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Turkey 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Istanbul

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Greater Istanbul. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Turkey country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Turkey at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution. Some areas outside of the Istanbul Consular District have higher Travel Advisory level designations. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Istanbul as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Even though Istanbul is Turkey’s largest metropolitan city, Istanbul’s crime rates, as they relate to foreigners, are very low. Remain aware of the potential for petty crimes such as pickpocketing in popular tourist areas and other crowded locations. Although not very common, petty crime can also occur in locations such as the city’s two airports as well as on public transportation, including buses, dolmuses (hop-on hop-off for pay mini-bus), the metro, and streetcars/trams. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind. Credit card and ATM usage is relatively safe with few reports of fraud, including in locations catering to international clientele. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

U.S. nationals have reported a kind of scam in Istanbul that targets male tourists traveling alone. The victims are unsuspecting tourists lured into bars in the Taksim area or near the Fatih neighborhood. The goal of the perpetrator is to get the victim intoxicated and then relieve him of his belongings such as backpacks, bags, electronics, or other valuable items, often also leaving him with a large bar bill. Instances of this type of scam occur more often in the summer, at the peak of the tourist season, and are most likely underreported.

Cybersecurity Issues 

There have been several reports of financial internet scams victimizing U.S. nationals who transfer sums of money to a supposed friend in Turkey. These scams include fraudulent visas services or fake online romance schemes. In romance schemes, online con artists may communicate and groom victims online over several months, building a romantic interest. The con artists often claim to be U.S. philanthropists in the region, building hospitals and/or schools, or pose as U.S. military personnel traveling through Turkey. After purporting to have an accident, arrest, travel emergency, intention to visit, or other situation, the scammer then request funds from the target. Never send money to anyone with whom you do not have a verified relationship. 

Additionally, there have been reports of criminal enterprises targeting individuals using unsecured Wi-Fi to compromise Personally Identifiable Information to commit fraud. For a full list of scams, visit the State Department’s International Financial Scams webpage.

Turkish authorities have prevented some U.S. nationals from entering or departing Turkey due to social media postings the government perceived to be critical of it or supportive of entities it has designated as terrorist organizations. The Cybersecurity Branch of the Turkish National Police (TNP) explicitly monitors such activity. Travelers should not have an increased expectation of privacy. Remain mindful of social media usage, and refrain from posting information that one could perceive as critical and/or inflammatory to the Government of Turkey.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Traffic frequently congests Istanbul’s roads, as transportation infrastructure struggles to keep pace with the city’s growing population. Drivers often ignore traffic regulations, including driving through red lights and stop signs, and changing lanes without first assessing surroundings. Many of Istanbul’s side streets are extremely narrow and overwhelmingly congested with parked cars, and blocked easily by accidents or delivery vehicles. Due to limited road width, cars parked illegally can abruptly change roads into single-lane passages with little or no warning. Drivers must pull to the side of the road to make way for oncoming traffic that, at times, can escalate into road rage by some overly aggressive drivers. Always drive defensively and leave room to maneuver.

Rental car services are available, and smartphone-based navigation applications are relatively reliable for those unfamiliar with Istanbul’s geography. However, Istanbul traffic dynamics are aggressive compared to other European cities, and traffic accidents are frequent. Police response to traffic accidents is usually prompt, and insurance companies are effective in settling claims related to auto damage and personal injury. Due to Istanbul’s unique topography and historic environs, road travel can often prove treacherous during periods of inclement weather, which can include snow and ice.

Always drive defensively. Traffic and the threat of accidents provide a daily challenge, and traffic fatalities are high nationwide. Generally, road conditions are good, especially along major arteries and thoroughfares. However, smaller streets in neighborhoods and in rural areas can be in poorer condition. Driving at night or in inclement weather can be particularly challenging.

Pedestrians also flout traffic rules by crossing against the light and walking in the street. Parked vehicles often block sidewalks and driveways. Pedestrians do not have the right of way; exercise extreme caution when crossing streets.

