American Express -- Now that Garanti Bank manages American Express financial services in Turkey, Amex is widely accepted. Türk Ekspres is the official representative of Amex Travel Related Services in Turkey, at Cumhuriyet Cad. 47/1, 3rd floor, Taksim (tel. 0212/235-9500; www.turkekspres.com.tr). For customer assistance with your Amex traveler's checks in Turkey, call toll free tel. 0800/4491-4820. Amex also provides a toll-free number for their Global Assist service (tel. 01-715/343-7977).
Area Codes -- The three-digit area code for the European side of Istanbul is 212; for the Asian side, dial 216. Ankara telephone numbers are preceded by 312.
Business Hours -- Banks are open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to noon and 1:30 to 5pm. Government offices are open Monday through Friday 8:30am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 5:30pm. Official hours of operation for shops are Monday through Saturday 9:30am to 1pm and 2 to 7pm, but I've yet to find a store closed at lunchtime, or a shop outside of the Grand Bazaar or the Egyptian Spice Market closed on Sundays. Museums and palaces are generally open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30am to 5 or 5:30pm, while the closing day for palaces is Tuesday, Thursday, or both. Museum opening hours are generally extended by an hour or two in summer; note that museums generally also stop selling tickets up to an hour prior to the official closing time.
Drinking Laws -- For a predominantly Muslim country, it might be surprising that alcohol is even sold in Turkey. The truth is, beer, wine, and the national drink raki have quite a loyal following here. Alcohol is available for purchase in restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and in grocery aisles. In recent years, however, the current, Islamic-leaning government has done its part by setting sky-high taxes on alcohol and restaurants operated by the municipality run a dry operation. Theoretically you have to be at least 18 to purchase or consume it.
Electricity -- The standard is 220 volts, and outlets are compatible with the round European two-prong plug. You may be able to leave your hair dryer at home, as most hotel rooms come equipped with at least a weak one. Visitors from America and Canada with electronics that need to be recharged will need an adapter, a transformer, or both, depending on the appliance
Embassies & Consulates -- In the U.S. -- The Turkish Embassy is located at 2525 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/612-6700; fax 202/612-6744; www.washington.emb.mfa.gov.tr). Turkey also maintains consulates in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York as well as honorary consulates in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Flowood (MS), St. Louis, San Francisco, and Seattle. For contact information, visit the embassy website.
In Canada -- Turkish Embassy, 197 Wurtemburg St., Ottawa, ON K1N 8L9 (tel. 613/789-4044; fax 613/789-3442; www.turkishembassy.com). You can also call the Consular Call Center at tel. 888/566-7656.
In Australia & New Zealand -- Turkish Embassy, Canberra, 6 Moona Place, Yarralumla, ACT 2600 (tel. 02/6234-0000; fax 02/6273-4402; www.kanberra.be.mfa.gov.tr).
In the U.K. -- Turkish Embassy, 43 Belgrave Sq., London SW1X 8PA (tel. 020/7393-0202; fax 020/7393-0066; www.londra.be.mfa.gov.tr).
Emergencies -- Local emergency numbers are fire tel. 110, police tel. 155, and ambulance tel. 112. Emergencies may also warrant a call to Medline (tel. 0212/444-1212, 24 hr. a day), a private company equipped to deal with any medical crisis, including ambulance transfers (cost varies according to distance), lab tests, and home treatment. The International Hospital also provides ambulance services.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- The cost of petrol in Turkey is among the highest in Europe. As of June 2010, 1 liter of gasoline sold in Turkey for 3.75TL. Taxes are already included in the printed price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons.
Holidays -- Most shops and official offices and museums are closed on January 1, April 23 (National Independence & Children's Day), May 19 (Youth & Sports Day), August 30 (Victory Day), and October 28 to 29 (Republic Day). These same establishments also generally close on the first day of religious holidays. During the 30 days of Ramadan, many shops and businesses close early, while many restaurants either close down completely or offer limited menus at lunchtime.
Hospitals -- For optimal local emergency care, put yourself in the hands of one of the reputed private hospital facilities: the new Koç American Hospital, Güzelbahçe Sok., Nisantasi (tel. 0212/311-2000); Metropolitan Florence Nightingale Hospital, Cemil Aslangüder Sok. 8, Gayrettepe (tel. 0212/288-3400); the International Hospital, Istanbul Cad. 82, Yesilköy (tel. 0212/663-3000); the German Hospital, Siraselviler Cad. 119, Taksim (tel. 0212/293-2150); and the Or-Ahayim Balat Jewish Hospital, with an on-site international patient coordinator, Demirhisar Cad. 46-48 Ayvansaray (tel. 0212/491-0000), are just a few of the establishments with reliable English-speaking staff. Don't forget that payment is required at the time of treatment.
Insurance -- For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancelation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Internet Access -- Almost all hotels offer Internet access via a computer in the lobby, wireless, or an in-room ISDN line free or for a nominal fee. Internet cafes in Istanbul are generally bunched around Taksim Square, on the upper floors of the side streets perpendicular to Istiklal Caddesi, and more sparsely along Divanyolu in the Old City.
