Money & Shopping
In 2005, Turkey dropped six zeroes from its currency, thus making each post-2005 lira worth one million pre-2005 lira (or so called "old lira"). During the transition period between 2005 and 2009, the currency was briefly called new lira (yeni lira) officially. Since 1 Jan 2009, a new series of banknotes and coins have been introduced and the currency is again simply called lira (officially Turkish lira, Türk Lirası, locally symbolised TL, or less commonly with its newish symbol ₺; don't be confused if you see the currency symbolised YTL or ytl, standing for yeni lira), The ISO 4217 code is TRY, although few other than accountants recognize this in the country. The lira is divided into 100 kuruş (abbreviated kr). Since 1 Jan 2010, pre-2009 banknotes and coins (those bearing yeni lira and yeni kuruş) are not legal tender, but can be exchanged at certain banks until 31 December 2019.
There is a new Turkish lira symbol, , created by the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey in 2012 after a country-wide contest. However, as with most of the implementations of the current AKP-ruled government, this symbol proved to be controversial and divisive among the Turkish society.
Banknotes are in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 TL denominations. Coins of 5, 10, 25 and 50 kuruşes are legal tender. There's also a 1 TL coin.
There are legal exchange offices in all cities and almost any town. Banks also exchange money, but they are not worth the hassle as they are usually crowded and do not give better rates than exchange offices. You can see the rates an office offers on the (usually electronic) boards located somewhere near its gate. Euros and US dollars are the most useful currencies, but pounds sterling (Bank of England notes only, not Scottish or Northern Irish notes), Swiss francs, Japanese yen, Saudi riyals, and a number of other currencies are also not very hard to exchange. It is important to remember that most exchangers accept only banknotes, it can be very hard to exchange foreign coins. In some places, where there is a meaningful explanation for it, more uncommon currencies can also be exchanged, too, for example Australian dollars may be exchanged in Çanakkale where grandchildren of Anzacs gather to commemorate their grandfathers every year, or in Kaş, which is located just across the Greek island of Kastelorizo, which in turn has a large diaspora in Australia. As a general rule, if a place attracts many visitors from a country, then it is usually possible to exchange that country’s currency there.
Tourism-oriented industries in tourism-oriented towns, as well as shops where big amounts of money change hands, like supermarkets, in most parts of the country, generally accept foreign currency (usually limited to Euro and American dollars only), but the rates they accept the currency are usually a little lower than those of exchange offices. Ask first if they accept foreign currency.
In March 2016:
- US$1 = 2.83 TL
- €1 = 3.21 TL
- UK£1 = 4.08 TL
Credit cards and ATMs
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, American Express much less so. All credit card users have to enter their PIN codes when using their cards. Older, magnetic card holders are excepted from this, but remember that, unlike some other places in Europe, salespeople haves the legal right to ask you to show a valid ID with a photo on to recognize that you are the owner of the card. ATMs are scattered throughout the cities, concentrated in central parts. It is possible to draw Turkish lira (and rarely foreign currency) from these ATMs with your foreign card. Any major town has at least one ATM.
ATMs ask whether to provide instructions in English or in Turkish (and sometimes some other languages, too) as soon as you insert a foreign card (or a Turkish card which is not the operating bank’s own). When withdrawing money from ATMs, if the ATM in question does not belong to the bank that you already have an account in, they charge some percentage (generally 1%) of what you withdraw from your account each time. This percentage is higher for advance withdrawing with your credit card.
No establishments require a commission surcharge when using a credit card.
In general, tipping is not considered obligatory. However, it is very common to leave a 5% to 10% tip in restaurants if you're satisfied with the service. At high-end restaurants a tip of 10-15% is customary. It is NOT possible to add tip to the credit card bill. It is very common amongst Turkish people to pay the bill with a credit card and leave the tip in cash or coins. Most waiters will bring your cash back in coins as much as possible, that's because Turkish people don't like to carry coins around and usually leave them at the table.
Taxi drivers do not expect tips, but it is common practice to let them keep the change. If you insist on taking exact change back, ask for para üstü? (pronounced “pah-rah oos-too”, which means “change”). Driver will be reluctant to give it at first, but you will eventually succeed.
If you are fortunate enough to try out a Turkish bath, it is customary to tip 15% of the total and split it up among all of the attendants. This is an important thing to keep in mind when tipping in Turkey, and will ensure your experience goes smoothly and is enjoyable.
Supermarket cashiers usually round up the total sum to the next 5 kuruş if you pay in cash (the exact sum is extracted when paid by a credit card though). This is not a kind of involuntary tip, as the 2-3-4 kuruşes don’t go into their pockets. It is simply because they are not adequately supplied with enough 1 kuruş coins as it is very rare in circulation. So don’t be surprised if the change given to you is short of a few kuruşes from what should be given to you according to what the electronic board of the till says. It is totally okay to pay the exact sum if you have enough number of 1 kuruş coins.
