If you’ve been to Iran, chances are you’ll already be familiar with Tomans, although still find it utterly confusing.
The short answer is a Toman is one 10 th of a Rial, the official currency of Iran. The Iranian Rial is one of these currencies which experiences extreme devaluation and hyperinflation.
Iranians almost always talk in Tomans. If something is 1 million Rial, they will say it’s 100,000 Tomans. If something is 200,000 Rial, then it becomes 20,000 Tomans and so on. This is fine you might say, but it starts getting confusing when prices are listed which could be either Rials or Tomans. It gets even more confusing when a local will try to tell you the price, sometimes mixing the two systems. One recent example was a hotel room was quoted as 5 million Rial, 5,000 Tomans. This is where it gets even more confusing – the girl saying this actually meant 50,000 Tomans, so in effect 5.5million, but instead of removing one zero, she removed two.
You’ll see locals dividing prices on their calculators by 10 in order to give the Toman amount, just so the person paying for the product or service can multiple it by 10 again so they can give the correct amount in Rials, because of course all the notes are still just in Rial. Just like everything in Iran, it’s a little chaotic and difficult to get your head around.
Of course it doesn’t stop here, throw in a quickly devaluing currency and things get even trickier. The other issue is that Iranians will often get the Tomans wrong. For example, something which is 5 million Rial, should be 500,000 Toman. However, often they will call this 50,000, 5000 or even 50 Tomans.
With all that in mind, Iran isn’t the type of place where shop keepers and restaurateurs are ready to rip you off. Possibly due to wanting to present a modern and trustworthy image compared with what we see in the media, Iranians are almost without exception extremely generous and hospitable hosts, and pretty much universally want to be accepted by the rest of the world.
Some locals and foreigners alike might blame the language barrier for the misunderstandings in pricing, and there probably is some truth in that, however you’ll also see locals getting confused with each other and making similar sorts of mistakes. Iranians almost all use cards now for payments and some famous sites such as Persepolis won’t even accept cash anymore. On a visit to the Zoroastrian eternal flame in Yazd, the spiritual home of the Zoroastrian religion, a local friend was charged 20 million Rials on her card rather than 2 million Rials, due to the cashier getting confused by the number of zeros. Of course it was unintentional and a refund was quickly made.
What you’ll end up finding is that as soon as you’ve pulled out your large wad of high numbered tattered old Iranian notes, whoever you’re dealing with will be looking for the right ones.
The Iranian government has actually announced they plan on getting rid of the Rial as the national currency and replace it with the Toman, also redenominating at the same time to get rid of some of the extra zeros they’ve acquired over the last few years. The plan is meant to be slowly phased in by the end of 2023 and is poised to cost 160 million US dollars to do so. So soon enough you won’t be converting Rials to Tomans, you’ll just be dealing with a probably equally confusing Toman.