Stay safe & healthy
Dial 155 for police, from any telephone without charge. However, in rural areas there is no police coverage, so dial 156 in such a place for jandarma (Military Police), a military unit for rural security.
Big cities in Turkey, especially Istanbul, are not immune to petty crime. Although petty crime is not especially directed towards tourists, by no means are they exceptions. Snatching, pickpocketing, and mugging are the most common kinds of petty crime. However, recently with the developing of a camera network which watches streets and squares –especially the central and crowded ones- 24-hour a day in Istanbul, the number of snatching and mugging incidents declined. Just like anywhere else, following common sense is recommended. (Please note that the following recommendations are for the big cities, and most small-to-mid size cities usually have no petty crime problems at all) Have your wallet and money in your front pockets instead of back pockets, backpack or shoulder bag.
You should drive defensively at all times and take every precaution while driving in Turkey. Drivers in Turkey routinely ignore traffic regulations, including driving through red lights and stop signs, and turning left from the far right lane; these driving practices cause frequent traffic accidents. Drivers should be aware of several particular driving practices prevalent in Turkey. Drivers who experience car troubles or accidents pull to the side of the road and turn on their emergency lights to warn other drivers, but many drivers place a large rock or a pile of rocks on the road about 10-15 meters behind their vehicles instead of turning on emergency lights. You may not use a cell phone while driving. It is strictly prohibited by law.
Don’t exhibit your camera or cellphone for too long if it is a new and/or expensive model (they know what to take away, no one will bother to steal a ten-year-old cell phone as it would pay very little). The same goes for your wallet, if it’s overflowing with money. Leave a wide berth and move away from the area quickly if you see two or more people begin to argue and fight as this may be a ruse to attract your attention while another person relieves you of your valuables. Be alert, this often happens very quickly. Watch your belongings in crowded places and on public transport, especially on trams and urban buses.
Avoid dark and desolate alleys at night. If you know you have to pass through such a place at night, don’t take excessive cash with you but instead deposit your cash into the safe-box at your hotel. Stay away from demonstrating crowds if the demonstration seems to be turning into an unpeaceful one. Also in resort towns, when going to beach, don’t take your camera or cell phone with you if there will be no one to take care of them while you are swimming. If you notice that your wallet has been stolen it is wise to check the nearest trash cans before reporting the loss to the police. It is often the case that thieves in Turkey will drop the wallet into the trash to avoid being caught in possession of the wallet and proven a thief. Obviously it is highly likely that your money will no longer be in it, but there is a chance that your credit cards and papers will be.
See also scams section of Istanbul article to have an idea about what kinds of scams you may come across with in other parts of the country too, especially the touristy ones, not just Istanbul.
Upon entering some museums, hotels, metro stations, and almost all shopping malls, especially in larger cities, you will notice security checkpoints similar to those found in airports. Don't worry, this is the standard procedure in Turkey and does not imply an immediate danger of attack. These security screenings are also conducted in a much more relaxed way than the airports, so you will not have to remove your belt to avoid the alarm when walking through the metal detector.
Though slightly off-topic be advised to carry passport or other means of identification at all times. One may not be requested to show them for a long period, then all of a sudden a minibus is checked by the traffic police (or the military, particularly in Eastern Turkey), or one runs into an officer of the law with time on his hand, and one must show papers. Some government buildings may ask you to temporarily surrender your passport in return for equipment such as headphones for simultaneous translation etc. and you may find your passport stored in an open box along with the locals ID cards which may be a little disconcerting. Hotels may request you to hand your passport in until you paid the bill, which puts you into an awkward situation. Referring to the police always made them hand the passport back, once the registration procedure was finalized. Showing a personal visiting card, one or two credit cards or knowing the address of a respectable hotel may solve the no-papers situation, but any self-respecting officer will tell you that you are in the wrong, and will be sorry next time. If treated politely however police and military can be quite friendly and even offer rides to the next city (no joke intended).