Vendors and panhandlers frequently gather at stoplights along major roads and at hotels. Panhandlers can be aggressive. When going through traffic areas with stoplights, lock vehicle doors and roll up windows. Be cautious if a bystander flags you down to indicate a flat tire; drive to the nearest attended gas station before stopping.

In case of an accident or car trouble, pull to the side of the road, turn on hazard lights, and use reflector triangles. For accidents with only vehicular damage, exchange insurance information, take photos of the accident before moving the vehicles, and depart if both sides agree. Turkish law requires drivers to fill out a Turkish-language form and provide pictures of the damage. Non-Turkish speakers should call and wait for the police. For accidents with injury or a disagreement, remain at the site of the accident. Do not move the vehicle – even out of the traffic lanes – until the Traffic Police arrive. Report the accident to the Traffic Police (155) or Jandarma (156). Get a certified copy of the official report from the Traffic Police office (this can take several days). The owner of the damaged vehicle should also apply to the customs authority with a passport and accident report before attempting to repair the vehicle or leave the country without the vehicle. When in doubt, it is best to call the Traffic Police or the Jandarma in the event of an accident.

Penalties for driving drunk (blood alcohol levels at or above 0.05%) include a fine and a six-month license confiscation. Using cell phones while driving is illegal and can lead to a fine.

For stays up to 180 days, a valid U.S. driver’s license is acceptable. For stays longer than 180 days:, obtain a Turkish driver’s license from the Turkish Security Directorate, Traffic Department. Drivers may bring a vehicle into Turkey for up to six months.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Istanbul and other major cities in Turkey have extensive and modern public transportation options, including taxis, subways, ferries, trains, buses, and minibuses. The city straddles two continents and the Bosphorus Strait. Three toll bridges span the Bosporus. There is one car and one commuter rail tunnel under the Bosphorus, and ferries frequently shuttle between the European and Asian sides. Ferries are relatively inexpensive and depart/arrive on a set schedule. Smaller water taxis are abundant and available for hire, but are nominally more expensive.  Public buses and the metro are reliable, and the extensive route networks are relatively safe, but their use can prove challenging to travelers unfamiliar with Istanbul. Turkey has extensive domestic and international bus and train routes, as well as air connections.

Taxis are plentiful, and most drivers are honest. Only patronize licensed taxis, all of which have meters. Taxicabs are relatively safe and remain highly regulated by the Turkish government. Sit in the back seat, and use the seat belt. Most taxi drivers do not have a high-level working proficiency of English, sometimes making communication a challenge. Foreign travelers have reported taxi drivers using circuitous routes to increase the meter fare. Always ask to have the meter turned on unless you are comfortable with a pre-negotiated flat rate. Do not accept food/ drink from the driver. Record the license or number of any taxi you enter.

There are no officially licensed ride-sharing services. Uber and local apps like Bi-Taksi offer the ability to order a yellow or turquoise licensed taxi. As of this report’s publication, at least one telecoms provider has blocked the Uber smartphone app, making it unavailable for download, though the app downloaded elsewhere continues to function in Turkey. Since Uber’s block, there have been reports of an increasing number of “pirate” taxis for hire. Review OSAC’s reports, Safety and Security in the Share Economy and Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Private cars and drivers are readily available in Istanbul and relatively affordable, especially for airport transfers.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Istanbul is serviced by two large international airports. The commercial passenger operations of the old Atatürk International Airport (formerly IST) moved to a new location north of the city in April 2019 and is now known simply as Istanbul International Airport (IST). The current capacity is 90 million passengers per year. IST includes U.S.-mandated security requirements for U.S.-bound flights. Some passengers have reported experiencing long taxiing times, long walking distances within the terminal, and delayed luggage delivery.

Significant air cargo operations will continue at the old Atatürk airport (now recoded as ISL) for an undetermined period, as cargo hangars/facilities at the new airport remain under construction. There are no further commercial passenger operations at ISL, but it continues to serve private jets.

