General Info about Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey's unit of currency is the Turkish Lira (TL) and it comes in notes of 250,000, 500,000, 1,000,000 and 5,000,000TL. The coins in use are 500, 1,000, 2,500, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 250,000TL.

The language spoken in Istanbul is Turkish but English, and sometimes German, is spoken at tourist sites and at hostels.

The climate in Istanbul is predominately mild with temperatures, even in winter, never sinking below freezing. July and August can be particularly hot reaching the high eighties on most days.

Time Zone
Istanbul is two hours ahead of GMT and seven hours ahead of EST.

Opening Hours
The smaller shops and bazaars are usually open from 9.30am to 1.00pm and from 2.00pm to 7.00pm from Monday to Saturday. The majority of the larger stores do not close in the afternoon.

Museums and archaeological sites are open from Tuesday to Saturday between 9.30am and 5.00pm. They do not open on Monday. The many palaces in the vicinity have the same opening hours but they remain closed on Tuesdays.

The electricity current used in Istanbul is 220 volts. Sockets take two or three prong Continental style plugs.

An average 15% value added tax or KDV is nearly always included in the price of most goods and service and most shops will display a sign saying ‘Fiatlarimizda KDV Dahildir’. If you get a bill where the tax is added in separately check it out as this is most unusual. The good news, however, is that tourists can claim this tax back on any large purchases made in shops which state that they offer tax free shopping for tourists. In order to avail of this incentive you must ask for a refund receipt or KDV iade ozel fatura which you can use to reclaim any tax paid on your departure from the country.

Visa Requirements
Canadian and New Zealand nationals can stay in Turkey for up to ninety days without a visa. South Africans may stay for 30 days. Citizens of all other countries do need a visa and these can be obtained from the Turkish Consulate in your home country prior to your departure. It is usually more convenient, however, if you get them when you arrive in Turkey.

Tourist Office
The main tourist office in Istanbul is located in Sultanahmet in the white metal kiosk at the end of the Hippodrome. It is open daily from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Other government tourist offices in the city can be found at the Sirkeci railway station ((this office is closed on Sundays) and at Ataturk International Airport. Finally, if you have any desire to see how the other half live, there is also a tourist information office in the Hilton Hotel located at Bayildium Caddesi 12 in Macka.

Currency Exchange
Banks are open weekdays from 8:30 AM until noon or 12:30 PM, depending on the bank, and again from 1:30 PM until 5.00 PM.

You do need to be aware that in Istanbul, traveller's cheques are very rarely accepted but the good news is that ATMs are to be found in abundance. Almost all accept international bank cards and credit cards. As in most countries, you can usually see exactly what cards a machine accepts displayed above the ATM. The next good news is that almost all machines have a language key to ensure that you do not end up taking out too much or too little – usually too much.

The international calling code for Turkey is 090 so if you are calling Istanbul from abroad you drop the first 0, and place 90 in front of the local number.

The new phones in Istanbul accept phone cards known as telekart which you can purchase at the post office. The older ones require tokens or jeton. The newer phones, you will be delighted to learn, have directions in English and if you do have any problems, the number for assistance within Turkey is 118 and for international directory assistance you will need to dial 115.

Post Office
Post offices in Istanbul are pretty hard to miss primarily due to the fact that they are painted bright yellow and have PTT (Post, Telegraph, and Telephone) signs on the front.

The principal post office in the city is open from 8.00am to 9.00pm from Monday to Saturday and from 9.00am to 7.00pm on Sundays. The other post offices open from 8.30am to 5.00pm from Monday to Friday.

While it is by no means written in stone, waiters should be tipped between five and ten percent of the total. In the more expensive restaurants, fifteen to twenty percent is expected. Taxi drivers do not have to be tipped but it is usual to round the fare off the nearest 100TL.

Public Holidays
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Turkey they take place on January 1st, March 4th to 8th, April 23rd, May 19th, August 30th, October 29th and December 20th, 21st and 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.

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