The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Turkey at Level 3, indicating travelers should reconsider travel due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions. Do not travel to areas in Turkey near the Syrian and Iraqi borders due to the continued threat of civil war in Syria and attacks by terrorist groups.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
Review OSAC’s Turkey-specific 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.
There is minimal risk from crime in Istanbul. 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 airport as well as on public transportation, including on buses, dolmuses (hop-on hop-off for pay mini-bus), trolleys, and the metro. Credit card and ATM usage is relatively safe with few reports of fraud, including in locations catering to international clientele.
U.S. citizens have reported a particular 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 Fatih neighborhood. The ultimate 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. Instances of this type of scam occur more often in the summer, at the peak of the tourist season, and are most likely underreported.
Internet crimes, mainly consisting of fraud and romance scams, have increased significantly in Turkey over the past several years. While the type of scam can vary from a romance to a visa lottery, they all have the same goal in common – to entice the victim to send money to an individual or company in Turkey. The most common scam involves a person in Turkey (often claiming to be a U.S. citizen living here) beginning a long-distance relationship with a someone living in the United States. After several months of online communication, the person in Turkey alleges medical or legal trouble that requires substantial monetary aid to address. For a full list of scams, visit the State Department’s International Financial Scams webpage.
For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
As Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul is serviced by two large international airports, one of which – Atatürk International Airport (IST) – is expected to move to a new location north of the city in 2019. According to Turkish officials, this new airport will service some 200 million passengers annually when operating at full capacity.
Traffic frequently congests Istanbul’s roads, as transportation infrastructure struggles to keep pace with the city’s growing population. Drivers regularly 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, blocked easily by accidents or delivery vehicles. Roads can abruptly turn into dead ends or change into one-way 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. Drive defensively at all times, 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. For more information on driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.
Public Transportation Conditions
Taxicabs are relatively safe and remain highly regulated by the Turkish government; however, most do not have functional seatbelts in the rear seats. The majority of 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 comfortable with a pre-negotiated flat rate.
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.
The city of Istanbul straddles two continents and the Bosporus Strait. Three toll bridges span the Bosporus, and ferries constantly 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.
Istanbul remains the only city in Turkey where Uber ride-sharing services are operational. However, in recent months and under pressure from the taxi unions, the Turkish government has intimated plans to prohibit Uber’s platform in Turkey. As of this report’s publication, the Uber smartphone app remains functional and is a safe, reliable, and convenient mode of transportation, as are other ride-sharing applications. Reportedly, the Ministries of Tourism and Transportation and municipal authorities both license all Uber drivers. However, there have been a number of reports of Uber drivers stopped at traffic checkpoints and receiving fines for providing unlicensed car service; in some instances, police have fined passengers in the same vehicles. For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy.
Private cars and drivers are readily available in Istanbul and relatively affordable, especially for airport transfers.
Currently, Atatürk Airport (IST) remains the primary international air hub on the European side of Istanbul. IST airport was supposed to close and transition operations to New Istanbul Airport (ISL) in October 2018. However, the airport rescheduled the transition date for all commercial flight service departing from ISL to later in 2019; there is only limited commercial flight service from ISL at this time. Expect flight disruptions during the scheduled 2019 transition from IST to ISL. Once commercial flight service moves to the New Istanbul Airport, its airport identifier will become IST and the old Atatürk airport will become ISL. Cargo operations will continue from Atatürk airport for an undetermined period, as cargo hangars/facilities at the new airport remain under construction.
There is only one 400-room hotel at ISL; however, only half of those rooms will be ready by March 2019, and rooms will only be available for occupancy on the secure side of the airport. Metro lines and other public transportation from the New Airport into Istanbul will not be complete for at least 18 months after the opening.
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 (FBO).
Turkish security services continue to maintain a robust presence at the airports, and travelers seeking assistance from English-speaking security personnel are usually able to do so with relative ease.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is considerable risk from terrorism in Istanbul. Turkey’s security environment has vastly improved over the last two years; however, southeastern provinces of Turkey remain under more heightened threat of extremist activity. Efforts by Turkey’s security services to detect, deter, and disrupt extremist organizations operating in Turkey, coupled with U.S-led Counter-ISIS Coalition successes in Syria, have diminished these organizations’ capacity to carry out terrorist attacks in Istanbul. Take the necessary steps to protect yourself appropriately when visiting destinations frequented by Westerners, as outlined in the travel advisory.
Although Istanbul has not suffered a significant extremist attack since January 2017, the extremist threat to conduct terrorist attacks against U.S. interests and Western targets continues. ISIS continues efforts to target U.S. interests, Westerners, and civilian populations worldwide.
U.S. Consulate General Istanbul remains a fully staffed post, to include family members. However, as threat conditions on occasion dictate, Consulate staff and family members may be subject to certain security and movement restrictions.
