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Travel money guide: Turkey

How to pick the right travel money product to take with you to Turkey

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Where the Eastern and Western worlds meet, Turkey is a destination for those with a curiosity of history. Grab a snack along the cobblestone streets or take a walk along the ancient trade route of the Bosphorus River to feel a fusion of the modern West and the more traditional Eastern cultures.

The Turkish lira is the accepted currency in Turkey, and although you can pay with euros in some places, you’ll always get a better deal paying in the local currency. Get lira from ATMs using your debit card or travel card — withdrawing cash on credit is not advised. Visa and Mastercard cards are widely accepted, especially in the big cities. We’ll help you save money on your trip to Turkey by avoiding unnecessary fees.

Travel warning in Turkey

As of October 2017 The US State Department as issued a travel warning to American travelers to beware of threats from terrorist groups in Turkey. They advise to reconsider travel to southeast Turkey, including travel to Istanbul and Adana.

Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options to take to Turkey

You won’t have any problems using your Visa and Mastercard credit card and debit card in Turkey, but a thousand things could happen to your card when you’re away. So you should always have more than one way to access your money in Turkey, or anywhere for that matter. A debit card is ideal for ATM withdrawals, especially if your card waives the international ATM fee.

Meanwhile, a credit card gives you a line of credit that can come in handy for large or emergency purchases. Purchases will cost you more if you don’t pay your account in full each month.

Prepaid travel cards are not the cards to take to Turkey because they don’t carry lira. However, on a trip where you’ll be visiting countries that take euro, you may be able to pay the conversion fee when you make purchases.

If you’re careful about how to spend your travel money, saving on foreign transaction fees and getting a good exchange rate, you can earn yourself a bus tour or a meal!

Compare travel money products to keep your budget in check while you enjoy your trip abroad.

How much lira do I need to bring to Turkey?

Turkey is a bargain for US travelers. You’ll pay significantly less for accommodations, sight seeing tours and food. What’s more is that taking a public bus is not only more economical, it can also be pleasant, with free snacks and drinks brought to you by a steward. You won’t see that in New York City! For budget travelers, you can survive on less than $20 a day, mid-range travelers can budget $50 per day. For more luxury hotels and dinner, plan for $150 a day.

IstanbulBudgetMidrangeA royal experience
foodDürüm kebab (street) less than $5At a mid-range restaurant $10–$20 per dish5 star restaurant, mains from $40+ per dish
sleepHostel dorm $9+ per night2 star hotel $25+ per night5 star hotel $80 + per night
cameraStroll through the Grand Bazar freeOne day sightseeing tour $100 per person (includes lunch)Private photo tour of Istanbul $400 per person for 4 hours

*Prices are approximate are subject to change.

Exchange rate history

The USD has grown significantly against the TRY in the past 10 years. Watch the forex markets and determine a good time to buy liras and lock in a favorable rate with traveler’s checks or travel money cards.

How to send money to Turkey

Which exchange rate is the best?

Transactions on Visa, Mastercard and American Express branded credit cards and debit cards use the same exchange rates that are close to the market rate — often 5%–10% better than banks or currency conversion centers. Travel money cards use their own rate, determine by the financial institution that released the card.

As for cash, it’s best to exchange your money when you arrive in Turkey. The commission at money exchanging kiosks in the US are much higher.

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Should you take a travel card, a debit card or a credit card?

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Turkey. American Express cardholders may have issues with card acceptance, especially outside the major cities. There is an abundance of ATMs in Turkey, and if you think you’re going to have an issue using your card in a particular destination, make a withdrawal and use cash instead. You can find debit cards that waive the currency conversion fee and international ATM fees. For using cash, this is the best option because no prepaid travel cards support Turkish lira.

A quick summary of travel money options for Turkey

Travel money optionProsCons
Debit cards
  • Save on currency conversion fees
  • Waived overseas ATM withdrawal fees
  • No access to cash advance
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Holds various currencies
  • Save on currency conversion fees
  • Doesn’t hold Turkish lira
  • Come with lots of fees for loading and reloading, inactivity and ATM withdrawals.
Credit cards
  • Rewards program
  • Contactless payments
  • Interest-free period on purchases
  • Complimentary travel insurance
  • Cash advance fees
  • International ATM fees
Traveler’s checks
  • Accepted at most banks
  • Security
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing
  • Hard to find merchants that accept them
Cash
  • Accepted anywhere
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • High risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

How do travel cards, credit cards and debit cards work in Turkey?

Using debit cards

A travel debit card lets you spend your own money through ATM withdrawals and making purchases anywhere Visa or Mastercard are accepted. You can use a debit card over the counter and to withdraw money from ATM where Visa and Mastercard are accepted throughout the country, which is most places. Because you’re spending your own money, you avoid interest charges you’d pay with credit cards. The Citibank Plus waives the fee for international ATM withdrawals and doesn’t charge a monthly account keeping fee.

Tip: Citibank no longer has a presence in Turkey. You can use your Citibank Plus to make free ATM withdrawals from Denizbank ATMs (and most ATMs from Turkish banks), the company which purchased Citibank’s Turkish operation.

