Tips To Prevent Popular Istanbul Taxi Scams

Picture of a typical yellow taxi in Istanbul, Turkey.

by Erlend Geerts

in Transportation, Visa, Money & Safety

Taking a taxi (taksi) in Istanbul is a cheap, easy and comfortable way of transportation. But with 20.000 taxis driving around town, only a fool would believe all drivers are honest. Luckily most of them are indeed fair, but there are a rising amount of cases where tourists get hustled while taking a taxi ride in Istanbul.

Here are the most popular Istanbul taxi scams, and how you can prevent them from happening to you.

Making the Taxi Ride Longer

  • Scam —  This a very common trick pulled on tourist by taxi drivers all over the world, and Istanbul is no exception to the rule. As a tourist you don’t know the shortest way to your destination, so the taxi driver can easily make an extra tour around the block and spice up the bill. In case the tourist does know the way, he’ll come up with the excuse that there is a massive traffic jam on the usual route.
  • Solution —  If you are indeed unfamiliar with the roads and/or don’t speak Turkish, there is unfortunately very little you can do to tell him what route to take. That’s why we came up with giving you an overview of Istanbul taxi fares to the most common tourist destinations. This will give you a nice indication on when to start arguing with the taxi driver and cut the bill he presents you.

The Turkish Lira Note Switch

  • Scam — For arguments sake, let’s assume the fare is 15 TL and you hand him a 50 TL note. Out of sight he switches the note with a 5 TL note he has ready, shows it to you and waits for you to hand him the ‘remaining’ 10 TL note. Where you expected to get change, you’re confused (since you’re not familiar with the money) and end up paying 60 TL for a 15 TL drive.
  • Solution — Always make sure you have plenty of small bank notes and even coins on you for taxi rides so you can hand the taxi driver the exact amount due. In case you do have to hand a bigger note and expect change, double check the value of the note before you hand it to the driver. Also, tipping a taxi driver is not a Turkish custom unless he helped you with (un)loading your luggage.

I Have No Change

  • Scam — Again, let’s assume the fair is 16 TL and you hand him a 20 TL bill. The driver seemingly looks a bit around in his cab. After a minute he comes up with only 1 TL in change, claiming he ran out of coins. This way he tries to ‘earn’ another 3 TL.
  • Solution — You have two options. If it’s only a few Turkish Liras, you can just let it go. Or, what I mostly do, just sit in the car and tell him to go change the note in a shop. You’d be surprised how quickly they all of a sudden come up with the exact change.

A Fixed Price Instead of Using The Meter

  • Scam — The driver suggests to agree on a price for the ride to your destination instead of using the taxi meter. He’ll argue you’re better off this way, because there is a lot of traffic, he’ll take a short cut and you’ll pay less. Why would he want to be so kind to you? He isn’t!
  • Solution — Always insist to use the meter! If he doesn’t want to use the meter, or even worse doesn’t have one, refuse the ride, get out and flag down another taxi. The same goes in case he claims half way the ride the meter breaks down. Just make him stop next to a police car, and get out. He won’t argue with you, trust me.

Taxi, Taxi? Follow Me!

  • Scam — There are about 19.000 official and licensed taxi drivers in Istanbul. Unfortunately, there are at least a similar amount of illegal, unlicensed or private taxi drivers. Some may offer better rates, the majority doesn’t!
  • Solution — Only take official taxis. Istanbul taxis are yellow, have a taksi sign on the roof, have a meter built in (newer ones have them integrated in the mirror) and show their affiliation with a taxi stand, airport, hotel, etc. painted on their doors. You can have the hotel call one for you, look for them at taxi stands or just flag them down on the street.

Night Versus Daytime

  • Scam — The taxi driver puts the taxi meter on night time (gece) during the day, or during the night. Either way, it’s not correct because the night time/daytime difference has been abolished!
  • Solution — Make sure the meter is always set to daytime (gündüz). These words should appear on the meter display at regular intervals. For the new, mirror integrated meters, the daytime code to look for is ’1′.

Unsafe Driving

This is not a scam, but some Istanbul taxi drivers think the city is one giant race track. Sure, they are very experienced drivers and want to serve as much customers in a day as possible. If you ever start feeling unsafe, just tell the driver yavaş (yavash), which means as much as ‘slow down’. Just repeat the word until the driver reaches a speed you feel comfortable with. If he doesn’t comply, just get out at the first opportunity you have.

