After much research, a few visits, and speaking with other ex-pats living in Turkey, I felt it was a safe place for me to plant new roots. The next step was for me to inform my family of my plans on becoming an ex-pat in Antalya, Turkey. This bit of news caught them by surprise, and after they composed themselves, their first question was, “Is it safe there?” I assured them that I had done my homework and I was certain of its safety.
As an experienced international traveler, I wasn’t at all concerned about traveling to Turkey, but the questions posed by my family members led me to doubt myself a little. Before embarking on the move, I did quite a bit of research about Turkey and the region surrounding it. I wanted to be certain that my husband and I would be safe while living in Antalya, Turkey.
After checking the U.S State Department website for any travel advisories and getting a “boots on the ground” perspective from several Turkish friends and American ex-pats, I decided to move forward with my plans.
Traveling to Antalya During COVID-19
I made the transition across the Atlantic Ocean at the peak of the Coronavirus, the largest pandemic outbreak in my lifetime. I not only had to adjust to living in a new country, but I had to do so while adhering to restrictions and curfews that were put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Upon my arrival at the airport in Antalya, I found the security measures to be impressively strict. Since Antalya is a major tourist destination, the Turkish authorities take security very seriously. The police presence, both in vehicles and on foot, is very apparent throughout the city. You will find them in bazaars, parks, malls, and other areas where large groups gather.
To no surprise, most visitors will find Turkish people very friendly and approachable. Every Turkish person I have encountered has made my transition into the country flow with ease. Most often when visiting with Turks, they invite you to sit and chat over a cup of tea even if the conversation needs the assistance of Google Translate. Most of the Turks I’ve encountered are eager to learn English and they will do their best to make communication easy, or as easy as possible.
Even though my encounters have all been positive, Turkey is involved in a military conflict with neighboring countries to the east. It’s important to monitor these conflicts and check with your respective embassy frequently. Be prepared to leave the country if there is an escalation in the conflicts.
Turkey is a beautiful country with extremely pleasant and generous people, amazing landscapes, historical sites, and diverse cultures.
Here are some recommended safety tips that will help you when traveling no matter the destination:
1. Be Aware. Travelers to Turkey should follow the usual safety precautions with a few extra steps:
- Be aware of all political developments or military action and check U.S. Government Travel Department or your respective embassy for any alerts or advisories.
- Be aware of your surroundings always.
- Have a photo of your passport on your mobile device
- Always make sure to have your passport on you, as well as money, emergency contact numbers, and the location of your nearest embassy or consulate.
2.Laws are different in Turkey than in the United States.
- Since the militia coup in 2016, Turkey’s government put laws in place that prohibit or limit criticism of the government. Social media posts critical of Turkey’s government or retweeting an anti-government post can land you in jail.
- Although LGBT is accepted and legal in Turkey, they are not given the same legal protections as heterosexual couples.
- Cannabis and all other illicit drugs are illegal in Turkey.
- The legal drinking age of alcohol is 18 years of age but they can be denied alcoholic drinks at certain events.
- Respecting the police or any government official is expected of you.
- Traffic lights have cameras on them and moving violations will result in a citation being issued along with a hefty fine.
3.Visiting Big Cities
- Wear your bag/purse cross-body to avoid bag snatchers, who will bump into you to take your bag.
- Con-artists are everywhere in the world! They may ask to see a dollar or ask you to watch something and before you know it, they steal your money/wallet without you knowing it.
- Although many refugees are begging for help, beware as some are going to try to steal from you. The Turkish government is helping the refugees so most Turks don’t like it when tourists give to beggars.
- When traveling with luggage, get a taxi, or coordinate with your hotel to pick you up. Uber and Lyft are not available in Turkey.
4.Political Demonstrations and Protests.
- Avoid large gatherings, either planned or spontaneous, related to political protests.
- Do not engage in demonstrations. Period! No matter the cause. Remember that you are in a foreign country.
5.Areas to Avoid in Turkey
Although tourism is on the rise in the last couple of years, some governments suggest using caution when visiting Turkey.
- The media in the U.S. has played a big part in creating fear in would-be visitors; however, tourists from other parts of the world see it as extremely safe. The Turkish government has increased security throughout the country because tourism is a $35 billion USD annual revenue.
- The war in Syria along with the conflict in Iraq has made the eastern border of Turkey a Level-4 danger zone and not a safe place to travel. Avoid visiting eastern Turkey due to military action and threats of terrorism.
- Most of the popular tourist cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, or the southwest region of Turkey are safe, outstanding cities to visit.
- In 2019, Turkey welcomed over 45 million foreign visitors and tourism revenue hit a historical high of $35 billion USD. Istanbul had nearly 15 million tourists while the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, where I currently reside, had approximately 12 million visitors.
- Most foreign visitors to Turkey are from Russia with approximately 7 million visitors. They are followed by Europeans from Germany (5 million) and Bulgaria (2.7 million). Since living in Antalya, other than North American ex-pats (U.S. and Canadian citizens), we have met people from the U.K., Australia, Western European, Eastern European, and Scandinavian countries.
Exploring Turkey must be on your bucket list of places to see around the world. While it seems unlikely that the average traveler will run into danger, it’s a personal choice whether to visit a country if you don’t feel safe. DO NOT let the media or others influence your decision. Do your research, talk to others that have traveled there, or travel with a group.