Turkey Travel Money Guide: Cash, cards and currency

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


Starling Bank

Take a Starling Bank card to Turkey

  • Starling Bank is a great option to take to Turkey
  • Order now and it can arrive within 3 business days
  • No ATM fees
  • No international transaction fees

For Brits travelling to Turkey, it pays to know a thing or two about the right type of travel money to take with you. This article will provide information on the travel cards, credit cards and debit cards that are geared towards international travel to Turkey as well as give some tips about using cash and traveller’s cheques.

It’s good to know that while the traditional way of getting travel money is all well and good, there are a range of digital apps that can make the process even simpler. These include Starling, Revolut and N26. If these new age solutions float your boat, you can read our guide to learn more about them. For the best way to get travel money for a trip to Croatia, though, stay right here for all the info.

The Turkish currency – Lira

Turkey uses the lira and although you can pay with euros in some places, you’re always going to get a better deal if you transact in the local currency. You can get lira from ATMs using your debit card or travel card — withdrawing cash on credit is not advised — Visa and Mastercard cards will work all medium to large businesses throughout the country.

How much lira do I need to bring to Turkey?

Turkey is a value destination for British travellers. Like all places in the world, Turkey is as cheap or expensive as you want it to be.

Istanbul Budget Midrange A royal experience
food Dürüm kebab (street) £3 At a mid-range restaurant £6-12 per dish 5 star restaurant, mains from £25 per dish
sleep Hostel dorm £6+ per night 2 star hotel £25+ per night 5 star hotel £100 – £500 per night
camera Stroll through the Grand Bazar free One day sightseeing tour £60 per person (includes lunch) Private photo tour of Istanbul £200 per person for 4 hours

*Prices are approximate and based on summer seasonality and are subject to change.

Exchange rate history

The Pound Sterling has strengthened against the Turkish lira in recent years. If you believe this trend is set to continue, you can take advantage of weakening lira by using your card to take advantage of the card scheme exchange rate, which is close to the market rate.

Year Average annual exchange Pound Sterling (GBP) to Turkish lira (TRY)
2012 2.853206
2013 2.984268
2014 3.60116
2015 4.167998
2016 4.089899
2017 4.584131

Which exchange rate is the best?

Transactions on Visa, Mastercard and American Express branded credit cards and debit cards use the card scheme exchange rate. This is as close to the market rate as you’re likely to get when you exchange funds from Pound Sterling to Turkish lira. Travel cards use a different rate. The financial institution which provides the travel card applies a margin when you exchange funds between currency wallets.

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. There are debit cards which waive the currency conversion fee as well as the international ATM fee, this is preferable to using a travel card in Turkey as no prepaid travel cards support Turkish lira.

A quick summary of travel money options for Turkey

Travel money option Pros Considerations
Debit cards for travel
  • Debit cards are smaller and safer to carry than cash.
  • You can withdraw local currency from ATM’s, and see the fees on your statement.
  • Using an ATM won’t be free, unless you are using your own bank’s machines. You will be charged a fee for using a machine abroad as well as for the currency conversion.
  • You will need to notify your bank, to avoid your card being frozen
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Hold different currencies
  • Save on currency conversion fees
  • ATM fees
  • Exchange rate fee
Credit cards for travel
  • Rewards program
  • Contactless payments
  • Interest-free period on purchases
  • Complimentary travel insurance
  • Cash advance fees
  • International ATM fees
Traveller’s cheques
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept traveller’s cheques
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

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

Compare travel money services

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Can you get cash? Do you get a free card? Can you load money on an app?
WeSwap has everything you need when it comes to travel money. It offers a debit card and app, or if you prefer cash you can get that too. Signing up takes a few minutes and the card arrives in 3-5 days.
Starling Bank
Starling offers a debit card and app (you can't get travel cash). Starling charges zero fees for spending abroad and the app enables you to lock the card if you lose it while you're on holiday. Also doubles up as a UK current account.
Caxton's currency card allows you to hold multiple currencies in one place. You can use it worldwide and won't be charged any ATM fees. All of that can be controlled from the Caxton app.
No 1. Currency
No. 1 Currency allows you to get travel cash delivered straight to your door, or you can pick it up in store. You can also sell leftover cash back to No.1 Currency.
Currensea allows you to link your travel money card to your everyday bank account. Get your card now and control all your spendings with the Currensea app.

