One of the most overlooked problems about traveling to another country is staying connected to the Internet without going broke. We all want to both stay in touch with the world and our friends & family, and share our best moments during our trips on social media. More importantly, you may have to stay in touch with your job during your trip, and you will certainly need to use a GPS application abroad. If you are planning a trip to Turkey and have the same worries, here’s everything you need to know about Internet in Turkey for tourists.
Get a Prepaid SIM Card
The most common way of acquiring Internet connection in a foreign country is buying a prepaid SIM card. In Turkey, there are 3 network providers: Vodafone, Turkcell and Turk Telekom (formerly known as Avea). While their rates are actually quite similar and they change constantly, Turkcell is the most popular network provider in Turkey and they generally lead the competition with slightly larger coverage, so unless you come by a great price from other providers, you can choose Turkcell. But bear in mind that Turkey is a big country and the service may not be available everywhere.
But getting a prepaid SIM card in Turkey is not as simple as giving the cash. If you plan on staying longer than 120 days, you need to register your phone to the Turkish government by paying a hefty fee and pay taxes, or your phone will be blocked. You also need to show your passport while getting the card. Plus, if you somehow exceed your data, you will face very high fees, so be careful. It is generally a good idea to get a SIM card if you plan on staying more than 2-3 weeks in Turkey.
If you decide to get a prepaid SIM card, do so in the official stores of Vodafone, Turk Telekom or Turkcell, not in other stores; they are resellers and the prices will be higher than normal. Also, even if they are official stores, the stores in the airport are often more expensive than the ones in the city center, so if you want to save as much money as you can, wait until you get to the city before you get a SIM card.
Use Wi-Fi Hot Spots
If you are not planning on staying in Turkey for long and you are planning on staying in a hotel with free Wi-Fi, then you are in luck as you can just register to the hotel’s Wi-Fi and start using it.
The obvious con of this is that it will disconnect as soon as you go out of the range, so in order to keep using Wi-Fi hot spots, you will need to constantly go to cafés and restaurants and ask for their Wi-Fi passwords. Another con is that your Internet speed will be slow because dozens, or sometimes hundreds of people will be using the same Internet as you.
Rent a Pocket Wi-Fi (Mobile Hot Spot)
One of the more sensible, practical and affordable solutions for getting Internet for tourists in Turkey is to rent a mobile hot spot, also known as pocked Wi-Fi One of the best local companies that provide this service to tourists is the Rent’n Connect in Istanbul. It is very simple: they send you a small, light, handheld device that has a 4G SIM card inside. It serves as a portable wireless modem. Just switch it on and look for the “RentNConnect” in the Wi-Fi network list on your phone (or other devices that require Internet connection). Enter the password that was given to you with the device and now you have internet in Turkey as a tourist.
Its biggest pro by far is that up to 10 separate devices can connect to it at the same time, which means you do not have to get a SIM card for every single person you are traveling with; just get one mobile hot spot and you are good to go.
A con of using only a pocket Wi-Fi is that you cannot call anyone, but messaging apps like WhatsApp have already brought free voice and video call services, so that should not be a big issue during your short trip. But if you absolutely must call or receive calls during your Istanbul tour you can combine your mobile hot spot with a SIM card.
Use the free IBB Wi-Fi Around the City
Since April 2014, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has begun providing free Wi-Fi hot spots on various places in Istanbul, particularly in crowded touristic districts and neighborhoods like Blue Mosque Eminonu, Besiktas and Taksim. It is completely free, but you do have to register first. If you can manage to register without any problems, you get 1 GB of free Internet every day with 2 Mbps speed, which is enough for a quick scroll in social media, upload some pictures or check your e-mails. Other than that, it is not a reliable solution. First of all, you won’t be near these hot spots all day. Second, sometimes it will be extremely slow due to overload on the hot spot. Sometimes you may not even be able to connect to it.
Change to an International Plan with Your Original GSM Provider
If you truly do not want to bother with getting a prepaid SIM card, a mobile hot spot or trying to connect to all of the free Wi-Fis you find around like café, restaurant or hotel hot spots, then the easiest way to solve this is to get an international plan with your GSM provider that includes Turkey. No need to register your phone, SIM or carry a device, and no slow internet with public hot spots. But of course, that comes with a price. International service plans, for both Internet and calls, are almost always extremely expensive. It can go up to 3-digit dollars just for a single gigabyte of data. Plus, since you will be traveling everywhere in a foreign country like Turkey, you will need affordable roaming (continued data when you go outside of your Internet provider’s coverage area) prices. Unless you are rich or you get a very good deal with good roaming prices with your provider, we do not recommend this option.