Turkey: Health, Safety, Travel Advice and Insurance Information for Visitors to, and Expatriates in, Turkey
For many visitors, Turkey represents the best of all worlds: a culture steeped in a rich Middle Eastern culture in a European country. While Constantinople is no more, it once saw oversaw a powerful empire, and whether your travels take you to cosmopolitan Istanbul or out into the countryside, you are guaranteed a visit to a place filled with both rich history and a vibrant, thriving present. Before you go, let’s make sure you have all the information you’ll need to protect your health and safety so you can be sure that you make the most of your time in this fascinating and beautiful and country.
What You Need to Know Before Traveling or Moving to Turkey
Political Unrest in Turkey
While Turkey is not yet a member of the EU (Turkey applied to join the EU in 1987, but negotiations have stalled), many EU citizens need only a National ID and not a passport to enter. Recently, Turkey has faced a significant amount of political instability, climaxing in a 2016 failed coup attempt. While this has died down, it led to a heavy-handed government response and a low tolerance for demonstrations. Visitors to Turkey are urged to avoid both protests and any situations which are likely to be political. Whether a gathering or action is government-sanctioned or organized in protest of the government, it’s a good idea to steer clear in case there is violence.
Terrorism Consideration When in Turkey
Like the rest of Europe, terrorism has become a larger threat in Turkey. The United States has issued specific warnings against travelers visiting the Southeast portion of Turkey that borders Syria because of the heightened threat of terrorism. You can find out the latest from the United States State Department here. There is also a specific aviation warning with Turkey as a target. One way to minimize this danger is to try and book direct flights. Additional precautions that are a good idea to minimize the risk of terrorism include avoiding large crowds and tourist hot spots.
Common Sense in Big Cities
Like all large cities, traveling in Turkey will put you at risk of theft and pickpockets. Familiarize yourself with common sense practices, like keeping electronics out of sight, using a money belt, and leaving valuables at home or in the hotel to ensure you do not become a victim.
Risk of Disease
Malaria is present in the southeastern area of Turkey, and if you are traveling there, then you will need to take prophylactic medications to avoid catching malaria.
Safety Tips for ForeignWomen in Turkey
Many women have safe and enjoyable visits to Turkey, but for visitors from Western countries, who have no experience visiting a Muslim country, is best to familiarize yourself with some cultural etiquette and common-sense precautions to ensure you have an enjoyable stay.
- Dress Formally: These days, many travelers place comfort over looks, but in choosing what you bring, while it’s fine to opt for comfortable options, it’s also a good idea to choose clothes that are more conservative: skirts and pants that are not above the knee, long-sleeve shirts and items that keep the shoulders covered and have a higher neckline. While temperatures can become warm, by choosing the right fabrics like light synthetics, linens, and cotton, you will find that keeping your skin covered will protect you from both the sun and the heat
- Visits to the Mosque: Use this as an opportunity to invest in a beautiful scarf you love. When visiting a mosque, you’ll need to have your head, knees and shoulders covered. Follow the above tip, and the second two will already be taken care of. There’s no reason for women to wear a headscarf outside of a mosque should they prefer not to, but it is both required and a sign of respect to the place you’re visiting. All visitors to mosques must also remove their shoes, so if you plan to visit several in a day choose shoes that are easy to take on and off.
- General Safety: As any woman traveler knows, there are some basic safety precautions that are always a good idea: staying familiar with the area, keeping to well-lit and well-populated areas, and when you do find yourself unsure or lost, walk with confidence like you belong until you find someone who looks like the right person to ask.
Istanbul Consulate Phone Numbers
- United States: +90 212 335 90 00
- Canada: +90 212 385 97 00
- Australia: +90 212 393 85 42
- New Zealand: +90 212 244 02 72
- UK: +90 212 334 64 00
All embassies are located in Ankara, Turkey, but because many more visitors are based in Istanbul, we include the phone numbers for the respective country consulates above. If you need to reach the Ankara Embassy, the contact information is readily available either from the Istanbul consulate or on the internet.
Emergency Numbers in Turkey
The universal European emergency number 112 works in Turkey for all emergencies. Additional emergency numbers for specific purposes are listed below.
