View at sunset over a mosque and minarets in Istanbul, Turkey

Buying a SIM Card or eSIM in Turkey (Türkiye)

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Jammed between Europe and Asia, Turkey has a culture and a vibe all its own. Large and diverse, the country offers a huge amount to travelers no matter where their interests lie.

Whether you’re exploring the stunning Aya Sofya or Blue Mosque in Istanbul, flying over Cappadocia’s remarkable caves and rock formations in a hot-air balloon, or simply relaxing at one of the country’s many Mediterranean resorts, your biggest problem will be fitting in everything you want to see and do!

While Turkey isn’t a particularly expensive place to travel in, you can’t necessarily say the same about staying connected as a tourist. Getting set up with a Turkish prepaid SIM card often isn’t cheap, especially because few vendors are prepared to sell them at the “official” price to foreigners.

As a result, I recommend buying a Turkey eSIM (discussed below) instead, so long as your device supports it and you don’t need a local phone number.

Once you’re set up, coverage is good and data speeds are reasonable, at least in the towns and cities. Here’s everything you need to know about buying a local prepaid SIM as a tourist in Turkey.

Companies

  • I recommend Turkcell for most travelers who want a physical SIM
  • An eSIM from aloSIM is the best option if you only need data

There are three mobile operators in Turkey: Turkcell, Vodafone, and Türk Telekom.

Turkcell has the greatest coverage and most customers, and is the best option for most visitors to Turkey. It’s the company I chose to go with.

Vodafone sits in second place in terms of both coverage and subscribers. It’s a reasonable alternative if you need vast amounts of data, as it offers larger prepaid data package options than Turkcell.

Türk Telekom is the smallest operator, with the least coverage outside the major towns and cities. There’s no particular reason for travelers to go with it, unless you plan to only visit larger centres and happen to come across a particularly good price.

Note that all foreign phones will stop working 120 days after they’re first used in Turkey, unless you visit a tax office and pay a significant fee to register them. This won’t affect the vast majority of short-term visitors, but is something to bear in mind if you plan to return with the same device in the future.

It’s technically the IMEI that gets blocked, which is allocated per SIM card slot. If you have a dual-SIM phone, you can get around the problem by switching your SIM to the other slot after 120 days. You’ll otherwise need to use a different phone, or buy and use an unlocked mobile hotspot, on your next trip.

Travel eSIM for Turkey

If you only need data, travel eSIMs tend to be cheaper than a physical local SIM. Of the companies I’ve used and would recommend, aloSIM usually has the best pricing for smaller amounts of data in Turkey, and Nomad for larger data packs.

They’re a lot less hassle to buy and install as well: you can do it in a few minutes before you leave home, and be ready to go as soon as you arrive. Put it this way, I’ll be using one next time I visit Turkey instead of dealing with pushy vendors!

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Turkey

All three operators have stores in the arrivals lounge at both of Istanbul’s airports (the new Istanbul Airport, and the more distant Sabiha Gocken,) so you don’t have to even set foot in the country without coverage.

This convenience doesn’t come for free, however, with operators charging dramatically higher prices at airports than elsewhere. You’ll be pushed towards each company’s tourist SIM card packages, which cost much more than the standard local rates.

Even outside the airport, though, you may find vendors are unwilling to sell you any prepaid SIM packs except those aimed at tourists. Unless you speak Turkish, expect a fairly high registration fee to be tacked on as well.

You will need to show your passport to sign up for any plan. The salesperson (who is likely to speak decent English, as all the ones I chatted with did) will fill out the paperwork for you on the spot.

They’ll also install the SIM card in your phone for you if necessary.

Prepaid SIM and eSIM Costs

Turkcell prices at IST, May 2019

Note that due to high inflation in Turkey, the prices of SIM cards (and everything else) are changing all the time. As a result, the prices and exchange rates from my last trip will almost certainly not match what you see when you arrive. Check before you purchase!

Turkcell

The Turkcell booth at Istanbul Airport (IST) offers a small range of tourist SIM packages. On my last visit, options ranged from 8GB of data with plenty of local calls and texts through to a 50GB data-only package, valid for 30 days.

The smaller plans should still be enough for most visits to the country, even for moderately heavy users. The 8GB plan cost 185 TRY (~$28), and prices went up from there. All packages included the SIM card. 

The Vodafone booth has a somewhat larger range of options, but they’re very expensive. It takes a lot to make Turkcell’s airport prices look almost reasonable, but Vodafone managed it. 

A similar call/text package with 8GB of data with Vodafone cost 380 TRY — that’s over twice as much. Shoot for the largest data-only package (66GB), and you’ll be up for an eye-watering 610 TRY (~$91).

Turkish Telecom’s airport price for an 8GB data package was 177 TRY. That’s slightly cheaper than Turkcell and much less than Vodafone, but given the company’s smaller coverage area, it’s not worth the small saving.

You’ll find cheaper rates for all carriers by waiting until you get into the city and buying from a mobile store there. Exactly how cheap, however, will depend a lot on where you go, your negotiation skills, and how much of a fee the vendor decides to tack on. Expect to try more than one store, and be prepared for some frustration!

If you head into a Turkcell store outside the airport, you’ll likely be directed toward the company’s tourist SIM. It includes 20GB of data, 200 minutes of calls, and unlimited WhatsApp. The official rate is 149 TRY (~$22), but again, you may end up paying a different amount entirely.

aloSIM

Of the small number of travel eSIM companies that I recommend using, aloSIM typically has the fastest speeds, and the best prices for moderate amounts of data. If you’re only in Turkey for a short time, or need less than about 5GB of data for a longer stay, they’re the ones to go for.

Nomad sometimes has better pricing on large data packs, but doesn’t have as large a range. Check out the prices and options below when deciding which company to use: they were last updated on April 15, 2024.

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $6.50

  • $8

  • $12

  • $18

  • $28

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $6.50

  • $8

  • $12

  • $18

  • $26

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

Price (USD)

  • $6

  • $9

  • $10

  • $16

Topping Up

Turkcell

Topping up is done via a voucher, purchased in supermarkets or at official provider stores all around the country. Plans keep renewing as long as there are funds in your account.

aloSIM

Topping up with aloSIM (or any of the other eSIM companies above) is done through logging into the website or app. You just select your Turkey eSIM, hit the top-up button, and pick whichever option sounds appealing.

All of the top-up packs have exactly the same pricing and duration as the original eSIMs: there’s little difference between topping up your current eSIM and buying a new one, other than not having to activate it.

Coverage and Data Speeds

Data speeds were very consistent throughout my stay, even in pretty terrible weather. 4G/LTE is present in all of Istanbul and surrounding areas, but becomes less consistent once you get into the rural regions of Turkey.

Both upload and download speeds were reasonable everywhere I tested them.

Both aloSIM and Nomad also use the Tuckcell network, so you can expect similar coverage whichever option you go for.

Turkcell data speeds in Turkey

Main photo via Pedro Szekely.

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