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Istanbul Airport (IST) SIM Card Buying Guide

Istanbul – known for its mosques, culture & cuisines.

The city is also split into two by the Bosphorus (strait), resulting in the west side of Istanbul being part of continental Europe, while the east side is part of (Western) Asia.

The city is home to two airports: Istanbul Airport (IST – replaced the former Atatürk Airport) and Istanbul-Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW).

Buying a SIM Card at Istanbul - Sabiha Gökçen International Airport Guide

Most intercontinental flights arrive at Istanbul Airport.

Budget carriers, such as Air Arabia, AnadoluJet, FlyDubai, Jazeera Airlines, Pegasus Airlines (hub) & SalamAir, primarily use Istanbul-Sabiha Gökçen International Airport.

That is a general rule. British Airlines, Qatar Airways & Royal Air Maroc have flights to both airlines and are full-service carriers. Meanwhile, Air Arabia, FlyDubai, Flynas & Pegasus Airlines, which are budget airlines, have a flight or two to Istanbul Airport.

So when you book your flight to Istanbul Airport, be sure your destination is IST instead of SAW.

But even if you fly to Istanbul-Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, SIM cards are available, and I have written a SIM card buying guide for you already.

Buying a SIM Card at Istanbul - Sabiha Gökçen International Airport Guide

But in most cases, you will fly into Istanbul Airport, so you are at the right guide.

Istanbul Airport was the busiest airport in Europe in 2022, while also being the second-busiest airport in the Middle East (slightly behind Dubai International Airport – DXB).

Mostly because Istanbul is a popular transit and stopover destination due to Turkish Airways Airlines' use of the hub-and-spoke model.

Writing a list of all the cool things to do in Istanbul would require another blog post (or a dedicated Istanbul blog), so I will save you from that because you want to know what SIM card and eSIM options are available at the airport.

Anyway, which SIM cards are available at the airport?

You can get a Turkcell, Vodafone Turkey, or Türk Telekom SIM card for between 900 TRY (31 USD) and 10 900 TRY (375 USD).

Worry not; the 10 900 TRY SIM card is an outlier.

The three mobile operators sell SIM cards with reasonable allowances for between 900 TRY and 1100 TRY (37.80 USD).

Even then, be aware that you will pay up to 600% premiums when purchasing a Turkish SIM card at Istanbul Airport instead of Istanbul proper.

Yeah… crazy 😩.

Let's review all your options and see if getting a SIM card at Istanbul Airport is even worth it.

Original publication: 13th of December 2023. Last updated: 13th of December 2023.

Buying a SIM Card at Istanbul Airport Guide

Table of Contents

Mobile Operators in Turkey

Turkey has three mobile operators offering prepaid services easily accessible to travelers:

  • Turkcell
  • Vodafone Turkey
  • Türk Telekom
Cellular Connectivity Illustration by Phone Travel Wiz

Fortunately, the three mobile operators sell SIM cards at Istanbul Airport.

But you should know that SIM cards at the airport are highly overpriced.

Yes, airport SIM cards are almost always overpriced, but it is extra offensive at Istanbul Airport.

For example, a plan with 20 GB of data and 1000 local minutes costs 152 TRY (5.25 USD) in a Turkcell store, while it is sold for 1000 TRY (34.45 USD) at the airport – a premium of 558%.

Yeah… crazy 🤨.

Anyway, let's check out the offers.

Where to Buy a SIM Card at Istanbul Airport

Being added.

What SIM Cards & Plans Does Turkcell Sell at Istanbul Airport (+Prices)?

Turkcell Logo
© Turkcell

Turkcell is the largest mobile operator in Turkey.

It also has the best overall network.

Moreover, Turkcell has double the median download speed of Türk Telekom and triple that of Vodafone Turkey.

There are three places where you can get Turkcell SIM cards from.

The official Turkcell store, Netgsm & Vodafone… yes… really (I will explain later).

I will focus on the Turkcell store and Netgsm (reseller).

The other one, Vodafone, is a reseller selling Vodafone SIM cards (obviously), but also Turkcell's and Türk Telekom's.

You will find this Vodafone reseller in front of you after clearing customs (this could be on your left or right, depending on the exit door… baggage claim at Istanbul Airport is big!).

But you should ignore it anyway and turn left to go to the official Turkcell store or Netgsm.

Because the Vodafone store is hella overpriced – like ridiculously.

I took a photo of this booth, but it somehow vanished. Either way, you cannot miss it. You will understand when you finally arrive at Istanbul Airport 😜.

Once you turn left properly, you will see the Netgsm store first (but it is more recognizable as “Wifi Rentals Net GSM SIM Card”).

