Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate General Istanbul does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
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.
Please review OSAC’s Turkey-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Istanbul is Turkey’s commercial, cultural, and tourist capital with a population of close to 17 million inhabitants.
As Turkey’s largest metropolitan city, crime rates impacting foreigners are surprisingly low. However, travelers should be aware of petty crimes such as pickpocketing in crowded areas. Credit card and ATM usage is considered relatively safe with nearly no reports of fraud, especially when using them in locations catering to an international clientele. There have been only minor reports of personal data compromise related to U.S. travelers in Istanbul.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Istanbul’s roads are frequently congested with traffic, as transportation infrastructure tries to keep pace with Turkey’s growing economy. Rental car services are available and smartphone-based navigation applications are relatively reliable for those who are otherwise unfamiliar with Istanbul’s geography. However, Istanbul traffic dynamics are often considered to be “aggressive” when 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.
Public Transportation Conditions
Taxis cabs are relatively safe and remain highly regulated by the Turkish government; however, most do not have functional seatbelts in the rear. Furthermore, 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 “drive up” the meter fare. Travelers should always ask to have the meter turned on unless they are comfortable with a pre-negotiated flat rate.
Public buses and the metro service extensive route networks, are reliable, and relatively safe; however, their use can be challenging to travelers unfamiliar with Istanbul.
Istanbul is serviced by two major commercial airports, one on each side of the Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul Ataturk International (IST) and Sabiha Gökçen (SAW)). Travelers are recommended to streamline their travel through the airports to the greatest extent possible, as both airports have been targeted by terrorist groups in 2016. Turkish security services maintain a robust presence at both airports, and travelers seeking assistance from English-speaking security personnel are usually able to do so with relative ease. Only SAW maintains capacity for private/charter aircraft requiring the use of a fixed-base operator.
Other Travel Conditions
Due to Istanbul’s unique topography and historic environs, road travel during the winter months can prove treacherous during periods of inclement weather punctuated by snow and ice.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED ISTANBUL AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Istanbul continues to be targeted by several indigenous and transnational terrorist organizations. Since October 2016, Consulate Istanbul’s dependent family members have been evacuated out of Istanbul in the wake of specific, credible threat information. In 2016, Istanbul has experienced more than 10 terrorist attacks that have resulted in serious injury and/or loss of life. Kurdish Terrorist Groups (KTGs) continue aggressive efforts to sanction attacks against those targets deemed highly symbolic of the Turkish state – predominantly police and military.
- In 2016, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) conducted an attack on Turkish National Police officers in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district, claiming the lives of 39 police officers. The location of the attack also proved very concerning, as it was in an area of Istanbul home to several upscale/Western hotels and commercial interests.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continues aggressive efforts to target civilian populations in Istanbul. In 2016, several ISIL attacks against tourists, Westerners, and other non-combatants marked a paradigm shift in ISIL’s sanctioning of operations in Turkey against targets other than those associated with Kurdish opposition. Beginning in January with an attack on German tourists in Sultanahmet, 2016 saw an ISIL suicide vest attack in March against Israeli/American dual nationals, a June 28 attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, and a New Year’s Eve attack on the Reina nightclub. In 2017, as ISIL continues to face mounting military pressure in Iraq and Syria, the group will seek to conduct additional mass casualty attacks in Istanbul, namely in/around those iconic locations deemed unique to Istanbul. The Department of State continues to revise and reissue Travel Warnings to this effect as a means to sensitize the American traveling public to the specific risks related to the terrorism threat in Istanbul.
Since the July 15, 2016, failed coup attempt, several open media outlets have pursued anti-American rhetoric indicative of conspiratorial undertones suggesting that the U.S. was responsible for bringing about increased political instability to Turkey. However, the increased anti-American sentiment has not manifested in violent demonstrations and/or targeting of U.S. private-sector interests. Most anti-American sentiment fueled in the media emanates from two key issues: the pending extradition from the U.S. of alleged coup leader Fethullah Gülen and the U.S. assistance to Kurdish groups in Syria in the context of counter-ISIL operations but who are viewed by the government of Turkey to be closely aligned with Kurdish terrorist organizations like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Anti-American sentiment reflective of these two issues will likely depend largely on the Trump administration’s willingness to depart from the policies of the Obama administration.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED ISTANBUL AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Turkey’s political stability was challenged during the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The coup was short-lived despite its significant casualty count. Though Turkish citizens remain divided in their support for the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the result of the failed coup demonstrated a populace that remains intent on having a civilian government lead the country. This, combined with the fact that all combat arms units of the Turkish military have been moved out of major urban areas, underscores that coups are highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. In the wake of the 2016 coup attempt, several thousand members of the military and police services continue to be purged, but when viewed in the overall context of the size of Turkey’s security forces, these purges have not degraded their readiness or effectiveness – especially in the realm of counterterrorism.