Compare up to 4 providers

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Foreign ATM withdrawals Foreign transactions fee Card cost Delivery speed
Starling Bank
No fees
Between 3-5 working days
Everything you get from a current account, but with new features for mobile living. (E.g. Goals for saving, spending catgorisation, interest on your balances)
Withdrawals of £200/$200/€200 or more – free
smaller withdrawals – a charge of £1.50 per withdrawal

No transaction fees (if you spend in one of the 18 wallet currencies)
Between 3-5 working days in the UK, or within 10 days if you live outside the UK
Tandem (Credit Card)
No ATM fees. However you'll be charged interest from the day you withdraw cash.
No fees
Tandem's credit card doesn't charge fees on purchases abroad, leaving you with more money for your travels.
Two free cash withdrawals per month, £1 thereafter
No fees
App-based current account that keeps you on top of your spending. You can set goals and Loot will help you get there.

Compare up to 4 providers

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

Using debit cards

Much like a prepaid travel money card, a travel debit card lets you spend your own money. 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.

Using credit cards

Credit cards give you a line of credit to use for emergencies, large purchases or over the counter transactions. Remember that your purchases will collect interest though, so either make use of interest-free days by paying your account in full each month or take up a card with a low or 0% purchase rate. Using your credit card at an ATM will cost you a high cash advance fee, as well as interest and international ATM fees. You’ll also want to pick a card that doesn’t charge currency conversion fees, as these will add up each time you use your card to pay in a foreign currency. Credit cards designed for overseas use often come with additional perks such as complimentary travel insurance and rewards programs that could come in handy.

  • Tip: Some no currency conversion fee credit cards also offer travel insurance when you pay for your return travel ticket, which is a further saving.

Using prepaid travel cards

A travel money card is a fairly safe way to take money abroad, however, unlike a debit card, it is not linked to your bank account in order to prevent identity theft and if it is lost or stolen a replacement can be sent to your holiday address. Once you’ve received and activated your card, you can top it up and use it as you would a debit card in merchants and shops across the world. Once you are home, you can continue to use it or simply withdraw all the remaining funds

  • Tip: Travel cards are dual card accounts, so you’ll get two cards. 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 traveller’s cheques

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 traveller’s cheque when you need cash. Traveller’s cheques must be cashed at banks and they are not accepted at exchange offices or businesses.

Paying with cash in Turkey

Always have lira on you 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 a cash affair.

  • Tip: Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on your, tourists are often the target of criminals, especially in areas of Istanbul. Common sense is the best approach.

Using digital banking apps

If paying by cash or traveller’s cheque even is old hat by your standards, then you should consider using a digital banking app on your travels. These apps, including big names like Starling, N26, Revolut and Monzo, provide a straightforward way to make payments while abroad without incurring any transaction or withdrawal fees. Most, if not all, of them are supported by Visa or Mastercard, so you won’t have to worry about your card being rejected. If this sounds good, all you need to do is download one from the App Store or Google Play and get set up.

If you’d like to know more about the quickly evolving world of mobile banking apps, read our guide here.

Buying lira in the U.K.

Whilst you can buy lira in most high street or online travel shops, you will get a better deal if you wait to purchase lira in Turkey as the rate is likely to be worse than what you’ll get from an exchange office or ATM when you arrive. You can compare travel money services here.

Exchanging cash

If you have a no currency conversion fee and no international ATM fee card, ATMs are the best way to get lira in Turkey. When you use your card to withdraw cash, you’ll get the card scheme 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 Pound Sterling and sell you lira. You can find these businesses in tourist areas, for example Taksim in Istanbul, and unlike banks you may not pay a commission. Avoid exchange cash at the airport, the rates are poor.

ATM withdrawals in Turkey

You can use a Visa or Mastercard debit card, credit card and travel card to get cash from Turkish ATMs. Most ATMs give you the choice of withdrawing Turkish lira or euros. Lira is the currency of Turkey, so you’ll need to use lira for cash purchases to avoid losing out by ‘over the counter’ foreign currency exchange rates.

  • Tip: Turkish bank ATMs do not charge a local ATM operator fee. There are instances when the transaction times out, if this is the case, try a different ATM. If charges are applied for a transaction and you don’t get cash, contact your bank to have the situation rectified.

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 thousands 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 so if the product 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. Remember that most credit card purchases will incur interest though, which can heighten your expenses. Travel cards are not the best product to take to Turkey; however, if you’re travelling to the eurozone as well, these products may be worth comparing. Use the right product for the right situation and you’ll save yourself enough for an extra beer, meals, souvenir or even a night out by the end of your trip. Turkey is the gateway to Europe and the meeting point between the East and the West. Compare travel money products which let you spend in foreign currencies and make cheap ATM withdrawals so you can avoid giving your bank a slice of your budget which should be spent enjoying yourself.

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