Language -- English, French, and German are widespread, and increasingly so are Russian, Japanese, and even Korean. For the linguistically challenged, it may not be so unusual to encounter some minor language barriers (including, surprisingly enough, in established restaurants), but the inherent willingness of the Turks to help combined with a little sign language and a lot of laughs will almost always do the trick.
Laundromats -- All hotels provide laundry and dry-cleaning services, seeing to it in the process that they make a huge profit on the transaction. Otherwise, the Turkish word for a Laundromat is çamasirhane.
Legal Aid -- Foreigners and tourists get the benefit of the doubt in most every run-in with the law, but some things you just can't talk your way out of. For real trouble, contact your embassy or consulate for assistance and ask for their list of private law firms catering to English-speaking foreigners. If you are "pulled over" for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Insist on paying the fine directly into the hands of the municipal clerk.
Mail -- The PTT, hard to miss with its black and yellow signs, offers the usual postal services, in addition to selling tokens (jetons) and phone cards for the phone booths located in and around the post office and in most public places. Postcards cost 65kr to Europe and 80kr to all other continents. Rates for an international express mail letter begin at 22TL and go up to 40TL for deliveries farther afield. The PTT also has currency exchange and traveler's check services. Delivery however is notoriously slow, so I'd stick with one of the private carriers mentioned such as UPS or DHL.
Newspapers & Magazines -- For local and national information, the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review (formerly the Turkish Daily News) gives a basic rundown of the day's headlines in print and on the Internet (www.hurriyet.com.tr) in English. The national Today's Zaman, www.zaman.com, also has a bilingual website. For local listings, the Guide Istanbul and Time Out Istanbul contain essential listings for tourists. Both are available at newsstands; the former is provided free at some hotels.
Passports -- See www.frommers.com/planning for information on how to obtain a passport.
Police -- To reach the police, dial tel. 155.
Smoking -- A local saying goes something like this: "Eat like a Turk, smoke like a Turk," which roughly translates to "don't expect anyone to comply with nonsmoking laws." Since the smoking ban went into effect in July 2009 (prohibiting smoking in all public places, including restaurants!), there have been reports of acts of quiet civil disobedience, although it remains to be seen if the fines will be enough of a deterrent.
Taxes -- A flat 18% VAT (value-added tax) is incorporated into the price of almost everything you buy. This number is reduced to 8% for tourist services such as hotel tax when not already included in the price of the room rate, although added services such as airport transfers are charged at the 18% rate. A special class of luxury items, which includes cars, is taxed at a higher rate. And illustrating how the current government frowns on such un-Islamic vices such as consuming alcohol, beer, wine, raki, and spirits, the taxes for these, as high as 40TL for a liter of gin or vodka, are clearly designed to hurt.
Time -- All of Turkey adheres to Eastern European Time (EET), which is Greenwich Mean Time plus 2 hours. To make it easier: When it is noon in New York, it is 7pm in Istanbul. Daylight saving time, when clocks are set 1 hour ahead of standard time, is in effect as Eastern European Summer Time (EEST), from 1am on the second Sunday in March to 1am on the first Sunday in November.
Tipping -- Gratuities are a way of life in Turkey and are often expected for even the most minor service. Try to keep coins or small notes handy and follow these guidelines: Give the bellhop 50kr to 1TL per bag; leave at least an additional 10% to 15% of the restaurant bill for your waiter; reward your tour guide with 10€ to 20€ for a job well done; and give the attendant in the Turkish bath 5TL before the rubdown. Shows of appreciation are also expected from your chambermaid, your barber or hairdresser, and an usher who has shown you to your seat. It is not customary in Turkey to tip the taxi driver.
Toilets -- There are two types of waste repositories in Turkey -- the traditional "European" toilet and the Turkish toilet: that dreaded porcelain latrine in the floor. Most modern hotels and restaurants in Istanbul have European toilets, while older establishments (including eateries, shops, and so forth), have clean squat latrines. Many Turks and Europeans swear the Turkish toilet is hygienically superior; but having stepped in more unidentifiable liquids than I care to remember, I'm not convinced. In any case, you'll be thankful for those footrests and might even master the art of avoiding backsplash. The floor-level faucet and bucket are also for quick wash-ups (probably the reason the floor is wet); in both cases, toilet paper is for drying. Flushing the toilet paper is sometimes hazardous to the life of the plumbing, but generally when this is the case, there will be a sign above the tank requesting that you dispose of it in the nearby wastebasket. My advice? Lift your skirts high, hang on to the cuffs of your pants, and always carry tissues. As for the European toilets, most have built-in bidets that send clean water up to your privates when activated. Simply locate the faucet -- usually on the wall behind you to the right of the tank -- and let her rip.
Water -- The water is safe to drink, but will slow you down. Drink bottled water and wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.