(Photo Source)

What's Next

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Shahina March 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Hi Erlend,

I love reading your articles about Istanbul.
This year I am going back for the fourth time and I must say that I have experienced all these tricks before. But there is one more, I was sitting in the back with my friend and while we were talking the taxi driver used his finger to increase the price on the meter. It was strange because when I first looked it was 18TL 20 seconds later it was 42TL we ended up with a price of 60TL for a ride that was normally 15TL. I noticed this trick after we stepped out of the car. But the solution for this trick is that one person has to sit next to the driver, he would not do this because it is obvious that he will notice that you are looking at the price. I have experienced a lot more in Istanbul but the city is amazing and I am looking forward to going back!

Greets!

Reply

Erlend Geerts March 11, 2013 at 7:18 am

Hi Shahina,

Thanks for your extra tip. The easiest way to prevent this, instead of sitting in the front, is to do what locals do. After getting in, just when the taxi starts moving very ostentative have a look at the meter. Not only can you make sure the starting fee is correct, the taxi driver will notice this and know you are aware of the tricks. Repeat this step 5 minutes later, and you should be fine.

And in a case like yours, when you are hundred percent sure he overcharged (and not just one or two Liras) just say you’ll stop the first police car to have their opinion before you pay. He will reduce the fare quickly to the normal one.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Sam June 23, 2013 at 4:20 am

I hope Turkish Taxi drivers and other good and nice Turks read your comments and advise those few naughty drives to behave nicely and clear their name such that more international tourism go to the beautiful Istanbul.

Cheers
Sam

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Darr July 7, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Hi Erlend,

I am lost on the “A Fixed Price Instead of Using The Meter” scam. What is the problem with agreeing to a fixed price?

Reply

Erlend Geerts July 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hi Darr,

Unless you know exactly how much the ride should cost before you make the deal, a fixed price is a bad idea.

Erlend

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Jonathan July 9, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Hi Guys,

Nice to meet you here. I went to Istanbul for a conference last week. Before I go, I read the tips. But for only once I took taxi, I encountered the most serious scam, of couse not mentioned above at all, and still I don’t think that scam makes any sense. The taxi driver not only charged for more money, but also were taking me to a place far away from my destination. I would like to share my story with you all.

In my last day in Istanbul, I wanted to go to Spice Market/Egyption Market to buy something. It is quite near to conference venue (Hilton Istanbul, near Taksim). I planned to go by walk as it was a short distance, but I only had 1 hour to go that day, so I decided to take a taxi to go there faster. I was advised from my friends that I must fix the price before getting on the taxi and without using meter, because if I used meter, taxi driver would surely go around making the trip longer and there was nothing I can do.

So I took a taxi just arrived at Hilton Istanbul (it was a normal yellow car, but I didn’t notice the company of the taxi), I fixed the price with him before getting on the car. It was 25 lira. I knew clearly that he asked for higher price, but I was in a hurry and I thought that he would take me to destination faster, so 25 lira was acceptable. I was quite relaxed at first. Ten minutes later I found something wrong because it shouldn’t be that long. So I used my iPhone Google Map GPS function, and then I identified that he was going around and driving towards south (Grand Barzaar direction, but I’m not sure whether he was going toward there). I explained to him that I was going to Spice Market/Egyption Market, not Grand Bazaar, showing my Google Map, he said he knew where the Spice Market/Egyption Market was, but when I asked why he is driving to opposite direction (showing with Google Map), he started to pretend to be confused, just saying we would arrive soon, just there, in 3-5 minutes. Then I said you were taking me to a place far away from Spice Market/Egyption Market, he said he knew where Spice Market/Egyption Market. Then I said I need to take a flight in 1 hour, he said Spice Market was not a place I could finish shopping in 1 hour. Right before he was going to cross the bridge, Galata Kpr., I said I must get off the car, and he said OK it’s fine. I didn’t have time to confront with him, so I paid 25 lira. Then I finally get off and walked back a long distance. I didn’t dare to take another taxi.

So the whole thing confused me is because he asked for more money, and still didn’t take me to destination. Till now I don’t understand where he was driving towards. My friends gave several guesses, kidnapping me, going to a shop his family opened, or going to a very far place and charging much more money to take me back. I think only the next people who take his taxi can find out.

