Safety is a key concern for travellers anywhere, and it’s no different for Australians travelling to Turkey.
It’s important to heed safety warnings issued by local and foreign governments, but it’s also important not to let paranoia hold you back from experiencing an amazing and beautiful part of the world.
Simply being aware of the dangers, avoiding areas listed as ‘Reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘Do not travel’, and taking necessary precautions to minimise your risks is the easiest way to avoid anything spoiling your holiday in Turkey.
This guide provides an overview of the main travel safety and security issues you should be aware of to make sure your trip to Turkey is memorable for all the right reasons.
We also cover the 10 frequently asked questions by travellers to Turkey.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is the ANZAC Dawn Service in Gallipoli safe?
- Is there a high risk of terrorism in Turkey?
- Where is the highest risk of crime?
- What are the most common Turkish scams?
- Am I at risk of sexual assault in Turkey?
- What do I do in a natural disaster?
- Which local laws could get me in trouble?
- Are there any religious customs I should be aware of?
- Where do I find travel insurance for Turkey?
- What are the top travel tips for Turkey?
- Is Turkey still a safe holiday destination?
Is the ANZAC Dawn Service safe?
Thousands of Australian and New Zealand travellers attend the ANZAC Day Dawn Service in Gallipoli each year. The service is a peaceful gathering to commemorate those lost in war, but safety and security fears have risen in recent years.
Both the Australian Government and Turkish Government have identified the ANZAC event as a potential terrorist target. As a result, security at the Gallipoli Dawn Service is tighter than ever. All visitors must go through bag checks and x-rays and armed Turkish security personnel are also present.
Remember to keep your safety in mind while travelling to and from the service as well. The vast majority of visitors fly into Istanbul and then travel by road in a tour bus or rental vehicle to Canakkale. Be aware that the coastal roads leading to the Gallipoli Peninsula Peace Park can be hazardous. Obey safety signage and directions and stick to marked roads and tracks.
Smart Traveller provides up-to-date safety warnings which will help keep you informed about your holiday plans.
After the 2016 suicide bombings at Atatürk International Airport and the nightclub shootings on New Year’s Eve, you may be wondering if it is still safe to visit Istanbul.
The ongoing violence and civil unrest in neighbouring European and Middle Eastern countries have also raised valid security fears for many overseas visitors, and may be causing you to reconsider crossing the Turkey border.
The Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has acknowledged there is a higher perceived threat of terror-related incidents in Turkey. It advises visitors to exercise a high degree of vigilance, particularly in major cities and tourist areas including popular coastal holiday spots near Adana, Antalya and Izmir as well as the capital city Ankara.
The Smart Traveller website also warns that the risk of political instability, civil unrest and violence is still present in many other areas throughout Turkey. In particular, the Syrian border in the south-eastern region of Turkey is currently listed as a ‘Do not travel’ (level 4) zone, and DFAT advises travellers to ‘reconsider your need to travel’ (level 3) to surrounding areas.
Smart Traveller also strongly advises all Australians travelling to Turkey to buy overseas travel insurance that provides unlimited emergency medical and hospital expenses including repatriation.
You may also want to look for a policy that includes additional cover for alternative transport expenses, travel delays, luggage and personal effects, travel documents and credit cards. The Australian Government won’t assist you with these expenses just because you run out of money overseas.
For more information on how travel insurance can assist you in a terrorist event, see our article on Terrorism and Travel Insurance.
Even seasoned travellers can still fall victim to scams. It’s important to be wary of strangers that seem a little too friendly, and keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
In Turkey, there are two phrases in particular you might hear that mean you’ve been targeted by a scammer:
Would you like a drink my friend?
This is one of the most prevalent scams in Turkey – simply offering you a drink.
After befriending you spontaneously, a stranger will offer to take you somewhere that has the best wine or kebob. Perhaps a ‘local secret’.
After arriving, you’ll likely be encouraged to buy the first round. And the next... And the next...
It’ll all seem like great fun until suddenly your new friend has disappeared and you’re stuck with the bill.
Alternatively, a sedative drug might be slipped into your drink (drink spiking) which can lead to theft or even assault.
To make sure you don’t fall for this scam follow these guidelines:
- Be wary if your new friend seems to be reciting a scripted conversation, refuses to answer questions about themselves, or is adamant about visiting a particular venue. If you notice this, it may be best to politely decline the offer.
- If your new friend is trying to separate you from your travelling companions, there’s a good chance they’re a scammer.
- If the bar or restaurant you go to has very little atmosphere or few other patrons, it could be the front for a dodgy business.
- Check the prices of anything you purchase, and keep an eye on what you drink.
- If there’s a chance your drink has been tampered with, don’t risk it.
- To avoid drink spiking, choose bottled beverages or cans that you can open yourself rather than mixers or drinks served in a glass.
- Be aware of how much you’re drinking. Resist encouragement to drink to excess, particularly if you’re alone amongst strangers.
- If something about the situation just seems a bit odd, always go with your gut, not to the restaurant or bar they suggest.
Would you like to buy a carpet?
