How to Get a Turkish SIM Card (In the Small and Non-Touristic Towns of Turkey)

We bought our Turkish SIM cards on Monday the 25th of October, one day after arriving in Karasu. Karasu is a port town on the Black Sea coast and we’d arrived by ferry. It’s relatively small and getting a Turkish SIM card wasn’t straightforward. This post is supposed to help people who are also arriving in Turkey by land or sea and in a smaller town away from places geared toward foreigners.

Our Experience Buying a Turkish SIM Card in Karasu

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Doing the Research

After we’d booked our Black Sea ferry ticket to leave Ukraine for Turkey, we had to do additional research. One of the most important tasks in the early days after arrival is obtaining some SIM cards. The info on the prepaid data wiki for Turkey mentioned some shockingly high prices for a country that… eh, relies on tourism. The Turkish Lira (₺) already ran crazy inflation before we arrived in Turkey. So prices in ₺ were already not super reliable.

But we are talking €15 or US$17 and upwards for just a Turkish SIM card. And the worst news was that shops still make up their own prices. It’s apparently worse at the telecom shops at airports across Turkey. But even inside cities, towns, and villages, marking prices up happens.

This is gonna make this article very dated very soon, but upon arrival in Turkey, ₺10 equaled €1—a lovely number to work with. Edited to add: by the time we left six weeks later, ₺10 equals €0.64.

We reckoned that a three-night stay in Karasu would be enough time to buy SIM cards, before we’d try to hitchhike from Karasu to Istanbul.

Which provider?

Since we knew we were only going to Karasu, Istanbul, and probably one other city such as Edirne, coverage wasn’t an important factor. The three telecom providers we looked at in Turkey were Vodafone, Turkcell, and Türk Telecom. I messaged a friend (Nina from Roaming Pencil) who had been in Istanbul very often in the last year. She said she had Turkcell despite their high prices. I also asked a Turkish friend and she also vouched for Vodafone as Turkcell is overpriced. And the SIM card wiki also said that Turkcell had the highest prices, but that Vodafone – a company I hate with a passion – was… alright in the grand scheme of things.

So we looked up some telecom shops in Karasu before we got onto the ferry. I downloaded an offline map of the entire Marmara Region and added flags on the locations of telecom shops. And since we don’t speak Turkish at all, I also downloaded Turkish for offline translation in the Google Translate app. All we had to do is visit them and ask for prices and if (!) they can register it on a foreign passport.

Day 1 in Turkey: Attempts #1–42

After walking fresh off the boat, we took a taxi to our hotel. We checked into our room and tried connecting to the WiFi. Hmmm, that doesn’t work. We tried all the networks in the hotel and none of them came through. It was a few hours before sunset, so we decided to head out, try to buy SIM cards, and also eat our first Turkish meals.

Along the main road in Karasu that leads from the beach to the bazaar (street name: Plaj Caddesi), there were several telecom shops. The nearest one was Turkcell, but we didn’t want that brand because it was more expensive. There were no more telecom shops until we crossed the big crossing with Istanbul/Ankara Caddesi. Though it was late and it started to rain, most of them were still a little bit open.

We first visited a Türk Telecom. After waiting our turn, we asked the lady for a “SIM kart” and it was a resounding no. Despite my attempt to qualify that no, there was no explanation if the problem was that they’re out of SIM cards or that she can’t sell them to us. But we passed an ATM to get some local cash, so that was good.

We crossed into the little pedestrian zone at Atatürk Bulvar, where there were many more telecom shops, including a Vodafone one. We went into the Vodafone and it was a similar experience, though we managed to show our passports before she shook her head and put the SIM cards away, explaining that they couldn’t do it with our foreign passports. We’d need a local ID to buy a Turkish SIM card there.

Then we went into another small Vodafone that was closing and it was also “Yok.”—my least favorite word in the Turkish language.

Lastly, we tried going into another Türk Telecom. We had the longest conversation there with some young guys who also rejected our request, but at least grabbed Google Translate to say that the SIM card they could sell us would only be valid for something like 14 or 30 days—something too short for our stay.

