Buying a Turkey SIM Card in Istanbul (Plans + Insider Advice)

Last Updated on September 6, 2021

If you’re moving or traveling to Istanbul for a medium to long length of time, getting a Turkey SIM Card and phone number is an essential thing. And if you are into buying a Turkey SIM Card on your visit to Istanbul, than you can read our guide and recommendations.


Do I need a Turkey SIM Card for short term?

We recommend this if you strongly will need to make and receive calls and have internet access during your trip to Istanbul, and will stay at least 1 week, 10 days or more. If you think you will not make so much calls, only need Internet/WiFi, than you can read our How to get WiFi in Istanbul? guide.

The good thing is that SIM cards are generally not too expensive depending on how much data you will use and how long you will stay. And they offer good coverage.

The bad thing is that you’ll need to spend time and big effort to choose the best deal, high charges if you exceed data, and possible troubles with the GSM companies.

We also recommend you to make sure if your phone is unlocked and will work with Sim cards from any carriers, before your trip. You can check this with your GSM provider. Also note that all foreign phones will stop working after 120 days that they are first used in Turkey. You can continue using only after you pay a registration fee.

Finally we can say that there are two good options for travelers when buying a Turkey SIM card in Istanbul: Pay-as-you-go or Prepaid Turkish SIM cards. We’ll guide you on these two options below, but first lets talk about the Turkish GSM operators.


Turkey’s GSM Operators

Buying a Turkey SIM Card in Istanbul (Plans + Insider Advice)There are only three GSM providers in Turkey that can set you up with a SIM card and data plan. And these include Vodafone, Turkcell and Turk Telekom. All the operators mostly have a good coverage and speed for Istanbul.

They all offer a variety of plans, but kind of a little bit more expensive than the similar to those found elsewhere in Europe. Vodafone and Turkcell competes, while Turk Telekom is a smaller company by means of number of customers and infrastructure.

And, according to Turkish law, all SIM cards have to be registered, and can only be purchased with a valid passport. They all offer plans with different amounts of data use.

Which is better value: Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) or Prepaid?

Pay-as-you-go Plans

Pay-as-you-go plans refer to prepaid plans with consumable minutes instead of a non-contract service plan. You purchase minutes and top up as necessary. You need to top up your plan in certain amount of time, which is 180 days for Turkey.

PAYG Good For

  • When traveling to other countries where you only need it for a short period of time.
  • Looking for the cheapest option
  • If you only want to use your phone just for emergencies.

PAYG Disadvantages

  • The pay-as-you-go model is not designed for heavy phone users.
  • It is likely to be more expensive if you use your phone every day.
  • You will get very very less calling and no data/internet usage.
  • You’ll need to keep track of your minutes.

Prepaid Plans

Prepaid plans charge you a set amount of money monthly for a specific amount of talk, SMS and data/internet. They do not require a contract (you will need to make a contact in Turkey, just by your valid passport) and you only pay for what you get in advance. If you finish your quota, the phone becomes disconnected from service.

Prepaid Good For

  • When traveling to other countries where you only need it for a short or medium period of time.
  • If you are a heavy phone user including internet/data
  • Looking for an option including internet/data usage

Prepaid Disadvantages

  • The prepaid model is not designed for very less phone users.
  • You may get higher per-minute costs when used excessively.
  • You’ll need to keep track of your minutes and data.

1. Pay-as-you-go SIM Cards in Istanbul

This is the most practical option. You’ll just asked for a valid passport for contracts. Pay-as-you-go cards can be purchased from any GSM operators’ shop in the city. It would take about 2-3 days to get activated.

With this pay-as-you-go option, you can make and receive calls for 180 days, starting from the day you top up your number. If you don’t add money to your account within this period, than a 90-day period (Semi-Active Period) will start. And you can receive calls, but you can’t make calls, even if you have credits. So you need to top up your line every 180 days.


1.1. What you will get?

Please check turkcell.com.tr and vodafone.com.tr for Packages and Tariffs FAQ

If you need to use data/internet, you will need to buy internet packages. And if so, we recommend you go further with Prepaid SIM Cards. (see below)

1.2. How long can I use my minutes in my package?

You can use your minutes until the end of your period.

1.3. Where you can top?

You can top up your SIM card from the official GSM stores, Post Offices, or online by your credit card. Foreign bank credit cards can only be used if your credit card supports 3D secure application.

Top Up Online

* For Vodafone (called “Cep Lira Yükleme” meaning “load Liras”) visit; vodafone.com.tr

* For Turkcell (called “TL/Paket Yükle” meaning “load TL/Package”) visit; turkcell.com.tr

1.4. How can I find out how much credit left and when I need to make a top up?

* You can see your remaining credit by dialing *123# from your mobile phone.
* You can see your usage periods by dialing *166*5# from your mobile phone.

2. Prepaid SIM Card Deals for Tourists

What you will get and how much will it cost?

Turkcell

Turkcell currently offers Tourist Welcome Pack for travelers, and you will have 20 GB internet, 200 minutes calls, unlimited messaging via Whatsapp. The price is 169 TRY, valid for 30 days. You’ll need paperwork and registration process with your passport/ID.

