Turkey is a popular travel destination for many in Europe, but also for those from the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey has many beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine, and many activities are cheap. Turkey is certainly a destination you should visit at least once, I would say.
What is not cheap, however, is to roam with your provider. Roaming can be expensive in Turkey, which is why seasoned travelers prefer to buy a Turkish SIM card. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Turkey. Let's go.
Telecom Providers in Turkey
Turkey has 3 telecom providers: Turkcell, Vodafone Turkey, and Türk Telekom. Turkcell has the most subscribers with more than 35 million customers. Vodafone Turkey is following Turkcell with more than 25 million subscribers. Türk Telekom is, with around 20 million subscribers, the smallest operator in Turkey. Turkcell has the best coverage in the country, followed by Vodafone and Türk Telekom.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Turkey? If you want to buy a SIM card in Turkey, I would recommend going with Turkcell, mainly because they have the best coverage in Turkey. Vodafone can be an option if you are staying in the cities.
You should not buy a SIM card at airports unless you like giving money away for free. The prices at the airport are highly inflated for no reason. You will find many stores that will sell you SIM card, including official stores and vendors. SIM cards are sold for 150 TRY ($25.20), but you can negotiate the price. That is why it is good to know the average sale price so that you do not get scammed by a vendor.
As of 2015, all phones have to be registered with the authorities when using a Turkish SIM card within 120 days. Otherwise, your phone’s IMEI will be blocked. The registration fee is 1500 TRY ($255), which is insanely high. When I was in Turkey many years ago, this rule did not exist, so I did not have to deal with this mess.
This rule does not apply to those who are roaming with their provider or those who stay in Turkey for less than 120 days. Do note that if you ever wish to use a Turkish SIM card after those 120 days, you would need to bring another phone with you or roam with your provider. Your phone’s IMEI is unique and will be blocked if it has not been registered.
To not deal with this mess, you can also get an international SIM card that covers Turkey SimOptions sells a TrueMove H Smart Traveler+ from $39.90. It comes with 6 GB for 15 days. It gets shipped to your home address so that you can be connected as soon as you arrive in Turkey.
Unlike other countries in the Middle East, internet censorship is not so prevalent in Turkey. However, some sites, like Wikipedia, get blocked at times. The same counts for individual apps. If you are roaming with your provider, you will not face this censorship.
Either way, I would strongly urge you to use a VPN in Turkey so that you can browse the web without interruption or being watched by the authorities. I use NordVPN because I get high speeds with their servers and stay fully anonymous when browsing the web. They have around 5500 servers in 59 countries. They have servers in Turkey, many countries in Europe, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates (there are many more, but these are the closest to Iran). You can get up to 70% off your NordVPN subscription if you get yours today!
Lastly, this is important for those with a European Union SIM card: Turkey is not part of the EU or EEA, which means that the Roam like Home rule does not apply in Turkey. Therefore, it is recommended that European citizens with EU SIM cards buy a Turkish SIM card instead of roaming with their providers. Many providers, however, offer free roaming in Turkey, but this is not the case for all. Be sure to check your provider’s site to learn whether you can roam for free or not.
With that out of the way, let’s see what Turkey has to offer to us.
Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!
Turkcell is the operator with the best coverage in Turkey. Its 3G network covers more than 95% of the population, and 4G/LTE is still being developed throughout the country. 4G/LTE can be used when using a prepaid SIM card. Turkcell SIM cards are sold around 150 TRY.
The following Turkcell monthly packages can be added:
- 15 TRY: 1 GB (for 7 days)
- 25 TRY: 1 GB
- 30 TRY: 2 GB
- 40 TRY: 4 GB
- 50 TRY: 6 GB
- 60 TRY: 8 GB
You can also buy a Turkcell tourist SIM card called Tourist Welcome Pack. It is sold for 250 TRY and comes with 20 GB, 300 minutes, and unlimited WhatsApp use for 30 days – not a bad deal at all.
Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog to be notified when there are cheap flights to Turkey from your preferred airport. It is free!
Vodafone Turkey, just Vodafone, is the second-largest operator in Turkey and has the second-best coverage. Vodafone SIM cards are sold for around 150 TRY, although most shops will try to sell you the Vodafone Holiday line, which is their tourist SIM card (to be discussed later).
The following Vodafone monthly combo packs, called SüperNet, can be added. They come with 250 minutes and SMS:
- 25 TRY: 2 GB
- 25 TRY: 7 GB (for new customers only)
- 30 TRY: 4 GB
- 35 TRY: 6 GB
Vodafone Freezone is targeted to the youth that are younger than 26 years old. The plans come with 750 minutes and free WhatsApp usage. “Older folks” can still get these plans, but you will get less data when you are considered to be old. The data allowance listed first (before the or) are for the old folks, while the allowance after the or are for the youngsters. All plans are valid for a month:
- 22 TRY: 2 GB or 4 GB
- 35 TRY: 5 GB or 10 GB
- 43 TRY: 7 GB or 14 GB
All plans come with the Video-, social-, and music passes, which can be bought separately. They offer unlimited usage for select apps:
- Social Pass: 10 TRY weekly or 20 TRY monthly for Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
- Video Pass: 15 TRY weekly or 29 TRY monthly for YouTube
- Music Pass: 10 TRY monthly for Spotify
- Chat Pass: 5 TRY weekly or 10 TRY monthly for Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp
The Vodafone tourist SIM card, known as Vodafone Happy Line, is sold for 200 TRY and comes with 20 GB, 750 minutes, and 1000 SMS for 30 days. For some reason, citizens from the following countries are not allowed to buy this SIM card:
Check out SimOptions' Turkey SIM card, starting from $39.90!
