If you want to exchange cash, plenty of places will do it for you, and it can be cheaper.
Currency Exchange Offices (Döviz Bürosu) are found at the Atatürk Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW), and in tourist and market areas. Most offer better exchange rates than banks, and may or may not charge a commission (komisyon). Offices in market areas tend to offer better exchange rates than those in tourist areas.
|A 0.010 spread: not bad, but still not the best available.|
Except in Sultanahmet and other heavily touristed areas, currency exchange offices usually post their Buy and Sell ratesprominently, so look for both the rates—which may change by the hour—and the spread, or difference between them. Few offices charge commission (basically, a service fee) these days. Don’t use an office that charges commission. More…
Currency exchange desks are available in both the Departures and Arrivals areas of the International terminal. In the Departures area, rates are much better after you go through passport control. On 11 November 2012 I saw this rate in the check-in area before passport control:
Buy USD: 1.7366
Sell USD: 1.8437
Spread = 1.071
…a huge 1.071 spread. After passport control, I saw these rates:
Buy USD: 1.7730
Sell USD: 1.8080
Spread = 0.350
…a better, but still big, .350 spread. But compare that to the rate I saw the day before in a döviz burosu in Laleli(see below), offering a .003 spread:
Buy USD: 1.7860
Sell USD: 1.7890
Spread = 0.003
The spread is what you pay to change money, so you want the smallest possible spread.
The best spreads I’ve found in Istanbul are in the gold dealers’ section of the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) near the Mahmutpaşa entrance (map). This is Istanbul’s unofficial “spot gold market,” foreign exchange is carried on big time, and exchange rate spreads can be truly minuscule.
You can also take the Bağcılar-Kabataş tram westward to the Laleli stop just west of Beyazıt Square and the Grand Bazaar, just east of Aksaray. Right around the tram stop are exchange offices advertising rates as low as 0.003 spread for the US$, 0.004 for the euro. These were the rates at one Laleli döviz bürosu on 10 November 2012:
Here’s a map showing the location of the Zeki Döviz Bürosu near Istanbul‘s Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar—it usually has better rates than offices in touristy areas, but offices in the Grand Bazaar may have better rates still. There are other exchanges offices near the Egyptian Bazaar as well.
—by Tom Brosnahan