There is only one 400-room hotel at IST split between the secure (inside the hardline) and less-secure (outside the hardline) side of the airport terminal. The plan is for the Istanbul Metro system to extend to IST by the fall of 2020. IST-specific bus routes to/from downtown Istanbul are operational.

In addition to being a domestic and international air hub, Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) on the Asian side of Istanbul, maintains capacity for private/charter aircraft requiring the use of a fixed-base operator.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Turkey’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Turkey’s air carrier operations. Turkish security services continue to maintain a robust presence at all Istanbul airports, and travelers may find assistance from English-speaking security personnel relative ease.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed all cities in Turkey hosting U.S. diplomatic facilities as being HIGH-threat locations for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Terrorists have previously attacked U.S. interests in Turkey, including the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, and the U.S. Consulate in Adana. Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Turkey, and may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets and shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas. Terrorists have also previously targeted Western tourists and expatriates.

Turkish security forces, including the police, the Jandarma, and the military, are professional, capable, and experienced counterterror actors. Purges of several thousand members of the Turkish military and law enforcement continue following an attempted coup d’état in 2016. Because of the overall size of Turkey’s security forces, these purges have not significantly degraded readiness or effectiveness, especially in the realm of counterterrorism. Media reports show Turkish security forces taking action to disrupt potential terrorist plots and to discourage potential supporters of terrorist activity. Security forces have detained tens of thousands of individuals, including U.S. nationals, for alleged affiliations with terrorist organizations based on scant or secret evidence and grounds that appear to be politically motivated. U.S. nationals have also been subject to exit bans that prevent them from departing Turkey.

Threats to U.S. nationals and interests from transnational and indigenous groups alike remain common. Known terrorist groups active in Turkey include:

ISIS, and ISIS offshoot organizations, have a significant presence in northern Syria, and along portions of the Turkish/Syrian border. Many/most foreign terrorist fighters travel through Turkey to Syria and Iraq.

The Kurdistan People’s Congress (also Kongra Gel, KGK; and Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK) has been the most active terrorist organization in Turkey, targeting Turkish government facilities and infrastructure. The PKK continues to conduct attacks against Turkish security forces throughout Turkey, occasionally harming bystanders. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK, the Kurdistan Freedom/Liberation Hawks/Falcons) group presents itself as a splinter of the PKK and has taken responsibility for attacks in major urban areas.

ISIS and the PKK have conducted large-scale attacks in the country, including suicide bombings, ambushes, and the detonation of car bombs, improvised explosive devices, and other homemade weapons, though there have been no large-scale attacks since 2017.

The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) has targeted Turkish and U.S. government facilities alike. The DHKP/C has stated its intention to commit further acts against Turkey, NATO, and the United States. In February 2019, Turkish security services apprehended one of two DHKP/C terrorists who evaded capture after conducting a shooting attack against the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul in 2015. The individual had been on the run and in hiding for over three years. In September 2019, the government attributed an IED attack on a TNP bus to DHKP/C.

While al-Qa’ida, including its Syrian affiliates al-Nusrah Front (ANF) and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), maintain a presence in Turkey, it has not staged attacks recently. However, groups and individuals inspired by al-Qa’ida might attempt to do so, placing U.S. and Turkish interests at risk.

The conflict in Syria and the renewed hostilities between Kurdish terrorists and Turkish security forces in Kurdish-majority provinces of the southeast continue to be of concern to the overall stability in the country’s southern provinces. Since Turkey took a direct role in the war in Syria, terrorist attacks and indirect fire such as mortars and rockets have increased throughout the southeast.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Istanbul as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

A failed coup challenged Turkey’s political stability in July 2016. The coup attempt was short-lived, despite its significant casualty count. The Government of Turkey legally codified significant restrictions on public and personal freedoms in the wake of the failed coup attempt, which have restored stability but also reduced civil liberties, rights, and protections. Turkey has enacted legislation to inflict harsh punishment for illegal/violent protests; covering one’s face during a protest can result in a prison sentence of up to 25 years. Turkey holds the second most journalists in jail worldwide; strictly enforces libel and lese majesty laws; and, applies a broad definition of anti-state terrorism. Review OSAC’s report, Lèse Majesté: Watching what you say (and type) abroad.

