While taking a taxi in Istanbul is one of the most convenient (and fastest) methods of getting around the city, unfortunately the drivers don’t always have your best interests at heart. Taxi scams in Istanbul are so prevalent that there are new threads on this exact topic written nearly every week on Tripadvisor and Reddit by scammed tourists who share their unfortunate experiences.
If you want to avoid taxi scams in Istanbul, this blog post was written especially for you! We’ve taken a list of the most popular taxi scams in Istanbul and written practical advice on how to recognize if a taxi is scamming you, what to do, and how to avoid it.
There’s also a section on what to do if you’re scammed by a taxi driver in Istanbul and how to report a Turkish taxi driver. Finally, there’s an extra section at the end that has practical travel tips on taxis and public transportation.
Be sure to read this post until the end so you can become familiar with some of the common taxi scams in Turkey (most of these scams are prevalent in other cities as well!) and safe travels. 🙂
Common Taxi Scams in Istanbul
The Taxi Driver Gives You an Unofficial Tour (AKA Taking the Long Way)
The scam: One of the oldest tricks in the book (and not only in Istanbul), this scam happens when the taxi driver takes a route that’s much longer than the actual way. Other variants include the taxi driver pretending to get lost, taking unnecessary detours, or going in circles to inflate the price on the taxi meter.
How to avoid it: Open Google Maps, type in your destination, and show it to the driver. This will reduce your chance of getting scammed because the taxi driver realizes that you’re vigilant and aware of the correct routes. Some taxi drivers will even ask you to hold the phone (or show it from time to time) in order to follow the route that Google Maps shows — in our experience, these taxi drivers are usually the ones that are normal and are less prone to scamming. 🙂
“The Bridge is Closed” & Other Excuses
The scam: Similar to the scam mentioned above, taxi drivers may try to get you to pay more by saying that the road/bridge/street is closed and they have to take a (longer) detour to get to your destination.
This scam is even more common when the taxi driver realizes that you’re visiting Istanbul for the first time (and don’t know your way around the city and what’s closed/open).
How to avoid it: First of all, there’s a 99% chance that the taxi driver is lying — bridges are very rarely closed to car traffic, and road closures around major tourist areas are announced months in advance. If you’re wondering whether a road is closed or not, the IBB (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality) has an official website with a live map of road closures and traffic.
Likewise, it’s best to take a newer taxi (that doesn’t have the nighttime tariff meter anymore).
The Turkish Lira Switcheroo
The scam: You give a taxi driver 200 TL, and when you’re not looking, he quickly switches it out to a 10 TL or 50 TL note (which have similar colors). This trick used to be especially popular with 50 and 5 TL bills because they’re both a specific shade of orange. In either case, the taxi driver will demand more money because you “didn’t pay the full fare.”
How to avoid it: This was the oldest trick in the book for taxi drivers back in the day, although it’s significantly diminished ever since taxis started to integrate credit card POS systems (and taxi fares increased with inflation 🥲).
In any case, you can avoid this scam by slowly counting out each bill in front of the driver and then giving it to him. At the end, conclude with something like, “Ok, that’s 150 Lira.” with an obnoxious smile. 😉 It’s also helpful to familiarize yourself with Turkish money before your trip — check this Wikipedia article to learn how each of the bills look like.
Asking For the Fare in a Different Currency
(This definitely isn’t as widespread as it was a few years ago, but just in case, we’ve decided to include it here).
The scam: A few years ago (before Turkey’s crazy inflation), some drivers would try to scam tourists by saying the fare was actually in a different currency than TL. For example, the meter would read 20 Lira but the taxi driver would ask for 20 Euros (or dollars) instead. Back in those days, 1 USD was around 4 TL, so you would end up paying 20 USD for what would actually be a 5 USD ride!
How to avoid it: There’s technically no regulation for what currency you can use to pay taxis in Turkey, but it’s always best to pay in Turkish liras. Make sure to have paper bills before you hail a taxi — even if your taxi driver did accept your USD or EUR, you’d be getting a terrible exchange rate. 😉
Not Having Exact Change
The scam: You give the taxi driver a 100 TL bill for a taxi trip that costs 75 TL. The driver shrugs and says he doesn’t have any change (thereby leaving you without the 25 TL you should have gotten back).
How to avoid it: First of all, not having change is complete BS, especially if you hailed a taxi from one of the touristy areas — those taxi drivers usually have fat wads of Turkish lira bills. 😅
If the driver won’t budge, ask him to go to the nearest store to break the bill while you wait in the car.
Getting Into an Unofficial Taxi (Pirate Taxis)
The scam: While technically not a scam, there are thousands of pirate taxis in Istanbul — travelers should be careful to avoid such unofficial taxis when hailing a cab. Drivers might offer lower fares to entice passengers, but ask for a completely different (and often much higher) price at the end of the trip. Likewise, they’re not regulated by the IBB (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality) and drivers and passengers can get in trouble if caught in such a taxi.
