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Has anyone bought a SIM in Istanbul?

For some crazy reason, I'm considering buying a SIM in Turkey, rather than using my perfectly good Vodafone UK SIM for my upcoming trip to Turkey.

There is a Vodafone store and a Turkcell store at the Istanbul airport, but I understand prices are much much cheaper outside the airport ($40+ vs < $5 in Istanbul.) If I am going to pay that much, I'll use my own equally expensive Vodafone UK SIM.

There is a a Turkcell shop near my hotel and I've read they have good coverage.

Has anyone bought a Turkcell SIM in Istanbul? Or a Vodafone SIM? Do you recommend it? How was your buying experience? What did you pay and did you get what you paid for?

Posted by
2267 posts

I bought a SIM when I was there for almost 3 weeks in September of 2019. I went to the Turkcell store near my hotel. I'd taken a screenshot of their English-language webpage describing the current pre-paid 'tourist SIM', and showed it to the person who helped me. We then spoke in English for the rest of the transaction.

Don't recall what I paid, but I'm sure it was cheap. It looks like the current price is about $14 for 20gig. I do remember that I'd read I should bring my passport, and it was, indeed asked for.

It worked well while I toured across the country. It's unlikely I ever used voice calls. I did tether my iPad to the phone's connection at least a few times.

Posted by
4945 posts

Thank you, Scudder! That is an excellent tip to take a screenshot of the tourist SIM page! In comparison to my other options, $14 for 20GB is well worth the effort. I'm also anticipating using mostly data, so I'm glad that worked for you. I had read about the requirement for your passport to register the SIM: I'll make a note. Thanks for that reminder.

Posted by
2267 posts

CWsocial- I always get local SIMs. I can be pretty indulgent in many scenarios but the thought of paying AT&T a nickel more than I already do turns me into a total tightwad!

I also appreciate having a "first mission", which includes interaction with locals, when I hit the ground after the journey over. Getting a sim set up isn't an elaborate task, but it can be a nice little sense of accomplishment.

Posted by
6788 posts

My experience was somewhat similar to Scudder's, though we did not come prepared with any screenshots, we just stopped and bought SIMs at the Turkcell shop in the airport (upon arrival, while waiting for our onward connecting flight to Izmir). February 2020. I don't recall the prices but they were not excessive. Phones and iPads worked fine all over western/southern Turkey, all along the coast from Izmir to Antalya, plus Cappadocia and Istanbul. Buying experience was good and so was the user experience. Mostly used for data, very few voice calls.

Posted by
4945 posts

Scudder, I'm so glad you understand! It would be ever so easy to pay Verizon $100 for my 3 weeks. Or use my Vodafone UK SIM - which has already been a cost saver, but won't be such a bargain in Turkey, especially after June 8 with Vodafone's new pricing zones.

This will be a new challenge, as I bought the Vodafone UK SIM in advance and set it up before its first use. I like your idea of a "first mission," especially since it's so close to my hotel.

I have liked having the same Europe phone number, which I've given to our hotel in Istanbul for connecting at the airport. I'll use it on arrival day and then swap it with the card I buy in Istanbul the next morning.

Posted by
4945 posts

Thank you, David, it sounds like Turkcell is a good way to go. I will be on 2 RS tours, so my biggest use will be maps the first day and a half in Istanbul, and thereafter for occasional free time.

With such minimal intended usage, to Scudder's point, I'm even less inclined to pay Verizon $100.

Posted by
4 posts

CWsocial, regarding maps, if you are using Google Maps and you have at least a moderate amount of free storage on your device, you can download maps ahead of time. This feature is called Offline maps. For example, a map of central Madrid that I downloaded is using 74 MB. For our upcoming 3 week trip to Spain, I have downloaded ~325 MB of maps covering a total of 8 cities/towns. With your help, we should have working SIMs, but it's nice knowing you have the data ahead of time without having to consider connection issues.

Apologies if I'm explaining something you already know.

Posted by
4945 posts

Hi galens, I have downloaded the maps for Istanbul and the other areas we'll be traveling to. So you're right, for that I wouldn't even need a data plan. All the more reason to keep the cost down.

Posted by
4945 posts

I just switched my phone to airplane mode and I'm reminded that I wouldn't get walking directions without internet. I definitely want waking directions! Especially for the first day and a half beforethe tour starts, and also during free time.

Posted by
4945 posts

I wanted to report back and say thank you. My Turkcell SIM worked perfectly in Istanbul and near flawlessly around Western Turkey while on my 2 Rick Steves tours.

I bought it at the Turkcell shop in the underground pedestrian passages near the Galata Bridge and not far from the Haze Hotel where my Best of Istanbul tour started. There were other cellphone shops as well, including Vodafone Turkey.

With the still spiraling Turkish inflation, it was 389 Turkish Lira, still a bargain at $24.47 for 3+ weeks with 20GB + 200 minutes + maybe 1000 texts and unlimited texts on WhatsApp.

Less than the cost of 3 days on Verizon.

I used a fraction of the data but was very glad to have live Google Maps walking directions to get me out of tha maze of the shops around the Grand Bazaar and back to my hotel!

Thank you for sharing your experiences to confirm the choice!