What makes Turkey a unique country to travel to?
Many of Turkey's regions are well-developed with a wide range of tourist facilities of all classes in the main tourist destinations.
The rate of street crime remains relatively low in Turkey. In Istanbul, petty street crime is most common in tourist areas such as Taksim Square, Sultanahmet, and in the areas around the Grand Bazaar and Spice (Egyptian) Bazaar. Carry only what you need when in these areas. You should carry a copy of your passport and visa with you and leave your U.S. passport in your hotel safe.
As in other large metropolitan areas throughout the world, common street crimes include pick pocketing, purse snatching, and mugging. Often the crime is preceded by some sort of diversion such as an argument, a fight, or someone bumping into you. Residential crime is an issue in major cities, with criminals targeting ground floor apartments for theft. Do not be complacent regarding your personal safety. You should use the same precautions you would in the United States.
The Embassy and consulates have received reports of crimes against women. In January 2013, a U.S. citizen female tourist traveling alone was murdered in Istanbul. Female travelers are urged to exercise caution and use common sense, especially when alone. Female travelers should request a female attendant in the "mixed" Turkish baths (hamams). Incidents involving the use of "date rape" drugs (Nembutal and Benzodiazepine) have been reported.
Do not buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are bootleg copies of copyrighted goods illegal to bring back into the United States, if you purchase them, you are breaking local law.
U.S. citizen tourists sometimes report a particular kind of confidence game in Turkey, mainly in Istanbul, that targets lone male tourists. The con induces unsuspecting men to patronize certain eating and drinking establishments where the costs for food and beverages are hyper-inflated. Generally, an inside person associated with one of these establishments, usually another unassuming male, will befriend a target and invite him to visit a bar that he knows. Once at the bar, drinks are brought to the table and the target is usually joined by one or more females and others who work there. The target is unaware of the costs of food and drinks that are either ordered or simply delivered to the table until after the bill arrives. Since the prices are not clearly marked in menus, patrons generally have little recourse but to pay the final bill, no matter how outrageously high the total is. People who refuse to pay are intimidated to do so, and sometimes forcibly taken to an ATM to withdraw money. When dining out, patronize well established restaurants, and if you are off the beaten path, always ask to see a menu before ordering anything.
The Embassy and consulates have received e-mail complaints from U.S. citizens about online scams – ranging from fraudulent awarding of diversity ("lottery") visas to fronts for Internet dating and romances to scams about purchasing pets – and were subsequently defrauded of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Be very careful about suspicious requests for deposits and various types of registration fees. The State Department’s International Scams webpage has a section detailing some of the more common scams. The State Department has also published an informational brochure about scams. You should also exercise due diligence when purchasing real estate in Turkey. For more information please visit the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Guidance for Foreigners website. Please carefully research the background of any property in order to ensure that everything is legal.
The local equivalent of the "911" emergency line (for police, fire, or ambulance) in Turkey is155. The emergency number for ambulance assistance only is 112.
While traveling in Turkey, you are subject to Turkish laws. Foreign laws and legal systems differ from ours. Criminal penalties vary from country to country. There are also some things that, while legal in the country you visit, are illegal in the United States; for instance, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or possessing or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime that is prosecutable in the United States.
Drug Offenses: Turkish law enforcement agencies are very aggressive in combating illegal drugs. The penalties for violating Turkish laws, even unknowingly, can be severe. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Turkey are particularly strict, and convicted offenders will receive heavy fines and jail sentences of between four and twenty years in some cases.
Insulting the State: It is illegal, under Turkish law, to show disrespect to the name or image of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic. It is also illegal to insult the Turkish Government, flag, or security forces.
Religious Proselytizing: Although there is no specific law against religious proselytizing, some activities can lead to your arrest under laws that regulate expression, educational institutions, and religious meetings. The State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom contains additional information on religious freedom in Turkey.
Cultural Artifacts: Turkish law has a broad definition of "antiquities" and makes it a crime to remove any from the country. Offenders are prosecuted. All historic sites, and everything in them, on the grounds, or in the water, are the property of the Turkish Government. If you buy antiquities, use only authorized dealers and obtain museum certificate for each item they are authorized to sell. At departure, you may be asked to present a receipt and the certificate. Failure to have them can result in your arrest and jail time. Contact the Embassy of Turkey in Washington or one of Turkey's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Dual Citizenship: U.S.-Turkish dual nationals may be subject to laws that impose special obligations on Turkish citizens. Male dual citizens over the age of 18 may be subject to Turkish conscription and compulsory military service. Those with questions are strongly advised to consult with officials at Turkish embassies or consulatesbefore entering Turkey. Turkish law does not allow for U.S. officials to visit or provide consular assistance to U.S.-Turkish dual nationals arrested in Turkey. Please see our information on dual nationality.