While some Netgsm can be up to 220 TRY (7.60 USD) cheaper than the Turkcell store, some plans can also be more expensive (up to 100 TRY/3.45 USD).

But that is not why I suggest you go to the Turkcell store.

Because many travelers will see Netgsm first, depending on their customs exit gate, many queue up here.

And getting a SIM card registered does take a few minutes.

Multiply this by numerous arrivals at every hour of the day; it can take ages before it is your turn.

Whereas many travelers do not walk a bit further up to see the Turkcell store (but you will see Türk Telekom and Vodafone Turkey first).

When I walked inside the Turkcell store, nobody else was there besides two staff members 🗿.

When inside, a salesperson will present two types of plans to you: combo and data-only.

Let's start with the Turkcell combo plans, of which four are available at Istanbul Airport:

PricePlanData 2Local MinutesLocal SMSValidity
1000 TRY 1Beginner (Tourist)20 GB200 minutesN/A28 days
1100 TRY50 GB50 GB1200 minutes100 SMS28 days
1400 TRY80 GB80 GB1200 minutes100 SMS28 days
1600 TRY105 GB105 GB1200 minutes100 SMS28 days

1 1100 TRY from Netgsm
2 +unlimited WhatsApp

The 1000 TRY Beginner SIM card is Turkcell's official tourist SIM card.

The image above also shows you the prices in USD and EUR.

Only pay in TRY or by card.

And if you pay by card, insist that you want to pay in TRY. However, all mobile operators charged me in TRY by default when I was at Istanbul airport. It may be the norm.

Because of the economic situation in Turkey (inflation), the USD and EUR prices are outdated (per currency exchange rates).

So you will be giving the mobile operators free money – which they do not deserve because the SIM cards at Istanbul Airport are already overpriced 😒.

Next, we have the Turkcell data-only SIM cards (which Netgsm sells plenty of, too):

PriceData 2Validity
930 TRY12 GB28 days
1000 TRY25 GB28 days
1120 TRY 150 GB28 days
1180 TRY 1100 GB28 days
1500 TRY 1200 GB28 days

1 for 1100 TRY/1400 TRY/1600 TRY from Netgsm, respectively
2 +unlimited WhatsApp

However, after I paid for my SIM card and was waiting for the registration process to conclude, I found a small piece of paper with another set of plans.

These plans are significantly cheaper than the ones I was shown at the beginning… for a reason, I guess 🥲.

Turkcell refers to them as Recharge Offers/Paket Yükleme, and you have these 11 options:

PriceDataLocal SMSValidity
180 TRY2 GB500 SMS28 days
200 TRY4 GB500 SMS28 days
225 TRY8 GB500 SMS28 days
250 TRY12 GB500 SMS28 days
280 TRY16 GB500 SMS28 days
310 TRY20 GB500 SMS28 days
340 TRY24 GB500 SMS28 days
410 TRY34 GB500 SMS28 days
550 TRY50 GB500 SMS28 days
730 TRY35 GB500 SMS6 months
1000 TRY70 GB500 SMS1 year

Honestly, these plans are fantastic for those who do not need a lot of data.

And even if you need 20 GB of data, the plans above are 700 TRY (24.10 USD) cheaper than the 20 GB tourist variant I mentioned earlier.

If only I knew on time 🥲

Anyway, I bought the 25 GB Data SIM card (1000 TRY).

Before getting my SIM card, I had to hand over my passport, per Turkey's SIM card registration laws.

SIM Card Registration Worldwide Tool by Phone Travel Wiz

Unlike with some SIM cards, it worked as soon as I inserted it into my phone.

And that was it – that is how I got my Turkcell SIM card at Istanbul Airport.

One thing the Turkcell store at the airport cannot do for you is give you Turkcell eSIMs (even though they are available).

Fortunately, travel eSIMs for Turkey are available for reasonable prices.

Even unlimited data options are available.

Another perk with them is that you do not have to deal with Turkey's SIM card registration.

SIM Card Registration Worldwide Tool by Phone Travel Wiz

I write about the best travel eSIMs for Turkey in my Best Turkey eSIM buying guide.

Buying an eSIM for Turkey Guide (logos of Holafly, Nomad, Eurolink, Discover+, Merhaba, Alosim & Airalo)

I even tried many of them extensively for my Turkish eSIM review series.

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What SIM Cards & Plans Does Vodafone Turkey Sell at Istanbul Airport (+Prices)?

Vodafone Logo
© Vodafone

Being written.

What SIM Cards & Plans Does Türk Telekom Sell at Istanbul Airport (+Prices)?

Türk Telekom
© Türk Telekom

Being written.