Tourist Scams in Turkey 2023 and how to avoid them

Turkey is a popular destination both for all-inclusive holiday makers and for solo adventure tourists. But like everywhere, where there are tourists, there will be people trying to take advantage and scam them.

Tourist SCAMS in Turkey and how to AVOID them

Common Tourist Scams in Turkey

After hearing there are so many types of scams in Turkey you must be wondering – am I going to be scammed every step of the way? Is it even safe to travel to Turkey? And I say “Yes, Turkey is just as safe for traveling, as Europe, for example”. I first travelled here, solo, in 2017 and was living in Turkey as a resident with my husband, who is also a foreigner here. So we are both foreigners and we find Turkey a very safe place to live.

So that’s the main thought I want you to take away after reading this article. But tourist scams happen even in the wealthiest and safest countries. So I collected all of my experiences, and my friends, and also other stories I read in expat groups. But don’t let these stories discourage you from travelling. Instead use this knowledge to feel more confident when travelling abroad.

Most of the common scams in Turkey happen in central areas of the city, where there are many tourists. For example, in Istanbul it’s Old city (square between Haya Sofia and Blue Mosque, and also around it). Those areas are of course a must see. But I personally recommend not staying in a hotel there. Instead visit it once and stay in a hotel somewhere else. My favorite place to stay in Istanbul is Kadikoy, especially Moda.

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Taxi Scam in Turkey

Most common tourist scam around the world is taxi. And Turkey is no exeption.

Traffic in Istanbul is bad, it’s a very big city, road rage is common. Outside Istanbul it’s better, we did road trips and here in Antalya we had no problems with taxis at all.

Taxi Scam in Turkey 2023
Taxi Scam in Turkey

Taxi scam is one of the most common, especially in Istanbul. In fact, when I was living there I tried avoiding taking taxis at all cost, especially in the city centre.

  1. When you arrive at the airport, NEVER take the first taxi offered to you. Most cities have comfortable Havabus or an official airport taxi. It goes by the meter, but there is also a table with approximate prices.
  2. In the city you will also see if taxi is official or not. Official taxi in Turkey is yellow with license plate number on the side.
  3. NEVER agree on a fixed price. Always go by the meter. The taxi driver may tell you one price, and then at the end he will pretend you misheard him and name the price that will be much higher.
  4. Always be aware of how much money you are giving to a driver. He may pretend you gave him a smaller banknote and don’t give you change. Or he will say that he doesn’t have change. Also check the change you’re getting. My friend recently got a fake 50TL in Istanbul from a driver.
  5. Be aware of the route, make sure the taxi driver is taking the short one (suggested by Google). Once I had to take a taxi from the street in Beyoglu (central area in Istanbul). I had little time to get to the last ferry across Bosphorus (1AM). The driver most likely knew that and took me across the bridge, where tha boat piers were already closed. He knew the only one open is on the opposite side, but drove me to the wrong one, so I will be late and he can drive me all the way home (1,5 hour trip!). But because I was living in Istanbul at the time and knew where I need to go, I could stop him and got on a boat just in time.

Traffic in Istanbul is crazy, and it must be a very stressful job. Cars coming from all sides and rules are broken. Similar situation I saw in Tbilisi (Georgia) and in big cities in Asia (Like Bangkok).

But in Istanbul and other big cities in Turkey public transport is very efficient. Metro, tram, Ferry – they are modern, clean and comfortable, easy to use. And ferry is a very enjoyable ride, I totally recommend. Buy an IstanbulKart to save up on fees.

Istanbul scam in Old city

This scam in Istanbul, Turkey happens to tourists when they are visiting the famous Blue Mosque and Haya Sofia. These two mosques are must see for every tourist, also many hotels are located here. During high season the square between the mosques is very crowded, which makes it a perfect spot for scammers in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia. Istanbul tourist scam in Old city
Hagia Sophia. Istanbul tourist scam in Old city

I personally experienced this scam at least twice. You are resting on the bench, enjoying a view on Blue Mosque or Haija Sofia, or maybe even walking from one Mosque to the other. A man approaches you and says “Mosque is closed today”. But Mosques are open for visitors all the time, except for prayer times (you will have to wait a bit until the prayer is finished and then it’s possible to go inside again).