Arrest notifications in Turkey: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Turkey, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
JUDICIAL ASSISTANCE: Judicial assistance between the United States and Turkey is governed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
Turkish is the official language of the country. Some people of Kurdish origin speak Kurdish. A small number of people also speak Arabic. English, German and French are spoken as the second language in cities and more often German in small towns.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
The care provided in Turkish hospitals varies greatly. New private hospitals in Ankara, Antalya, Izmir, and Istanbul have modern facilities and equipment, numerous U.S.-trained specialists, and international accreditation. However, some still may be unable to treat certain serious conditions. While the State Department prefers medical evacuation for its personnel who will be giving birth, there are private hospitals in Ankara and Istanbul that meet Western standards of obstetric care. Pregnant women should consult the Turkish Airlines website for more detailed and updated information regarding travel restrictions.
Those planning prolonged stays in Turkey should bring or secure a supply of necessary medications (e.g., heart medications, birth control pills). Certain medications are difficult to obtain in Turkey. Nursing care and diagnostic testing (including mammograms) meet U.S. standards at specific institutions in the larger cities. Unlike in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, and Adana, health care standards are lower in small cities in Turkey.
You should drink only bottled water or water that has been filtered and boiled. Bottled beverages are safe to drink. Most local dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, are safe to consume. Take care when buying perishable products to be sure vendors use adequate refrigeration. Wash vegetables and fruits carefully and cook meat thoroughly before eating it.
H1N1 and Other Influenza: The U.S. Government remains concerned about the possibility of a severe influenza pandemic resulting from changes in the 2009-H1N1 virus or the emergence of a newer influenza virus that may affect U.S. citizens abroad. Both H1N1 and H5N1 (avian influenza), have been reported in Turkey. Avoid poultry farms and contact with animals in live food markets. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed plans for individuals and groups to protect themselves against infection during a pandemic. They include simple techniques such as washing your hands, practicing cough etiquette, staying home when you or family members are sick, limiting contact with others, and avoiding public gathering places.
Safety and Security
There have been violent attacks throughout Turkey, and there is a continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout Turkey. Terrorist bombings over the past several years have hit various targets in Turkey, with some causing significant numbers of casualties. Some attacks – including a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on February 1, 2013, carried out by the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C is an indigenous terrorist organization) – are deliberately targeted U.S. and Western interests. In July 2011, 15 terrorists claiming association with al-Qaida were arrested for gathering explosive materials in preparation for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. These incidents show a willingness on the part of some terrorist groups to attack identifiably Western targets. The possibility of terrorist attacks, from both transnational and indigenous groups, remains high.
The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi/Cephesi or DHKP/C) claimed responsibility for the February 1, Embassy attack. Designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 1997, the DHKP/C is an indigenous organization to Turkey and has existed since the 1970s with networks throughout Europe, The DHKP/C has stated its intention to commit further attacks against the United States, NATO, and Turkey, though Turkish law enforcement actions have weakened the organization.
The Kurdistan People's Congress (also known as Kongra Gel or KGK; formerly the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK) is the most active terrorist organization in Turkey. Over the last few decades, PKK terrorist activity has been responsible for the deaths of more than 30,000 Turkish citizens. While this group has historically targeted Turkish government and military interests, it has recently been involved in peace negotiations with the Government of Turkey. Although clashes continue between Turkish security forces and the PKK in parts of Turkey, including outside of its usual operating area in the southeast, the level of activity is much lower than in recent years.
The threat from terrorist organizations can be elevated on days or dates deemed significant to that organization. The DHPK/C considers the period beginning with the group’s founding on March 30 and ending three weeks later as a period with several significant anniversary dates. Likewise, the November 27 anniversary of the founding of the PKK, the August 15 anniversary of the first PKK attack against the Turkish Government, the February 15 anniversary of the arrest of PKK’s founder, and the mid-March celebration of the Kurdish holiday of Nevruz stand out as dates with an elevated potential for terrorist action. Nevruz celebrations, generally held in cities and towns throughout southeastern Turkey and in other major cities in mid-March, have been combined with political rallies in the past, and have turned violent and involved clashes with police.
