How to Get + Use the Istanbul Transport Card | Istanbulkart


Published on 7 February 2024

Istanbul is a very-well connected city. It has buses, trams, ferries, and a metro that can easily get you almost anywhere in the city. Istanbul is also huge and is separated into sections by the Bosphorus Strait, meaning that it is not easily walkable. Visiting Istanbul, you will no doubt need to use public transport on several occasions, and for this, you will need an Istanbul transport card known as the Istanbulkart.

When we arrived into Istanbul after getting a night bus from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, we had to buy our Istanbul transport card while we were half asleep, and it would have been so much easier if we had known all the ins and outs beforehand. So, we have put together a handy guide with all the information that we would have liked to have had about the Istanbulkart.

Where You Can Use the Istanbulkart

Almost all public transport around Istanbul accepts the Istanbulkart – trams, trains, buses, metro, ferries etc. Tap your card at the turnstiles or onboard devices depending on the transport you are taking.

Where to Get an Istanbulkart

Find machines at major transport hubs such as the airports, main bus stations or train stations. There are also machines dotted around the city in metro stations, tram stations etc. where you will be able to buy the card. The most common machines are yellow with Biletmatik written on the front. There are also larger blue machines that will dispense an Istanbulkart.

How to Get an Istanbulkart

The Istanbulkart is anonymous, so the HES code that was required during COVID times is no longer. Go to one of the machines, change the language to English, and select the Istanbulkart. It is red and may be named ‘anonymous’ if not showing as ‘Istanbulkart’.

Select how much money you want to add to your card. Feed the amount you want to add on to the card, plus the price of the card into the machine. Some machines at larger transport hubs such as Esenler bus station will accept card transactions with a small fee.

FYI the machines have a pretty aggressive countdown timer. We were timed out on at least three occasions while trying to work out how much money to put on to the card.

How Much to Add on to the Istanbulkart

I would advise against adding a large amount in one hit. If you don’t use it up, it’s not a straight forward procedure to get the money back. Otherwise, you would have to sell it on to another traveller.

When we were in Istanbul in October 22, one tap cost 6.67 TL, this appears to have now increased to 17.7 TL as of Jan 24! The most up to date fees are available here.

Even though this seems like a huge increase, the value of the lira has dropped.

As of Jan 24, £1 = 38 TL.

In Oct 22, £1 = 21 TL ish.

17.7 TL in Jan 24 works out to be about 46p. So you are still getting huge value for money!

If you were to, say, get a bus and then a ferry straight after, the second tap will be discounted. If you then used another form of public transport, you would get a further discounted rate. However, this only appeared to work for us about 60% of the time so don’t bank on it.

How to Top Up the Istanbulkart

You can easily top up the card at any yellow or blue machine around the city. These are available at most transport stops.

Change the language to English. Place your card on the reader and wait til the machine recognises it. Add the cash into the machine. Wait for the machine to register the note and it will add it to your card.

Most machines only accept cash for top ups, but machines at major transport hubs may also accept card payment for a small fee.

How Many People Can Use One Istanbulkart?

The Istanbulkart can be used by up to five different people. So if you are travelling in a group of five or less, buy one card only. At the turnstile, one person will tap the card for each person to go through before going through themselves. The discounted rate for doing multiple journeys back to back will only apply to one person’s tap, not all five.

E.g. Five people go from Esenler to Ulubatli by metro paying 9.9 TL per person on one Istanbulkart. Then these five people travel from Ulubatli to Fener by bus on the same Istanbulkart. One person will tap at a discounted rate, while the other four people will tap through at 9.9TL still.

How to Check Your Card Balance

There is an option at the yellow and blue machines to show the balance on your card. Otherwise, when you tap through the turnstiles, it will show you how much you are being charged and what is left on the card. There is also an app, but I have heard negative reviews so we didn’t use this.

What the Different Tap Sounds Mean

When you tap through a turnstile or tap onboard, there will either be regular sound, an ‘alert-type’ sound or a ‘you don’t have enough money on your card’ rejected sound. If you get the alert sound, don’t panic, it’s just the machine warning you that you are getting low on funds. Only if you have the rejected sound and a red screen, will you not be allowed to get on the transport.

The Different Types of Istanbulkart

There are several Istanbulkarts. The red one is for non-residents, so us tourists and travellers. The blue and yellow cards are personalised cards for locals.

istanbul transport card, istanbulkart

Looking for things to do in Istanbul once you have your Istanbulkart up and running? Read about our top things to do in Istanbul here.

Have you travelled Istanbul with the Istanbulkart? Or are you planning on heading out to Istanbul?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations and questions.

Thanks for reading!

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