Whenever I began telling people I was headed to Turkey, I heard it all.
“Why would you want to go there?”
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
My absolute favorite: “Don’t die.” (Yes, somebody actually told me this.)
I understand their concern for my well-being, but it seemed far worse than simply asking, “Is traveling to Turkey safe?”
Here are some startling statistics I found out about Turkey and safety!
So, is Turkey safe?
(Short Answer: Traveling to Turkey IS Safe. Additionally, the safety of Istanbul is similar to its peers in Europe.)
Where is Turkey?
Known as the land between the East and West, present-day Turkey is located in both Europe and Asia.
Turkey shares a border with Greece, Bulgaria, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Major bodies of water include the Black Sea, the Bosphorus Strait, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Aegean Sea.
Additionally, a wide variety of geographical difference occurs, from the Mediterranean Coast, to the Cappadocia Region, to the Black Sea Region.
Turkey has served as a strategic point and as an important economic point throughout history.
The ancient empire of Byzantine (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire) was an empire that lasted from the early 300s CE to 1453. Then, the Ottoman Empire lasted from 1453 until 1922.
In 2021, the Turkish Republic is led by President Erdogan.
Both the Byzantine and Ottoman empire’s capital was the city of Istanbul. (Known as Constantinople during the Byzantine reign.) Now, the capital in Ankara.
Is Turkey Safe?
Lately, U.S.-Turkish relations have been strained due to a myriad of factors (including the USA’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide.)
However, this does not mean Turkey is not a safe place for American travelers. I would not mention this topic while walking through public.
Side Note: It might be best to avoid the following topics as conversation starters in Turkey: The Armenian Genocide, anything supportive of the Kurdish people, and the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
As an American, it was really sad when I was doing research on Turkey’s crime rate. Mainly due to the amount of violence within the USA.
Here where some starting statistics I found out. These numbers were up to 2012, so we can expect some inflation as worldwide crime has also increased.
- Turkey is ranked 51st in the world
- USA is ranked #1.
- USA is ranked 9th in the world for the murder rate per million people.
- The total crime per 1,000 people is 4.41 in Turkey.
- In the United States, the total crime per 1,000 people is 41.29. (9x more likely)
- Rape is 79 times more likely in the United States than in Turkey.
- The USA has the largest prison system in the world with around 2,000,000 prisoners.
Judging by those numbers, you can see that Turkey is a safer place than the USA.
“But what about terrorism in Turkey?” One American might say. “Turkey shares a border with both Iran, Syria, Iraq.”
Turkey does face many international disputes with different countries and people groups including: Syria, Cyprus, Armenia, and the Kurdish people.
However, this does not mean that Turkey is any less safe.
Terrorist attacks in Turkey are few and far between, and sadly, the last major terrorist attack occurred in 2017.
Meanwhile in the United States, we have had the 2019 El Paso Massacre, the Pittsburg Synagogue tragedy, and numerous other mass shootings.
Avoid the Southeast Border of Turkey
This is not about terrorism as much as it is avoiding wartime conflict.
The Kurdish-Turkey conflict is ongoing, as it has been since 1978.
In order to be safe, I would suggest following the State Department’s suggestion on avoiding the southeast provinces, just in case.
However, safety in Turkey should not be of concern. Be smart and practical. Carry a small bag in front of you. Be aware in crowds. etc.
I felt extremely safe in Turkey. The people are extremely kind, and more than once I trusted random strangers. (Especially at bus stations where there are obvious language barriers.)
Scams & Things to Watch Out For in Istanbul
Please note: I never felt threatened by anyone in Istanbul. Frustrated? Yes.
Crime often decreases as you travel throughout rural areas, and Turkey follows this trend.
However, the first spot almost everyone visits within Turkey is the beautiful city of Istanbul.
Istanbul is the largest city within Turkey, and about 19% of the entire Turkish people live within its limits. Additionally, it is the most populous city in Europe and the world’s 15th largest city.
With this influx of people, it is only natural that crime occurs at a higher frequency within Istanbul than in the Turkish Countryside. (Cappadocia, for instance.)
Istanbul’s crime rate is relative to its European peers, Paris, etc.
Most of the crime is small, petty crime including pickpocketing, bag slashing, and bag snatching.
However, this doesn’t mean that there are other ways to be taken advantage of. There are numerous scams to look out for when traveling in general, but there are 3 more prominent scams within Istanbul. I saw each of these while in the city.
Scam #1: The Shoe Shiner
The story goes something like this.
A man drops something in front of you. Typically, it’s a shoe shine brush. You pick it up and hand it back to him.
He insists on cleaning your shoes as payment for retrieving his brush, and you oblige.
However, after he is done cleaning your shoes, he expects some payment for his services.
Way to avoid this scam: If somebody drops a shoe-shine brush in front of you, either a) pick it up, give it to him, and refuse the shoe-shine. Or b) ignore it and keep walking.
Whenever this happened to me, I decided to just ignore it. Then, the shoe shiner picked it up, and moved on to the next target.
Quite literally, he dropped his brush again when the people behind me walked beside him.
Scam #2: Being taken to a bar (for single, male travelers) and expected to pay an inflated rate.
The point of this scam is to get you alone in a private place.
You are approached by someone walking down the street. He will say a few things, want to take a picture with you, or ask you a question in Turkish.
Then, when you say, “I don’t know any Turkish,” he will speak English. (Giveaway #1)
After talking for a while, the scammer will claim to know the “best bar in Istanbul.” They want to take you there and show you the best hospitality in Istanbul. (Giveaway #2: He will only want to go to a specific bar. Usually, the bar owners and scammers are combined in this operation.)
Thinking the person is being kind, you go, drink a few drinks, etc.