The Turkish populace is polarized between those who support the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP), founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his opposition. Broad civilian resistance during the failed coup demonstrated the populace’s commitment to civilian control of the government. This, combined with the government removal of all combat arms units of the Turkish military from major urban areas, indicates that coups are unlikely in the near future. In the wake of the 2016 attempt, the government fired and/or arrested several thousand members of the military and police services, and purges of their ranks continue. Nonetheless, Turkish security forces maintain robust capabilities, especially in the realm of counterterrorism.

The next national elections are scheduled to take place in 2023, but snap elections are possible. While large public demonstrations are possible, they have been increasingly rare since the 2013 Gezi Park protests, and subject to increasing police interference. The government of Turkey frequently bans public gatherings and demonstrations on security grounds. Participation in demonstrations not explicitly approved by the Government of Turkey, as well as criticism of the government, including on social media, can result in arrest. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

The Turkish government generally remains tolerant of its religious and ethnic minorities, and provides increased levels of security support around non-Sunni Islamic, Christian, and Jewish places of worship in reaction to terror threats. However, Turkish society can be less accepting of minorities. For example, in 2019, widespread ultra-nationalist sentiment manifested itself through violent attacks against Syrian refugee, Kurdish, and Alevi neighborhoods. Also, reaction to Israel-related policies and actions enacted by Israel or other states deemed unfavorable for Palestinians have led to spontaneous demonstrations at synagogues. Since 2015, the government has taken security actions that have negatively impacted some of its Kurdish nationals.

Turkey is home to the world’s largest refugee population, with 3.7 million Syrian refugees and more than 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities. Fewer than 2% of these live in refugee camps, while the others are assigned to live in. Incidents of societal violence directed against refugees and persons in refugee-like conditions increased during the year. Authorities assign Syrian refugees to one of 62 “satellite cities,” where they are supposed to receive services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. Istanbul is home to approximately one million Syrian refugees, but more than half of these refugees have assignments in other cities. Those who reside in Istanbul without the proper registration do so due to the lack of employment opportunities and/or services elsewhere in Turkey, often living with extended family members who can better support them.

In June in the Kucukcekmece district of Istanbul, tensions between local residents and Syrian refugees erupted into violence that continued for two nights and resulted in the destruction of several Syrian businesses. In certain districts of Istanbul, NGO staff members report receiving verbal threats and harassment from residents of host communities, urging them not to help Syrians.

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Following the attempted coup, the Government of Turkey instituted a State of Emergency granting extraordinary powers to detain, investigate, and arrest its real and perceived opponents. Authorities now can hold individuals in pretrial detention for extended periods without charges. Although the State of Emergency ended in 2018, detentions of individuals suspected of plotting, participating, or being complicit in the coup attempt continue. Security forces have detained tens of thousands of individuals, including U.S. nationals, for alleged affiliation with terrorist organizations, based on scant or secret evidence and grounds that appear politically motivated. Some U.S. nationals have also been subject to exit bans preventing them from departing Turkey. This development is of particular concern for dual-national U.S.-Turkish citizens. The Government of Turkey considers any dual-national with Turkish citizenship a citizen of Turkey first, without regard to their “secondary” country of citizenship.

The Turkish government also has unjustly detained Turkish citizens employed by the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul and the U.S. Consulate in Adana, as well as other dual-national U.S.-Turkish citizens, on specious charges or without any charge at all.

Additionally, pro-government media outlets have pursued anti-U.S. rhetoric with conspiratorial undertones, suggesting the United States is responsible for bringing about increased political and economic instability in Turkey. Inflammatory anti-U.S. rhetoric regularly appears in the Turkish press and social media outlets. These accounts contain patently false accusations, for example, that the United States supported the attempted coup, or that the United States is conducting “economic terrorism” in Turkey.

