Turkey is one of the few countries in the world that has opened its borders to international travelers since June 2020. This is especially exciting because it’s also open to American Citizens which is rare, even now in September 2020. So what is it like traveling to Turkey during Covid, especially as an American?
- Do you need to provide a Negative Covid Test Upon entering? YES
- Are you required to take a test at the Airport? NO
- Do you need to Quarantine Traveling to Turkey?
- What’s it like to fly internationally to Turkey during Covid?
- Booking your International and Domestic flights in Turkey
- What is a “HES Code” and are Travelers required to have it?
- What are the steps in entering the country through immigration? Is it simple or a hassle?
- Do Americans Need a Visa to Enter Turkey?
- So should you travel to Turkey during Covid?
- Ways to Social Distance while Traveling in Turkey and Everywhere Else
As of September 2020, there is no requirement that travelers need to quarantine after arriving. Masks are required in public, though rarely enforced or fined. Though once in Alaçati, a man with an iPad chased my friend & I down while not wearing a mask and asked for our ID’s/Passport. I am not sure why he specifically targeted us to chase down while half of the people out at night weren’t wearing it. He let us go with a warning.
Whether you’re flying domestically or internationally, to Turkey or anywhere else in the world, will require you to wear a Mask at the airport and in the whole duration of your flight (except during meals). They will likely take your temperature as you board the plane.
Booking an international flight to Turkey is as simple as ever. I always start with Skyscanner.com or any booking sites to get an idea of pricing. I flew Turkish Airlines direct from LAX to IST for $670 roundtrip. The other most popular route with just as competitive pricing is via Qatar Airlines. Though it’s less convenient as there is a layover in Doha. And currently, travelers are not allowed to leave the airport in Doha (due to strict Covid lockdown until at least late October) which can be a hassle if your layover is more than 3 hours. Most airlines are still allowing free change fees (just pay the fare distance when you rebook).
Booking domestic flights within Turkey is also easy and SUPER cheap. I also use Skyscanner to do my initial search and the most popular airlines flying within are Turkish Airlines and Pegasus. The average price for flights within Turkey is $17-30 one way. Typically I would just book the day before and would find flights at this price. Sometimes the flights can go up to $40-50 if booked last minute or at specific times.
HES which stands for “Hayat Eve Sigar” is an APP used within Turkey. Each person that installs it gets a personal code (sent to their SMS/text) implemented by the “Turkey Ministry of Health” to prevent the further spread of Covid. And ultimately to protect the health and wellbeing of the Turkish society. It’s a win-win situation for both the Ministry of Health, Turkish Citizens and Travelers as it’s a useful app that allows you to see which areas of Covid are highest. And a way for the government to be able to track their numbers and protect their citizens. The HES Code is asked while booking Domestic Flights or while booking Public Transportation tickets throughout Turkey.
Here are some of the features of the HES app:
- If you want to report what you see as a violation of Social Distancing, in a market, club, busy street etc, or see establishments not requiring masks, you can take a photo from the APP and report it. This business will likely get a warning and/or be shut down.
- The HES app has an interactive map that shows you the threat level and population of Covid Hotspots throughout the country. This is an indication of where to avoid and where to be extra careful should you go.
- It tracks your location so that if you get Covid, they will see where you have been.
- Another option asks questions about how you feel currently. You can fill this out daily to track your health and energy. And if you click that you are sick, then a doctor can be sent right away. This is especially helpful if you are traveling or living alone.
While booking your international flight to Turkey, you will be asked if you have the HES Code. Citizens and travelers are now required to have a HES Code for public transport, entering malls, hospitals and many public places While booking domestic flights, it is said that providing a HES code is mandatory (though I never had to put one in). Update: As of February 2021, all Turkish Citizens and Foreigners must register their HES Code to their IstanbulKart (card for public transportations).
Where can you Download HES Code? You can install the HES Code APP on Google Play or Apple Store.
A “Passenger Information Form” is the only requirement for international travelers entering Turkey besides a Visa (if applicable per country). This will be given to you from your flight attendant and you will hand it to airport immigration. The simple form asks for your:
- Name, Surname
- Country of Origin
- Where you are traveling from
- Ask whether you or anyone you’ve been close to in the last 2 weeks have tested positive for COVID (that you know of)
If however, any passengers show symptoms of Covid at the airport, or are asked to test, and test positive, they will be transported to a Hospital, be required to take Medical Treatment and have to quarantine.
An E-Visa is required for Americans traveling to Turkey. But no fret, it’s an online application that takes no longer than 4 minutes to fill out. You fill out a few questions, pay $50 with a credit card, and they email you a confirmation right away. Once you enter immigration, there is no ask for proof of Visa as it’ll show up in the system once they scan your passport.
In Istanbul and of all the places I traveled in Turkey, I’d estimate that 60% of people are properly wearing masks. 20% have a mask hanging halfway on their face or arms. And the rest is not wearing a mask. Most markets and stores you enter require you to wear them. Many establishments will take your temperature upon entering. Most Restaurants and Bars I visited are not too strict as far as social distancing so that’s up to you where you feel comfortable going.
In my honest opinion, the general population in public doesn’t seem to take Covid as seriously as some other parts of the world. The sanitation is not at 100% and people love to socialize. But you can do your part to always wear a mask, use hand sanitizers and choose where to eat and where to stay.
Whether it is safe or not to travel to Turkey during Covid, is up to your risk tolerance. You’ll have to use your own judgment. Everyone is processing the news and information about Covid incredibly different. I am personally not very concerned about contracting the virus as the chances of me getting seriously ill or dying from it is less than 0.5%. But I would be concerned about contracting it and then passing it to an elder person or to a person who lives with elder parents. I am wearing a mask while in public and doing my best to social distance.
Ways to Social Distance while Traveling in Turkey and Everywhere Else
For many people, taking a long international flight is the scariest part of traveling in 2020. Taking public transportation, dining in restaurants, going to markets, beaches and bars elevates your chances of catching Covid. I would highly recommend renting a car while traveling in Turkey (except in Istanbul where traffic is crazy). The daily cost of car rental is at an average $25 a day. Car insurance is not required if your credit card covers it (ie: Chase Sapphire Reserve does). Traveling during Covid or not, I always prefer Airbnbs over Hotels as it’s more affordable and gives you more space especially if you are sharing with friends. This way, you have the option of cooking more meals at home.
On up to date, specific information, visit the U.S. Embassy & Consulates of Turkey website.
Where Else can Americans Travel to in 2020?
Tempted to Travel to Turkey but want to get your feet wet closer? Mexico is also open for American Tourists (as of June 2020). I wrote about it here: https://www.bohemianvagabond.com/can-americans-travel-to-mexico-now-during-covid/