Using credit cards

Travel credit cards give you a line of credit to use for emergencies, large purchases or over the counter transactions. Find yourself a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees. Carrying a credit card gives you the added benefit of travel insurance and discounts, depending on your provider. For added savings, take advantage of the interest-free period by paying your balance in full each month.

Cards that offer travel perks and waive fees often charge an annual fee, so make sure the fee is worth it before you bring it along on your travels. If you’re ever in a jam, credit cards also offer the ease of cash advances, though we don’t recommend it. You’ll pay high fees and interest rates apply the moment you get your money.

Using a credit card in Turkey

Using prepaid travel cards

No travel cards support Turkish lira, so look for a card which waives the currency conversion fee, such as Qantas Cash, if you’re set on taking a travel card when you visit Turkey. These products won’t apply the additional charge for currency conversion when you spend in lira, which can be higher than what you’d pay if you use your regular debit or credit card. The compromise is these cards will charge you to use an international ATM withdrawal in Turkey, which is a couple of dollars for each withdrawal. You can load these cards with euros to use at some merchants— but don’t count on it. And you won’t get the best exchange rate.

  • Tip: When you get a travel card, you’ll get two for the same account. This can come in handy if your first card is lost or stolen, so make sure to keep the second card in a safe place.

Using traveler’s checks

It’s far more convenient (and it can be cheaper) to use your travel friendly debit card or prepaid travel card to make ATM withdrawals rather than a traveler’s check when you need cash. They must be cashed at banks and they are not accepted at exchange offices or businesses.

Paying with cash in Turkey

Always have lira on hand when you’re out and about in Turkey, as you’re bound to run into situations where a business won’t accept your card. Cafes, small eateries and tea houses are all cash only. Larger stores are likely to take cards but some of the best experiences, like shopping in the Grand Bazaar, are cash only.

  • Tip: Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, as tourists are often the target of criminals, especially in areas of Istanbul.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
Earn a huge signup bonus worth $$1,000 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
American Express® Gold Card
35,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $350 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
Hilton Honors American Express Card
80,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
$0
With a massive welcome offer for a no-annual-fee card and up to 7x points at Hilton, this is a solid pick for Hilton fans and occasional travelers. Rates & fees
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
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Luke’s trip to Turkey

Luke spent a week in Istanbul, Turkey before joining a TopDeck tour which took him to the Gallipoli dawn service at Lone Pine to end up in Greece. We interviewed Luke about his travel money experience while in Turkey.
What cards did you take with you?

Why did you take these cards to Turkey?

He brought the Citibank Plus because he wouldn’t pay to make international purchases or ATM withdrawals and he got free international money transfers to his bank account. The Simmons Rewards Visa Signature® offers rewards, travel insurance and has no annual fee. And because it’s a Visa card, it’s accepted at most places.

Were there any places where you had trouble using any of your cards?

Luke says in Istanbul most places accepted credit cards. There were a large number of local and international bank ATMs where he could withdraw cash and major retailers and large restaurants — not the kebab shops on the sidewalk — where he could use his card. In Gallipoli, he made sure he had enough cash to cover the cost of purchasing snacks and drinks, he says there are limited facilities at ANZAC Cove.

Do you have any travel money tips for Turkey?

Luke says take note of the following:

  • Let your banks know where you’ll be heading so they don’t block your cards.
  • Don’t be tricked by exchange offices at Istanbul bus stations. Luke says he got ripped off the first time he tried to change cash. This only happened once, but he says the memory still stings.
  • You need to have Turkish bank account if you want a Turkish debit card to use while you’re on holiday. Luke says he didn’t encounter any shops or businesses selling these cards to tourists.
Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

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Buying lira in the US

While you’ll get a better rate if you wait to get Turkish lira in Turkey , you can purchase lira in the US from your bank or a foreign exchange provider like Travelex. Here are some popular ways to exchange your US currency into lira.

American Express

Travelex

Worldremit

Exchanging cash

If you’re bringing a card that has no currency conversion and no international ATM fee card, using an ATM is the best way to get lira in Turkey. When you use your card to withdraw cash, you’ll get the card’s foreign exchange rate, which is a better rate than what you’ll get at exchange offices or banks. If you have cash to exchange, most exchange offices will buy USD and sell you lira. You can find these businesses in tourist areas like Taksim in Istanbul. And unlike banks you may not pay a commission. You’ll get a poor rate if you exchange money at the airport.

ATM withdrawals in Turkey

Good news! Turkish bank ATMs do not charge a local ATM operator fee, though your bank may. You can use a debit, credit and travel cards with the Visa or Mastercard logo to get cash from Turkish ATMs. You can withdraw both lira and euros, but save yourself the over the counter currency exchange rates and use lira for your purchase

  • Tip: There are instances when the transaction times out. If this happens to you try a different ATM. Contact your bank if they charge you for a withdrawal and you didn’t get your money.

Cash pickup services in Turkey

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 7.626 TRY 7,596 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
$0 1 - 2 days USD 1.99 7.511 TRY 7,496 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 Same day USD 8.00 7.492 TRY 7,432 Easily transfer cash to more than 350,000 locations around the world. Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 7.473 TRY 7,324 The biggest name in money transfers can get your funds to friends, family, or businesses in almost every corner of the globe. Show details

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Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.
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