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 contactless 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 time 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 handbag. 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.
- Multiple Travelers — There is no need to buy multiple cards since one Istanbul Kart can be used for up to 5 passengers. After paying the fare for the first passenger, let him or her hop on or pass through the turnpike, wait a few seconds, and again wave the card in front of the reader. Personally, I recommend not to use the card for more than 3 people. During Covid-19 every person needed to have his or her personal card linked to a HES code, but that is no longer necessary.
- Discounts — There used to be discounts while transferring from one line to the other, but this has been disabled for users of anonymous Istanbul Cards (read: foreigners).
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 70 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.
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 10, 20, 50 and 100 TL and have instructions in multiple languages.