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
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 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.
- 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 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
- 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?
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 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 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.
* 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.
- https://www.vodafone.com.tr/Tarifeler/tourist-pack.php (see Rudiments)
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.