You can reach Turkcell Customer Services by dialing +90 532 532 00 00


Please cross check the prices and details from turkcell.com.tr/en/ as they change frequently due to competition.

Vodafone

Vodafone currently offers Tourist Exclusive Pack for travelers, and you will have 20 GB internet, 750 minutes calls, 1000 SMS. The price is 40 TRY, valid for 28 days. You’ll need paperwork and registration process with your passport/ID.

You can reach Vodafone Customer Services by dialing +90 542 542 00 00

Please cross check the prices and details from vodafone.com.tr as they change frequently due to competition.

Where can I buy both Turkey SIM Cards?

You can purchase both Pay-as-you-go and Prepaid Turkey SIM cards from the Turkish GSM Operators’ official stores located at the Istanbul Airports on arrival floors, the major transport stations, major streets and neighborhoods of Istanbul.

As the stores at the Istanbul Airports are dedicated to tourists, you may find lots of information about the deals in big letters/posters, or negotiate with the store sellers that will definitely speak good English. So that you won’t need to spend a lot of time with finding the right shop (city shops are mostly dedicated for locals) that have enough offers shown for tourists and store sellers that speak good English.

On the other hand, the tourist packages at the airports may cost more than the standard local rates in the downtown. If you have a local friend, or have enough skills and power to make negotiations with the store sellers, you can try purchasing your Prepaid Turkey SIM card with the best package that suits your needs in the downtown.

Our Recommendation

* If you want to buy any of the SIM card of the Turkish GSM Operators, please check the tariffs from their websites (see below) or from our given details about the recommended tariffs below, before you leave for Istanbul, and if you see a big difference with the prices offered at the airport, than don’t buy from the airport.

Summary of All

* If you will stay in Istanbul for at least 1 week, 10 days or more, and need to make and receive local calls, than you can buy Turkey SIM cards.

* If you want to use your phone only for emergency calls, than we recommend Pay-as-you-go (the cheapest option but only for calls, no data/internet).

* If you are a heavy phone user (calls, SMS, internet/data), we recommend the Prepaid SIM Card (price is per month) plan.

* There is also pocket Wifi/mobile hotspot rental services you can try. So that you won’t need to buy GSM line if you only need Internet and make phone calls via WhatsApp, etc.

* We recommend you to check Turkey’s GSM Operators’ web sites for the latest short term offers for tourists, wrote them down before you arrive Turkey, and compare the prices and offers at their stands at the New Istanbul Airport (IST) or Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW). If you feel like rates at the airport are expensive, than we recommend you to get to the city center, find their local stores and buy Turkey SIM card there.

* About GSM Companies for Istanbul, you can get about the same quality of service from all 3 GSM operators. We recommend you to catch the best deal. But, if you will stay longer and also travel around Turkey, than you we can recommend Vodafone or Turkcell.




20 COMMENTS

  1. This post is not updated and we lost 30min in queue to find out what the comments already said.

    I think it’s very bad of Istanbeautiful to not mention the sim card prices. The “Vodafone offer” is not valid. Please don’t just mention the official website.

    • Hi Duc, thank you. Your comment is really crazy. You say you are unable to find pricing and what to do with the WORLD BRAND !!! Vodafone, and I am the one to blame?!!!

      The page’s title is “Plans + Insider Advice”, which means I am telling the possible useful plans and giving my advice. GSM operators even change pricing vert frequently and it is not my business. Please be more respectful and make your complaints to Vodafone or other GSM company’s customer service or whatever. Also bear in mind that this is travel blog and we are not obliged to tell every details of the World Brands’ or any other big companies’ failure in giving information to their visitors on their own website.

      Please write Vodafone Turkey or Vodafone Headquarters telling that you are unable to find any updated plus good information information in English on Turkey’s Vodafone website. Also tell that majority of the people in the Vodafone shops in Turkey don’t speak English and we are as tourist are really very disappointed …

  2. Good evening

    I came to Istanbul about a month ago. When I reached the airport I bought a telephone package from your office at the arrival point. I bought 2 two Sim cards for my wife and myself, and were given the following numbers:

    1. +90 534 436 26 ** – 2. +90 534 435 01 **

    Complaint : In summary I would like to file a complaint against the bad and annoying services provided by your company. When we exhausted the data (GBs) we bought, my friend and I went many times to your offices in Turium Mall and Marmara Park Mall, we asked to topup.

    Unfortunately, we noticed that your staff provide normal services to the Turkish customers, but once we as Arabs reach our turn, and ask for topup, your staff immediately say the following :

    1.”system down” or “system yuk”
    2. I cannot help you
    3.Go to Carrefour and get service or go snother Turksel office

    Furthermore, most of your staff do not speak English or may be pretend not to speak English, in order to avoid serving us!!!!! We don’t believe that they are telling the truth. We believe that they don’t want to serve us for unknown reasons.!!!