Türk telekom in Karasu evening

We were still not completely sure whether part of the problem was the time of day. Perhaps they couldn’t send our detail to the central server or whatever. Perhaps they were tired and just wanted to go home and not deal with the headache that is signing up foreigners.

We went to a restaurant there called Incilli Kebap for our first Turkish meal. It was fantastic and so hospitable like how I remembered Turkey. And they also had WiFi, so we finally connected to the internet for the first time in… two days.

Day 2: Turkish SIM card success! But at what cost?

We slept quite nicely because we still didn’t have internet at the hotel. After breakfast, we asked the receptionist if they’d fix it anytime soon. Yes, later that day someone would come to fix it.

Jonas urgently needed to send some emails and check some web developer things, so we packed our laptops. The plan was to first visit that Turkcell shop around the corner. If we can’t get Turkish SIM cards there, we will head to a café with WiFi to sit down and open our laptops. If we can’t get our hands on SIM cards today or tomorrow, that means we can’t hitchhike to Istanbul—at least not in a manner we’re comfortable in. We were running out of time and the freedom to choose whatever provider we liked best was gone. As internet is an absolute necessity for us, we knew we’d probably have to pay our way out of this silly problem.

We walked to the Turkcell shop nearest to the beach—the last telecom shop in Karasu. The stakes were high.

Buying a Turkish SIM card Turkcell shop in Karasu Black Sea Karadeniz coast Turkey

There was one young woman working. We asked her if she had “SIM kartlar” and this time the answer was “Evet.” We gave her our passports and she seemed very unfazed by the task ahead of registering us. She told us the price of ₺250 per SIM card.

OOF!

That is fucking steep!

But we had no choice. So yes, we paid €25. For one Turkish SIM card valid for 90 days. But we got two, so we paid €50 in total. This is the highest price we’ve ever paid for a SIM card anywhere.

Silver lining: at least it’s not the highest price we’ve heard for a Turkish SIM card, since a friend (kayaker Nick Wood) we met a few weeks after this incident said that the airport price is ₺400 or €40 for one SIM card. He didn’t buy it there, but there surely are people who pay this extortion fee upon their arrival in what is generally a very pleasant country.

Activating our SIM cards

We let the competent woman do her thing. She opened up our phones, put in the SIM cards, unlocked them, and activated the SIM cards. It was a full service and she let us test the mobile internet in the shop.

How to get a Turkish SIM card in Karasu Turkey Marmara region

I asked some questions about balance checking codes and wrote them down: Text “Kalan” to 2222 or dial *159#. We’d figure the rest out later. We’d have 15GB of data for the first month, which is something around our range of what we use in one month if we don’t 100% rely on mobile data.

We were happy and sad at the same time after obtaining our SIM cards. We still went to a beachside café called Sahil Park Café for a cup of coffee, a cake, and some hours of computer time with a nice seat and an even nicer view.

What we learned

The takeaway from this experience is that… there’s no way around paying too much. The lowest price we’ve heard was ₺150 for a SIM card but from someone who speaks Turkish. And €15 is still too high a barrier of entry for something so basic. Once you’re in, though, the top-up data is quite cheap. It’s just soul-crushing that you have to pay this much to get in.

I think the best thing you can do is emotionally prepare yourself to overpay massively for a Turkish SIM card. Then it will at least not come as a shock to you. Go through the stages of grief before you come to Turkey. You can either accept these costs or travel to a different country where SIM cards come cheap. I recommend Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar, to mention a few.

Beyond that, it’s astounding that a country with so many foreign tourists doesn’t have information in English pretty much anywhere. There are many talented young Turkish people who know English very well and can offer their services. Why this isn’t a priority is a total mystery to me.

I also learned that I hate the mascot of Turkcell with a passion. What is it? A horny minion? A randy cockroach? Every time I looked at the original SIM card packaging, I regretted having eyes.

FAQ Turkish SIM Card + Internet Freedom in Turkey

Which provider should I choose?

