SIM Card at Istanbul Airport

Planning a trip to Istanbul, Turkey? One of the first things you’ll need to sort out upon arrival is your connectivity.

This guide provides comprehensive information on buying a SIM card at Istanbul Airport, including pre-arrival tips, available providers, SIM card plans, currency exchange options, and eSIM as an alternative.

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Overview of the Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport (Turkish: ฤฐstanbul Havalimanฤฑ, IATA: IST, ICAO: LTFM) is the larger of two international airports serving Istanbul, Turkey. It is located in the Arnavutkรถy district on the European side of the city.

The airport was officially opened on 29 October 2018 and started all passenger services on 6 April 2019. It served more than 64 million passengers in 2022, making it the busiest airport in Europe and 7th-busiest airport in the world in terms of total passenger traffic.

History and Construction

The decision to build a new airport was taken due to the growing demands that could not be met by the Atatรผrk Airport and Sabiha Gรถkรงen, Istanbul’s other international airport.

The construction of the airport was divided over four phases. When all stages are completed, the airport will have the capacity to serve 200 million yearly passengers, which would at that time have made it the world’s biggest airport.

The cost of the project was estimated at โ‚ฌ7 billion, without accounting for the cost of financing.

Location and Environmental Impact

The new airport was constructed at the intersection of roads to Arnavutkรถy, Gรถktรผrk, and ร‡atalca, north of central Istanbul and between the Black Sea coast towns of Yenikรถy, Tayakadฤฑn and Akpฤฑnar. The area is a 7,600-hectare region near Lake Terkos. Some 6,172 hectares of this area was state-owned forest.

The distance between Istanbul Airport and Atatรผrk Airport is approximately 35 km. The area encompassed old open-pit coal mines, which were later filled with soil.

Facilities and Operations

The airport currently has one terminal in service for domestic and international flights and five runways that are currently in operation. The airport features a total of five concourses lettered A, B, D, F, and G with a total of 143 passenger boarding bridges.

The full transfer of all scheduled commercial passenger flights from Atatรผrk Airport to the new Istanbul Airport took place on 6 April 2019.

Pre-Arrival Tips

Before you land in Istanbul, it’s essential to understand that the prices for prepaid SIM cards at Istanbul Airport are significantly higher than in the city center.

Therefore, if you’re looking for the best deal, it might be worth waiting until you reach the city center.

SIM Card Plans

The SIM card plans available at Istanbul Airport vary depending on the provider. However, the cheapest prepaid SIM card at Istanbul Airport is a Turkcell data-only SIM card with 12 GB for 855 Turkish Lira, which is approximately $34 USD.

Available Providers

Istanbul Airport hosts several SIM card providers, including industry leaders such as Turkcell, Vodafone, and Turk Telekom. Each provider presents a unique set of plans, so it’s advisable to compare them in order to identify the one that aligns best with your specific needs.

Turkcell: Leading the Pack

Turkcell stands as the leading mobile phone operator of Turkey, based on the number of subscribers. It was incorporated in 1993 and has been a pioneer in the Turkish mobile telecommunication market ever since. Turkcell offers a variety of plans, including voice, data, and SMS, catering to the diverse needs of its customers.

Their SIM cards are readily available at Istanbul Airport, providing immediate connectivity for incoming travelers.

Vodafone: Global Presence, Local Service

Vodafone, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, provides a wide range of services in Turkey, including voice, data, and SMS plans. With their global presence and strong reputation, Vodafone offers reliable and high-quality service.

Their SIM cards can be easily purchased at Istanbul Airport, ensuring that you can stay connected from the moment you land.

Turk Telekom: Embracing Local Expertise

Turk Telekom, with its historical background dating back to the 19th century, is the first integrated telecommunications operator in Turkey. They offer a wide range of services to residential and commercial customers, including mobile, internet, and landline services.

Turk Telekom’s SIM cards are also available at Istanbul Airport, providing another reliable option for travelers to stay connected during their stay in Turkey.

Buying a SIM Card at the Airport

Buy Turkcell SIM Card

Upon your arrival at Istanbul Airport, you can easily locate Turkcell’s kiosks or shops in the airport terminals. Turkcell is one of the leading mobile network providers in Turkey, and their official stores are conveniently situated within the airport to cater to incoming travelers.

Remember to bring your passport with you, as it is required for the SIM card registration process.

Buy Vodafone SIM Card

Vodafone is another prominent mobile network provider whose services you can access right at Istanbul Airport. Look out for their distinctive signage among the many kiosks or shops in the airport terminals.

Just like with Turkcell, you’ll need your passport for the SIM card registration process at Vodafone’s official stores.

Buy Turk Telekom SIM Card

Turk Telekom, a local mobile network provider, also has a presence at Istanbul Airport. Their kiosks or shops are part of the array of services available in the airport terminals.

As with the other providers, remember to have your passport handy for the SIM card registration process at Turk Telekom’s official stores.

eSIM as an Alternative

If your phone is compatible with eSIMs, this could prove to be a more economical and convenient option for your holidays in Turkey.

