Driving in Turkey: Everything you need to know for a better road trip

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Are you planning on driving in Turkey on your next visit? If so, check out this post to avoid as much stress as possible.

Driving in Turkey for foreigners can be a stressful experience. As someone who lives here, I still avoid driving in Istanbul if I can avoid it and I love to drive.

Sometimes taking a drive means relaxation. A drive through the country or a lazy drive with the windows down. A time to relax and just breathe.

For others, it could mean stress and traffic or having to plan an hour to go 11 miles. It could mean headaches and wasted time.

And yet still for others, it is whatever. There isn’t a strong pull to or push away from it. It is meaningless. It is something one does to get from A to B.

I have rented a car in Turkey multiple times and each time I learn something new. Hopefully, you can learn from my experiences as a resident of Turkey.

If you’re wondering “Is driving in Turkey easy?”, let me say this: it will always be a little stressful because it is so different but in the end, understanding everything should make it a bit easier and less stressful.

Haydi bakalım! (Ok let’s see!) Let’s see everything you need to know for your trip to Turkey.

Driving Tips in Turkey

Taking a drive in Istanbul is akin to driving in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. So much traffic. Horns are blazing.

Turkish drivers make up the rules as they go and if you’re not paying attention, it could get bad quickly.

Sometimes you could even walk faster than you can drive. If I were you, I would avoid driving in Istanbul if possible. As a newbie, the stress isn’t worth it.

But not all driving in the country is like that. Some driving is quite relaxing or at least it can be when you know these 9 tips below.

If you know about driving in Turkey, you will likely enjoy your time around Turkey much more.

I don’t recommend renting a car in Istanbul if you’re staying in the city. It really isn’t needed and is more of a hassle than it’s worth for such a short stay.

For road trips or flying to another area and driving around, however, they are completely worth it!

Let’s see what you need to know about driving in Turkey as a tourist. These 9 tips will make it a much more enjoyable trip!

1. StopLights

In Turkey, the traffic lights are a bit different than they are in the States.

They are usually on poles to the side of you instead of above and out in front of you. If you get too close to them they will be really hard to see.

I made this mistake way too many times. Luckily I had someone else in the car that could see them.

Another interesting thing is that they often turn from red to yellow to green so you know to get ready.

If you’re not going on green people will be honking at you. Don’t let it stress you out though. Just go with it.

Mini street library with the Foca Belediyesi
Loved checking out this mini library on my travels.

2. Speed Limits

This was one of the hardest adjustments. There are not always road signs in Turkey. This is where a good navigation system comes into play.

One minute you see a sign for 110 kmph then all of a sudden there is a speed trap for 70 kmph but you never see another sign.

One app that was really helpful was RadarBot. This app gives you alerts when you’re approaching a speed trap.

You can also follow the lead of others….but if you’re alone on the road in Turkey, this app comes in handy.

The standard speeds for your information. Obviously, certain roads will have signs posted that will be different but these are general standards.

  • Towns & Cities – 50 kmph (31 mph)
  • Open Roads – 90 kmph (55 mph)
  • Divided Roads – 110 kmph (68 mph)
  • Highways – 120 kmph (74 mph)

3. Road Rules in Turkey

There are “roundabouts” in intersections but they aren’t your standard roundabouts.

If you want to turn left, you turn and stop at the light.

Sometimes it will be green and they allow traffic around the circle in order but often it is green for the parallel life rows of traffic. Then you will turn next time.

Something else that is interesting is a taxi always has the right of way, even if they don’t. They will wedge themselves in front of you so be prepared.

If you go into driving with the expectation that it will be much different than in America and that it will likely take longer than you expect it to, you’re setting yourself up for success.

It is also good to have an emergency plan in place in case something does happen while you’re driving across Turkey.

pinterest image with Driving in Turkey -9 things you should know

4. Google Maps

I am a huge fan of Google Maps in Turkey. When I take a road trip in Turkey, I use it to get myself around the country.

You can even download maps if you will be going somewhere that might not have service.

To download the map, click on your face/account and then “offline maps”. It will open up a screen and you can select your own map.

It will open a screen and you can select what you need to download. Once it is downloaded, it will be available in your “offline maps” section.

