Getting around Istanbul is relatively easy regardless of whether expats decide to use their own vehicle or take public transport. Many expats living in Istanbul's outlying suburbs do have their own cars but, for those living centrally, it is often more efficient and economical to utilise the city's many public transport options.
Public transport in Istanbul
Istanbul has an extensive system, with many modes of transport operating within an integrated infrastructure. Those who plan on using public transport regularly should purchase an Istanbulkart. This electronic chip card can be reloaded and used to travel on most modes of public transport in Istanbul.
Buses in Istanbul are cheap and reliable, but they can be overcrowded. Bus routes run throughout the city and travel less frequently to the suburban areas.
Istanbul's metro is excellent, clean and modern. That said, it covers a limited area and mainly services the city centre. The Marmaray metro system runs beneath the Bosphorus, joining the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.
Istanbul also boasts tram and funicular lines that connect various parts of the city.
These are minibuses that stop to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere on pre-established routes. There are no dolmuş stops – rather these minibuses stop to pick up passengers wherever it is flagged down. It stops to drop off passengers whenever one asks the driver to stop. They are quicker and can be more flexible than regular buses.
There are regular ferry services in Istanbul and they offer a cheap and relaxing way to cross the Bosphorus.
Taxis in Istanbul
Taxis are metered and are fairly reasonably priced. As with anywhere in the world, however, the costs add up if using taxis regularly. Another drawback of the cabs is that the drivers generally don't speak English. It's best to write down the address in advance and show it to the driver.
Alternatively, taxi services can be requested through local rideshare apps such as BiTaksi and Uber, which has returned to Turkey after being banned in 2019. Many expats prefer using these apps as it allows them to set their route and determine fare estimates without having to speak to taxi drivers.
Water taxis in Istanbul serve as an on-call boat taxi service. The fare is calculated according to the distance travelled, rather than per person.
Driving in Istanbul
Istanbul has a good network of highways but it also has old, narrow and extremely steep streets. Turks tend to drive fast on highways and do not always stick to road rules, so expats should be alert.
By and large, the traffic in Istanbul is well regulated and fairly disciplined. Parking is not a huge problem compared to other major metropolises as there are many ‘Pay and Park’ areas available.
European and US licences are valid for driving in Turkey. That said, it's essential to get a notarised Turkish translation of the licence when arriving and to keep both the original and the translated copy available at all times when driving.
►For a breakdown of expenses, see Cost of Living in Istanbul.
►Read Areas and Suburbs in Istanbul for ideas about where to look for a home in the city.
"I use public transport a lot to explore the city for my research and on one memorable day I took 15 different trips around the city and it cost me less than 5 euro." Read more about Lisa's experiences living in Istanbul.
Are you an expat living in Istanbul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Istanbul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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