Just Ignore those scammers. Don’t even look at them, don’t engage at all. They can be persistent, but when they see you dont bite at all, they will eventually move on to their next victim.

To avoid being scammed in Istanbul, consider joining an organized tour or hire a local guide.

As a rule, whenever you are in a very touristy part of any city in the world, if someone approaches you out of nowhere and that person is super friendly, try not to engage. It doesn’t mean you can’t make friends while travelling. Or that everyone is out there to get you. Or everyone who offers help is a scammer.

For example, on my first ever trip to Istanbul, next to the airport I wanted to buy a transportation card from a machine to get on the bus to the city. The machine wouldn’t take my money and I had no other small banknotes. So the man next in line (I think he was Turkish) just put his own money into the machine, gave me the card and walked away without expecting in return.

Bar tourist scam in Istanbul Turkey

Bar scam happens often to tourists in a particular area of Istanbul, Taksim square and Istiklal street. They are areas where there are a lot of bars frequented by tourists.

Bar tourist scam in Istanbul Turkey
Bar tourist scam in Istanbul Turkey

The targets are usually foreigners, one man or two men who go out to a bar. Often the scam begins with a man approaching and speaking Turkish to you. Then you say you do not understand and they switch to English, and say that they thought you are Turkish.

For the scammer the main goal is to build trust, so that you don’t think they are targeting you as a tourist. You would think that they just want to chat with someone in the bar.

But something that I personally noticed about Turkish people is that normally they go out in a group. It will be three, maybe four people together as friends. And there will be at least one or two women in that group.

But if you are approached by just one man who is alone in the bar, or maybe he will say he’s waiting for his friends, but now he’s alone. That should make you more suspicious towards that person. If that person offers to have a drink or two with you, and tell you that they know a better place, with better drinks, better atmosphere, better music, more beautiful women etc – It is best to refuse the offer.

Because what happens next, is that you will be ordering more drinks, and your new friend will be ordering more drinks. Maybe women will join you, and they will also order more and more drinks. And the total bill that you will see in the end will be quite high. The drinks themselves will be double/triple more expensive.

You will end up paying for the whole group, because your new friends will disappear and the women are expecting you to pay for them.

The best approach is not to get too drunk when you are going out by yourself and don’t trust a stranger right away when they approach you. Because usually that doesn’t really happen with Turkish people. They socialize within their own group and if you do meet someone, they are usually not alone.

Tour guide scam in Turkey

This particular scam happened to us recently on a short trip to Side, Antalya. We had just arrived in the Old City and were looking around to see what we could explore. Immediately, a friendly man approached us and started talking. He said, “Oh, I know a place with an amazing view. Let’s go, I’ll show you.” He started walking, and we felt it would be rude to refuse, so we followed him.

Tour Guide scam in Turkey (Side, Antalya)
Tour Guide scam in Turkey (Side, Antalya)

As time went on, it became harder and harder to tell him we wanted to explore on our own. We understood he was a guide and would likely ask for money, but he didn’t say anything about it right away, making it uncomfortable to refuse.

After about 10 to 15 minutes of walking and telling us historical facts, the tour guide finally asked for money. We felt tricked and pushed into it, which made us not want to pay him anything.

So the best approach with this kind of scam it Turkey is to ask right away if the person who approached you is a tour guide and if he will be asking for money, and how much. Then you can decide right away if you want the service and if you are ok with paying for it.

Restaurant scam in Istanbul, Turkey

So now let’s talk about the scam that can happen in restaurants in Turkey. These days with the inflation, the prices in the restaurants are changing quite rapidly. We noticed, that they can change even every two weeks.

In the expat group on facebook I read about a scam that happened to people when they went to a restaurant in the Old City. They were given menus, they ordered, they had their meals, and then the actual bill was triple the price of what they were expecting.

