Safety Considerations for Expats Living in Istanbul & Turkey
Like every city in the world, Istanbul has crime. In the tourist centers, there is the usual petty crime like pick-pockets. 2020, the year of the Covid-19 virus, petty crime has increased due to the collateral damage of the lock-down measures. Despite this, Istanbul is a relatively safe city. Murder and rape cases are much lower than in the USA.
To avoid being a victim, you must adopt the same measures as in your home country. It’s common sense. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t walk down dark streets at night. Don’t carry valuables on you. Always let someone know where you are.
There are some scams that one needs to be aware of:
Expats can often the target of con-men, especially foreign men in Istanbul. A couple of well-dressed men will approach the young male foreigner. They will offer the young man a cigarette. They speak good English. After some friendly banter, they may invite their victim out that evening. They will visit a nightclub in Taksim and have the company of some pretty girls. All is fun until the young man receives a massive check to pay. This check could be up to US$5.000 for expensive drinks and expensive girls. If he refuses to pay, he is usually beaten up and taken to an ATM to empty his bank account of as much as is possible. This scam happens too often.
Buying a Turkish carpet is another common con. The victim is invited to the carpet shop. The staff will charm them and offer many cups of tea. They educate their prey on the methods of Turkish carpet making. They will be shown hundreds of carpets and they will feel obliged to purchase something. Authenticity certificates can be fake and the hundred-year-old Turkish carpet that was purchased could be Chinese. There are, of course, reputable carpet sellers. Do your homework and don’t get scammed & purchase from a reputable carpet seller in Istanbul.
Taxi drivers are renown for conning newcomers to Istanbul. They can take you the longest route to get to your destination and charge you a small fortune for the ride. They can also get quite aggressive if you refuse to pay. Ask for an approximate cost before you ride or book an Uber.
Hotels have been reported to pass on your credit card number to be used for online shopping. If you booked your hotel online, and then pay by cash, watch that the hotel hasn’t already taken the cost of the room by your card too.
Purchasing anything from a street vendor or in the Grand Bazaar, be aware that you are paying more than the locals.
At restaurants, you should check prices before you order. The price of each item may be inflated and some extra items may be added to your check.
Beware the friendly shoe-shiner. The shoe-shiner may just come up to you and start shining your shoes without asking. You, of course, assume it’s for free. It’s not. They’ll demand their money after.
Similarly, you may be approached by someone who claims he is a tour guide and wants to show you something special. They will usually take you to their cousin’s carpet shop. Here you will be pressured to buy some products.
These scams can happen in any large, international city. However, they do seem a lot more frequent in the touristic areas of Istanbul. Sultanahmet Square around the Blue Mosque, Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim are the main areas for many of these scams. To avoid being a victim, be vigilant, be aware and don’t trust anyone.
Safety for Women in Istanbul & Turkey
Despite stories that you have heard, solo females are safe in Turkey if they follow sensible guidelines.
Dress modestly. Respect the culture and don’t expose too much skin. Short shorts and singlet tops are more acceptable in the beach resorts of Bodrum but not in Istanbul.
Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t follow strangers to places that they recommend.
Men may harass you. Ignore them. They are generally timid and back off.
Terrorism Concerns in Turkey
Being caught up in any terrorist act is a terrifying thought. Whilst Istanbul has experienced some serious terrorist acts in the past, at the moment, it seems under control. However, we can never be sure as these acts as unpredictable. If you notice any suspicious behavior you should contact the police.
Earthquakes in Turkey
In August 1999, Istanbul suffered a devastating earthquake that destroyed houses and took over 40,000 lives. Istanbul is located on a major fault line known as the Northern Anatolian that is the boundary between two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and the Anatolian. After the 1999 earthquake, it was predicted that the next one would be in ten years. This has not happened. Now experts are predicting a massive one in the next twenty years. For a city with over 17 million people and many buildings still being sub-standard, the fear is real. All new buildings should be built to a new safety code to withstand an earthquake, but unfortunately in a country where the money is scarce, often short-cuts are taken. Buildings are not always as they seem. A recent report by the Daily Sabah claims that a 7.5 earthquake would see the collapse of 48,000 building structures. That is a sobering statistic.
Earthquakes are sudden and can catch you unaware. What to do if you experience an earthquake:
Take shelter under a heavy desk or next to a refrigerator.
Stand in the door frame of your building.
If you are close to the ground floor, you may run outside and take refuge in an area that is safe from falling trees or structures.
If you are up a few floors, take the stairs to the rooftop. Do not take the elevator.
Be aware of any fallen electricity lines that are still alive.
After an earthquake, stay clear of rubble and power lines. Mobile networks will be down so you can’t contact friends and family. Be assured that the emergency services will be doing there best. Be prepared for aftershocks for many days to come.
Is Istanbul safe? Yes. It is a fantastic city and country – enjoy!
You can experience most of these dangers in any big city around the world. It’s up to the person to not become a victim. Be prepared and stay alert.