How to avoid it: Hail only licensed taxis. Official taxis have their license plate number written all over the outside of the car, as well as a logo of their affiliated taxi rank — for example, the taxis that drive to/from SAW Airport have the ‘SAW KOOP” logo on the side of their car. If a taxi driver refuses to turn on their meter (or doesn’t have one in the car) that’s also a sign that they’re a pirate taxi. 🏴☠️
Not Wanting to Use the Meter (Or the “My Meter is Broken” Excuse)
The scam: You get inside a taxi and start to get comfortable for your long journey… until the taxi driver whips out the excuse that his meter doesn’t work / is broken. Brazen taxi drivers will outright tell you that they don’t want to use the meter and “don’t worry, it’s cheaper to not use a meter.”
How to avoid it: First off, why would a taxi driver offer a cheaper price to not use the meter when he could get more money with a meter? 😉
If the driver pulls this excuse, the best course of action is to just get out of the car and find a different taxi — there’s no use arguing and getting into a heated situation over a taximeter.
As mentioned in the point above, taxis that don’t have meters are most likely unofficial pirate taxis (and you don’t want to take those either!)
“Please Pay for the Way Back”
The scam: If you go from the European side to the Asian side in a taxi (or vice versa), you’ll probably be asked to pay the driver’s bridge or tunnel toll back to their ‘territory’. While this technically isn’t a scam, it’s so widespread (even for locals) and annoying.
How to avoid it: There are better ways of getting between Europe and Asia — for example, you can take the very scenic Eminonu – Kadikoy ferry, which departs every 15 minutes or so 🙂
There’s also the Marmaray light rail, which goes under the Bosphorus and is a quick way of getting between continents — check Yenikapi or Sirkeci station on the European side, and Uskudar or Ayrılık Çeşmesi on the Asian side.
The scam: Some taxi drivers have rigged taxi meters (or a second meter specifically for tourists) that have higher fares.
How to avoid it: Make sure to do some research in advance and figure out how much your trip should cost (I use the BiTaksi app to check the average price range). If you notice that the taxi meter is acting strange — i.e.the base price is too high or the fare goes up very quickly — stop the taxi and find another one.
What To Do if You Were Scammed by a Taxi in Istanbul
Unfortunately, it happens to the best of us. If you’ve been scammed by a taxi driver in Istanbul, there are a few things you can do.
If you’re near the car when the scam happened, be sure to take a photo of the taxi (especially the license plate!). If you’re inside, take a photo of the taxi driver’s information card, which is typically displayed on the passenger’s side near the glove compartment.
Afterwards, you can lodge a formal complaint through Istanbul municipality’s official hotline. You can either dial 153 on your phone (if you have a local SIM card) or fill out the form on their website (https://alo153.ibb.gov.tr/ — there’s an English page). You can also email them (with photos) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While getting scammed isn’t fun at all, reporting the taxi driver to the city will help other travelers avoid a similar fate!
How to Avoid Taxi Scams: Useful Travel Tips
To round up our post, here are a few tips on how to avoid taxi scams in Istanbul and other useful travel tips. 🙂
🚕 Type in your destination into Google Maps before you get in the taxi, and show it to the driver as soon as you enter — by doing so, the driver will see that you’ve at least done your homework and won’t be as tempted to scam you. While on the road, keep an eye on the map to make sure you’re going in the right direction.
🚕 Walk (or take a tram) away from Sultanahmet, and then call a taxi. Passengers in tourist areas have a much higher chance of getting scammed because taxi drivers think they’re unsuspecting tourists who don’t know the actual price of a taxi trip. By walking away from the main tourist areas like Sultanahmet and Galata, you lessen the chances of getting scammed.
On a side note, we live on the Asian side of Istanbul and were scammed a total of 0 times anytime we hailed a taxi here. On the other hand, taxis in Sultanahmet are an absolute nightmare and we refuse to even get in one after we learned our lesson (see the “Please Pay for the Way Back” scam above 😅).
🚕 Use public transportation! Seriously, public transportation in Istanbul is awesome and super convenient. There’s a joke that goes, “the best way to avoid taxi scams in Istanbul is to not get in a taxi” — and it’s true. Istanbul Municipality regulates major public transportation like the metro, light rail, IETT buses, and the tram, making it almost impossible to get scammed.
🚕 Tipping taxi drivers in Istanbul: Although it isn’t mandatory, you can tip your taxi driver if you liked their service and/or they did something above and beyond (accepted your trip when others wouldn’t, drove safely, helped you with luggage, etc.)
It’s also common to round up your trip fare if you want — i.e. if the trip was 143, you can give a 150 bill and say no change.
🚕 Types of taxis in Istanbul: There are three ‘classes’ of taxis in Istanbul. The yellow taxis are the most common and the most basic — you’ll see them everywhere in the city.
Next up are the blue taxis (also known as turquoise taxis), which offer a slightly more comfortable ride (spacious and better seating) but cost about 15 to 20% more than yellow cabs.
Finally, the black taxis are ‘business class’ and are made up of Mercedes, BMW, and other luxury brands (and cost about twice more than regular taxis!). You can see the blue and black taxis in the photo above. 🙂
Photo credits: Featured image via Pooria Mirshekar | Bridge via Kübra D | Turkish Lira/USD/EUR via Ibrahim Boran