Anti-U.S. protests have been minimal. Authorities require a permit to conduct a demonstration. Although protests without permit are illegal, the police allow some protests to go forward, providing a mechanism for protestors to deliver their message peacefully while ensuring demonstrators remain well behaved. Avoid areas of demonstrations. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Turkey is a seismically active region, with regular shocks measuring over 4.0 on the Richter scale. Many buildings do not meet Western seismic standards. Remain cognizant of hardened cover in the case of a seismic event.

On September 26, 2019, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake occurred in Istanbul, injuring 43 people, and resulting in one death due to a medically related condition.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Basic life-support utilities function uninterrupted. Most modern offices and hotels employ back-up generator systems.

The Government of Turkey maintains the ability to reduce/eliminate Internet and data connectivity. Known as “throttling,” the government reduced data bandwidth to control protest activity organized on social media platforms in 2017 and again in 2019 during its operation in northern Syria. It banned several social media platforms, claiming such moves are part of its counterterrorism strategy, only restoring access to Wikipedia in December 2019. Travelers with international roaming plans typically do not report interruptions/denial of service, but should know that the Government of Turkey is able to impair/disrupt wireless telecommunications. See OSAC’s report, How Government Oversight of Media and Communications Affects Operations in Africa.

The Department of State encourages travelers to stay in hotels with visible security deterrence measures (e.g. metal detectors, other screening equipment) at all vehicle and pedestrian access points. Nearly all Western-branded hotels in Istanbul maintain on-site security personnel with robust ties to local law enforcement elements. Turkish law requires foreign travelers to register passport information with hotels upon check-in. Review OSAC’s report, Fire Safety Abroad.

Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft

U.S. private-sector entities should obtain legal representation as an additional precautionary and protective measure. Most U.S. private-sector interests with legal counsel on retainer employ foreign firms operating under the banner of Turkish-branded law firms, since Turkish law prohibits foreign law firms to operate independently in Turkey. 

The Turkish economy experienced a sharp currency devaluation in 2018, and is still experiencing consequences. Inflation and unemployment rates, especially youth unemployment, remain high.

Turkey is a major source and transshipment point for counterfeit goods. Do not buy counterfeit or pirated goods. Bootleg copies are illegal to bring into the United States; purchasing them is illegal in Turkey. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are readily available without any prescription. Be aware of packaging that appears to have been tampered with, contains misspelled words, or consists of pills that have been clumsily “stamped” with name-brand logos. 

Personal Identity Concerns

Violence against women, particularly femicides, increased compared with 2018both in rural and urban areas. The government does not effectively or fully enforce laws concerning violence against women and sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, or protect victims. Courts in some cases have given reduced sentences to some men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime. The problematic practice of “honor killings” of women continues across the country, with 31 cases reported in 2019. The prevalence of killings was most severe in the southeast. Gender-equality organizations indicate that incidents of verbal harassment and physical intimidation of women in public occur with regularity, and cite as the cause a permissive social environment in which harassers are emboldened. In one case, in September a woman physically attacked in Ankara reported that authorities tried to legitimize the attack by questioning her during her deposition about what she was wearing and whether the attack occurred late at night. The Embassy is aware of multiple sexual assaults against U.S. citizens in Turkey, including assaults against tourists traveling alone or in small groups, and at spas and hamams. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Homophobia, transphobia, and intolerance towards homosexuality are widespread throughout Turkey. Anti-discrimination laws do not protect LGBTI+ individuals, who have been the targets of violence in recent years. Law enforcement officials sometimes use references in the law relating to “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” as a basis for abuse. In addition, the law states that “no association may be founded for purposes against law and morality,” a clause that authorities have used in attempts to shut down or limit the activities of associations working on LGBTI+ matters.