If you intend to travel to Eastern or Southeastern Anatolia, stay ahead of the news. Although it offers many beautiful sights, the situation is far from secure due to ethnic strife and protests, sometimes resulting in violence. The region is far from a war zone, but take precaution when visiting this volatile place. The real risk of threat is not very big though, if you stick on major routes and follow common sense rules (such as avoiding demonstrations).
Be careful when crossing the roads , as mentioned in the get around/on foot section.
The Turkish wilderness is home to both venomous and non-venomous snake (yılan) species. In fact, humid forests of the northeastern Black Sea region is the habitat of a small-sized snake which is one of the most venomous in the world. Southern and especially southeastern parts (even cities) of the country have large numbers of scorpions (akrep), so exercise caution if/when you are sleeping on open rooftops, which is common in the southeastern region in summer. If you are stung by one, seek urgent medical aid.
As for wild mammals, presumably the most dangerous ones are wolves, bears and wild boars. All of these animals live only in mountainous areas (of almost all regions) and your chance of sighting one is very low (except boars which are not so rare). Wolves and bears do not attack if you don’t follow or disturb them (or, particularly, their young) aggressively, however boars are known to attack even with only the slightest provocation.
The biggest animal threat comes from stray dogs (or sheepdogs in rural areas). Don’t assume you will come across gangs of aggressive stray dogs next to the gate of Hagia Sophia, or the beach club however. They are mostly found in rural areas and non-central parts of the cities. They are usually discreet and are usually more afraid of you than you are of them. Rabies (kuduz) is endemic in Turkey (and most of the world) [www], so anyone bitten by a dog or other carnivore should seek urgent treatment, despite what you may be told by your hotel or other well meaning strangers.
Many stray dogs you’ll see in the cities bear plastic “ear rings”. Those ear tags mean the dog was cleaned up, vaccinated (against rabies and a number of other diseases), sterilized, and then returned back to the streets as this is the most humane treatment (compare with keeping them in a cage or a cage-like environment or putting them to sleep). The process is going on, so we can assume the stray dog problem in Turkey will disappear in natural ways sometime in the future.
Much of Turkey is prone to earthquakes.
There are "Tourism Police" sections of the police departments of Ankara, Antalya, Istanbul(in Sultanahmet), and Izmir providing help specifically for tourists, where travellers can report passport loss and theft or any other criminal activity, they may have become victims of. The staff is multilingual and will speak English, German, French, and Arabic.
Dial 112 from any telephone, anywhere, free of charge for an ambulance.
Food safety - Food is generally free of parasitic or bacterial contamination, but be prudent anyway. Look at where local people are preferring to eat. Do not eat stuff that is sold outdoors, at least in summer and at least which local folk don’t eat. They can spoil fairly quickly without needed refrigeration. Wash thoroughly and/or peel fresh fruits and vegetables. They may be free of biological contaminants but their skin is probably heavily loaded with pesticides (unless you see the not-very-common certified organic produce marker on, of course). Food in western regions of the country is OK for (western) travellers for the most part, but the more east, south, and northeast you go, the more unaccustomed contents in the food you’ll come across, like goat or goose meat or hot/heavy spices. These contents may or may not cause diarrhea, but it is wise to have at least some anti-diarrhea medicine nearby, especially if you are going to travel to places a bit off-beaten-track.
Water safety - However tempting it may be on a hot day, try to avoid water from public water tanks and fountains (şadırvan), frequently found in the vicinity of mosques. Also, though tap water is mostly chlorinated, it is better to drink only bottled water except when in remote mountain villages connected to a local spring. Bottled water is readily available everywhere except the most remote, uninhabited spots.
