Turkey has one of the most complicated sim card policies in the world. Here's everything you need to know about buying a sim card in Turkey.
Turkey has 3 mobile network service providers:
All three have good network speeds and coverage in Istanbul. Turkcell is the leading market provider while Vodafone comes in a close second and Turk telecom has the smallest market.
All mobile phones bought outside Turkey must be registered with the government. However, there's a grace period of 120 days where you can use your mobile phone without registering it, after this period elapses you won't be able to use any Turkish sim card on an unregistered phone. Once you arrive in Turkey, you can purchase a local sim card after showing your passport. After a few days of using the local sim card, the mobile operator will send a text to your line indicating when your grace period ends.
The mobile phone registration fee is 2000 Turkish Lira ( around US$ 230) inclusive of the tax charged on foreign devices. It's cheaper and makes more sense to simply buy a new phone in case you'll stay in Turkey for more than 120 days.
There are sim card stores all over Istanbul, you'll get the best deals when purchasing from official stores. You only need your passport and photo ID to buy a sim card in Turkey.
Sim cards are active for 6 months from your last top-up. You extend your sim card validity every time you top up. In case you visit Turkey get a sim card and depart without registering your foreign phone, the next time you visit you'll have to use a different phone since the grace period on your phone will have already passed.
Roaming rates on European sim cards are not regulated in Turkey since its EU membership is not certain. This makes roaming in Turkey very expensive compared to EU member states. Turkish sim cards don't include international roaming and can only be used domestically in Turkey and Northern Cyrus.
Turkcell is the operator with the largest nationwide coverage. Both their prepaid and tourist sim cards cost 150 Lira. The tourist sim card comes with 20GB of data, 200 domestic minutes, unlimited texts, and WhatsApp valid for a month. You can top up your prepaid sim card starting from 20 Lira airtime vouchers.
Vodafone also has both prepaid and tourist sim cards. The best thing about Vodafone prepaid sim cards is that you can purchase unlimited social media and streaming packages monthly or weekly.
Social media Pass for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook cost 20 Lira monthly or 10 Lira weekly.
YouTube pass costs 29 Lira monthly or 15 Lira weekly.
Spotify pass for 10 Lira monthly.
Facebook and WhatsApp pass costs 5 Lira weekly or 10 Lira monthly.
Vodafone prepaid plans are combo plans inclusive of data, calls, and texts. Their prepaid sim card costs 150 Lira.
Vodafone's tourist sim card costs 80 Lira and comes with 20GB of data, 750 domestic minutes, and unlimited texts.
Turk Telecom only sells prepaid sim cards that retail at 150 Lira and come with 10 GB data and 750 domestic minutes.
They have the cheapest plans but network coverage in remote areas is a challenge.