How I Entered Turkey During the Visa Ban — And How You Can Too
Update 12/28/2017: The Turkey-US visa spat has been resolved and now Americans are able to easily apply for Turkish e-visas once again.
I just landed in Turkey and was able to buy a visa and enter the country, as an American. In case you haven't been following the news, that's not supposed to happen.
For my flights to the IATA World Passenger Symposium in Barcelona, Spain, I chose to fly Turkish Airlines from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, through Istanbul. I've booked long layovers in Istanbul in the past to get just one more look around the stunning Blue Mosque, stroll Istiklal Street or get a cup of genuine Turkish coffee. But with the current visa standoff between the US and Turkey, I was just looking for the quickest and cheapest option.
However, I wondered if I could somehow still get a Turkish visa. Turns out the answer is yes.
Before leaving Sarajevo, I checked online to see if US citizens were still banned from getting an e-visa. Sure enough, the website returned an error and directed me to "nearest Turkish mission to apply for a visa application:"
Similarly, the e-visa kiosks at passport control upon arrival provided the error: "Unfortunately, we are not able to issue e-Visa for you. Please proceed to the nearest Turkish Embassy or Consulate for visa application. For a complete list of Turkish mission, visit" [sic]
Signs at the nearby visa desk showed that US passport holders needed a visa, and live monitors listed USA 90-day visa as $30 (or 25 euros or 20 pounds). So, I figured I would try my luck at that desk.
At the front of the line, I handed over my passport and $30 cash to the agent. Upon seeing my US passport, he reached for a small slip of paper and directed me to passport control desk 32.
Access to the line at desk 32 is controlled. But upon showing my slip of paper to the security agent at the entrance, I was waved in. I walked up to the border agent at the passport control window and handed him my passport and $30 cash. He seemed taken aback about the cash, and waved it away.
After looking through my passport and realizing that I didn't have a visa he directed me to purchase one at the visa desk. I explained (in English) that the visa desk were the people who had sent me to him. He didn't seem to comprehend and again repeated that I needed to get a visa. I apologized for not knowing Turkish and tried explaining again that I had tried unsuccessfully to buy a visa. The supervisor sitting nearby was called over. The same back-and-forth led to the supervisor walking me over to the nearby "Passenger Documents Check Desk."
Passenger Documents Check Desk
Here again, I handed over the small slip of paper, my passport and $30 cash. Here again, it was explained that I needed to purchase a visa. The agent stamped my small slip of paper and handed back my passport, cash and the slip of paper.
Again, I tried to explain that I was unsuccessful trying to buy a visa, so he started to call someone. While he was calling, I overheard a woman loudly explaining to other border agents how no Americans like Donald Trump. I looked over to see a fellow United States passport holder seemingly also struggling to get into the country. Trying to de-escalate the situation, I turned my attention to her and sympathized about our lack of being able to get in. My border agent walked away.
Figuring I was out of luck but might as well try one last time, I walked back to the visa desk and handed over my slip of paper, passport and the $30. This time, I was immediately issued a visa. It seems that all the agent needed was that red stamp.
With visa issued, I joined the line to enter the country. My passport control officer rejected my passport at first, explaining that I needed a visa. However, when I flipped to the page that had my brand new visa, he shrugged and stamped me into Turkey.
Was This A Fluke?
Upon entry into Turkey, I figured that this was a fluke. However, it turns out that it might be the new un-publicized workaround for US citizens to get into Turkey.
Around the same time as my experience, a TPG reader forwarded an email to our tips line. He had contacted Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the validity of his visa, issued prior to the October 8 ban. He was planning to use it to enter Turkey from another country (not directly from the United States).
In an emailed response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that any visas issued prior to October 8 are valid. But, the letter didn't stop there. The response email continues with the following closing paragraph:
e-Visa application has been suspended for US citizens. You can obtain a visa upon arrival, only if you travel to Turkey from a country other than US. (Transit passengers are also not eligible for visas upon arrival. For example NYC-Paris-Istanbul)
This is a fascinating wrinkle that we hadn't heard about before now. Based on this, US citizens flying into Turkey who aren't originating in the US — like in my situation — should be able to obtain a visa on arrival.
This makes sense. As the only airline flying directly between the US and Turkey, Turkish Airlines has issued travel waivers allowing free flight changes. But, we haven't seen any other airlines allow Turkey-bound passengers free changes. So, rather than cutting off Americans in the area from visiting the country, Turkey is just going to slightly inconvenience them by making them purchase a visa on arrival rather than via the e-visa process ahead of time.
So, Is This the New Process?
While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn't detail how Americans can get a visa on arrival, I'm figuring that this is the new process for getting a Turkish visa for Americans not originating in the US:
- Upon arrival, enter the line for the visa desk. Don't bother trying the e-visa kiosks.
- You can try to explain to the visa desk agent that you are arriving from a third country. However, be prepared to simply be handed a slip of paper.
- Go to the "Passenger Documents Check Desk" and hand over your passport and slip of paper.
- If you don't get a stamp, be prepared to explain your situation. (I never had to.)
- Once you have a stamped slip of paper, the visa desk should issue you a $30 180-day multi-entry visa.
Remember, based on the email from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this should only work if you're originating outside the US. If you are originating in the US and flying Turkish Airlines to Turkey, you still have the option to change your flights.
If you're flying through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines to another final destination and have a long layover in IST, you aren't eligible to change your flights and aren't technically eligible for this process. That said, it can't hurt to try. You might get lucky.
Have you entered the US as an American since the standoff October 8? Share your experience below.