Just name it whatever you want to name it and you’re good to go!

But my other favorite feature is even if you don’t have internet and there is service available, you can look at the map. Even if it is in airplane mode I have looked at the map.

In this case, it doesn’t allow you to pull up directions or anything like that but you can see where you are and figure out how to get where you want to be.

5. Fuel Stations in Turkey

In Turkey, you don’t pump your own gas. So when you go to a gas station, just pull up on the side you need to be.

If it is diesel you can say that but they will likely see that when they go to pump it. You can just tell them “full” and they will fill it up for you.

While you’re there, make sure you use the bathroom and get your snacks. They are the best places to use the bathroom.

6. Dealing with the police

First of all, I should mention that the legal driving age in Turkey is 18, like drinking and smoking.

Another thing you should know about so you don’t get freaked out is: there are a lot of police roadblocks.

They are standard and are typically looking for someone or making sure no one has been drinking. They just want to see identification and you’re on your way.

In the event that you have to stop at one or that you are pulled over make sure that you speak ENGLISH.

English will be your best friend. If you try your hand at Turkish here, you will likely run into more problems than if you speak Turkish.

You should also be aware that they have cutouts of Turkish Police Cars strategically placed.

They aren’t real but when you see them for the first time it may make you mess yourself if you’re speeding.

Well, that was my experience anyway. I nearly had a heart attack cause I had no idea what the speed limit was. They generally don’t really care about tourists.

Speak English, give them your passport turned to the most recent entry stamp (should be within 6 months to avoid issues) and unless you have done something seriously wrong, you won’t have an issue.

That being said make sure you have your paperwork ready to go. You should have 5 things on you while in the car:

  1. Passport – even if you are a resident, they will want to see when you last entered the country.
  2. Driver’s License – Make sure you have a translation if it isn’t in Latin letters or an IDP
  3. Vehicle Registration – the following are usually best kept in the glove box
  4. Insurance paperwork
  5. Car Rental paperwork

Pro Tip: Make sure any alcohol you have in the car is in the trunk. Avoid trouble!

If you do get in trouble somehow, call Pelin Ercan.

She is a local attorney who also speaks English and focuses on working with foreigners, both those who live here and those who are visiting.

Me posing in the letters of a giant Samsun sign

7. Tolls in Turkey

They have upgraded the system for toll roads in Turkey. Most are a fairly low fee though a few are much higher.

I won’t say how much because things around money change here often.

They will all be automatically added to your car rental and you will be charged them after turning in the car.

They just use the card on file. Generally speaking, it’s not a terribly high price more for you to have a heads up.

There are two separate types of systems HGS and OGS. They are switching all OGS over to HGS.

Depending on when you drive and where, you may still see the older but they will tell you which system you should go through.

Make sure you know which one you should use before going through the tollways. They will tell you when you get the car.

8. Parking in Turkey

Parking in Turkey, especially in Istanbul, can be quite stressful.

At Otoparks (parking garage) they have you leave your keys with them. While in America this would probably freak us out think of it more like valet.

They pack the cars in like sardines and move them around accordingly so they need the keys to move them when necessary.

Sometimes street-side parking can be hard to find but you can usually find a spot at an “otopark”. Fees vary widely based on where you are so there is no set fee.

This is similar to America in that it is more expensive to park in downtown Seattle than out and about in Tacoma.

9. Small towns

A woman in Selcuk who makes homemade tarhana soup mixes.
Meeting a local who was making Tarhana soup by hand outside of Selçuk

Lastly, make sure you slow down in small towns. Often there aren’t cops but the pace of life is different.

There are a few things you should be aware of.

You will likely see people driving tractors or other slow-moving equipment.

If no cars are oncoming, you can pass them, and it is expected even.

You will see people carrying large bundles of wood or products needed for the farms.

Make sure you show some respect to the people by giving way.

The roads are also more narrow there. Given that in Turkey people park wherever there is an open space as long as it doesn’t block an entrance/exit, you may find people double parked on the street.

If you’re going too fast, you may not notice until it is too late.

But also take time to look at the beauty. I remember driving through a small town up by the Black Sea and they had the most beautiful roses.

There were so many colors. They were so full and bright. I wish I could have smelled them all!