You’ll probably be asked to buy a carpet when you’re in Turkey, and vendors can be extremely pushy.
Most vendors sell quality carpets, but there is a chance you’ll be scammed into buying an imported rug from somewhere else.
Spend a little time and research before purchasing a carpet and always arrange your own shipping. Many tourists have experienced the disappointment of buying a carpet that never arrives after a vendor promised to ship it.
Theft, assaults, bag-snatching and pickpocketing are not unheard of in Turkey. It’s particularly common in areas where tourists are likely to crowd such as Taksim Square, the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque.
Western tourists from countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Australian travellers are perceived as wealthy targets, so it is important to be especially careful with your luggage and personal belongings when visiting popular sites.
If you want to be covered in case of theft, keep your belongings stored securely at your accommodation, stashed out of sight in a locked vehicle (during daylight hours only) or under the supervision of someone named on your travel insurance at all times.
Reports of sexual assaults against female travellers in Turkey are unfortunately all too common.
To minimise the risk of putting yourself in a dangerous situation follow these guidelines:
- Travel with a companion, friends or family.
- Don’t tell anyone if you are travelling by yourself – say your partner or friend is at the hotel if asked.
- Avoid drinking to excess – intoxication puts you at greater risk.
- Avoid walking around alone after dark where possible, particularly in popular tourist areas like Istanbul and Antalya.
- Stick to busy, well-lit areas – avoid taking shortcuts through alleyways or back streets.
- Book a taxi online or through your hotel rather than hailing one on the street.
Some single female travellers have found it easier to wear a fake wedding ring in order to avoid unwanted attention or advances from local admirers. If you’re implored by Turkish men on the street, simply point at your wedding ring, smile politely and keep walking. No translation required!
Natural disasters in Turkey
Most areas of Turkey are arid with dry summers and mild winters. While this means there’s a lower risk of the natural disasters which often plague tropical holiday destinations, Turkey can instead suffer from droughts. This can affect the water supply in a number of cities and during severe drought periods there may not be running water in hotels or backpacker hostels.
Turkey also experiences the occasional earthquake, and there is a higher risk of forest fires during the summer months from June to September, particularly in areas along the Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines.
Stay up to date with travel warnings before your trip as well as while travelling in Turkey, and keep an eye on local news and weather channels where possible.
Remember that conditions can change suddenly so ensure you register with Smartraveller.gov.au to stay up to date with the latest travel advice and travel warnings.
For more information on how travel insurance can assist you in a natural disaster, see our article on Natural Disasters and Travel Insurance.
What do I do in a natural disaster?
If you're already in Turkey...
If you are already overseas when a natural disaster strikes, follow the directions of local authorities and travel safety advice on Smart Traveller.
If you find yourself stranded due to a natural disaster, contact your insurer’s 24 hour emergency assistance team. They can help arrange alternative transport, locate the nearest Australian embassy or consulate, and help coordinate emergency medical assistance or evacuation if required.
If you haven't yet left home...
If a natural disaster interferes with your Turkey travel plans, your policy may cover cancellation costs, lost deposits and travel delay expenses if it was purchased before the event.
If a disaster strikes and you haven’t purchased travel insurance, you may be able to change your flights or bookings with the travel agent, transport provider or tour operator.
DRIVING IN TURKEY
Roads in Turkey are not as well maintained as Australian travellers may be used to. Driving can be dangerous, particularly on country and coastal roads due to a lack of road rules and poor lighting at night.
Brush up on the local road rules and traffic laws in Turkey before you get behind the wheel, and remember to never drink and drive!
If you’re hiring a car or campervan, choose a well-known and reputable rental company and consider purchasing Rental Vehicle Excess Insurance. This doesn’t replace the vehicle insurance with the hire company, but covers the excess they charge in the event of an accident or any damage to the vehicle.
Depending on your cover type, Rental Vehicle Excess Insurance may be automatically included or can be purchased as an optional add-on to your policy.
Wherever you travel, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the local laws and customs to avoid ending up with a fine, deportation, prison sentence, or worse.
The Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) can provide some support if you are imprisoned overseas, but they can’t bail you out of trouble or bring you back to Australia if you’re charged or sentenced with committing a crime.
The best way to avoid getting into trouble is to be aware of the laws and respect them. Check Smart Traveller for full details and travel advice regarding Turkish laws before your visit.
Travel tips for staying out of trouble in Turkey:
- The penalties for drug offences are severe in Turkey, including long jail sentences, so don’t be tempted to carry or use illegal drugs.
- If you’re caught drink-driving you can expect an on-the-spot fine and confiscation of your driver’s license.
- Photographing military installations or government buildings in Turkey is illegal.
- Selling and exporting antiquities without authorisation is illegal and can land you with a long jail sentence. At the very least you may be arrested, detained and then deported.
- Public displays of affection are not recommended and can result in prosecution.
- Homosexuality is not illegal, but it isn’t widely accepted.
- It is illegal to deface or destroy currency.
- It is illegal to insult the Turkish nation, its national flag, and the name or image of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
- Tourists are required to carry photographic identification at all times.
