Money & costs
After years of instability, the Turkish lira is now considered relatively stable (though euros are common currency for many hotel owners and tour operators).
Though İstanbul is no longer the bargain travel destination it was in the past, it still offers good value for money. A three-star hotel room for two can cost as little as €60 in Sultanahmet and you can enjoy a decent kebap meal for TL20 to TL25 (without alcohol). Public transport is both efficient and dirt cheap, and many sights – in particular the city’s wonderful array of historical mosques – are free. Others are relatively inexpensive, with the average museum entry being TL15.
This isn’t to say that everything in the city is a bargain. If you decide to have a night on the town and hit the bars in Beyoğlu and nightclubs along the Bosphorus you’ll need to be cashed up – nightclub entries can be as high as TL50 and a drink in these places will cost at least TL20; a glass of wine in one of the glam rooftop bars in Beyoğlu will set you back TL15. And shopping at the new generation of malls such as Kanyon and İstinye Park is no different to blowing your budget in Knightsbridge or on Rodeo Drive – this is designer turf and is priced accordingly.
Taxes & refunds
Turkey has a value-added tax (VAT) known as the katma değer vergisi (KDV). This means that 18% tax is added to (and hidden in) the price of most goods and services.
If nonresidents buy an expensive item such as a carpet or a leather garment from a shop that participates in the national ‘Global Refund: Tax Free Shopping’ scheme and then take the item out of the country within three months, they are entitled to a refund of the KDV. Unfortunately, there aren’t many shops participating in this scheme. Still, it’s always worth asking the shopkeeper if it is possible to get a KDV iade özel fatura (special VAT refund receipt). Ask for this when you’re haggling over the price, rather than after you’ve made your purchase. Some shops display a blue, grey and white ‘Tax Free Shopping’ sign in their window, conveniently signalling that they are participants in the refund scheme.
If the shopkeeper issues the refund receipt, take it with you to the airport when you leave. Before going through immigration, take the receipt and the goods that you have purchased to the ‘Global Refund: Tax Free Shopping’ desk, where staff will stamp the receipts to confirm that you are leaving the country. You then collect your refund from one of two booths in the departure lounge after you have gone through immigration. The refund is available in the form of cash (Turkish lira) on the spot or a credit to your chosen credit-card account.
The unit of currency is the Türk Lirası (Turkish Lira; TL). Coins come in amounts of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 kuruş and 1 lira, and notes in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 lira. In 2003 the Turkish Government passed a law that allowed for the removal of six zeros from the lira. Don’t accept any notes that have lots of zeros on them as this old currency is no longer valid.
Here we have cited prices for hotels and organised tours in euros, as this reflects the reality on the ground. All other prices are in YTL.
Automated teller machines (ATMs, cashpoints) are common in İstanbul. Virtually all of them offer instructions in English, French and German and will pay out Turkish liras when you insert your bank debit (cash) card. ATMs will also pay cash advances on Visa and MasterCard. The limit on cash withdrawals is generally TL600 to TL800 per day, though this varies from bank to bank.
All of the major Turkish banks and some smaller banks have ATMs; Akbank and Yapı Kredi are the most common. The specific machine you use must be reliably connected to the major ATM networks’ computers via telephone lines. Look for stickers with the logos of these services (Cirrus, Maestro, Plus Systems etc) affixed to the machine. If the connection is not reliable, you may get a message saying that the transaction was refused by your bank (which may not be true) and your card will (hopefully) be returned to you.
There are 24-hour exchange bureaux (döviz bürosu) in the arrivals hall at Atatürk International Airport that offer rates comparable to those offered by bureaux in the city. Count the money you’re given carefully and save your currency-exchange receipts (bordro), as you may need them to reconvert Turkish liras at the end of your stay.
US dollars and euros are easily changed at exchange bureaux. They are also often accepted as payment without being changed. Rates are similar whichever bureau you go to, with the possible exception of those in the tourist precinct of Sultanahmet. Bureaux are open long hours (at a minimum, between 9am and 7pm). You will usually need to show your passport when changing cash.
As Turkish liras are fully convertible, there is no black market.
Most hotels, car-rental agencies, shops, pharmacies, entertainment venues and restaurants will accept Visa and Mastercard; Amex isn’t as widely accepted as the others and Diner’s isn’t accepted often. Budget hostels and hotels, and basic eateries such as lokantas, pidecis, kebapçıs and börekçis, usually accept cash only.
If you have travellers cheques, you will have to change them at a bank or post office. Exchange bureaux do not handle them. You’ll need to show your passport.