In Turkey, bargaining is a must. One can bargain everywhere that doesn’t look too luxurious: shops, hotels, bus company offices, and so on. During your bargaining, don’t look so impressed and interested, and be patient. Since foreigners (especially Western people) aren’t expected to be good at bargaining, sellers are quick to reject any bargaining attempt (or are at least quick to look like so), but be patient and wait, the price will fall! (Don’t forget, even if you are successful at your bargaining attempt, when you get your credit card out of your wallet, rather than cash, the agreed price may rise again, though probably to a lower level than the original one)
VAT refund — You can get a VAT refund (currently 18% or 23% on most items) if you are not a citizen or permanent resident of Turkey. Look for the blue “Tax-Free” sticker on the windowpane or entrance of the shops, these kind of shops are the only places you can get a VAT refund. Don’t forget to take the necessary papers from the shop that will enable you for a VAT reclaim when leaving Turkey.
Although Turkey is in a customs union with the European Union for some goods, unlike the situation in the EU, there is currently not an initiative to abolish duty-free shops in the airports.
What to buy?
Apart from classical tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are a few of what you can bring back home from Turkey.
- Leather clothing — Turkey is the biggest leather producer in the world, so the leather clothing is cheaper than elsewhere. Many shops in Laleli, Beyazıt, Mahmutpaşa districts of Istanbul (all around the tram line which goes through Sultanahmet Square) are specialized on leather.
- Carpets and kilims — Many regions in Turkey produce handmade kilims and carpets. Though the symbols and figures differentiate depending on the region in which the carpet is produced, they are generally symbollic expressions based on ancient Anatolian religions and/or nomadic Turkic life which takes shape around shamanic beliefs more than 1,000 years ago. You can find shops specialized on handmade carpets and kilims in any major city, tourist spot and Sultanahmet Area.
You seriously cannot go anywhere in Turkey without someone trying to sell you a carpet. People will approach you on the street, engage in a little friendly conversation about where you're from, how do you like Turkey, and "would you like to come with me to my uncle's shop? It's just around the corner, and has the best authentic kilims." It can be irritating if you let it get to you, but remember that a large part of these people's economy comes from tourist's wallets so you can't blame them for trying.
- Silk — Dresses and scarves. Although can be found in many parts of the country, silk fans should head for Bursa and before that, pick up basics of bargaining.
- Earthenware — Handmade Cappadocian pottery (amphoras, old-style plates, flowerpots etc.) are made of local salty clay. Salt content of clay, thanks to salt spray produced by the Salt Lake –which is the second largest lake in Turkey- in the heartland of Central Anatolia, is what makes local earthenware top quality. In some Cappadocian towns, it is possible to see how these artifacts are produced, or even to experience producing one, at the dedicated workshops. Tiles with classical Ottoman motives that are produced in Kütahya are also famous.
- Turkish delight and Turkish coffee — If you like these during your Turkey trip, don’t forget to take a few packages back home. Available everywhere.
- Honey — The pine honey (çam balı) of Marmaris is famous and has a much stronger taste and consistency than regular flower honeys. Although not easily attained, if you can find, don’t miss the honey of Macahel valley, made out of flowers of a temperate semi-rainforest, which is almost completely out of human impact, in the far northeastern Black Sea Region.
- Chestnut dessert — Made out of syrup and chestnuts grown on the foothills of Mt. Uludağ, chestnut dessert (kestane şekeri) is a famous and tasty product of Bursa. There are many variations, such as chocolate coated ones. Chestnut dessert can be found in elsewhere, too, but relatively more expensive and in smaller packages.
- Meerschaum souvenirs — Despite its name meaning “sea foam” which it resembles, meerschaum (lületaşı) is extracted only in one place in the world: landlocked Eskişehir province in the extreme northwest part of Central Anatolia Region. This rock, similar to gypsum at sight, is carved into smoking pipes and cigarette holders. It has a soft and creamy texture and makes for a great decorative item. Available at some shops in Eskişehir.
- Castile (olive oil) soap — Natural, a silky touch on your skin, and a warm Mediterranean atmosphere in your bathroom. Absolutely cheaper than those to be found in Northern and Western Europe. Street markets in the Aegean Region and southern Marmara Region is full of olive oil soap, almost all of which are handmade. Even some old folk in the Aegean Region is producing their castile soaps in the traditional way: during or just after the olive harvest, neighbours gather in yards around large boilers heated by wood fire, then lye derived from the wood ash is added to hot water and olive oil mix. Remember – supermarkets out of the Aegean Region are generally offering no more than industrial tallow based soaps full of chemicals. In cities out of the Aegean Region, natural olive oil soap can be found in shops specialized in olive and olive oil. Some of these shops are even offering ecological soaps: made of organic olive oil and sometimes with additions of organic essential oils.
- Other soaps unique to Turkey are: laurel soaps (defne sabunu) which is produced mainly in Antakya (Antioch), soaps of Isparta enriched with rose oil which is produced abundantly in the area around Isparta, and bıttım sabunu, a soap made out of the oil of seeds of a local variety of pistachio tree native to the mountains of Southeastern Region. In Edirne, soaps shaped as various fruits are produced. Not used for their lather, rather they make a good assortment when different “fruits” are placed in a basket on a table, they fill the air with their sweet scent as well.
- Olive-based products apart from soap — Other olive-based products to give a try are olive oil shampoos, olive oil based eau de colognes and zeyşe, abbreviation from the first syllables of zeytin şekeri, a dessert similar to chestnut desserts, but made from olives.
WARNING! Taking any antique (defined as something more than 100 years old) out of Turkey is subject to heavy restrictions or, in many cases, forbidden. If someone offers to sell you an antique, either he/she is a liar trying to sell cheap imitations or he/she is committing a crime which you are an accessory to, if you purchase the item.