I'm in Turkey right now -- 5 things to know about entering as a US resident
Before the pandemic, Turkey saw a record number of visitors in 2019. As a traveler here now in a reopened Istanbul, I can see why.
The incredible culture and cuisine are set among a historical and religious backdrop that spans centuries. It's an impressive city -- and not just because its 20 million residents stretch across two separate continents.
But if the pace of big city life isn't for you, the varying regions throughout Turkey offer something for everyone.
If you're a U.S. resident considering a trip -- or have one already planned -- here are five things that you should know about entering Turkey, as someone who has done it twice this summer.
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Proof of vaccination gets you in
There are several ways to enter Turkey as a U.S. resident, depending on your vaccination status.
If you're fully vaccinated, as I am, you simply need to present proof at the airport during check-in. You must have been vaccinated at least 14 days before entering Turkey or have had COVID-19 in the last six months.
If you're not fully vaccinated, there is a COVID-19 testing option. You can either show a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of entry or a negative rapid antigen test taken within 48 hours of entry.
Related: Why I packed 8 COVID-19 tests to fly to Portugal — and what it’s like to enter now
A mandatory health tool acts as a COVID-19 tracker
Before departing from the U.S., you'll have to fill out this health form within 72 hours of travel. Your contact and travel information is the basis for a contact-tracing tool that the Turkish government uses for COVID-19.
A QR code (called a HES code) is generated, which is used nationwide by both tourists and residents alike.
The code isn't just checked upon departure from the U.S. In fact, you're also required to show it at many establishments -- indoor malls, some restaurants, all public transportation, at hotel check-in, and both international and domestic flights.
I had my HES code checked on my phone at each hotel that I arrived at, along with domestic flights and even while shopping at some malls in Istanbul.
In addition, as of Sept. 6, 2021, proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test within the past 48 hours is now required to enter some businesses, such as theaters or cinemas, that are hosting crowded events.
Don't forget your visa
Turkey requires a visa for U.S. passport holders. You have two options: an e-visa or visa on arrival. In my experience doing the e-visa process, it's fairly seamless and you should receive it within an hour of submitting payment. The website is a bit clunky but works in practice.
Two things that you should be aware of:
- Don't fall for scam visa websites offering assistance (there is only one official site).
- Have a screenshot or printed copy of your e-visa handy if you're going that route. I had to show this not only at check-in but also upon arriving in Turkey.
In addition to the COVID-19 requirements and the HES code, an agent at check-in will also check for your visa.
It'll take time to get through Istanbul Airport
If you're coming from the U.S., chances are high that you'll be flying into the new Istanbul Airport (IST). It's a gorgeous megastructure, but it will require some serious walking from deboarding through to finally exiting the airport. Expect signage that isn't the clearest, either.
Also, know that PCR and rapid antigen testing is available at Istanbul Airport should you need to get it upon departure. Impressively, the testing center is open 24 hours a day. It's in front of Entrance 14 in the arrivals hall. The test fee is 250 TL or about $35.
Related: Deal alert: There’s a new option to fly lie-flat business class to Europe for 34,000 miles
Almost everything is open to capacity
From bars to restaurants to entertainment, nearly everything is open to capacity in Turkey. The only services that remain suspended indefinitely are hookah bars and lounges.
While masks are technically required at all times, I didn't see anyone enforce this. For instance, while most hotel staff are masked up, several taxi drivers I encountered were not.
From Istanbul to Bodrum and beyond, Turkey has been a hot spot for travelers -- and will continue to be, despite the pandemic.
If visiting has been on your list, know that it is very feasible at present. Of course, rules are constantly changing, so keep abreast of the latest both here at TPG as well as the official information at the U.S. Embassy for Turkey website.
Note that Turkey is currently on the State Department's Do Not Travel list.