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 cars, but for those residing 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 intend to use public transport regularly should purchase an Istanbul Kart. This electronic chip card can be reloaded and used to travel on most modes of public transport in Istanbul.
Istanbul boasts more than 700 bus lines and 4,000 buses, making its bus system one of the most comprehensive in the country. 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.
The one downside to using buses is that they can get stuck in traffic, and some routes may be diverted during peak hours. This can be problematic for new arrivals who are not yet familiar with the different diversions and their neighbourhoods.
Istanbul's metro is excellent, clean and modern. The metro system has grown in recent years and now links many suburbs throughout the city with 11 lines and 133 stations. The Marmaray metro system runs beneath the Bosphorus, joining the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.
Istanbul also boasts three tram lines that connect various parts of the city on the European side. The tram lines largely cover the tourist areas of Istanbul, making it the perfect form of public transport to explore the city's main attractions. All trams have pram and wheelchair access, as well as air conditioning and WiFi.
These are minibuses that stop to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere on pre-established routes. There are no dolmuş stops – instead, these minibuses stop to pick up passengers wherever they are flagged down. They stop 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. Ferries offer multiple payment methods, and expats can use their Istanbul Kart. Ferry schedules are not as regular as other forms of public transport, so commuters will need to plan their journey carefully.
- Expats can visit the IETT's website for assistance with planning their bus journeys.
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 taxis 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. Taxi drivers in Istanbul have been known to overcharge passengers or take longer routes, and expats should ensure they book a taxi with a reputable service.
Alternatively, taxi services can be requested through local ride-share apps such as BiTaksi and Uber. 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 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 many 'Pay and Park' areas are 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.
Read Transport and Driving in Turkey for more on securing a local driving licence.
►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.
What do expats say about transport in Istanbul?
"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 euros." 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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