The governors of Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Gaziantep, and Mersin issued bans on public activities by LGBTI+ persons in 2019. In May and June, police broke up public events related to Pride Month using batons, tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets in Izmir and Istanbul. In Izmir and Istanbul, police detained people for several hours in connection with the events. Police in Ankara also responded to similar events with tear gas despite court rulings that the governorate’s blanket ban on public events by LGBTI+ groups was not legal. Activists report that despite the court’s ruling, the government continues to impose individual bans on events and assemblies. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

The government considers followers of Fethullah Gülen to be members of the “Fethullahist Terror Movement,” which Turkey has designated as a terror organization. Individuals affiliated with the movement and related schools and organizations overseas may encounter difficulties with law enforcement and efforts to enter or leave the country. 

Attacks on minority places of worship are rare. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continues in print media and on social media. Alevis and Christians, including Armenian Apostolics, remained the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. According to the Hrant Dink Foundation’s Media Watch on Hate Speech Report, an analysis of national and local newspapers between January 1 and August 31 found 2,635 instances of published hate speech that targeted national, ethnic, and religious groups. The most-targeted groups were Syrians, Greeks, Jews, and Armenians. Atheists also remain the subject of intimidation in progovernment media, albeit at a lower level relative to other religious minorities. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

The Turkish constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of state services, employment, education, and access to health care. However, access to buildings and public transportation for the disabled in most cities is quite limited, and generally, accessibility for people with disabilities in Turkey is poor. Airports and metro stations are typically accessible, but buses are not. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

More than 15 million citizens are of Kurdish origin and speak Kurdish dialects. Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affect Kurdish communities in rural areas. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experience government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists. Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continue to experience problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association. Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets closed by government decree in 2016 and 2017 after the coup attempt remain shut. In October, the International Crisis Group reported nearly 5,000 persons, including state security personnel, PKK-affiliated militants, civilians, and individuals of unknown affiliation, have died in the conflict since mid-2015.

Drug-related Crimes

Turkey remains a significant transit country for illicit drug trafficking. Traffickers generally move heroin and opium from Central Asia and Afghanistan to European markets, and amphetamine-type stimulants to markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Turkish drug trafficking organizations have a growing presence in South America and are trafficking substantial quantities of cocaine from South America to Europe, Turkey, and Central Asia. Turkish authorities continue to seize large amounts of opiates and hashish. Turkish law enforcement agencies remain strongly committed to disrupting illicit drug trafficking. Narcotics-related offenses carry stiff penalties, and Turkey strictly prohibits narcotics use. Most drug-related crimes occur between drug trafficking organizations, and violence does not often spill over to the public.

The PKK is engaged in trafficking and marketing drugs. The PKK has an established infrastructure and network to produce, transport, and traffic opiates and cannabis from the Middle East through Turkey and throughout Europe. Material evidence and intelligence sources have shown the PKK is also engaged in laundering money from human and drug trafficking. The Turkish government believes there should be a unified front in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism, as the illegal proceeds generated from the illicit drug trade directly support terrorist organizations. 

Kidnapping Threat

In recent years, there have been politically or criminally motivated kidnappings involving Turkish politicians and citizens. In 2019, there were no kidnapping incidents of U.S. nationals or other Westerners in Istanbul. However, due to the worldwide threat presented by extremist organizations, the potential exists for extremist organizations to target Westerners for kidnapping. ISIS has specifically threatened to target U.S. nationals and Westerners for abduction. The kidnapping threat is more likely in areas closer to the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Be aware of surroundings, and avoid large crowds, tourist areas, and places where Westerners congregate. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it illegal to insult the Turkish state; Turkish ethnicity; Turkish government institutions; the founder of modern-day Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; or the Turkish President. It is a crime to insult or to deface statues and images of Atatürk or the Turkish flag, including its use on clothing. Authorities enforce these laws vigorously. Citizens will take offense at any perceived criticism or show of disrespect toward Atatürk. In addition, insults or criticism on social media or otherwise against political figures, including the president, are increasingly prosecuted in criminal courts. Penalties include fines and imprisonment for up to two years. Foreigners are not exempt. Review OSAC’s report, Lèse Majesté: Watching what you say (and type) abroad.