Currency Exchange Options

While all stores at Istanbul Airport accept international credit cards, it’s generally recommended to pay in Turkish Lira. This is due to the fact that the exchange rates offered by the stores can often be less favorable than those found elsewhere.

Global Exchange

At Istanbul Airport, Global Exchange operates 40 currency exchange branches, making it the most visible currency exchange service.

They are open 24 hours a day, all year round, providing convenience for travelers arriving at any time.

However, it’s important to note that while Global Exchange does not charge any commission, their exchange rates are significantly less favorable compared to the market rate.

Online Booking

Global Exchange offers an online booking service where you can reserve your currency and collect it at the airport. By booking your currency online, you can save 15% of their exchange margin compared to their airport exchange rate.

However, even the online exchange rate of Global Exchange is far from being attractive.

Turkish Banks

In addition to Global Exchange, there are branches of three Turkish banks – Tรผrkiye ฤฐลŸ Bank, Ziraat Bank, and Garanti BBVA – located on the landside of the Arrivals floor at the Domestic Terminal.

These banks offer currency exchange services to their customers. However, they charge a 4% commission on top of their currency exchange margin.

Despite this, their exchange rates, even with the added commission, can still be a better deal compared to Global Exchange.

ATMs

ATMs are another option for obtaining Turkish Lira at Istanbul Airport. They allow you to withdraw cash directly in the local currency, often at better rates than currency exchange counters.

However, be aware of potential fees charged by your home bank for foreign ATM withdrawals.

In the City

If you can manage without exchanging your currency at Istanbul Airport, it’s recommended to do so in the center of Istanbul. Here, you can find money changers who charge no commission and exchange USD and EUR to Turkish Lira at rates with an exchange margin lower than 1%.

This results in significant savings compared to exchanging money at the airport.

Tips for Travelers

Traveling to a new country comes with its own set of challenges and requirements. When it comes to staying connected in Turkey, there are several factors you need to consider, whether you’re planning to use a traditional SIM card or an eSIM.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the process.

Compatibility and Coverage

Before you embark on your journey, it’s crucial to check if your phone is unlocked and compatible with the SIM cards or eSIMs available in Turkey.

This is a step that is often overlooked but can save you from potential connectivity issues upon arrival.

Additionally, while most providers offer good coverage in cities and towns, coverage can be patchy in rural areas. If your travel itinerary includes rural areas, it’s worth checking the coverage maps of the providers.

Choosing the Right Plan

Different providers offer a variety of plans, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. It’s worth spending some time researching and comparing these plans to find the one that best suits your needs.

Consider your data needs – if you plan to use a lot of data, for example for streaming or using GPS, make sure to choose a plan with enough data allowance.

Also, think about the duration of your stay. If you’re only staying for a short period, a prepaid SIM card or eSIM with a limited validity might be the most cost-effective option.

For longer stays, you might want to consider a plan with a longer validity period.

Registration and Roaming

In Turkey, it’s mandatory to register your SIM card using your passport. Therefore, make sure to have your passport handy when you purchase your SIM card or eSIM.

If you plan to visit other countries during your trip, be aware that your Turkish SIM card or eSIM may not work outside of Turkey, or you may incur high roaming charges.

It’s always a good idea to check the roaming policies of your chosen provider before you travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to purchase an eSIM card at Istanbul Airport?

Unfortunately, eSIM cards are not available for purchase at Istanbul Airport. If you’re interested in acquiring an eSIM card for use in Turkey, you’ll need to make your purchase online.

What is the most affordable SIM card available at Istanbul Airport?

The most cost-effective prepaid SIM card available at Istanbul Airport is a Turkcell data-only SIM card, which provides 12 GB for 855 Turkish Lira, or approximately $34 USD.

Can I use my Turkish SIM card in other European countries?

Prepaid SIM cards purchased in Turkey are typically only valid for use within the country. If you plan to travel to other European nations, you’ll need to ensure your SIM card supports international roaming.
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Final Thought

While the convenience of purchasing a SIM card directly at Istanbul Airport can be appealing, it may not be the most economical choice. If you’re seeking the best possible deal, it may be worth waiting until you reach the city center of Istanbul, or considering an eSIM if your device supports it.

Regardless of the option you choose, rest assured that staying connected during your trip to Istanbul can be a hassle-free experience.

How To Order an eSIM

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Compare eSIMs

Compare and find the most suitable travel eSIM for your needs and purchase it directly with the provider.

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Receive eSIM via email/app

You will receive the eSIM profile within a few minutes in a separate e-mail or you can directly access it in the provider’s app.

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Install eSIM

Scan the eSIM QR code in the mail with the camera function of your smartphone and follow the instructions on the screen. The profile will be set up automatically.

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Free roaming abroad

You can now use the eSIM abroad!ย 

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Why Choose an eSIM?

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Sustainable

The eSIM works digitally only, so fewer resources are used than with the classic SIM card.

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Digital

The new eSIM can easily be digitally uploaded to your smartphone. It’s quick and saves the environment.

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Fast Installation

Your eSIM profile is sent easily and conveniently by email. This means you will receive your digital eSIM much faster than a physical SIM Card by post.

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