From my own experience, for many scams, there is no solution at all. Many of the solutions proposed are not useful because the taxi drivers know how to cheat. If you use the meter, he could drive longer. If you fix the price without meter, he can take you far away. If he is not going towards your destination, there is nothing you can do, because he is driving, not you. If you want to call the police, unless you know the number of the car, otherwise how could police find you. Therefore the best choice is to avoid taking taxi, rather taking public transport and walking. Some taxi drivers, they are thinking about how to cheat everyday, and not that easy to deal with, you must know.

Yang

Reply

Erlend Geerts July 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Hi Yang,

After reading your comment, I feel obliged to say the following:

- if you took the taxi from the Hilton, you shouldn’t have experienced such a problem. They are selective about the taxis they use.
- in my article, I specifically mention not to set a fixed price but use the meter
- currently, due to big construction in Taksim, taxis are obliged to make (small) detours
- the described taxi route, over the Galata bridge, is the correct road to the Spice Bazaar (and only 5 minutes later the Grand Bazaar)
- it’s always wise to write down (or take a picture) of the cab before you get in, so you can report it, or God forbid call the police

On Witt Magazine, you can find the approximate cab fares for different destinations, so then you know something is wrong when the meter shows much more. If you would have used the meter, you would have had an idea if he was taking the correct route or not. Since it was off, you couldn’t. Time is never a good measure given Istanbul’s traffic.

I’ve been living here for almost 10 years now, and neither me nor my (extensive) circle of (forgein) friends have ever experienced what you described.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Gerard October 29, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I have been in Istanbul for three days and used taxis each day. Despite all the best preventative action I can muster, I have been ripped off. Some drivers start off with the story that the meter is broken and they want 60-70 Lira for a ride that the Hotel staff say should cost no more than 15 Lira. It goes without saying that i do not get in the cab. But even when I think it’s looking like an honest driver, using the meter, I get a scam with the driver suddenly ‘getting lost’ misunderstanding written instructions.

One driver wanted to stop and get cigarettes shortly after starting off on his journey. I protests, saying no. He then told me that the trips to my hotel ‘was a long way’ will cost 70 Lira. I told him that this was not correct – knowing it to be a 20Lira trip. He yelled and made threatening gestures. I said take me to the police. He stopped the car and yelled at me to get out.Another driver was obviously manipulating the meter. It ticked over so fast that I could not keep up. I paid 300% more than what I should. Driving fast he refused to stop the car. In short, the taxi drivers I have seen over the past three days are predators. I suspect that some are probably violent at times. They go hunting for tourists. When walking along the street several pulled up along side of me, hoping i would be drawn in know how to manipulate, lie and cheat and there is no protection. Use public transport or walk.

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Uttam November 21, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Flat hourly rate of taxi

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rahul November 25, 2013 at 3:04 am

This is social service. Hats off Erlend!
God bless you :)

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Morey November 28, 2013 at 12:37 am

Here is another Taxi scam to be aware of. It happened to me three years ago while visiting Istanbul. Even though I have traveled there many times and consider myself scam-savvy, I still got zinged! I took a Taxi from my hotel at Taksim to the airport. I was running a bit late so I was in hurry. I knew the route he was taking was correct and also knew the fare should be around 50TL on the meter. The meter ended up showing 100TL when we reached the airport. I angrily told the taxi driver he had either messed with the meter or had entered multiple passengers. He denied it and said it was a normal fair. Not wanting to miss my flight I handed the guy five-20TL bills at once — what a mistake that was! As I was getting out of the taxi and yelling at the driver to popup the trunk to get my languages, he said to me you that I had only given him 3-20TL bills (60TL) and he wanted 40TL more!!! He had hidden two-20TL bills under his thigh or somewhere! At this point I was livid and wanted to choke the guy! The driver was still in the car and wouldn’t get out. I looked around and saw a policeman a distance away. It occurred to me to run to the cop and get his attention. But I didn’t since I didn’t want to risk this guy taking off with my languages in the trunk! It just wasn’t worth the risk so instead I handed him additional 40TL while cursing him out. In the end, I ended up paying 140TL for a 50TL fare! I was double scammed!
Lesson learned: do not trust any tax driver in Turkey and always hand out bills one at a time while counting it out-loud!

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Erlend Geerts November 29, 2013 at 12:37 am

Hi Morey,

Sorry to hear about this.

