Once you get into Ataturk Airport, here’s a quick run down of what you will encounter. If you forgot to get your eVisa, you can get one at the Visa desk. They take credit card and it’s $20.
After you pass through passport control and get your bags, you might want to consider stopping into Duty Free to pick up some snacks and alcohol. Turkey is pricey for alcohol especially ($5 – 8 for beer / wine, $8 – $10 for spirits). Once you’re ready, walk past customs and go through the sliding glass doors. Keep to the right and you will see a row of ATM’s and a few phone kiosks where you can buy a Turkish SIM card.
Phone Data Package
I would recommend getting a Turkish SIM card with a cheap data package (1 – 2 GB) from Turkcell or Vodafone at the airport. It should cost you about 50 – 80 TL ($20 – $30) and it is totally worth it. If you have a Turkish number you can be accept calls for free and then you can use WhatsApp to call out using your data. Having Google Maps and Uber (just started in Istanbul!) are helpful here as well.
The national currency of Turkey is the Turkish Lira (TL). If you have USD or Euros, I would change them downtown instead of at the airport due to better rates. The dollar is hovering around the 3TL to 1USD mark so it’s a good time to be traveling. If you do not have cash, use the ATM’s to withdraw at least 100TL so that you have enough for your cab ride into town as none of the cabs take credit cards. I would avoid taking out too much since most places accept Visa and Mastercard (not American Express). Be sure to tell your credit card company you’re traveling to avoid being blocked.
After getting some money and hopefully a data plan, keep walking past the Garanti Bank and out to the Taxi rank. There should be a line and someone organizing cabs. Get in line and get a taxi to either your hotel address or Galata Kulesi (pronounced coolesi). If the cab driver doesn’t understand, tell them Şişhane (pronounced shish-anneh). A cab from the airport to the Galata or Şişhane area (same area) should cost you about 50TL ($20) and take roughly 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. Generally tipping is about 10% so 5TL extra should do. If you have arranged to meet us at Galata Tower, the cab should drop you off in front of a LaVazza Cafe and we will meet you there.
The airport cabs are trustworthy so they should always have the meter running but while you are in Istanbul try not to get cabs from Taksim or anywhere in Sultanahmet (historic district) because they will a) quote you a ridiculous price and say the meter is broken or b) use a fixed meter. Try to use the trams and subway areas from those spots. If you do get into a cab, make sure the meter is running and has started at around 3 – 4TL. All of this is avoidable with Uber. Oh yeah…there may not be seat belts so hold on tight!
and now…for another one of my favorite airline commercials…