian bank active on the American continent due to US sanctions and concerns money laundering issues as well as a lack of significant Iranian oil exports to this continent.
Germany-based Europaeisch-Iranische Handelsbank AG (EIH) and two Italian lenders, Mediobanca and Banca Popolare di Sondrio, were among the 200 banking establishment with business links to Iran. EIH handles the bulk of Europe's letter of credit business, which gives European exporters an appropriate financial instrument to get their money from Iranian clients. EIH has also been providing letters of credit of between 180 and 360 days with deferred payment for business with Iran and other banking services between Iran and Europe
Mediobanca, which has commercial ties with Iran dating back to 1952 and an office in Tehran, is looking at opportunities in Iran including the privatization of companies, investment into and out of Iran, and lending and debt capital market activity
Payment restrictions on the Iran side
Due to the lack of Euros in Iran for payments to foreign companies, the Iranian government has also imposed restrictions on Iranian bank. A per April 2018, all foreign exchanges are managed through the banking system with the government rate and banks sell Euros only to importing companies and those who are traveling abroad. Importing companies need to show the original invoice, which has to be attested by the Iranian embassy in the issuing country.
Making payments to Iran is not yet so straightforward as between the US and Switserland. But there is strong progress and there are various ways. Eventually also costs of making transfers will go down.