Is It Safe to Vacation in Turkey?

Updated on March 29, 2018
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As of March 2018, Turkey was still under a state of emergency following a series of terrorist attacks and an attempted coup between 2015 and 2017. Security along the country's borders and within its public sector and governmental institutions has greatly increased, and certain provinces within the country's interior (especially in the south-east region) are simply too dangerous for tourists to visit at this time.

That being said, having been to Turkey five times in the past decade, I can honestly say that it is a place of wonder and beauty unlike anywhere else on Earth. The history and culture in this land reflect the best of what Europe and Asia have to offer. More than anything else, this article will show you the various ways that you can stay safe while enjoying your vacation.

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The Current Situation:

As of this month (3/2018), Turkey is still under a de facto state of emergency relating to security concerns from both foreign and domestic actors. To its credit however, the Turkish government has tried its best to neutralize threats while giving Turkey's tourism industry a much needed recovery from its sharp decline in 2016. And this is a good thing as approximately 10 - 12% of Turkish GDP is in some way related to tourism dollars.

The results of the government efforts are noticeable. Security at border crossings and airports has been significantly increased. And terrorist activity in general is down from its 2015-2016 peak. But threats to visitor's especially westerners still remain. If you want further confirmation on whether or not Turkey is safe to vacation; you don't have to look any farther than official statements from the U.S. State Department and the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

UK FCO's Advisory for Turkey:

"Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Turkey. A number of terrorist groups are active. Since 2015 there has been an increase in PKK (Kurdish separatist) terrorist activity in south-east Turkey. There have been a number of attacks by other groups including suicide attacks by Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), attacks by the far left DHKP(C) and the Kurdish separatist group TAK, including in cities such as Ankara and Istanbul....

....There is a heightened risk of terrorist attack against the aviation industry in Turkey. You should co-operate fully with security officials at airports." [see ref 1]

The U.S. State Department meanwhile has given a more stern warning to U.S. citizens about whether it is safe to travel to Turkey:

U.S. State Department Travel Advisory for Turkey:

"Reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions. Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Turkey. Terrorist organizations explicitly target Western tourists and expatriates.

Under the current state of emergency, security forces have detained individuals suspected of affiliation with alleged terrorist based on scant or "secret" evidence and on grounds that appear to be politically motivated. U.S. citizens have been subject to travel bans that prevent them from departing Turkey. Participating in political rallies, and demostrations not explicitly approved by the government can result in arrest." [see ref 2]

In addition, both nations have released statements explicitly advising against travel to some or all of the following provinces or cities:

  • All areas along the Turkey-Syrian border
  • The southeastern provinces of the following provinces: Hatay,

    Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa,
    Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman (yes there is a city called batman), Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, and Bitlis.

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Other Concerns:

Other than terrorism, when investigating whether or not it is safe to travel to Turkey, you can check certain crime statistics yourself. I have provided a reference to the global statistics database Nationmaster to compare various crime metrics between the U.S. and Turkey circa 2017 in the references section at the end of this article. Yet to summarize, Turkey has a low rate of assault and violent crime overall, especially against tourists.

The only glaring exceptions to an otherwise glowing review of low Turkish crime stats are the threat of muggings, scams and theft, particularly in the bustling big cities like Istanbul. Therefore (as in all foreign places), it is imperative that you keep your wits about you and don't let on that you may have anything of value to rob or steal.

For Women:

Crimes against women such as sexual assault, rape, harassment and stalking are all generally low in Turkey. That being said, these crimes do occur. Thus it is always advisable that women take steps to avoid potentially dangerous situations. Steps include: travelling in groups, taking transportation that is provided by your hotel or resort staff, avoiding flashing jewelry, etc.

Also, if you are a woman travelling outside of the more metropolitan areas of Turkey; be aware that these regions tend to be much more religiously conservative. You may be asked to wear a headscarf or to alter your form of dress to conform with local religious customs.

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The Grand Bazaar in Turkey.  One of the world's oldest marketplaces.
The Grand Bazaar in Turkey. One of the world's oldest marketplaces. | Source

Safety Steps and Precautions:

  • Carry a cell phone that contains emergency contact info with you.
  • If staying in a hotel, carry the hotel's business card with you.
  • Avoid any and all public demonstrations/protests. If these gatherings are not approved by the government you could be arrested.
  • Carrying a minimal amount of money with you while touring attractions can help you avoid being mugged.
  • Turkey has a generally poor record for traffic safety. In 2016, more than 7500 people were killed in traffic accidents while another 300,000+ were injured. Thus it is advised that you take public transportation (which is very adequate) or taxi services when you can.
  • Ever since the state of emergency was declared, it is considered illegal not to have your identification with you. Therefore, as a tourist, you should find a convenient way to carry your passport and E-visa with you at all times.
  • Avoid eateries where there is no menu or prices clearly posted. If in doubt about prices, just ask.

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The Good News:

Despite the dire news of terror and government crackdowns that many people hear about modern day Turkey; truth is this is still one of the most beautiful places on earth. And that is not just this writer's opinion. The statistics speak for themselves. The 2017 tourism figures from 2017 show a 28% increase in foreign vacationers. That is, more than 32 million tourists visited Turkey last year compared to 25 million in 2016.

What people are beginning to realize is terrorism and extremism can touch any part of the globe. The past few years have witnessed extremist attacks on Paris, New York, London, Orlando, Copenhagen, Brussels and Sydney just to name a few popular destinations. Yet, with gusto, people won't let scare tactics bring them to their knees. Besides, the frequency and intensity of terror attacks is down and the situation seems to be stabilizing.

So to answer the question, is Turkey safe for a vacation or travel. The answer is...get out here and live little. Keep your wits about you and you'll be fine. From personal experience I can tell you that Turkey and it's people make for one of the most delightful experiences in world travel. And if for some reason you are still a little jittery about this strange and exotic land; keep in mind that have some of the best world class resorts in the towns of: Amasra, Assos, Alanya and Belek.

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