Currency, Language, Customs, Visas, and Safety in Turkey

14 Feb 2022

Turkey is one of the world's most popular tourism destinations, attracting travellers for package holidays, gulet cruises, backpacking trips, luxury vacations, city breaks, adventure travel, and much more.

Whatever the reason for your visit, it is important to do some pre-trip research on topics such as safety, currency, language, and entry requirements, to help make sure everything runs smoothly while you are there. Here is our guide to practical information for travellers to Turkey.

Currency in Turkey

Turkey's currency is the lira, which is divided into one hundred kurus (kr). Banknotes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 lira, and coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50kr, as well as 1 lira, are in circulation. Credit and debit cards are widely used in Turkey, with Visa and Mastercard the most widely accepted. However, if you are heading off the beaten track, or want to do a spot of bargaining in the bazaars, it is best to carry cash. It's easy to find ATMs in cities and tourist areas; check with your card issuer before you travel as you may be charged a fee for using your card abroad. You may want to get a card that offers exchange services or doesn't charge a fee for foreign currency withdrawals for your travels: Monzo and Revolut are popular amongst our deal experts. You can also exchange cash at banks and exchange bureaus; you should take new-style UK polymer banknotes with you, as many places will not accept the old paper notes.

Turkish lira (TRY) exchange rates:

£1 = approximately 38 TRY

1€ = 32.7 TRY

$1 = 30.1 TRY

Turkish language

The predominant language spoken in Turkey is Turkish. English is widely spoken as a second language in Istanbul, as well as in tourist resorts and other major cities. Wherever you go, there will probably be at least one person who can speak English, but that’s never guaranteed, so learning some Turkish for when you are travelling in less touristic areas is useful. And even if the people you meet speak good English, an attempt at speaking some Turkish is always appreciated.

The Turkish alphabet has 29 letters, including most of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, plus some modified letters. You may see these used in place names, so it's useful to learn how to pronounce them, particularly if you need to ask for directions. They include ç (pronounced "ch", as in chair), ö (pronounced "ur", as in turn), ş (pronounced "sh", as in shell), and ü (pronounced "eu", as in feud).

Here are a few basic words and phrases:

Hello: merhaba

Good morning: günaydın 

Good evening: iyi akşamlar

Goodbye: güle güle

Excuse me: affedersin

Please: lütfen

Thank you: teşekkür ederim 

Yes: evet

No: hayir 

Do you speak English?: Ingilizce biliyor musunuz?

Turkey (country): Türkiye 

Laws and customs in Turkey

By law, you must always carry a form of photographic ID (the best bet is your passport) when you are in Turkey. Police and other officials regularly conduct ID checks on members of the public in busy areas, including in Istanbul, and there are also police checkpoints on main roads throughout the country.

You are not allowed to smoke in any indoor workplace or public place, or on public transport. Many outdoor areas, especially where events are taking place, also impose smoking bans; always check local restrictions.

If you are convicted of the possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs, expect to face a heavy fine or a prison sentence — typically between four and 24 years.

Avoid taking photos close to military or official installations, or you could face arrest. Authorities can check electronic devices such as cameras, including at the airport. Always ask people for permission before photographing them.

You can be imprisoned if you are convicted of insulting the Turkish nation or the country's flag, or defacing or damaging currency.

Turkey is a secular state, meaning there is no official religion, and the state remains neutral in matters of religion. Most of the population is Muslim, although there are minorities of other religions including Christian and Jewish. You should dress modestly when visiting a mosque or other religious site (women should cover their arms, legs, and hair; men should wear long trousers). Social attitudes in the most cosmopolitan places like Istanbul and the major holiday resorts can differ from more conservative areas such as Central Anatolia and the east of the country. But wherever you go in Turkey, you will find people to be friendly and helpful. Hospitality is important to Turkish people, and wherever you are from, the guest is treated as the most important person in the house. Just remember to take your shoes off when entering someone's home.

Entry requirements for Turkey

Normally, UK passport holders can travel to Turkey for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a tourist visa or an e-visa. Your passport should be valid for at least six months from your date of entry, and you must have a full blank page for entry and exit stamps. If using a land border crossing to enter Turkey, make sure you get a dated entry stamp. If your passport is not a UK one, you can check here whether you need to apply online for an e-visa.

If you take a day trip to Greece from Turkey (such as Bodrum to Kos, Marmaris to Rhodes, or Kuşadasi to Samos), you will need to carry your passport; visas are not necessary for travel to Greece for UK passport holders.

Safety in Turkey

Turkey is generally a safe country to travel to, with most journeys there taking place without any serious problems. Modern facilities for travellers are easy to find, especially in larger cities like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, as well as popular tourist resorts like Antalya, Bodrum, Fethiye, and Marmaris, while Turkish people have reputation for being welcoming. However, it is always wise to exercise caution and use your common sense during your visit.

Crime: The most common crimes experienced by travellers in Turkey are pickpocketing and bag snatching, which are more likely in the main tourist areas of Istanbul, so always stay alert. Be careful when drinking in popular bar areas in holiday resorts; don’t get so drunk that you lose awareness of your surroundings, making you vulnerable to robbery or sexual assault. To stay on the safe side, never leave your drink unattended and do not accept drinks from strangers.

Terrorism and protests: There is a risk of terrorism in Turkey, with the southeast of the country, and the cities of Ankara and Istanbul, among places that have been targeted in the past. Always be vigilant, and stay up to date with local news. There is a risk of terrorism (including attacks and kidnappings) in the areas close to the Syrian and Iraqi borders, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is advising against travel to certain places. Stay away from political demonstrations, which sometimes take place in Taksim Square and Istiklal Street in Istanbul, the Kizilay district of Ankara, and the waterfront area of central Izmir. These can turn violent, and there is always a risk of injury or arrest.

Driving: If you are planning to drive in Turkey, you’ll need an International Driving Permit. Although main roads in Turkey tend to be in good condition, more remote highways can be in a poor state so take care, especially at night. Do not drink and drive, as police carry out breathalyser checks. Ensure you hire vehicles from a reputable firm: major international car rental agencies have offices throughout Turkey.

Natural disasters: On 6 February, 2023 a major earthquake hit south-east Turkey, affecting 10 cities including Kahramanmaras, Hatay, Gaziantep and Adiyaman. A second large earthquake followed in the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaraş, 80 miles north of Gaziantep, and these regions remain heavily damaged. Earthquakes are a risk in Turkey, so always familiarise yourself with safety and evacuation procedures in your hotel. Forest fires are frequent, especially in summer when temperatures over 40°C are not unknown. Always heed local authorities’ warnings and instructions regarding evacuation. Much of Turkey is mountainous, and floods and landslides can result from heavy rain, closing roads and bridges.

Activities: If you are planning to take part in activities, do your research and choose a reputable operator. Check that they have the relevant safety certificates, and that all equipment is in good condition. Make sure you arrange adequate travel insurance before departure, covering any activities you are planning, just in case something goes wrong.

Health: Check the latest travel health advice for Turkey, including what vaccines are recommended, at least eight weeks before your trip. Neither the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) nor the UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) are valid in Turkey, so make sure you take out adequate travel health insurance, including coverage for COVID-19.

Further information and contacts

Emergency phone numbers within Turkey: call 112 for emergency services; for individual services call 155 (police), 112 (ambulance), and 110 (fire)

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has useful travel advice on its website, or to locate your nearest British embassy, consulate, or high commission, click here.

Nick Elvin contributed to this post.

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