There are three telecom providers in Turkey: Vodafone, Türk Telekom, and Turkcell. If you can, choose Vodafone.

But if you’re in a small village or town at a land or sea border, you might not have that kind of choice.

Should I buy the tourist SIM card?

Only Turkcell and Vodafone currently offer a tourist SIM card. Both of them are not valid for longer than 30 days. If you’re staying in Turkey shorter than 30 days, this is something you might want to consider. It’s likely that you can only buy tourist SIM cards at the airport. Even if you buy them at the airport telecom shop, they might still be more expensive than written on the provider’s website.

Where can I buy a Turkish SIM card?

Theoretically, you can buy a Turkish SIM card at any telecom shop. In practice, you should expect a few rejections before you find someone who can be arsed to help you.

I cannot emphasize enough the need to research the locations of several telecom shops before you enter Turkey. Please also download an offline map of the area in Turkey you will arrive at. I always recommend OpenStreetMaps (on Apple Store and Google Play). You can also search for a telecommunications office in the search function there, or type in “Turkcell”, “Vodafone”, or “Türk Telekom” to see if anything pops up.

What documents do I need to buy a Turkish SIM card?

Pack the following:

  • Your passport
  • Your HES code printout or in a digital format; you never know when people will ask for this

How do I activate the SIM card?

If you’re in a telecom shop, ask them to do it. They will probably offer to set it up for you if you don’t know Turkish.

Can I throw away the credit card-sized plastic that contained the tiny SIM card?

You can, but you should absolutely not do that. Why? Because it contains the PIN1 of your SIM card and every time you reboot your phone, Turkcell will ask you for the pin code before it unlocks your SIM. You thought that the price of a Turkish SIM card was the worst part? No no no, it’s the fact that every SIM card has a random pin code that you will not remember and if you don’t have this piece of plastic or write it down somewhere more convenient, you will not be able to unlock your SIM card again.

My tip? Put this little credit card-sized plastic

Should I download the Turkcell app?

I didn’t do this. And from the reviews, I don’t think it would be worth it unless I was also learning Turkish.

turkcell app terrible reviews

But a translation issue can be solved by app developers. So if you want to download the Turkcell Mobile Transaction & Shopping app, you can find it in the Google Play Store for Android and in the App Store for iOS.

Jonas did download the app and ran into the same problems as the Google Play Store reviewers.

How do I check my Turkcell balance?

Text “Kalan” to 2222 or call *159# to run the USSD code.

How do I top up my Turkcell balance?

While writing this, I realized the easiest way to add money to your balance is probably to visit a physical shop to let a person do it. We didn’t do this, though, so we don’t know what kind of obstacles exist on that route. You can do this at Turkcell telecom shops for sure and at other shops probably too.

Though the app is useless, you can actually top up your Turkcell balance on their website with your foreign credit card. That’s what we did the one time we had to top it up during our six-week stay. The website says:

Foreign bank credit cards can only be used if the credit card supports 3D secure application.

If your credit card is from the last five years, it should have this technology.

In the top-right corner of the homepage of turkcell.com.tr, you see a shopping cart and a person icon. That’s where you do this. If you can’t find the English version of the Turkcell website, you can translate it to English by right-clicking the page and selecting “Translate to English”. This only works on Google Chrome.

turkcell top-up login screen

In a true early 2000s fashion, clicking the login button will pop up the following screen. You will have to re-translate this popup by right-clicking it again. And again. And again.

login popup screen turkcell topup

After this, it sends you a text to login, after which you can recharge. You type in your credit card details, choose your amount, and do the transaction. You’ll receive a text to confirm this.

What are the text messages I’m constantly receiving?

They are yet another circle of Turkish SIM card hell. Turkcell – and I’m assuming all other providers as well – send way too many text messages. In Turkish. I honestly never read them, but even if I could read them, they would just decrease my quality of life.

Endless texts by turkcell why god why

How do I book mobile internet packages? Which package should I buy?