The most common volumes for bottled water are 0.5 litre and 1.5 L. 5 L, 8 L, 10 L, and gigantic 19 L bottles (known as office jar in the West, this is the most common variety used in households, delivered to houses by the employees of specialized water selling shops, because it is far too heavy to carry) can also be found with varying degrees of possibility. General price for half-a-litre and one-and-a-half-litre bottled water is TRY0.50 and TRY1.25 respectively in kiosks/stalls in the central parts of the cities and towns (can be much higher in a touristy or monopolistic place such as beach, airport, café of a much-visited museum, kiosk of a roadside recreation facility), while it can be as cheap as TRY0.15 and TRY0.35 respectively in supermarkets during winter (when the number of bottled water sales drop) and a little higher in summer (still cheaper than kiosks, though). Water is served free of charge in intercity buses, packaged in 0.25 lt plastic cups, whenever you request from the steward. In kiosks, water is sold chilled universally, sometimes so cold that you have to wait the ice to thaw to be able to drink it. Supermarkets provide it both reasonably chilled and also at room temperature.
If you have no chance of finding bottled water –for example, in wilderness, up in the eastern highlands- always boil your water; if you have no chance of boiling the water, use chlorine tablets –which can be provided from pharmacies in big cities-, or devices like LifeStraw. Also avoid swimming in fresh water, which you are not sure about its purity, and at seawater in or near the big cities –unless a beach which is declared safe to swim exists. And lastly, be cautious about water, not paranoid.
Hospitals – In Turkey, there are two kinds of hospitals (hastane)-private and public. Private hospitals are run by associations, private parties, and private universities. Public hospitals are run by the Ministry of Health, public universities, and state-run social security institutions. All mid-to-big size cities, as well as major resort towns, have private hospitals, more than one in many cities, but in a small town all you can find will probably be a public hospital. Be aware that public hospitals are generally crowded. So expect to wait some time to be treated. But for emergency situations this won't be a problem. Although this is not legal, you may also be denied entry to the public hospitals for expensive operations if you don’t have a state-run national (Turkish) insurance or a necessary amount of cash for prepayment which replaces it, though showing a respected credit card may solve this problem. Emergency situations are exception and you'll be treated without prepayment etc. A travel health insurance is highly recommended because the better private hospitals operate with the “user-pays” principle and their rates are much inflated compared with the public hospitals. Also make sure your insurance includes air transport (like a helicopter) if you are going to visit rural/wilderness areas of Black Sea or Eastern regions, so you can be dispatched to a city with high-standard hospitals on time. In the outlying hoods of cities, there are usually also policlinics which can treat simpler illnesses or injuries. In the villages all you can find are little clinics (sağlık ocağı, literally “health-house”) which have a very limited supply and staff, though they can effectively treat simple illnesses or provide antibody against, for example, snake bite. On road signage, hospitals (and roads leading to hospitals) are shown with an “H” (over the dark blue background), whereas village clinics are shown with a red crescent sign, Turkish equivalent of red cross.
There is an emergency ward (acil servis) open 24 hours a day in every hospital. Suburban policlinics don’t have to provide one, but some of them are open 24-hr anyway. Village clinics do certainly have a much limited opening hours (generally 8 am to sunset).
Dentists – There are lots of private dentist offices in the cities, especially along the main streets. Look for the diş hekimi signs around, it won’t take long before you see one. Most dentists work on an appointment, although they may check or start the treatment on your turning up without an appointment if their schedule is okay. A simple treatment for a tooth decay costs about TRY40 on the average.
Ordinary toothbrushes and pastes (both local and international brands) can be obtained from supermarkets. If you want something special, you may check out pharmacies. It is okay to brush teeth with tap water.
Pharmacies - There are pharmacies (eczane in Turkish) in all cities and many towns. Pharmacies are open 08:30-19:00, however every town has at least one drugstore on duty overnight (nöbetçi eczane), all other pharmacies in the town usually display its name, address and telephone numbers on their windows. Most basic drugs, including painkillers such as Aspirin, are sold over the counter, although only in pharmacies.