Türk Telekom, previously known as Avea, is the smallest operator in terms of subscribers and nationwide coverage. Speeds are good in the cities and OK in rural Turkey. A Türk Telekom SIM card is sold from 150 TRY and comes with 10 GB and 750 minutes. Although the “worst” Turkish provider, they have the cheapest rates.
Türk Telekom sells combi packs, which all come with 750 minutes and 1000 SMS together with the data allowance you choose. The plans are valid for a month:
- 23 TRY: 4 GB
- 27 TRY: 7 GB
- 32 TRY: 10 GB
You can also add Türk Telekom data packs. A handful of them are listed below:
- 1.90 TRY: 100 MB for 1 day
- 6 TRY: 1 GB for 1 day
- 9 TRY: 1 GB for 7 days
- 19 TRY: 500 MB for 30 days
- 19 TRY: 1 GB for 30 days
- 25 TRY: 10 GB for 7 days
- 35 TRY: 10 GB for 90 days
- 39 TRY: 2 GB for 30 days
- 55 TRY: 5 GB for 30 days
- 59 TRY: 6 GB for 30 days
Looking for cheap flights and want to explore a city for a day or two? Add cheap stopovers with Airwander – the best flight search engine for finding stopovers.
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Turkey
I have discussed the relevant providers in Turkey in this article because using a Turkish SIM card would be much cheaper than roaming with your provider… in most cases. However, buying a local SIM card is not the only way to stay connected in Turkey. You can buy an international SIM card, use a mobile hotspot, or use free WIFI connections. Below, I will discuss the alternative options to use your phone in Turkey.
Roaming in Turkey with Your Provider
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is STC from Saudi Arabia, then you would be roaming with STC in Turkey.
The issue with roaming is that it can be expensive. There have been many horror stories where people had to pay thousands in roaming fees when coming back from their holidays, which is just a shame, in my opinion. However, roaming does not always have to be expensive, especially when visiting a neighboring country.
Many providers offer roaming plans. Some allow you to roam for free in Turkey, while others would offer you a roaming bundle with a set number of minutes, SMS, and data. Finally, several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee.
As you can see, there are many options out there, so be sure to explore the roaming options your provider has. Conveniently for you, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers (and many more to come) and discussed everything you need to know about roaming with your provider. If you are lucky, you may not even have to buy a SIM card in Turkey and can roam for free there.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
One thing I would not recommend doing is to Roam As You Go. Just like prepaid cards where you can buy bundles or Pay As You Go (as in, charged per minute, SMS, or MB), Roaming As You Go can be insanely expensive (that is how people get expensive roaming bills). So far, there are a handful of providers I have reviewed that offer affordable Roam As You Go rates. But generally, avoid it. Get a roaming plan if you can or buy a SIM in Turkey.
Using an International SIM Card in Turkey
International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.
The number of international SIM card providers is too many to count, but international SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. A few providers I know are OneSimCard and SimOptions.
They allow people to call you at one number instead of five in case you are exploring multiple countries in one trip. Moreover, you do not have to deal with multiple SIM cards you will never use again. In short, international SIM cards have been made for the international traveler in mind.
Although this sounds fabulous, international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Turkey. Some international SIM card providers charge ridiculous fees (sometimes, even more than roaming with your provider), while others offer awful service. It is, therefore, important to go with a reputable company so that you do not have to deal with surprised when traveling around the world.
On the other hand, international SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Many countries in the Middle East require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.
Using Portable Hotspots (Pocket WIFI) in Turkey
Portable hotspots, also referred to mobile hotspots or pocket WIFI, are routers small enough to bring with you everywhere you go. They are portable, battery-powered wireless routers that allow you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.
Just like with the number of international SIM card providers, there are so many mobile hotspots out there that it is challenging to keep track of them all. Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
The first time I used a portable hotspot was when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, with my dad. He uses the Dutch telecom provider called KPN, which does not let you roam for free in Thailand. I was with 3 Denmark (3 Danmark), which also did not allow me to roam for free. The router was offered for free by our Airbnb host. Let me tell you how convenient that thing was!
I do not remember the exact brand router we used, but we could connect our phones to it, explore Bangkok, and upload highlights of our trip on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp without the need of connecting to unsecure and slow connections in Thailand.
That is why I often recommend those who are traveling in groups or with families to consider getting a pocket WIFI device so that each individual does not need to buy a local SIM card and data packages. In some countries, the cost of getting a local SIM card or packages is so low that it is not even worth getting a mobile hotspot. In others, it could save you money.
I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.
Connecting to Free WIFI Networks in Turkey
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Turkey, which is using free WIFI networks.
Using WIFI networks should not cost you any money (unless you are connecting to premium hotspots), which is why it is a popular option for travelers. Go to a local café, buy a coffee, connect to their WIFI, and post your pictures to Facebook or Instagram. Straightforward, right? Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.
First, you need to find hotspots. In some regions, they are readily available. In others, you cannot find any, require you to give your personal details (for commercial purposes), are restricted for those who are a subscriber of an operator’s, or are so slow that you wished you never connected to them.
In the case of Turkey, you can find many hotspots around the country, although some of them are slow.
Public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now or learn more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Turkey
Getting a SIM card from Turkcell would do you well when considering an Turkish SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other countries in the Middle East? Check out my Middle Eastern SIM card buying guide, covering other Middle Eastern countries, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
What is next?
Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!
Book Your Flight for Turkey
It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Turkey. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Turkey drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Turkey
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Turkey. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Turkish hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Turkey
You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Turkey, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.
Get a Travel Debit Card
Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to Turkish Lira for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.
Enjoy your trip!