Don’t forget to enjoy the beauty along the way.

A few Tips for a better Turkey Driving Experience

Have all documents on you

  • Passport – even if you are a resident, they will want to see when you last entered the country.
  • Valid Driving License
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Insurance paperwork
  • Car Rental paperwork

Rental Car in Turkey

  • DiscoverCars.com – this is who I use when I need a car rental in Turkey
  • Insurance – I recommend buying insurance as your home country’s insurance likely won’t cover international incidents.
  • Use a reputable company – think Enterprise, Sixt, etc.
  • Know what you’re paying for – you will be offered many different upgrades but make sure

Take a breath and enjoy

Obviously, make sure all your t’s are crossed and your i’s are dotted but in the end, just enjoy yourself!

Turkey has so much to see. There are 7 amazing regions in Turkey and they each have something to offer.

If you are just here on a holiday, don’t try to take it all in one go. It’s like trying to see all of the US in a setting.

While Turkey is not nearly the size of the US, there is still great diversity in culture, landscape, and experiences.

Regardless of what you’re looking for, I am sure Turkey has something that would suit your desires.

If this looks delicious you should also check out 5 foods you should eat and 5 desserts you should try.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for using a car in Turkey

What should I do in case of an emergency in Turkey?

112 – This is the main emergency number
155 – is the police number
156 – if you’re in a rural area, you can use this number to reach the gendarme

If it is an accident, call your insurance/car company what you should do next.

Do I need a GPS when driving in Turkey?

NO. Just make sure you get a SIM card and you won’t be WIFI dependent.

Should I drive in Turkey?

If you want to stay in the big cities, it isn’t necessary and will probably be even more stressful if you go that way. If you want to see the country more then, of course, you can use a car. It will be a great option for that.

Can tourists drive in Turkey?

Yes! The minimum age to drive is 18, but to rent a car you have to be 21. If your license isn’t in Latin letters (Mandarin, Korean, Arabic, etc.) or don’t have a British driving license, you need an international driving permit (IDP).

What side of the road do you drive on in Turkey?

The right side of the road. Always the right. However, even though Northern Cyprus has many Turkish Cypriots, you will drive on the left side of the road.

What is the drinking and driving limit in Turkey?

Turkey is one of the only countries where the limit is 0. If you will be driving, you should by no means do any driving. Read more about the drinking age and other details regarding alcohol.

Can I use the phone while I am driving?

Only a hands-free phone. You should invest in cell phone holders. While you can get one in the States from Amazon, you can also get one here for about the same price.

Where should I stop for a toilet when doing a road trip in Turkey?

Stop at a good-looking gas station. Places like OPET, Shell, and BP are good bets. While you will find other stations, the nicer ones will have nicer food and cleaner toilets generally.

windshield attachment for a phone holder
This is my favorite phone holder because it impedes my view the least.

Final Thoughts on Driving in Turkey Advice

I am so excited for you to travel to Turkey and explore this beautiful country. There are so many tourist attractions and off-the-beaten-path hidden gems.

If you want to take a couple of day trips, here are 11 great ones from Istanbul!

Whether you want mountains or beaches or ancient archeological sites or good food you will surely find it.

Not to mention some of the nicest people and some of the best hospitality.

Taking into account these 9 tips for your drive in Turkey will ensure you have a great time!

Do you have any other driving in Turkey tips?

Read more:

Turkey Vacation Basics

When I plan a trip these are the websites I use. Hope they help you plan your next adventure as well!

FLIGHTS: I am a huge fan of Skyscanner and WayAway.

VISAS: You can use the free e-visa portal here but for a few extra dollars you can use iVisa and someone else will handle any issues that may come up.

E-SIM: When I traveled to SE Asia I discovered e-sims and I’m never going back. Airalo has been easy and cheap!

TRAVEL INSURANCE: I use TravelInsurance.com for my trips abroad.

CAR RENTAL: I have loved working with Discover Cars when I rent cars in country.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS: I have used these transfers many times and they are always great. If you’d like more options, I also recommend GetTransfers.com as they allow you to compare companies.

ACCOMMODATION: Find the best Turkey hotel deals on Booking.com.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: You can browse GetYourGuide’s website to find just the tour you’re looking for!

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