Since an attempted coup d’état in 2016, purges of several thousand members of the Turkish military and law enforcement continue. 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.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) continues its efforts to attack targets highly symbolic of the Turkish state – predominantly police and military. In 2018, the PKK or its affiliates did not perpetrate any attacks in Istanbul.
The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKC-P) targets Turkish and U.S. government facilities alike; it has stated its intention to commit further acts against Turkey, NATO, and the United States. On February 2, 2019, Turkish security services apprehended Hatice Ruken Kilic, one of two terrorists who evaded capture after conducting a shooting attack against the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul in 2015. Kilic had been on the run and in hiding for over three years.
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, holding them in pretrial detention without charges. Although the State of Emergency ended in July 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. citizens, for alleged affiliation with terrorist organizations based on scant or secret evidence and grounds that appear politically motivated. Some U.S. citizens have also been subject to exit bans preventing them from departing Turkey.
This 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. Consulates General in Istanbul and Adana, as well as other dual-national U.S.-Turkish citizens, on specious charges or without any charge(s) at all.
Additionally, pro-government media outlets have pursued anti-U.S. rhetoric with conspiratorial undertones, suggesting that the United States is responsible for bringing about increased political instability in Turkey. Inflammatory anti-U.S. rhetoric 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.
Because of this inaccurate reporting, there was a boycott on U.S. brands in the fall of 2018, with pro-government papers publishing full-page color ads targeting Turkish companies who use, invest in, or give advertising revenue to U.S.-affiliated platforms.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Istanbul. Turkey has enacted legislation since the 2013 Gezi Park riots to inflict harsher punishments for illegal and/or violent protests. For example, covering one’s face during a protest can result in a prison sentence of up to 25 years. Participation in demonstrations not explicitly approved by the Government of Turkey can result in arrest.
Turkey remains tolerant of religious and ethnic minorities, and provides increased levels of security support around non-Sunni Islamic places of worship – especially those ISIS is known to target. Overall, religious and ethnic minorities report receiving sufficient security support from the Turkish government around their houses of worship and cultural centers.
Istanbul remains a highly active seismic location. In 2018, there were no earthquakes reported to have caused extensive damage and/or loss of life. All new construction must meet stringent seismic standards.
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 3G data connectivity. Known as “throttling,” the government reduced data bandwidth as a means to control demonstration activity organized on social media platforms in 2017. It banned several social media platforms, claiming such moves are part of its counterterrorism strategy. Travelers with international roaming plans typically do not report interruptions/denial of service, but they should know that the Government of Turkey is able to impair/disrupt wireless telecommunications.
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 their passport information with hotels upon check-in. For more information on fire safety in hotels, review OSAC’s Report, Fire Safety Abroad.
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 have such law firms represented in Turkey, but under Turkish-branded law firms, since Turkish law prohibits foreign law firms to operate independently in Turkey.
The Turkish economy experienced a sharp currency devaluation through August 2018, recovering slightly by the end of the year. Growth of the developing Turkish economy may slow in 2019. Inflation and youth unemployment rates are high.
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.
Turkey remains a significant transit country for illicit drug trafficking. Traffickers generally move heroin, opium, and cocaine through Turkey to European markets, and amphetamine-type stimulants to markets in the Middle East and Southeast 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.
In 2018, there were no kidnapping incidents of U.S. citizens 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 kidnap. The kidnapping threat is more likely in areas closer to the Syrian and Iraqi borders. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
The Turkish National Police (TNP) is a highly trained, professionalized, and capable security agency. 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. 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.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Detained or harassed U.S. citizens should contact American Citizen Services at +90-212-335-9000 or via email at ACS_Istanbul@state.gov.
Crime Victim Assistance
Contact an English-speaking emergency line by dialing 155.
Istanbul retains a cadre of English-speaking Tourism Police, reachable at +90-212-527-4503.
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 the majority 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.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Dialing 112 from any wireless or landline telephone handset will connect travelers with EMS.
For medical assistance, please refer to the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
While rotary-wing EMS platforms exist in Istanbul, they are rarely used due to the lack of suitable landing zones. Private air ambulance vendors providing medical evacuation travel out of Turkey operate from Istanbul.
Most private hospitals recognize international travel insurance. Travelers are encouraged to obtain insurance.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Travelers should not drink the tap water in Istanbul. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?. Restaurants and hotels catering to foreign clientele maintain excellent hygiene standards.
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Turkey.
OSAC Country Council Information
The OSAC Istanbul Country Council convenes quarterly with general membership meetings open to all OSAC constituents. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.
U.S. Consulate General Istanbul Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
Istinye Mahallesi, Üç Şehitler Sokak No. 2, Istinye 34460 – Istanbul
Working Hours: Monday-Friday, 0745-1630 (closed on U.S. and Turkish holidays)
Consulate Contact Numbers
Emergency - +90-212-335-9000
U.S. citizens are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in addition to monitoring security messaging for Turkey, which will be amplified through Department of State consular and OSAC messaging platforms.
Turkey Country Information Sheet