So they asked for the menu to be brought again. And they saw that the prices are tripled from what they saw in the first menu. The manager explained it that they by mistake were given the old menu. And because the inflation now is so high, the prices are indeed triple from what they saw in the beginning. But that was simply not true.

And the person that was writing about this scam in Turkey said that the tripled prices were not reasonable at all.

So my recommendation, if you are going out for a dinner in a very touristy area, in Istanbul or Antalya, or other touristy cities in Turkey it might be useful to take a quick picture of the menu before they are taken away. So you know what kind of prices you are offered. And if at the end the prices change, you just don’t agree to it and pay the exact amount that was in the menu in the beginning.

Shoe Shiner Scam in Istanbul, Turkey

Shoe Shiner scam is quite infamous in Turkey. It usually happens in Istanbul, in crowded areas, in touristy areas like Taksim and Istiklal street.

Shoe shiner, an old guy, is walking in front of you. And then suddenly he drops his brush, and it seems he is not noticing it. So out of the kindness of your heart you are picking it up, bringing it to him. He is so grateful, he wants to shine your shoes.

And you just don’t find it in yourself to refuse him. Then he does his job and asks a lot of money for it, something like a 100 Euro. And of course you were not expecting this. So you don’t really want to pay him. But he starts saying that he has grandchildren, he’s very sick, he really needs money to make you pity him and pay that money.

So my recommendation would be the same as before, when somebody approaches you – just ignore them. If you see someone dropped a brush, you pretend like you don’t notice it and just walk straight past it.

Is Turkey a safe country to travel?

Turkey is a great country for travelers. It is in fact very safe, even for solo female travelers (I travelled and lived in Turkey many times solo!). For a fraction of a price that you would pay in Europe you are getting beautiful beaches, breathtaking views and gorgeous mountains.

They only common scam that almost every tourist experience is taxi scam, and everything else doesn’t happen very often.

Antalya, Turkey. One of the most popular holiday destinations.

So don’t let the scams in Turkey discourage you from traveling. If you start searching, there will be a list of scams in every country, even in your home country! Use the knowledge about scams to have the best travel experience!

Read More: Traveling in Turkey: Your Ultimate Guide to Must-See Destinations and Insider Tips

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4 Comments

  1. Hey Olga, you explained everything really well! I went to Istanbul with my friends in May, and it’s so true that you have to be prepared. In the Hagia Sophia area, there are so many people trying to trick you into buying things under false pretenses.

    We went to some restaurants where they automatically gave us bread and water. We drank the water and paid for it, but we didn’t even touch the bread, and they still charged us for it (without mentioning anything about it being an extra charge). Obviously, we didn’t pay for it, but it was annoying.

    We also encountered the “shoe shiner scam,” which was kinda funny. Luckily, the guy who tried to clean my mesh shoes wasn’t too pushy, and I joked with him about how expensive my kids and grandkids are.

    Anyway, despite all that, we really enjoyed our time in Istanbul. It’s a beautiful place with great people, and we’ll definitely be back to support hardworking traders and regular folks. Thanks for your helpful tips! ❤️

  2. Oh man, that bar scam in Istanbul is a tricky one, and there’s like different versions of it too! So, in the first bar, some random dude pays for ur drinks, and then in the second bar, he makes it seem like it’s ur turn to pay. And get this, the menu prices can be like super expensive, like hundreds of bucks for one drink. But sometimes, they straight up kinda kidnap you and make you take out money from an ATM until they get what they want. It’s crazy! Also, u gotta watch out for service fees on the menu. They’ll bring u like bread and water and u think it’s all good, but then they charge u a ton for it without u even knowing! So, u gotta be like, “nah, I don’t want that, thanks.”

  3. Yeah, I totally agree with you. Most people are good, but when you’re a tourist, you tend to visit areas that are more likely to attract scammers and bad people, so the chances of running into jerks goes up.

    When you venture away from those high tourist traffic areas, though, you start to see people as they really are. Some are nice, some are not so nice, some are friendly, and others not so much. It’s cool to see all the sights, but you don’t really get a feel for how the locals live in those touristy spots.