U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness; you should follow local news sources during your stay to remain abreast of any potential areas, dates, or times of concern, as well as registering with the STEP program.
Wherever you are in Turkey, do not accept letters, parcels, or other items from strangers for delivery either inside or outside of Turkey. The PKK has attempted to use foreigners to deliver messages and packages. Individuals acting or seen to be acting as "couriers" could be arrested for aiding and abetting the terrorist organization.
In addition to terrorist activities, there have been instances of religious violence targeting individuals in Turkey working as religious missionaries or viewed as having proselytized for a non-Islamic religion. Threats and actual instances of crime have targeted Christian and Jewish individuals, groups, and places of worship in Turkey, including several high-profile murders of Christians over the last decade. The level of anti-Israeli feeling remains significant following Israel's 2008 Gaza offensive. Turkish officials expressly said they excluded Jewish people, in Turkey and elsewhere, from their criticism of the Government of Israel in the wake of the intervention by Israeli Defense Forces on the Free Gaza Flotilla in May 2010.
While recent May Day (May 1) celebrations in Istanbul's Taksim Square have been peaceful, past May Day celebrations have resulted in violent clashes between police and workers, and should be avoided.
Exercise caution and good judgment, keep a low profile, and remain vigilant with regard to your personal security. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. As security is increased at official U.S. facilities, terrorists may seek softer targets. These may include facilities where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to live, congregate, shop, or visit. Be especially alert in such places.
International and domestic political issues sometimes trigger demonstrations in major cities in Turkey. Demonstrations can occur with little or no advance notice. However, even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable; they should be avoided. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what local news media say. Obey the instructions of Turkish security personnel at all times.
Ankara: On Friday, February 1, 2013, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a side entrance to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, killing himself and one Embassy guard, and injuring several other people. The DHKP/C claimed responsibility for this suicide attack. In September 2011, a car bomb that was attributed to the PKK detonated in the downtown district of Kizilay, killing 3 and injuring 15. In July 2011, 15 people were arrested in conjunction with an al-Qa’ida plot to attack multiple sites in the capital, including the U.S. Embassy. In May 2007, a PKK suicide bomber in the downtown district of Ulus killed six and injured more than 100.
Istanbul: On February 28, 2013, the Turkish National Police (TNP) arrested several alleged al-Qaida members. In September 2012, a PKK suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device in the Sultangazi Police Department, killing one and injuring seven. In March 2012, a PKK suicide bomber detonated explosives alongside a riot police bus in the Sutluce District injuring 16 people, ten of whom were police. In May 2011, a bomb believed to have been placed by the PKK to target a nearby police facility exploded in a residential area, injuring eight. In June 2010, two roadside bomb attacks, one on a police bus and one on a contract bus with Turkish military passengers, caused many casualties, including at least eight deaths; the PKK-affiliated Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), claimed responsibility (see below). In October 2010, a suicide bomber struck a Turkish police bus in Taksim Square, injuring 15 Turkish police officers and 17 Turkish civilians. In 2008, there were three significant events starting with a bombing in July in the Güngören neighborhood that killed 17 Turkish citizens. In July 2008, a terrorist attack on the Turkish police guarding the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul resulted in the deaths of three police officers and the wounding of two other police personnel. Small-scale bombings, violent demonstrations and vehicle arson occur on a regular basis. Most of these incidents happened in neighborhoods not generally frequented by tourists.
Kastamonu: In May 2011, terrorists launched an attack on a convoy of election campaign vehicles belonging to the Prime Ministry, resulting in the death of one police officer.
Mediterranean/Aegean Regions: This region of Turkey has seen both traditional terrorist bombings against the Turkish Government designed to injure, and others designed to intimidate tourists. In August 2012, the PKK attacked a Turkish military bus near Foca using a roadside bomb resulting in ten casualties, including one death. In August 2011, a percussion bomb buried in the beach exploded and tourists were injured by flying rocks.