Thanks for sharing it, and a nice addition to the note switch scam.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Morey December 6, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Thank you, Erlend for your kind remarks and your helpful article.

Cheers,
Morey

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Gamal Hassan November 29, 2013 at 12:01 pm

we are going to Istanbul next month ,I’m scared

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Erlend Geerts November 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Gamal,

There is nothing to be scared about. You know what to watch out for, so you’re well prepared.

Also, don’t forget Istanbul has several million visitors a year, and only a few stories surface. In general, Istanbul is much safer than other world cities similar in size.

Enjoy your stay,
Erlend

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jane December 16, 2013 at 6:32 am

Hi Erlend – we read and re-read all your tips for our recent trip to Istanbul in early November and found them all really useful. Especially the taxi tips – believe it or not we encountered one taxi driver who tried all three scams on us in the space of 3 minutes, he said his meter was not working but he would charge an amount that was 5 times the correct fare. Then he agreed to the fare we said we wanted to pay but wanted that for each of us. Then he tried the money changing trick but we were too quick and we ripped our money out of his hand and left the taxi. Thank you for your excellent advice on this site.

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Nug December 27, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Dear All,

I would like to share my latest experience with taxi driver in Istanbul, I wish I had read this article before I went there. It just happened recently and it was my first day in Istanbul, I took a taxi from area around Blue Mosque to get back to my hotel in Fatih area to pick some stuff and went directly from there to Galata tower. Now when I think about it, he actually tricked me in 3 different ways:

1. I told him the hotel location and the map, yet he drove to the highway along the beach in opposite direction to the hotel location, I tried to hand him the map but he just drove and when I was going to stop (he did not speak good english) he started saying the hotel name (which I already said repeatedly) and apologize for going the wrong way – nevertheless, he was already going to the wrong way so we had to take few kilometers before we could turn.

2. When we reached the hotel and going to galata towers I was surprised to see the meter was going very fast – at this point, I already realized something was wrong – and by the time we reached galata tower, I had to pay for 85 TL for 20 minutes trip.

3. I gave the driver 2 x 50 TL notes but somehow he came back that he showed me 50 and 5 TL (at this point I thought he told the truth because both bills looked similar). Unfortunately for me that I did not have any more TL left so I had to pay with Euros. The guy was even trying to take the money in my wallet, at this point I was furious. I ended up paying him 20 euros + 100 TL (which I thought only 50 TL) and left the taxi straight away. At that point I decided not to take taxi in Istanbul and took the Metro since then.

I understand that not every taxi driver is bad and probably I just had a bad luck to meet the worst one in my first day. I feel sorry for good taxi drivers who are honest doing their job as this kind of incidents will effect badly on them too as tourists will not prefer to use taxi anymore. Istanbul is very beautiful city with so many good places to see, cultural heritage and delicious food. Apart from the taxi ripped-off incident, I had a very very good time there.

Reply

Erlend Geerts January 2, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Hi Nug,

Sorry to hear that.

At least I’m happy that beside this expensive ride, you had a marvelous time in Istanbul.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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khatri December 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Hi,

The note switch is very common by taxi drivers. Be careful. Don’t hand over your note till you get back the change in second hand.

Avoid stopping taxis in a lonely place. Ask him to drop you at a regular crowded place. Hire a taxi from your hotel’s desk, as the taxi number gets registered on the company’s call record and they can’t cheat you as can be traced back. Stopping a taxi on the road be careful —- here few taxi drivers are just waiting to cheat tourist. They have all means— they can high jack meter reading in no time. Make sure that he turned the meter before starting. Above all be firm and fight back if you feel that you are being cheated. Taxi driver will give up and try some another tourist is place of arguing with you.
These are some of the common tips I have learned through own experience in Istanbul. Go and enjoy the trams— It is good ,convenient and cheaper option. But you need Taxi …when we don’t know where and how to go… All the best on Istanbul streets.

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Onur January 2, 2014 at 1:03 pm

As a native Turkish I can’t even prevent this from happening every single time I take taxi in Istanbul. My suggestion would be trying the public buses, tram or metro.

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Dennis February 25, 2014 at 5:09 pm

I have been done too. Bit more simple, the meter was working fine – showing just under 6TL for the short trip. I handed him 8 as a tip. He ranted and demanded 15TL – with our luggage in boot of the car; what are you going to do… Worst and unregulated Taxi system in 5 months European travel unfortunately.

Reply

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