It seems like a lifetime since we naively set foot on Turkish soil for the first time. In those days, our only information source was Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, because the internet was in its infancy. Despite all its useful information, nothing could have prepared us for the momentous event, when we decided to move here.
We have now settled in and experience quiet days, but there were many occasions when hindsight would have been a lifesaver. So, now we recommend potential visitors to Turkey should swot up first. Not only to avoid an awkward social faux pas but also to make your time in the country run a lot smoother. Including the culture, food, transport or day to day life, here are our suggestions to prepare you for a trip to Turkey.
Things to Know Before Visiting Turkey
1: Is it Safe to Visit Turkey?
The crime rate in Turkey is low, but you shouldn’t leave yourself wide open to opportunity theft or safety issues. Use the same procedures that you use in your home country to stay safe such as letting people know where you are, only using licensed taxis, and always staying with your drink while in bars.
Regarding terrorism, many countries in the world now face this threat, but the Turkish government places high importance on everyone’s safety, whether Turkish or not, so strict security procedures are in places, especially in the major cities.
2: Do I Need a Visa for Turkey?
Yes, you need a tourist visa, which entitles you to stay for 90 days out of 180. The Turkish airports don’t supply them anymore so apply online before you arrive, at this website address – https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/tour/. Please note, this is the official government website.
Many others act as the middleman, and you pay for their services, and in some cases, this has quadrupled the standard visa price. While you are applying for your visa, also check the expiry date in your passport, to make sure you have at least 90 days left.
3: Do You Need Vaccinations to Visit Turkey?
In days gone by, everyone was vaccinated, when travelling to Turkey, but it is not a third world country rife with diseases. Most doctors recommend tetanus and hepatitis A vacations as part of the norm wherever you travel in the world. This really is a personal choice, so speak to your doctor if you want further information.
4: Do Women Need to Cover Up in Turkey?
In many coastal holiday resorts, dress standards are relaxed and liberal, but women should cover up if visiting rural areas and traditional villages, as well as towns and large cities. While you don’t need to cover your head, wearing trousers or a long skirt as well as loose fitting t-shirts will prevent unwanted stares. If you want to visit a mosque, cover your head.
5: Using Traditional Squat Toilets
Many bars, restaurants and hotels now have standard western toilets as the norm, however, travel around Turkey, and you will most certainly come across a squat toilet. Even in recently modernised airports such as Dalaman and Izmir, ladies’ toilets are a combination of both versions.
If you don’t have a choice and end up squatting, use the hook on the back of the door for your bags and coat. After flushing the toilet, use to tap and jug on the floor to rinse the bowl. Using a squat toilet may be daunting, but with practice, you will be navigating it like a pro. Some public toilets charge for usage so carry loose change on you.
6: Turkish Lira, Cash Machines and Using Cards
Out of all the things to know before visiting Turkey, money is probably the most important. The Turkish lira currency comes in note and coin form. Familiarise yourself with them before you go shopping or to the bars and restaurants.
Get a better exchange rate by using currency shops or banks in Turkey, rather than the airports or travel agents in your home country. Cash machines are available in many populated areas, and some also work in the English language. Notify your bank that you will use credit or debit cards in Turkey, so they don’t restrict it because of security breaches. Also, enquire as to whether there is a charge for using your cards abroad.
7: Getting Wi-Fi
Using your home providers network especially for the internet is extremely costly. Instead many hotels, bars and restaurants offer free wi-fi, although these are open networks so security and privacy are lower. Otherwise, it is possible to rent mobile hotspots from various Turkish companies, and these offer great deals such as connection for up to 10 devices, which will particularly suit families.
8: Drinking Tap Water
The tap water in Turkey is extremely clean, having gone through many sanitation processes. However, it is high in calcium, resulting in a bitter taste. So, most Turks buy large bottles of water from supermarkets and corner shops. If you are visiting during summer, remember to drink lots of water to prevent dehydration from the intense summer heat.
9: Do I need Health Insurance?
This is a personal choice, but some people have received hefty hospital bills after falling ill in Turkey. If you do buy insurance, it is also worth checking the small print terms and conditions. For example, most basic policies do not insure for certain sports, so hiring jet skis at the local beach isn’t wise in case of accidents.
10: What is the Food in Turkey Like?
A Turkish breakfast in bed and breakfast hotels consists of eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, bread, and jams. However, many restaurants in popular holiday resorts like Altinkum or Fethiye, sell alternative breakfast options including bacon and eggs. Likewise, for evening meals, restaurant menus include Indians, Chinese, pasta, pizzas and so forth. We do recommend however trying classic Turkish food dishes like gozleme, lahmacun, pide, soups and salads.
Over the years, Turkey has received an unwanted reputation for hassling tourists, to go into their bar, restaurant or shop. However, since 2000, many local councils have implemented projects to get rid of this reputation. Often secretly videoing establishments, some establishments in holiday resorts like Marmaris and Altinkum, have received fines and also been shut down for twenty days. Turkey is slowly getting rid of the hassle attitude, but if you do find yourself pursued, simply say thanks but no thanks and carry on walking.
12: Bargaining on the Price while Shopping
Haggling on prices seems absurd to foreigners but it is still widely practised in Turkey. The general rule is that if the seller displays a price, he is unwilling to bargain. This includes modern shopping malls with barcoded price tickets, bars, restaurants and if you are making small purchases such as half a kilogramme of apples from the local market. Definitely haggle on big purchases like gold, leather and Turkish carpets.
13: Street Dogs and Cats
The presence of street dogs and cats receives mixed reactions across the country. Many Turkish people feed them, while others are adamant they should live in organised shelters. Councils are working to solve the problem, but if you don’t like animals, just ignore them.
14: Finally, stay open minded
Last on our list of things to know before visiting Turkey is to arrive with an open mind. The culture is vastly different from the east to the west and large places like Antalya, are completely different to smaller resorts such as Altinkum. Read our area guides listed on our menu bar to find out more or browse through our articles on the blog for region specific topics. Also follow us on Facebook, to stay up to date with the latest news from Turkey.