Now that you have enough balance, you can book an internet package. A package usually lasts for 30 days from the date of booking.

To book a new package, you can call 532 like the Turkcell website says. We never did that because Jonas found this page with all the available Turkcell packages in Turkish (again, right-click to translate the page to English).

turkcell buy a package help

Choose a package that you like and click it. On the page, you have more details about the package. There’s a big shiny ‘buy now’ button that you can ignore, because there’s a simpler way. Scroll to the bottom of the page!

package details turkcell

Open the + to see the ‘other purchase options’. That’s where you’ll find a very simple text ‘[some Turkish word]’ to ‘[this number, usually 2200]’. Follow the instructions and wait for your confirmation text.

turkcell book package by knowing the codes

And voilà! You have booked a new Turkcell internet package.

Does the Turkcell SIM card allow sharing mobile data?

The bar is so low it’s a pub in the fiery pit of hell, but yes, Turkcell allows the sharing of mobile internet from your phone to your computer or someone else’s phone without blocking it or without extra charges.

I like calling people. How much does that cost?

I have no idea. I never called anyone and our Airbnb hosts all preferred messaging us over WhatsApp to avoid miscommunication. Even if they called, they also did that via WhatsApp.

Why are strange phone numbers calling me?

Eh, it’s either spam calls or your number used to be used by someone else. If it’s a number you don’t know, don’t pick up.

What happens if I use more internet than the package allows?

The website says:

An info text is sent to your mobile phone when you use 80% and 100% of your package and at the end of your package’s usage period.

It also says:

If you do not have additional package at the time when you finish your minutes, you will be charged according to excess usage conditions of your plan.

My tip? Prevent this from ever happening. I don’t think this is something you want to find out the hard way.

Any other caveats?

I’d like to reiterate once again to not throw away the credit card-sized plastic in which your Turkish SIM card arrived. You’ll need that pin code.

With all Turkish SIM cards, if you use the SIM card for longer than four months, your (imported) phone might get blocked. This means that even if you buy a new expensive SIM card, it will still not work. The only solution would be to A) buy a new phone, or B) go through some heinous bureaucratic process to get it unlocked—which might mean you have to pay a tax on having a phone in Turkey and you’ll need to register your device.

The info I’m looking for about Turkish SIM cards is missing in this article…

Then please comment below this article so I can try to answer your question. That will also help others who are wondering the same thing. If I can’t answer it, please look on the website of your chosen provider and try to use the right-click Google Translate trick that I used to find your answer.

I don’t want to buy a Turkish SIM card, where can I get WiFi?

Most restaurants and cafés have WiFi in Turkey. It’s always a good idea to check if you see a network that belongs to the business before you sit down and order something.

Is the internet blocked or monitored in Turkey?

Yes. Some sites are blocked and some traffic is monitored.

If there’s a crisis or protests going on in Turkey, social media might also get blocked. The way around this is to turn on a VPN before you browse or scroll. During our visit, all social media sites and apps worked without problems.

Should I download a VPN before going to Turkey?

I think Turkey is one of these countries where you’d rather already have a VPN before entering. Just in case. Know that using a VPN might slow down your internet speed a little bit.

We use ExpressVPN and we’re happy with it. If you want to try ExpressVPN for 30 days for free, you can sign up via this link. It’s a referral link, so if you sign up I might, might, receive €8 from ExpressVPN for pointing you in their direction. Of course, this 30-day free trial isn’t long enough if you’re staying in Turkey for the full 90 days or however long a person with your passport is allowed to stay in Turkey.

Feeling better prepared? Consider buying me a nar suyu!

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2 thoughts on “How to Get a Turkish SIM Card (In the Small and Non-Touristic Towns of Turkey)

  1. My turkish freind who lives in golcuk koalaci bought a sim card in her name and put it in my phone do I have to pay tax on the sim card

    • You do not need to pay tax on the SIM card. But if you bought your phone outside Turkey, your phone will only work for 4 months with Turkish SIM cards. Even if you then buy a new SIM card for the same phone, it won’t work

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