    We could not believe that this happens to us in such a country which promotes tourist to visit their country and invite foreign investors to make investments. If you need any further information please call me on: 0534 436 26 **

    Best regards, Abdulrahman From Bahrain

    • Hi Abdulrahman, thank you. First of all, please don’t say “your company” or “your GSM”, because this is a travel blog and we are not selling GSM here and not a partner of the GSM companies. We are only a travel blog trying to give advice and show the current situation. GSM companies are world brands and if you are unhappy, than you should call them make your complaints. I can only say sorry for what you had.

  3. I bought a chip from turk telecom about 3 months ago, but im leaving turkey now. Do i need to go personally and cancel my phone number or after 180 days it will automatically go inactive????

  4. I too was quoted 200 TL for the initial sim card purchase, in 4 different official Vodafone shops. The 40-60 TL offers are available to you only after having purchased the sim card. The sim card comes with a 1 month option built-in (20 GB internet). I bought the sim card because i was short on time, but the misleading offers left a sour taste.

  5. Hi. I bought a Vodafone TR prepaid SIM about 9 months ago. I tryed to find out if its still active and i can’t find ouț. Can you help me?

    • Hi Alexandru, sorry for the problem you had. Actually I don’t know what to say about all the problems people have globally with the GSM operators :(

      https://www.vodafone.com.tr/en/roam-with-vodafone.php this is the customer satisfaction policy. You can can dial 542 or (+90 542) 542 00 00 to reach the Vodafone Call Center 24 hours/7 days. As Vodafone is a global brand, you can also ask for your complaints about them in your own country too I guess

  6. Well, reading the comments leads to a single conclusion, which is both the data of the article and in the links of the telecom provider are not correct,, or lets say not updated!!!!!
    So, what is It for??
    What is the benefit any traveller can have out of wrong infornation?
    It is only misleading.
    Kindly update the data, or remove It at all.

    • The data in the content is correct, the prices may have been changing time to time as there is a competition between the GSM operators. The page is a guide about which can be better for you. This is not a page telling about the up-to-date prices. And I did give the official links for the packages and prices for your cross check. Don’t be lazy to check the official links and don’t be rude as well. There is the update day on the top of the page. And there is also close X tab for the explorer, you can quit and go away immediately.

  7. Hi there,

    I’m a bit confused with the two plans you introduced here! But, here is my situation and I would appreciate if you could help.

    I bought a BimCell sim card last year and each month I used to go to a BIM store and pay for a phone and internet package. It was OK for the first few months, but then as I did not use the telephone to call anyone, it went to a semi active mode; I was still able to use the internet and receive calls but could not call anyone. Now, I think it is completely inactive. I received a message today indicating that I owe 3,150 tl as a wireless usage fee to the government!!

    I do not understand why am I getting this much charged for not even being able to use the damn phone for the past 6 months!

    Have you any idea what I should do?

    Thanks,
    Faye

    • Hi Faye, sorry that you had such a disappointing experience. Well personally I would not prefer GSM services operated by side companies like supermarket chain stores, postal services etc. For BimCell, I didn’t introduced them here as I by myself have no such experience and idea with their services. About your problem, what I know is that when your package is inactive for a specific time period, your card and line should be closed and the contract should be automatically cancelled. And I recommend you to call and their customer service from 4444551

      I checked BimCell website (Turkish unfortunately) and it says below;

      The details of Active Duration and Inactive Duration determined according to the last load date are as follows;

      Active Duration (184 days): From your last load date, your line will be open for both making and receiving calls for 184 days. If you have not reloaded after 184 days, your line will be closed to outside calls and the 92-day inactive period will begin.

      Passive Period (92 days): During the passive period, your line is closed to outside calls, you can only receive calls from your line. In order to make calls again, you need to load.

      If you do not load your line until the end of the passive period, your line will be closed completely and your Contract Agreement for the line will be cancelled.

  8. Lies. Its 200 liras for a sim, from any company. I checked with 7 shops AND the corporate stores. If 95+tax equals 200, then just say so. A lie by omission is still a lie.

    • Hi James, thank you for your disrespectful comment. Here I am not selling any GSM SIM card or whatever. I did give details about what you’d get. You should check the page’s last updated day as the prices may have changed. I am also giving the official links of the GSM operators to let you cross check about all. Here I give idea, you should definitely buy your SIM card or whatever from official local shops.

    • Lies? Seriously?
      The guy is only showing useful information about Istanbul and tourists SIM cards with links from the companies websites.
      I contacted Vodafone recently and their offer (₺40) is no longer available, but they are still publishing it on their website.

  9. This article isn’t accurate. I’m in Turkey now and it is impossible to buy just the sim card without activating an expensive plan. Vodafone quoted me 180 lira for a sim card with no plan on it. They want you to buy a plan, so they make it difficult to just buy the card alone.

    • Hi Fatima, there is a competition between 3 main GSM operators in Turkey and the prices, packages and tariffs change very frequently. I did give the official links of the GSM operators so you should cross check. And note that the prices can be higher on local shops.

  10. Bought the TURISTCELL, thank you for your personal delivery to the airport, 1000 min international calls was enough so as 15gb 4g internet, and every where Good connection, we post everything live to or friend’s and families throw Instagram and WhatsApp. We used the unlimbered local calls for our driver, hotel etc. I just can recommend it.

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