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Can Foreigners Buy a SIM Card in Turkey?

A citizen of any country can get a Turkey SIM card from a local mobile operator on the first day of arrival in the country. However, there are some tricky conditions that should be taken into account, and we are going to look at them in our post.

First of all, why do you need a local Sim card if there are enough places in the country with WiFi? Well, the card still adds to your convenience. An app for calling a taxi, Google Maps to find your way while outside major tourist routes, or emergency situations – who knows what may happen? So we recommend staying in touch even outside WiFi zones.

Buy a SIM card in Turkey

Basics About Turkish Mobile Communications

The terms of using mobile communication services in Turkey directly depend on the foreigner’s purposes:

  • If we are talking about a one-time short-term visit (one to three months), it does not matter where to buy a SIM card and how much it will cost: in any case, the price will not exceed the cost of roaming. 
  • If you expect to have stronger connections with Turkey (residence in the country for more than 3 months, periodic visits throughout the year, opening a bank account, obtaining a residence permit), you will have to study the rules of Turkish telecom services providers to stay in touch all the time.

Turkish Mobile Communication: What Foreigners Need to Know

  1. In Turkey, you will have to provide an ID document to buy a SIM card: foreigners can present a passport or residence permit, and Turkish citizens will need an internal passport. Beware of sellers who sell the Turkish SIM card to you without requesting a document: it will mean that you purchase a card issued to an unknown Turkish citizen. As a result, the owner of someone else’s SIM card will face a lot of problems in Turkey when trying to obtain legal status, get a residence permit, or register a phone. When you buy a Turkish SIM card, show your ID and make sure that the number is registered in your name. To check this, just download the mobile operator’s application where the name of the SIM card owner is displayed.
  2. Telecom service rates for non-residents are higher than for locals. After obtaining a residence permit, you can change the service plan to a more convenient and profitable one.
  3. The range of prices varies rather greatly from operator to operator. The cost depends not only on the service package but also on the city and point of sale: SIM cards are cheaper in the official operator stores, while they naturally tend to be more expensive in tourist places and at airports because of the markup. The addresses of the official points of sale are listed on each mobile operator’s website. The main players in Turkey are Turkcell, Vodafone, and Türk Telekom. Visit any provider’s website and look at the cost of different packages to see the real prices for services and avoid paying too high for new SIM cards.
  4. The cost of an initial connection to the Turkish mobile communication system implies the price of a SIM card (there are no free offers) and a service package. As soon as you’ve done that, you will only have to pay the monthly service rate.
  5. The rates of Turkish mobile operators can be divided into two general groups: special offers for tourists (they are more expensive; the Turkish phone number is active for no longer than 3 months during the maximum period of visa-free stay in the country) and ordinary SIM cards (without account replenishment; the number is active for no longer than 6 months and is sold for foreigners with a residence permit only).
  6. Turkish operators do not charge per minute for calls or in case of offers with unlimited mobile Internet. Services are sold only in packages, for example, 20 GB of Internet traffic, 50 SMS, and 600 minutes for calls around the country within 30 days. You can choose the offer that will suit your needs: some of you will not need more than 2 GB per month, while others will require 90 GB.
  7. You can top up your mobile account to pay for the next package of gigabytes and minutes per month in cash at SIM points of sale or using scratch cards. To replenish the balance on the Internet, you will need a Turkish or a foreign Visa or MasterCard card.

I’ve Bought a Turkish SIM card: What’s Next?

The foreigner’s phone is blocked in Turkish mobile networks 120 days after the start of using local SIM cards (tourist or ordinary ones), which is a feature that comes as a surprise to many people. Of course, this circumstance should be taken into account not only by immigrants who are going to settle down in the country but also by tourists – or at least some of them.

Let’s see an example of what will happen to your phone. 

  1. Suppose, a Serbian girl called Branka came to Alanya in April to have a few weeks of rest. She bought a tourist SIM card, used it while on vacation, and then came back home and threw it away. 
  2. Although Branka is a tourist, she was connected to the Turkish mobile communication system, which means that the slot reserved for her phone will be blocked within 4 months without her ever noticing it.
  3. In October of the same year, Branka came to Alanya again to stay for a couple of weeks at the seaside. She bought a new SIM card for a tourist in Turkey, inserted it into the slot, and it turned out that the phone would not catch any network.

Branka is at a loss. She finds a consultant who tells her what to do to stay in touch:

  • If the smartphone has 2 slots, just insert the SIM card into the neighboring one as it will be unblocked.
  • During the next vacation, bring another phone to Turkey (you can borrow one) or use Wi-Fi.
  • Wait until January 1. Every New Year, there is a kind of “telephone amnesty” in Turkey when all foreign mobile devices are unblocked and a new 120-day countdown begins.

If Branka wants to visit Turkish resorts twice a year, she will need to adjust to the phone unblocking deadlines and/or get an additional gadget to remain in touch.

This example is a useful tip for all vacationers. 

However, immigrants and foreigners who intend to visit Turkey on a regular basis should adopt a different strategy to avoid inconveniences:

  • Pay a special tax for a smartphone brought from abroad. In 2023, the amount of this tax is expected to amount to 6,150 liras ($329). Please note that you need to register a residence permit and make sure that the SIM card is issued in your name (and the spelling of the name coincides with your ID document) to legalize your phone in Turkey.
  • If you intend to regularly visit Turkey without a residence permit and do not want to mess about with taxes and phone registration, you can buy a phone in Turkish stores and use it while in Turkey. However, keep in mind that Turkey has the world’s highest taxes on mobile phones, and you will have to pay 20-30% more than in Europe for a new smartphone.

Conclusion

Turkey is not a country that offers a lot of freedom when it comes to mobile communications for foreigners, and it has its reasons to do so: the country imposes all these restrictions in an effort to prevent the smuggling of equipment and limit illegal migrants’ flow. 

However, these inconveniences are offset by the benefits of convenient relocation and ease of legalization in the country for immigrants. If you are thinking about relocating to Turkey and have some questions about the process, please contact our specialists to get qualified advice and support in this responsible undertaking.

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