Want to Do Business With Iran? 3 Things to Know First

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 26, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On January 16th, the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran had met its nuclear commitments to the United States and Europe. With that, years of economic sanctions against Iran were suddenly relaxed.

But if your business is rushing to open its first office in Tehran, you'll want to tell them to slow down. Here are three things you need to know about doing business with Iran, post-sanctions.

1. U.S. Businesses Are Still Prohibited From Business With Iran

If you're one of our many French or German readers, félicitations à vous! Doing business with Iran just got a bit einfacher.

For you Yanks, however, the situation is different. The Iran nuclear agreement lifted secondary sanctions only. Those were the sanctions directed to non-U.S. persons and businesses. Long-standing U.S.-Iran sanctions remain in place for American businesses, meaning that doing business directly with Iran is largely forbidden.

Further, Iran is still designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the Department of State. That designation means that no money intended for Iran can travel through U.S. financial institutions. As The New York Times notes, that's something that is "all but impossible to avoid in many modern transactions." Even non-U.S. banks are waiting for clarification from the U.S. Treasury before handling Iranian deals.

2. But There Are Exceptions

That doesn't mean that U.S. companies are wholly denied new opportunities by the agreement, however. Alongside lifting secondary sanctions, on January 16th the Office of Foreign Assets Control also released a general license authorizing certain transactions by foreign entities owned or controlled by a U.S. person.

That license allows foreign companies under U.S. control to engage in trade with Iran. The opportunity to do business with Iran is certainly there, but there are still a number of caveats in the general license which you'll need to pay attention to. Dealing with the Government of Iran and Iranian financial institutions is still largely prohibited, for example, except with permission from the Office of Foreign Asset Control.

3. It's an Election Year

The Iran nuclear deal is still highly controversial. While Obama has opened the door to doing business with Iran, that door might not stay open after his presidency ends. Sure, Bernie and Hillary generally support the plan (Hillary has a few caveats), but should a Republican candidate get elected, it's likely that the deal will be in peril. You might want to wait until November before making long-term investments in Iran.

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