I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to Istanbul for the first time. I’ve heard good and bad things from other people who have lived in or visited Turkey. After living there for six months, here are my best tips for what to know before visiting:
Which vaccines do I need prior to visiting?
There are no vaccinations required for Turkey. However, do discuss your requirements with a doctor.
If I somehow get into trouble or I am in danger who do I call?
1. The South African Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey
Address: Alarko Holding A.S, Muallim Naci cad.No:69, 34347 Ortaköy, Istanbul.
Contact Person: Mr Ishak Alaton
Phone: (+90) 212 227 5200
2. Police: 155 & Tourism Police: (0212) 5274503 (Istanbul only)
List of other important contact details HERE
How long can I stay?
South African who are visiting with a tourist visa, are allowed to stay in Turkey for a maximum of 30 days. Other countries have different regulations.
There was a huge language barrier for me as English is NOT widely spoken especially in the countryside. I made use of app like google translate as a way to communicate.
What is the local currency?
The Turkish Lira (Türk Lirası, TL or TRY) is the local currency. Turkish Lira are available in the following denominations:
Banknotes: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 & 100 TL
Coins: 1, 5, 10, 25 & 50 Kurus (pronounced kurush).
1. Carry Cash
Shopping centres accept credit cards but most markets only accept cash (Turkish Lira) and if you have Euros or Dollars you can exchange at an ATM but for other currencies you will have to find a money exchange office also known as doviz koro in turkish to exchange your money.
Where to get Liras?
It’s best to obtain your Turkish liras in Turkey rather than at home due to exchange rate situations. The easiest way to get cash liras is to stick your home bank card into a Turkish ATM (bancomat/cashpoint, cash machine) or pay with your credit card when shopping.
Banks are open between 8:30am and 5pm Monday to Friday. They are closed Saturdays and Sundays. Keep in mind that withdrawing from ATMs is more expensive than going to a currency conversion office (doviz koro).
How do I get around?
Istanbul has an excellent transportation system utilizing almost all the known forms of public transit.
Istanbul is a city of the seas. Ferries are an inexpensive way of crossing to the other side of the city. ferry timetable HERE. The most popular ferry rides are between Eminonu-Kadikoy (Asian side), Eminonu-Uskudar, Eminonu-Anadolu Kavagi (Full Bosphorus Cruise), Kabatas-Adalar (The islands ferries).
2. Rent a car
Major car rentals have offices at the airports and all over the different cities. To rent a car you will need a driver’s license and credit card and in some rare cases they will ask for an International Driving Permit (IDP).
Bus Colours –
Green: environmentally friendly
Purple and Yellow: Furnished specially for the disabled people.
Turquoise: Owned by private company. They all accept IstanbulKart and/or electronic tickets.
4. Mini Buses
They are vans (or minubuses) operated as shared taxis. They have routes as well and stops for sure. However it is very common that you can hail one of them as you do for a taxi. They will not accept any payment other than cash.
They are basically metro trains that go only one stop connecting one sea-level point to a higher point on a hill. There are two funiculars in Istanbul. One is called as TÜNEL (F-2) which is one of the oldest subways of the world dated back to the Ottoman Empire. Tünel climbs the hill from Karaköy to Beyoğlu (Istiklal Street). There there is a connection possible with the nostalgic tram (T-5) that goes all way till the famous Taksim Square. The other funicular (F-1) is a modern one and climbs the hill from Kabataş to Taksim (it has seemless connection with the T-1 tram line and M-2 metro line.
Use my Uber promo code, “leratob106ue” and get $20 off your first ride. Redeem it HERE
Is the tap water safe to drink
Tap water is not safe to drink in Istanbul but you may drink it in other cities. To be safe I just never drank or cooked with tap water.
Is it safe?
No country is safe so always be prepared for the worst. Be cautious and alert at all times. Don’t go around swiping your card everywhere.
Read: Is Turkey a safe destination for solo female travelers
Do I need a return ticket to be allowed in at Immigration?
Yes, if you are visiting with a tourist visa you must prove that you will be leaving in less than 30 days otherwise your entrance into Turkey might be denied.
Turkey has 3 mobile operators: Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea. If roaming is available on your home network operator, you will connect automatically one of those. I made a huge mistake of choosing Turkcell (It’s actually the most expensive, rather opt for Avea). In order to purchase a sim card you will only require your passport, it cost me 55TL (Price in November 2015) for a Turkcell Simcard and I got 1GB of data, 100 free texts and 4000 call minutes.
155 – Police
112 – Medical Emergency (First aid)
110 – Fire