Turkey’s legislative assembly continues to take steps toward a constitutional referendum potentially expanding the powers of the presidency. A popular vote to decide on Turkey’s system of government is likely to take place in April 2017 and violent protests remain a possibility.
Turkey has enacted legislation since the 2013 Gezi Park riots in Istanbul to inflict harsher punishments for illegal and/or violent protests. Covering one’s face during a protest can result in a prison sentence of up to 25 years. Furthermore, since the failed 2016 coup attempt, Turkey has been under a state of emergency giving the security forces greater powers of arrest to include being able to hold someone without charge for up to 30 days.
Turkey remains tolerant of its religious and ethnic minorities and in Istanbul, provides increased levels of security support around non-Sunni Islamic places of worship (churches, synagogues, Alevi mosques), as these remain locations of concern related to ISIL operations. Especially in the immediate aftermath of an attack perpetrated by KTGs, ultra-nationalist sentiment can manifests in violent attacks against Kurdish businesses, restaurants and/or enclaves occurs.
Istanbul remains a highly active seismic location, but in 2016, there were no earthquakes reported to have caused extensive damage and/or loss of life. All new construction in Istanbul must meet stringent seismic standards.
Basic life support utilities function uninterrupted with most modern offices and hotels employing backup generator systems. However, the government of Turkey does maintain the ability to reduce/eliminate Internet and 3G data connectivity, known as “throttling.” The government of Turkey has in 2016 reduced data bandwidth as a means to control demonstration activity being organized on social media platforms. The government of Turkey has also banned several social media platforms (namely Twitter) as part of its counterterrorism strategy. Travelers with international roaming plans typically do not report interruptions/denial of service, but they should know the government can impair/disrupt wireless telecommunications.
U.S. commercial interests in Turkey have not reported on concerns related to intellectual property rights. U.S. private sector entities are encouraged to obtain legal representation as a precautionary and protective measure. In late 2016, the economy has experienced sharp currency devaluation with unemployment rates increasing beyond 11%. Growth of the developing economy is expected to slow over 2017 with an expected expansion of approximately 2.5%.
Travelers should not have an increased expectation of privacy. Moreover, travelers should be mindful of their social media usage and refrain from posting information that could be perceived as subversive and/or inflammatory to the government of Turkey.
Narcotics-related offenses carry stiff penalties, as narcotics use is strictly prohibited.
Kidnapping remains a concern in Istanbul as a means of terrorism vice kidnapping for ransom operations. However, the threat of kidnapping by extremist organizations is not as acute in Istanbul as in other locations closer to the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Nevertheless, in response to the overall increased risk environment posed by the threat of terrorism, travelers are encouraged to employ heightened personal vigilance and security awareness practices, to include ensuring maximum accountability and communication connectivity.
The Turkish National Police (TNP) is a highly trained, professional, and capable security agency. In the wake of increased threat from terrorism, the TNP provide a highly visible uniformed presence in/around Istanbul, to include crowded locations of critical infrastructure (transportation hubs, shopping malls, tourist sites, roadways). Police in areas of Istanbul where Westerners frequent usually have a working proficiency of English; however, travelers can work through their local/regional security managers or hotel security when looking to engage with police on non-emergency matters.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Under the current state of emergency, Consulate Istanbul has experienced several challenges associated with obtaining access to U.S. citizens detained on the grounds of being connected to elements deemed subversive to the Turkish state.
Crime Victim Assistance
Travelers can contact an English-speaking emergency line by dialing 155. 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 being notified. U.S. citizens can reach the Consulate at +90 212 335 9000.
Istanbul retains a cadre of English-speaking Tourism Police who can be reached at +90-212-527-4503.
Emergency medical services (EMS) throughout Istanbul are professional and experienced given the increased number of mass casualty incidents seen in 2016. 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 which hospital they would like to be transported to. Dialing 112 will connect travelers with EMS.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
U.S. Consulate General Istanbul maintains a list of hospitals in the Consular District.
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.
International travel insurance is recognized by most private hospitals, and travelers are encouraged to obtain insurance.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
It is not recommended that travelers drink the tap water in Istanbul. 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 Istanbul Country Council currently meets four times a year and has approximately 75 members. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Consulate General Istanbul
Istinye Mahallesi, Üç Şehitler Sokak No. 2
Istinye 34460 – Istanbul/Turkey
Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri 0745-1630 (closed on American and Turkish holidays)
Consulate Contact Numbers
Emergency - +90-212-335-9000
Regional Security Office - +90-212-335-9020
Embassy Ankara: https://tr.usembassy.gov/
Consulate Adana: https://tr.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/adana/
U.S. citizens traveling in Turkey are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.
Turkey Country Information Sheet