When choosing a pre-paid SIM card for travel in Turkey, tourists must first know how and where the best places are to buy one. Operator pricing, network coverage, top-up, and roaming features also must factor in your decision-making.
The SIM activation period for short-term visitors also has a different process than that for permanent residents and is something you need to be aware of if you plan to stay in Turkey for more than 90 days.
All three have stores across Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya as well as all the other main tourist destinations. You can also find stores at the main international and domestic airport terminals so you can buy a SIM as soon as you arrive in the country.
There are other mobile stores, but it’s best to deal directly with one of the three main operators to avoid additional, third-party commission charges.
Turkcell is the largest and most reliable mobile network coverage in Turkey. It provides the best coverage across the country and is the most reliable option if you plan to travel outside the major cities. Turkcell offers a special option for tourists called the Tourist Welcome Pack.
For 149 TL (roughly $22) you get a SIM card, 20GB of data, 200 minutes of local calls, and unlimited texts, all valid for 30 days.
The second-largest provider is Vodafone Turkiye. Although Vodafone Turkiye is part of the International Vodafone Group, it’s an entirely separate network. That means even if you are a Vodafone customer in the UK, you will still need to purchase a new SIM unless you are happy with your international roaming rates. Vodafone Turkiye also offers a special package for tourists.
You can buy the Holiday Plan for 80 TL ($11), giving you 20GB of data, 750 minutes worth of calls in Turkey, and 1000 local text messages, all valid for 30 days.
Turk Telekom is the smallest provider of the three, and their network coverage is not as comprehensive. Outside of the major cities, coverage can be pretty patchy. Unlike Turkcell and Vodafone, Turk Telekom does not offer a specific tourist option. Instead, you’ll need to buy a regular prepaid SIM card and then a one-month bundle service.
A SIM will cost 150 TL ($22), and you can pick up a basic bundle for 23 TL ($3) a month. If you’re only in the country short term, it will cost you $25 for the first month, but if you are staying longer, you’ll just buy a new bundle each month, so ongoing costs are low.
Overall, the level of mobile coverage and service in Turkey is good and reliable. Turks love their internet and SIM cards are big business. You’ll get 4G at all major tourist destinations, and while there is still no 5G network in Turkey, it is expected to be up and running in the 2nd half of 2021.
Outside of major tourist hubs, 4G is harder to find. Given the size of the country, complete coverage just isn’t feasible. However, Turkcell offers the largest 4G network and is the best option if you plan to travel around the country and visit some more rural areas.
Turk Telecom is only worth considering if you stay in the major tourist areas due to its limited network.
The internet speed in Turkey, is decent. You can expect an average mobile internet speed of 30 Mbps. This puts Turkey at 33rd place on the World rankings.
How To Buy
We recommended you purchase a SIM directly from a Turkcell, Vodafone, or Turk Telekom store to avoid overpaying or experiencing connection problems. To buy a SIM, you will need your passport along with a copy of your Tourist Visa (if applicable).
It’s straightforward to find a telecom store in Turkey. Wherever there is a tourist attraction or shopping district you’ll easily spot the stores. Turkcell, Vodafone, and Turk Telekom stores are easy to spot with their large signage. You’ll also find their logos at third-party resellers but be careful as these stores often add extra commission to the purchase price.
Outside of large tourist areas, you might struggle to find sales staff that speak good English, so it’s useful to know some Turkish phrases relating to mobile phones. For example, DK is short for dakika, which is the Turkish word for minute.
If you want to purchase a SIM card as soon as you arrive in Turkey, you can do so in the arrival halls at IST New Istanbul Airport or SAW Sabiha Gocken. They are convenient, and the sales staff usually speak excellent English, but you’ll pay more than purchasing from a store here than in the city.
Unfortunately, you can’t purchase pre-paid SIM cards for travelers online in Turkey. You can only buy the special tourist deals in person. However, you can check out and compare prices online, as well as review the terms and conditions. Just use Google Translate as the sites are only in Turkish.
Once you own a Turkish SIM card, you can purchase top-ups easily. Wherever you see your mobile provider’s logo in a store, you should be able to buy a top-up. It’s standard practice for a vendor to add a processing fee to your top-up (Kontor) purchase.
The fee is minimal and perfectly legal. For example, Turkcell might advertise a top-up for 20 TL but when you buy the top-up, the store charges 22 TL.
It’s worth noting that Turkey’s tourist SIM cards are only valid for a maximum of 3 months. If you intend to be in the country longer, you will need a standard SIM card. To get a standard SIM, you’ll need a residence permit.
If you purchase a SIM and register your residence permit, you’ll be able to use the SIM indefinitely as long as you keep it topped up. Any SIM that goes unused for six months will be automatically canceled.
Short Term Visitors
Tourists and short-term business visitors don’t need to register their mobile phones, even if they purchase a Turkish SIM. You’ll be able to access the Turkish network with your existing mobile for up to 90 days. If you continue to use your current mobile and SIM card on roaming, you also won’t have to register your mobile phone.
If you plan to stay in Turkey beyond 90 days, you will need to register your phone for use on the Turkish network. Registration costs 1500 TL (approx $215), and you’ll need to register within 90 days of entering the country.
The process is simple. First, find out the IMEI number of your smartphone by dialing *#06#. Once you have the IMEI number, visit the nearest tax office (Vergi Ofisi) to register and pay the required fee. The tax office will issue you with a mobile phone registration certificate to take to one of your mobile provider’s stores to complete the registration process.