- Mount Ararat is a military zone and can only be visited with the permission of the Turkish government.
Travel insurance can cover a huge range of unexpected expenses including:
- Emergency medical costs
- Hospital expenses
- Lost deposits and cancellation costs
- Theft or damage to your luggage and personal effects
- Theft or loss of travel documents, credit cards and travellers cheques
- Travel delay expenses
- Alternative transport expenses
- Cover for your rental vehicle insurance excess
- Personal liability insurance
- Permanent disability insurance
- Loss of income insurance
- Accidental death insurance
As well as the financial benefits, buying travel insurance also connects you with an emergency assistance team who can help with your insurance claim or arrange emergency services anywhere in Turkey 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Emergency Expenses Covered
18-year-old Jason from Byron Bay needed over $41,000 AUD worth of overseas medical assistance after he injured himself while skiing and suffered internal bleeding. Jason and his travelling companion’s insurance policy cost just over $500 AUD for both of them. It covered the cost of Jason’s emergency medical transport, surgery and hospital expenses, as well as accommodation for his friend to stay nearby while he recovered, and even their return flights to Australia in Business Class.
If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, remember to disclose them when purchasing a policy to ensure they are covered. Some travel insurance companies can provide a tailored quote to cover your pre-existing medical conditions. Other insurers have a set list of medical conditions that are automatically covered. Anything not listed would generally be excluded from cover.
Travel insurers may also exclude cover if Turkey is listed as ‘Do Not Travel’ (level 4) or ‘Reconsider Your Need to Travel’ (level 3) or words to that effect by the Australian Government. Check Smart Traveller for the latest travel safety status and updates on current security concerns.
Keep in mind there are some instances in which you won’t have cover. If you injure yourself as a direct result of being intoxicated, it’s unlikely your insurer will provide cover for your medical expenses.
Similarly, if you leave your luggage or personal belongings unattended in a public place, break any local laws, or simply decide to change your travel plans on a whim, your insurance claim may be declined.
Cancellation Costs Covered
Sven and his wife had pre-paid for a trip to attend a 100-year birthday celebration and family reunion, followed by a cruise holiday back to Australia. Unfortunately, a few months before their departure, an unexpected medical diagnosis meant they were forced to cancel their travel plans. Thankfully they had purchased travel insurance well in advance which covered the pre-paid airfares and lost deposits for the cruise. After submitting a claim online and providing the required documentation, they received reimbursement for over $10,000 AUD within a week.
A Comprehensive policy usually offers the highest level of cover, but you’ll need to compare benefits to decide which cover type is best for your specific Turkey travel requirements.
Always read the Product Disclosure Statement and familiarise yourself with the policy inclusions and exclusions before you make a purchase.
There are a few travel tips that can help you avoid or minimise risks while on holiday in Turkey.
Keep your cash, cards and passport secure
You can use a money belt, or lock them in the safe at your hotel accommodation, rather than keeping them in a backpack or handbag which can be easily snatched.
Be wary of overly friendly strangers
It’s great to make new friends while travelling, but don’t trust anyone to mind your belongings or go anywhere alone with them after you’ve only known them for a short period of time.
Hire a reputable tour guide
If you want to see and experience all that Turkey has to offer in safety, book a group tour or hire a local tour guide from a reputable company.
Know your whereabouts
Keep the address of your accommodation on hand. A business card or photo of the hotel sign may come in handy if you get lost. It’s also worth doing your research before you travel to know if there’s any areas other travellers have found to be unsettling or unsafe.
Don’t drink alcohol to excess
You want to be able to navigate your surroundings, especially if you are travelling alone. Drinking to excess makes you an easier target for opportunistic thieves or criminals. Also be aware that medical treatment and hospital expenses for injuries that arise while intoxicated probably aren’t covered by travel insurance.
Separate your cash and money sources
It’s a good idea to separate your cash and credit cards so that if your wallet or bag gets stolen, at least you have an emergency stash to tie you over.
Make digital copies of your important travel documents
This includes your passport, licences, visas and travel insurance certificate. It may not reduce your risk of having your travel documents stolen, but it will make getting your replacement documents much easier if they do.
Save your local embassy or consulate details
The Australian Government provides 24 hour consular emergency assistance. You may also want to save the local phone number and address of the nearest embassy.
Turkey draws millions of tourists each year with its astounding sights, rich cultural history, and vast array of experiences on offer. A hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. A stroll through the ancient city of Ephesus. An open water cruise on the Bosphorus. And, for many Australian travellers and New Zealanders, the ANZAC dawn service at Gallipoli. These are experiences travellers will always remember.
However, there are risks involved when travelling anywhere.
Whether it be a five-star holiday in a popular western destination like the United States or United Kingdom, hostel-hopping through Southeast Asia, or traversing the African continent. Each place has its own particular set of risks of which travellers should be aware – Turkey included.
Remember to check Smartraveller.gov.au for general safety advice and updated Turkey travel warnings, and consider buying travel insurance before you leave.
As Smart Traveller says: “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.”