Mosquitoes - Keeping a mosquito repellent handy is a good idea. Although the risk of malaria anywhere in the country is long gone (except the southernmost areas near the Syrian border which used to have a very low level of risk until up to 1980s), mosquitoes can be annoying especially in coastal areas out of cities, including vacation towns at nights between June and September. In some towns, especially the ones near the deltas, mosquito population is so large that people desert the streets during the “mosquito raid” which occurs between the sunset and one hour after that. DEET-containing aerosol repellents (some are suitable to apply to the skin while others, the ones that are in tall tin cans are for making a room mosquito-free before going to bed, not to be applied onto skin, so choose what you buy wisely) can be obtained from supermarkets and pharmacies. There are also solid repellents coming in a tablet form which are used with their special devices indoors having an electricity socket. They release scentless chemicals into the air of the room which disturb the senses of mosquitoes and make them unable to “find” you. The tablets, together with their devices, can also be obtained from supermarkets and pharmacies. Beware! You shouldn’t touch those tablets with bare hands.
Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (Kırım-Kongo kanamalı ateşi in Turkish, shortly KKKA) is a serious viral disease and transmitted by a tick (kene) species. It can kill the infected person in a very short time, usually within three or four days. This disease has claimed more than 20 lives in Turkey within the past two years. The biggest risk is in the rural parts (not urban centres) of Tokat, Corum, Yozgat, Amasya, and Sivas provinces, all situated in an area where disease-carrying tick thrives because of the area’s location between the humid climate of maritime Black Sea Region and arid climate of Central Anatolia. Authorities recommend to wear light coloured clothing which makes distinguishing a tick clinged to your body easier. It’s also recommended to wear long trousers rather than shorts if you plan to walk through dense and/or tall grass areas (the usual habitat for ticks). If you see a tick on your body or clothing, in no means try to pull it out since this may cause the tick’s head (and its mouth where it carries the virus) sticking inside your skin. Instead, go to the nearest hospital immediately to seek urgent expert aid. Being late to show up in hospital (and to diagnose) is number one killer in this disease. Symptoms are quite like that of flu and a number of other illnesses, so doctor should be informed about the possibility of Crim.-Cong. hemorr. fever and be shown the tick if possible.
Coastal Black Sea Region, Marmara Region, Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, and East Anatolia are generally deemed free of this disease (and also free of the disease-carrying species of tick) with no casualties. But in the name of being cautious, you should head for the nearest hospital anyway if you are bitten by (most likely an innocent) tick. Also remember that if you should head for the danger zone described above, ticks are not active in winter. Their active period is April to October, so is the danger period.
Public restrooms - Though many main squares and streets in the cities have a public restroom, if you cannot manage to find one, look for the nearest mosque, where you will see a public restroom in a corner of, or below its courtyard. Despite the fact that there is no shortage of cheap toilet papers anywhere in the country, however, you are unlikely to find toilet paper in almost any of the public restrooms (except lavatories of restaurants –including the road restaurants, hotels and most of the cafés and bars, of course). Instead, you are likely to find a bidét or a tap (Don't be puzzled. That's because devout Muslims use water instead of paper to clean up and paper usually used as a dryer after cleaning.). So it is a good idea to have a roll of toilet paper in your backpack during your walkings for sightseeing. It is best to take your single roll of toilet paper from home or bathroom of the hotel you’re staying at, because the smallest size available in Turkey market is 4-rolls per package (8-rolls per package being the commonest) which would last very long (actually longer than your trip, unless you will do all the road down to India overland). It isn’t expensive but it takes unnecessary backpack space, or unnecessary landfill space if you won’t use it liberally and won’t take the unused rolls back to home as an unusual souvenir from Turkey. In the better places on the road in the country there are rest rooms that are maintained and an attendant ready to collect TRY0.50 to TRY1. from the tourist for the privilege of using one. Restroom is tuvalet in colloquial Turkish, though you’ll more likely to see WC signs, complete with diagrams and doors signed Bay or Bayan (with their rather crude translations: ‘Men’, ‘Women’).
Menstrual products – Different types and designs of disposable pads are widely available. Look around in the supermarkets. However, Turkish women prefer tampons much less than European women do, so they are rarer. They are available only in some of the pharmacies.
Hamam - If you haven't been to one, you've missed one of life's great experiences and never been clean. You can catch your inner peace with history and water in a bath (hamam). See hamams in Istanbul.