Istanbul Kart (Istanbul Card) is in essence an all-round public transportation boarding pass. To immediately answer the question raised in the title: yes it is worth getting one if you plan to use public transportation multiple times during your stay in Istanbul. So, unless you prefer to do everything on foot or take a taxi to get around, please do continue reading to find out where to get it, how to use it, and the advantages it has.
What is Istanbul Kart?
The card was introduced in 2009. It’s a contact less or RFID (Radio-frequency identification) card for public transportation fare payment. It has the exact same size as a regular credit card, so it fits perfectly in your wallet. The card is pre-paid and easily rechargeable.
The Advantages of Istanbul Kart
There are quite a few advantages to getting an Istanbul Kart as opposed to buying a token or a ticket every time you’re going to use public transportation.
- Multi-Purpose — This single card enables you to pay for multiple types of transportation: buses, metros, ferries, funiculars, and tramways (yes, even the nostalgic one running on Istiklal Caddesi). Moreover, most of these transportation types no longer accept cash payments, so you’ll have to buy some kind of token or ticket before boarding anyway.
- Pre-Paid — Istanbul Kart is a prepaid and rechargeable card. This means that you don’t have to stand in line (and maybe miss the bus or tram) to get a valid boarding pass every time you plan to make use of public transportation. And uploading more credits can be done at designated machines, most of the times without a queue in front of you.
- Ease of Use — It is not necessary to bring the Istanbul Kart in contact with the reader. You can pay for your fare by ‘waving’ the smart card within 8 cm (3.1 in) of the reader. In most cases you don’t even have to take it out of your wallet, purse or light hand bag. Upon making a successful payment, the reader will make a sound and the screen will light up showing the amount left on the card. In case of insufficient funds, the screen will read Kontör Yetersiz.
- No Longer Multiple Travelers — In the past you could use one Istanbul Kart for up to 5 passengers. Unfortunately, with the arrival of Covid-19 and the mandatory link to your personal HES code, this is no longer possible. Now each traveler needs to have their own personal Istanbul Kart.
- Discounts — By using the card, you already benefit from a 40% discount over the normal fare. Instead of paying 5 TL per ride, you pay 3 TL. And there is more. You can make until five transfers/connections within a two hour period, and you’ll pay less for every transfer, already only 1.9 TL for the first transfer.
Where to Get an Istanbul Kart
The easiest way to get the Istanbul Kart is at major transit stops such as the airport, Sultanahmet, and Eminönü. To buy an Istanbul Kart, you need to pay a non-refundable 10 TL fee (for the actual card and the service), and of course an amount of your choice to load onto the card. There are many types of Istanbul cards, but the one most suitable for tourists is the anonymous (anonim) card, without a picture.
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Covid-19: How to Activate Your Istanbul Kart
One of the Covid-19 measures is that you must activate your Istanbul Card from now on. To do this, you must link your HES code to your card. To do so, visit the Istanbul Kart website and fill in the form (in Turkish or English) to link your card. If done correctly, your card is immediately activated and ready to use.
Normally, you have received a HES code (xxxx-xxxx-xx) when filling out the country entry form. If you somehow don’t have a HES code yet, then you have to obtain one by sending a text message to number 2023. In the text message you must provide:
- your HES code
- your nationality country code
- your passport number
- your birth year
- your last name
For example: HES USA 123456789 1968 JONES
The only drawback is that you must send the text message to 2023 from a local phone number. Most hotels will be happy to help you out with this.
How to Reload the Istanbul Kart
To reload the card, you can either go to newsstands and small shops (look for the phrase Akbil Dolum Noktası) which offer this service, or use self-service special purpose machines at major transit stations. The machines accept notes of 5, 10, and 20 TL and have instructions in multiple languages. It writes on the machines that it accepts 50 TL too, but it has been cancelled.