- Fire: 110
- Police: 155
- Missing Children/ Women’s Help: 183
An Overview of Turkish Healthcare System and Types of Insurance
Turkey has universal healthcare for its residents called, Genel Sağlık Sigortası. If you are registered with the Social Security Institution (SGK), then you receive health care from SGK hospitals and facilities, free of charge. You are eligible for this healthcare if you have been a resident of Turkey for at least a year and have been paying into the socialized system. That being said, for many residents from other European countries, the UK, Australia, and the US, Turkey’s socialized healthcare is not up to the same standards to which they are accustomed. Many internationals living in consider an expatriate health insurance plan.
On the other hand, Turkey has a thriving private healthcare system, which is relatively affordable to pay for out of pocket in comparison to the medical costs of many people’s home countries. In fact, Turkey’s private healthcare system has lately seen such strides; the country has been establishing a name for itself in the medical tourism industry, so that people will travel to Turkey to seek medical care that is both quality and affordable. However, for many permanent residents, Turkey requires that to maintain residency, insurance must be purchased.
Insurance Options for Expatriates in Turkey
Until recently all expats were required to purchase permanent healthcare to live in Turkey permanently. This was regardless of whether it made financial sense, as many expats would exclusively use private healthcare and preferred to pay out of pocket and very likely would prefer to avoid the bureaucracy of purchasing an unused insurance policy through the Turkish government. There has been a significant recent change to Turkish healthcare that is of particular note to expats retiring to Turkey, however. As of 2014, Turkey no longer requires those over 65 who wish to have permanent residence in Turkey to purchase government healthcare. There are those who still opt to buy into SGK even though they are no longer mandated. Whatever your age is, if you are taking up private residence in Turkey it is a good idea to look at all the options of private insurance compared to that which is offered by SGK and weigh it against what are your healthcare needs to make the decision that is best for you.
Read More: International Health Insurance Plans
Vaccines, Medications and Diet Considerations for Turkey
There are two major health concerns that are food and water-related that travelers to Turkey should be especially aware of: Hepatitis A and Typhoid, both of which can be contracted through exposure to food and water. There is now a readily available Hepatitis A Vaccine, but many did not receive it as a young person. It is advisable to make sure you have a fully completed course of this vaccine before traveling to Turkey. It is also a good idea to get a Typhoid vaccine. Especially if you are an adventurous eater, are staying in private homes or visiting rural areas.
The two other vaccines worth considering are Hepatitis B and rabies. Hepatitis B is spread through sexual contact, contaminated needles, and blood products, so if you’re planning on piercings or a tattoo, you would be at risk. If any of these categories apply to you, get a vaccine.
Rabies exists in mammals in Turkey, especially bats and dogs, and the vaccine is recommended for those planning on a lot of outdoor activities, those moving to Turkey, those planning to work with animals, as well as children who are more likely to come into contact with a rabid animal and not report the situation, being unaware of the dangers.
Pharmacies are common sites in towns and cities throughout Turkey. While all travelers are urged to bring an ample supply of any medications that will likely be needed as well as photocopies of prescriptions, one advantage for Turkey is that many drugs that require a prescription are available quite affordable and over-the-counter in Turkey.
There is some debate about the safety of drinking water in Turkey. Indeed, the safety of water is based in part on where you are. In rural areas, well water will not be consistent, while different cities have different filtration systems installed. Further complicating matters, even in a city with an excellent system of water filtration, the pipes in older buildings may contaminate the water before it reaches you through the top. For this reason, it’s best to plan on drinking bottled water during your stay in Turkey, which is readily available, affordable throughout the country, both in stores and by delivery to the home. However, how much further you should like to take the insistence on bottled water beyond drinking will be a matter of personal choice. Whether to only used bottled water for cooking and brushing teeth, only used boiled water for food preparation, avoiding ice cubes or avoiding all fruits and vegetables that have not been thoroughly cooked is something which every person must decide for themselves. As you consider your options, the best advice is to ease into coming into contact with natural water sources as slowly as possible and think any time you visit a different area of Turkey as starting over to acclimatizing yourself to the water. If you don’t want to miss out on eating fruits and vegetables, and always prefer your beverages with ice cubes wherever in Turkey you may go, then it’s best to make sure that you do have the Typhoid vaccine up to date. Besides that, the most danger a healthy person is likely to face is an upset stomach.
Turkey is famed for its food, and also for being renowned for how delicious it is, it’s also beloved for its health. The produce and dried fruits are some of the best in the world. Enjoy the food and try and learn how to make a new dish that you can take home and enjoy a taste of Turkey wherever in the world you go.
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