Istanbulkart is an RFID "electronic wallet" card to be used in Istanbul, Turkey for all types of public transportation. (Similar RFID cards are used in many other cities: Oyster Card in London, Navigo in Paris, Charlie Card in Boston, etc.)
The first and obvious use of the Istanbulkart is as a transit pass: you place the card on the turnstile sensor (say, at a Metro or ferryboat turnstile, or when boarding a city bus) and the amount of your fare is deducted from the card.
Which Card Should I Get?
There are several types of cards. The Anonim Kart is the best for short-term visitors: you just put money on it and use it. Other cards are those for Turkish students, monthly commuters, retired and handicapped, etc., but the Anonim Kart is the one for you.
While you used to be able to pay for several passengers with one card, due to Covid-19 you can now only use the card for one person. Your card must be registered with your personal HES code and passport number, which is all explained in the video above.
Where Can I Buy an IstanbulKart?
Istanbulkarts are sold by Istanbulkart vending machines which you can find at many metro, bus and tram stops.
You put money into the machine to purchase the card, and anything more than the cost of the card will go on as fare credit. If you want more fare credit, you can insert more bills to load more credit. Here are the fares.
Some hotels may sell Istanbulkarts to their guests at various prices, as a convenience.
You may also be able to buy an Istanbulkart at commercial kiosks (little stands that sell newspapers, snacks, cigarettes, chewing gum, etc.) near major transit stops such as Eminönü, Sultanahmet,Beyazıt/Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar), Taksim Square, etc. (The easiest place to find one is probably Eminönü.) Look for the word Istanbulkart or Akbil or phrase Dolum Noktası (Refill Point) on kiosks—they'll probably have Istanbulkarts to sell and load.
How to Refill Your Istanbulkart
It's quite simple to put more money on your card when you understand the process. There's a display screen and recorded voice prompts with English-language option, but you can ignore them. (Imagine: a learning curve you don't have to climb!)
Just follow these simple directions:
1. Find an Istanbulkart refill machine (usually located near a tram, metro, or bus stop).
2. Place your card FLAT on the sensor pad.
3. Wait 5 to 10 seconds for the sensor to identify it. (The display screen will change and the recorded voice will say something.)
4. Slide a TL5, 10 or 20 note into the Kağıt Para Girişi/Banknotes money slot.
5. Wait 10 seconds for the money to be loaded. (The display will change and the voice will say something different.)
6. Pick up your card and walk away.
The Future of Istanbulkart
The Istanbulkart project envisions that eventually the Istanbulkart will be used to pay for parking fees, taxi fares, admission to museums, cinemas, theaters and other cultural venues, and even for personal identification. You may find other ways to use it for small payments.
—by Tom Brosnahan