Eastern and Southeastern Provinces (including Adana): U.S. Government employees are subject to travel restrictions and require advance approval prior to official or unofficial travel to the provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingöl, Tunceli, Hakkâri, Bitlis, and Elazig. U.S. military and Department of Defense civilians have additional restrictions and should consult their local area commander to obtain the latest travel guidance. Mount Ararat, in A%u011Fri province, is a special military zone and access permission must be obtained from the Turkish Government through a Turkish embassy or consulate before coming to Turkey. In July 2008, three German tourists were kidnapped by armed PKK militants while camping on Mt. Ararat with their 13-member climbing team. U.S. citizens traveling in southeastern Turkey, as well as to Mt. Ararat should exercise extreme caution.
In addition to the well-known longstanding threat from PKK terrorists, other violent extremists have transited Turkey en route to Syria. Therefore, we recommend that U.S. citizens take precaution in any meetings with individuals claiming to represent the Syrian opposition movement.
The Embassy strongly recommends avoiding areas in close proximity to the Syrian border, where the ongoing conflict in Syria could pose a danger for U.S. citizen travelers. Turkish towns located along the border with Syria have also been struck by bullets and artillery rounds that originate in Syria, some resulting in deaths or injuries. On October 3, 2012, a mortar round from Syria landed in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five Turkish citizens. On February 11, 2013, a car bomb exploded at the Turkish/Syrian border crossing at Cilvegozu in Hatay province, killing 14 people and injuring 25. Travelers are specifically advised not to photograph Turkish military operations or installations near the Syrian border or anywhere in Turkey. On March 1, 2013, the U.S. Department of State updated the Travel Warning for Syria. This travel warning remains in effect. The U.S. Embassy in Damascus closed in February 2012.
The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that the situation in southeast Turkey, while usually calm, can change without warning.
In May 2012 in Kayseri province, two PKK terrorists detonated a car bomb in front of the police station in Pinarbasi resulting in the death of one police officer and injuring 17 other civilians among them. On October 2011, during a pro-PKK rally in Adana, an improvised explosive device was detonated and six police officers and three civilians were seriously wounded. In June 2010, an assailant shot at a U.S. citizen in Adana. Reports indicate that extremists initiated the attack based solely on his U.S. citizenship and the fact that he resides in Turkey. In January 2010, the U.S. Consulate in Adana was fired upon during nighttime hours, although there are indications the Turkish police standing guard outside may have been the actual targets. There have been anti-U.S. demonstrations and efforts by some groups to encourage the departure of U.S. Air Force personnel from Incirlik Air Base, just outside Adana.
Turkish police regularly mount major operations against the PKK and other terrorist cells throughout the southeastern provinces. Operations have been launched to prevent what were believed to be imminent terrorist attacks, as well as to cripple terrorist cells' fundraising and recruiting capabilities. Some disrupted cells have had strong links to al-Qa’ida. The PKK conducts operations primarily focused on security personnel throughout southeastern Turkey; occasionally attacks injure or kill civilians. Travel is difficult and should be considered dangerous in some portions of this region.
Roadside explosions caused by remote-controlled land mines or other improvised explosive devices have occurred several times in the past year in the Batman, Sirnak, Hakkâri, Siirt, Mardin, Diyarbakir, and Tunceli provinces, as have small-scale attacks with Molotov cocktails and other home-made weapons. These attacks usually target Turkish military or police personnel, but occasionally harm innocent bystanders. Attacks are more frequent before major political events and anniversaries associated with the PKK terrorist movement. Small "sound bombs,” producing only loud noise, are frequent events throughout the region. There have also been a number of PKK raids on Jandarma (rural police) posts and ambushes of Turkish security force vehicle patrols in many of Turkey's rural southeastern areas. In January 2008, a PKK remote-controlled car bomb killed seven people and injured 66 when it exploded on a street in downtown Diyarbakir. In June 2007, the Turkish General Staff declared parts of the southeastern provinces of Sirnak, Hakkâri, and Siirt as "sensitive areas" due to ongoing counter-insurgency operations carried out by Turkish military forces. Access to these areas, mostly along the Iraqi border, is controlled by the security forces.