However, at the end of the night, your new “friend” is gone.
Then, you are given a highly inflated bill for your food/drinks and expected to pay it. (Side note: Alcohol is HIGHLY taxed in Turkey)
Ways to Avoid this Scam: There are a couple of ways to avoid this. #1 If somebody approaches you on the street, ignore them or stay in a public place. #2 Ask if your friends can come along as well. (Even if you don’t have any friends. The point of this scam is to see if you are alone.) #3 Ask if you go to a different bar that YOU know. If they say no, then don’t go.
I saw the bar scam in the Taksim Square region, which is a popular tourist area for accommodations and night-life.
Usually, these people “inviting” you to a bar were young 20 year old males.
However, I did not see it in the Sultanhamet district.
Scam #3: Taxi Charges
This is typical in most countries.
There are two ways in which scams one can occur.
#1: The taxi driver claims to know a “faster” way, but it isn’t faster. Instead, he is just charging a higher meter price. (Or he never started the taxi meter!)
#2 The Taxi Driver does not give you the correct change, and says you gave him a 5 instead of a 50. (or something similar)
Ways to avoid the taxi scams:
#1 You should always make sure the taxi meter is running. Additionally, use the maps application on your phone and insist that the driver take that way.
For #2, be confrontational. You may feel like a bad person, but it’s your money.
Be aware of Ubers
Some Uber drivers will insist you pay them Turkish Lira saying the meter does not work. Then they will charge you on the app when you get out of the car. Unfortunately, this happened to a friend of mind.
Nobody in Istanbul used the meter, so be wary of the taxi you enter. Additionally, never pay credit card within the taxi, even if they take accept it.
My friend who got scammed with the Uber driver tried to use a credit card on another taxi ride, and they tried to charge him double!
This was despite the fact they had already agreed upon a price!
Other scams I saw:
- Somebody attempted to charge me 5 Lira for taking a picture. Turns out, it was not their store. (And I didn’t pay him.)
Scams during COVID-19
- There are some people offering to “help” tourists get a HES code over by the Golden Horn. This is illegal, as the HES code is FREE and they don’t actually put your information for contact tracing.
How to Travel Turkey Safely
I. Don’t make yourself look like a target
I call this one “walk with purpose,” and it is especially more prevalent in Istanbul and large cities.
Just look like you know what you’re doing, and it really helps you blend in.
Additionally, don’t wear cowboy boots or anything of that sort, as it makes you stand out more.
2. Travel in Groups
Whenever you are traveling solo, you are more likely to be approached on the street. Some great conversations can come out of this, but it also can make you a more vulnerable target.
Groups of people are a lot more intimidating, as there are more eyes watching you on the street.
So, how do you meet people if you are a solo traveler like me? I have been staying a hostels throughout Turkey, and it is the best way to get to know other travelers.
Sometimes, they might be headed to the same place as you the next day!
(I met a German at a hostel in Istanbul, and then we met again in Fethiye, and then Cappadocia!)
3. Use Trip Insurance
Look, at the end of the day, things can happen. That is why it is extremely important to buy trip insurance.
Bag stolen: Trip Insurance
Hospital Bill: Trip Insurance
This goes beyond the typical trip to Turkey, but it is good practice for all trips.
Many people use World Nomads for their insurance, and it is a reputable company with good reviews.
Additionally, check with your health insurance provider to see if they offer international coverage.
4. Be weary of the Economic Conditions
This is more of a prediction than a current observation. Inflation in Turkey has averaged double-digits since the early 2000s, and inflation is projected to be about 12.2% in 2021.
With inflation in the U.S. averaging 5%, I imagine the rest of the world will follow in 2021/2022.
Partial and full government lockdowns with no government assistance in Turkey could result in more petty crime. However, this is going to happen worldwide, and it is not strictly a Turkish problem.
5. Avoid crowds and mass demonstrations
Again, this is more of a general travel suggestion than one specific to Turkey.
Being in crowds does two things: It increases the likelihood of something going wrong, fast.
Additionally, theft occurs at a higher rate due to mass congestion of people.
Just be hyper-aware if you are in a large group.
6. Pedestrian Safety
So, unlike most other countries, the pedestrian does not have the right-away in Turkey.
It may not look like it does in Southeast Asia…..
but it is still crazy. BE VERY AWARE WHEN CROSSING A BUSY STREET!
7. Traveling to Turkey during COVID-19
While I hope to not write about COVID-19 soon, it still is something to be concerned about in 2021.
When I first went to Turkey, they were just opening up from their first official lockdown.
So, there are a few things you should know about Turkey & COVID-19.
- Tourists are allowed to visit Turkey, and they have been allowed to do so throughout the pandemic.
The primary reason for this is to help the economy, as Turkey heavily relies on tourism for its economy. (More so in Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Antalya.)
- The second thing to be aware of is Turkey’s health care. Turkey has public and private health care options, but the public health care option is highly underfunded.
Additionally, expect long lines and wait times for public health care options.
Turkish Phrases to Learn BEFORE You Go
I am absolutely horrific at learning languages.
However, here are four common Turkish phrases you need to know *before you travel to Turkey.
- Thank You
- How Much?
- Good Bye
- Hosca kalin
By now, I hope I have convinced you that a visit to Turkey is safe!
In fact, I would undergo the same precautions for planning a trip to Turkey as I would planning a trip to any other major city/country in Europe.
However, my most important advice is this, be aware of your surroundings and look like you belong. This just means hyper-observant.
Additionally, for solo-travelers, if somebody approaches you on the street, they are not trying to be your friend. Sorry. (Especially carpet salesman!!!!!!!!)
If you have any questions about my visit to Turkey, I would be more than happy to answer them down in the comment section.
What about you? What were your experiences in Turkey like?