How to manage your money in Istanbul

Loads of small change in your pocket, paying with notes in bigger shops and never, never paying with a 50 lira note in a taxi? Congrats, that’s the way to do it in Istanbul!

If you’ve passed the dealing-with-money-in-Istanbul test, you are probably not in the city for the first time. So often I see tourists messing things up. The first thing not to do is try to pay the exact amount of money in a bigger shop. Count all your small coins until you are able to come up with exactly 28,50tl, for example. Is there also a 50 lira note in your wallet? Use that one! With the change you get, you make the small businessmen happy.


Because, no, when you buy a simit, the seller usually doesn’t have change if you pay 1tl for a simit with a 50 or even 20 note. Or he does have it, but it’s just not practical. He’s happy with the coins you save up, like the lady or man at the public toilets (did you know they are usually very clean in Istanbul?), the water seller on the street, or the person that sells you corn or a shawl or polishes your shoes.

Now that I mention shoe polishing: don’t think the shoe polisher that just passed you and dropped his brush, dropped itt accidentally. They do it on purpose when they pass tourists. When you are kind enough to pick up the brush and give it back to the guy, he’ll insist on polishing your shoes, that’s how grateful he is. Then when he’s done, you will have to pay. So, just another stupid trick to do unfair business. Don’t fall for it. The next shoe polisher who tries it with me could see his brush end up in the Bosporus.

In general though, having your shoes polished in Istanbul is just a great idea. Depending on your shoes, it will cost between 5 and 10tl (and a little more if you get knee-length boots done). It’s such a joy to see experienced hands make your shoes shine again as if you had just bought them.

Ultra fast

Another group of small Istanbul entrepreneurs who are usually okay but sometimes try to pull dirty tricks, are…. exactly, taxi drivers. Never, I repeat never pay a taxi driver with a 50tl note. It looks a lot like a 5tl note. Some taxi drivers are ultra fast with changing the 50tl you just handed over with a 5tl note, and tell you with an innocent face: ‘Sorry sir, madam, you gave me 5, not 50’. Proof that you gave 50tl? Forget it.

One last tip: make sure you take both your card and money with you when leaving the ATM. Some give the money first, others your card, and losing your card because it’s been eaten by the ATM is never practical on a holiday, is it? Any requests on ‘How to…’ in Istanbul? Let me know at the address below, I’ll blog about it later. I already did the ‘How to dress in Istanbul’ post. Enjoy the city!

5 replies
  1. koszyczek
    koszyczek says:

    Tell me, why do they keep registering my name when I pay for clothes, electronics, cosmetics, etc.? I guess data protection is not a concept known here. It really gets on my nerves and sometimes I feel like throwing away my credit card, start paying cash and giving them a fake name 🙂

    Btw, i fell for the shoe brush as well… Did you pay? In my case, he asked me to pay 8TL, I gave him 5.

  2. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    Oh the dreaded ATM! In the States you always get your card first, so it’s been hard for me to break the habit of leaving after I get my money. I’ve left my card in three ATMs so far and been lucky to get it back each time from the bank the next day. But I’m in Antalya, where taxi drivers round their fares down and refuse tips.

    On the other hand, if you are female they will spend the entire ride trying to get your phone number. I guess every town has its pitfalls.


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