Use commercial air travel whenever possible while traveling to southeastern Turkey. If road travel is necessary, drive only during daylight hours and on major highways. The Turkish Jandarma and police forces monitor checkpoints on roads throughout the southeastern region. You should cooperate if stopped at any checkpoint. Be prepared to provide identification and vehicle registration if stopped. At these checkpoints, roll down the driver's side window (the passenger side also, in vehicles with tinted windows) when stopped by security force officials. Security forces can then safely inspect the vehicle and its occupants. Remain calm, do not make any sudden movements, and obey all instructions immediately. Security officials may restrict access to some roads at times, and security force escort vehicles may be required to "convoy" visitors through troublesome areas. In some cases, this must be arranged in advance. We strongly discourage the use of public transportation at any time in the southeastern region.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Turkey, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Drive defensively at all times and take every precaution while driving in Turkey. Drivers routinely ignore traffic regulations, including driving through red lights and stop signs, and turning left from the far right lane. These and other similar driving practices cause frequent traffic accidents. Drivers who experience car troubles or accidents pull to the side of the road and turn on their emergency lights to warn other drivers, but many drivers place a large rock or a pile of rocks on the road about 10-15 meters behind their vehicles instead of turning on emergency lights. The use of a cell phone while driving is strictly prohibited by Turkish law. Driving while using a cell phone can lead to a fine of 72 Turkish Lira (TL) (approximately $40) fine.
Be extremely cautious while driving at night. We recommend that you not drive after dark outside of major cities. Some local drivers drive without their lights on or with very low lights, making it difficult to see them. It is not unusual to find hazardous objects in roadways such as dead animals, large rocks, missing sewer covers, deep holes, or objects that have fallen from vehicles. Live farm animals can also be found near or in the roadway in rural areas.
Roads in Turkey run the full gamut from single-lane country roads to modern, divided, trans-European motorways of European standard. Highways in the tourist-frequented western, southwestern, and coastal regions of Turkey are generally in good condition and are well maintained, while conditions in other areas vary. The legal limit for alcohol is 0.50 promil (100 milliliter blood and 50 milligram alcohol), which is approximately 0.05%. Penalties for driving drunk include a fine of 650 Turkish Lira (TL) (approximately $365) and the individual’s license will be confiscated for 6 months.
To enter Turkey with your own vehicle you will need your passport, driver’s license, car registration (note: if the vehicle belongs to another individual, a power of attorney is needed), international green card (insurance card) with the "valid in Turkey" sign visible, and, for those who wish to proceed to Middle Eastern countries, a "carnet de passage" transit book. A vehicle can be brought into Turkey for up to 6 months. Extensions can be obtained if one applies before the end of the initially declared and approved period. Applications should be sent to the Turkish Touring and Automobile Club: Türkiye Turing ve Otomobil, 1. Oto Sanayi Sitesi Yani, 4. Levent, Istanbul, Tel: (212) 282 81 40 or Fax: (212) 282 80 42), or to the General Directorate of Customs: Gümrükler Genel Müdürlügü, Ulus, Ankara Tel: (312) 306-8000, Fax: (312) 306-8995, 306-8965 or 306-8195.
A valid U.S. driver’s license is accepted in Turkey for a short-term visit up to 90 days. For stays up to one year, a U.S. driver’s license is valid as long as it is accompanied by a notarized Turkish translation. An International Driving Permit is accepted but must be accompanied by your U.S. driver’s license for stays up to 90 days. For stays of up to 1 year your U.S. driver’s license and a notarized Turkish translation are required.
To obtain a Turkish license, you will have to attend private driving lessons for 6 weeks before the final exam, which is administered in Turkish. On average, to obtain a Turkish driver’s license takes 8 weeks.
In Case of an Accident: For accidents involving only vehicular damage, the drivers may exchange insurance information and depart if both sides agree. New Turkish traffic rules do not require a call to the police in cases where no injury or death occurs, but instead require drivers to fill out a form and provide pictures of the car damage. As the form is in Turkish only, it is the best for non-Turkish speakers to call and wait for the police; otherwise, drivers may be held liable for the accident. If anybody has been injured or if there is disagreement about the accident, the drivers must remain at the traffic accident site, and are not to move their vehicle — even to move it out of the way — until the Traffic Police arrive. The accident should be reported to the Traffic Police (Tel: 154) or Jandarma (Tel. 156) and you should obtain a certified copy of the official report from the Traffic Police office. This can take up to several days to receive. The owner should also apply to the customs authority with his passport and accident report. If the vehicle can be repaired, it is necessary to inform the customs authority first and then take the vehicle to a garage. If the vehicle is not repairable and if the owner wishes to leave the country without his vehicle, he has to deliver it to the nearest customs office, and the registration of his vehicle on his passport will be cancelled. Only after this cancellation can the owner of the vehicle leave the country. When in doubt, it is best to call the Traffic Police or the Jandarma in the event of an accident.