Turkish law has a broad definition of “antiquities,” and makes it a crime to remove any from the country. If you buy antiquities, use authorized dealers, and get museum certificates for each item. Failure to have a receipt and certificate at departure can result in arrest and jail time. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Turkey is 155. To reach Jandarma, for emergencies outside of major cities, call 156. Although only some police officers speak English, operators will generally try to locate an English speaker in an emergency. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

The Turkish National Police (TNP) is a highly trained, professionalized, and capable security agency responsive to crimes committed against foreigners. Employing almost 228,000 sworn police officers, TNP is one of the largest public-sector organizations in the country. It is the leading law enforcement organization, and prides itself on providing professional police and security services to the public. The Gendarmerie (Jandarma) is a paramilitary police force that provides law enforcement services outside of major cities and in rural areas.

In the wake of increased threat from terrorism, the TNP provides a highly visible uniformed presence in/around Istanbul, to include crowded locations of critical infrastructure (e.g. transportation hubs, shopping malls, roadways). Police in areas of Istanbul where Westerners frequent usually have a working proficiency of the English language; however, travelers should work through their local/regional security managers or hotel security when looking to engage with police on non-emergency matters. Response times usually vary based on the location of the emergency and traffic conditions, but typically the first responding officers to an emergency will be on scene within five minutes of notification. Istanbul retains a cadre of English-speaking Tourism Police, reachable at +90-212-527-4503.

U.S. Consulate officers have experienced several challenges associated with obtaining access to U.S. nationals detained on the grounds of alleged connections to elements deemed subversive to the Turkish state. The Government of Turkey typically requires approval through diplomatic channels before granting consular access, and does not routinely grant consular access to detained U.S. nationals who also possess Turkish citizenship. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line in Turkey is 112.

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Medical care provided in Turkish hospitals varies greatly. Though new private hospitals in Ankara, Antalya, Izmir and Istanbul have modern facilities, equipment, numerous U.S.-trained specialists, and international accreditation, some still may be unable to treat certain serious conditions. Health care standards are lower in small cities in Turkey.

Emergency medical services (EMS) throughout Istanbul are professional and experienced. All EMS ambulances carry a doctor and emergency medical technicians, and are capable of providing advanced life support. Istanbul’s EMS network maintains close communication with area hospitals, as most hospitals in Istanbul operate at 80% occupancy most of the time. Travelers transported by ambulance can dictate a hospital preference, but ambulances carrying trauma patients may divert to trauma centers under certain conditions. English fluency among some EMS crews is limited. While rotary-wing EMS platforms exist in Istanbul, they are rare due to the lack of suitable landing zones. Private air ambulance vendors providing medical evacuation (medevac) out of Turkey operate from Istanbul.

Most private hospitals recognize international travel insurance. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

If traveling with prescription medication, check with the government of Turkey to ensure the medication is legal in Turkey. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor’s prescription. Some medications may be unavailable in Turkey. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

Restaurants and hotels catering to foreign clientele maintain excellent hygiene standards. Nevertheless, travelers should not drink tap water in Turkey. Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

All travelers should have received measles vaccinations prior to travel to Turkey. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Turkey.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, and Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel.

OSAC Country Council Information

The OSAC Istanbul Country Council convenes quarterly with general membership meetings open to all OSAC constituents. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

U.S. Consulate Contact Information

Istinye Mahallesi, Üç Şehitler Sokak No. 2, Istinye, 34460 Istanbul

Business hours: 0745 – 1630, Monday – Friday

Telephone: +90-212-335-9000

Website: https://tr.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/istanbul/

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts In Turkey

  • Embassy Ankara, 110 Atatürk Blvd. Kavaklıdere, 06100 Ankara. +90-312-455-5555.
  • Consulate Adana, Girne Bulvari No:212 Guzelevler Mah. Yüreğir, Adana. +90-322-455-4100.

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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