International Travel, Turkey, and My Android Phone


turkey_flag_wave2Tomorrow morning I’ll be flying to Istanbul, Turkey on a 10-day trip that I hope will be filled with awesome scenery, cultural education, culinary delights and more. While I’m incredibly excited, I have to admit that I’m also a tad nervous: while I’ve traveled outside of “The States”), I’ve never experienced a country with such cultural differences than my home. It will be an adventure for sure.

I’d like to pose 3 questions to all my Phandroid friends out there, and I’ll make sure to post Android-related updates and experiences from Turkey filling you in.

(1) Using My Android Internationally
google-nexus-oneI’m equipped with a Google Nexus one and T-Mobile USA SIM card that will allow me to roam, albeit for some ridiculous amount. Good if we’re in a pinch, bad if I forget to disable data roaming and have to sell my car to pay the bill. We plan on getting a local 1-month unlimited contract/SIM card so we can take advantage of all the awesome Android Apps for travelers.

That being said, I know there are FAR more experience travelers than myself so I’m asking YOU what YOUR suggestions and opinions are on using your Android phone abroad. Would you plan on buying a calling card in addition? How about an app that transmits voice messages over the data network, walkie-talkie style? Or maybe save the calls home to night time when we’re on Hotel Wi-Fi with a laptop and Skype?

(2) Android Apps for International Travel
I’ve already got a boat load of apps picked out that I want to use while I’m in Turkey and I’ll surely be reporting back with reviews and updates, but I want to hear from you. What applications would you recommend for International use? For Turkey specifically? For flight status, public transportation, finding nearby restaurants/attractions?

There are the obvious big names out there and feel free to drop those if you have a strong opinion on a personal favorite, but we’re also looking for some hidden gems. Let us know and we’ll be sure to test them out on our trip!

(3) Any Turkish Phandroids Out There?
I’ll be in Turkey for 10 days and while our readership is mostly from the USA, England and Canada, we have readers from almost every single country in the world. If you’re an Android-lover living in Turkey, or even a Phandroid travelling to Turkey during the same time frame, leave a valid e-mail address with a comment and perhaps we can plan a Turkish Phandroid Meetup!

Not to mention the opinion of knowledgeable locals is greatly appreciated!
(We’ll be in Istanbul, Ephesus, Kas, and Antalya)

Let’s hear it!

Rob Jackson
I'm an Android and Tech lover, but first and foremost I consider myself a creative thinker and entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for ideas of all sizes. I'm a sports lover who cheers for the Orange (College), Ravens (NFL), (Orioles), and Yankees (long story). I live in Baltimore and wear it on my sleeve, with an Under Armour logo. I also love traveling... where do you want to go?

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  1. Getting a local SIM is always the best solution. In most European contries prepayed SIMs data plans still cost too much for standard usage, so best solution is usually phone card from a pay phone.

  2. Regarding calls, I use a service such as Rebtel (http://www.rebtel.com) or MobiVox (http://mobivox.com) to make cheap/free international calls. You pay the mobile provider the cost of a local call and then pay Rebtel or MobiVox for the international segment, at a much-reduced or free rate. Note that I don’t work for either of these companies, I’m just a very satisfied user.

  3. Many useful apps like Navigation won’t work, and you will find that you are not able to buy paid apps with the new SIM.

    This is really big deficiency of Android compared to iPhone outside the US and a few other lucky countries. For the Navigation I understand, but for the paid apps – this is just inexcusable.

  4. Beiks has a cool “talking phrase book” for Turkish, as well as a Turkish-English dictionary.


    I have not used the Turkish version, but I have personally found the German and French ones useful.

  5. I would say that MapDroyd and WikiDroyd are invaluable when you have no data.

    In my experience, going online for literally one minute to check the NBA championship game’s score on an N1 costs $16. Of course that’s because there will be tons of stuff that auto-sync as soon as they see the data coming back. I would really just pull the SIM card out and not use it.

    Another suggestion, especially if you don’t remove the SIM: Permanently forward your cell # to either a local US number or your provider voicemail box before leaving home, otherwise you’ll get charged roaming for every call that you don’t pick up as well. Then you can at least receive free text messages and send cheap ones while keeping the radio on.

    It’s not clear if the local SIM card will be worth the cost, unless you have people calling your new number from the US. You will likely not be making lots of local calls there and a hotel / public phone works fine for calls back home using a calling card.

  6. @Rob. I have used Nexus One in France. Of course the beauty of the phone is that when you bought it from the Google website, you specified the country and carrier, which I assume from your article was US and T Mobile US respectively. Hence you received a GSM enabled phone (they actually did not build CDMA enabled phone I presume as Verizon did not end up selling Nexus One). So the good news for you is that GSM is near universal in Europe—ie you can actually use your phone over there. For ex in the UK, all six major carriers use GSM. I noticed when I was in France that the moment you land, you get a nice message from your carrier telling you what the charges will be (in Euros) for calls. This is all without a calling card or international dialing plan pre-paid in your home country. By the way, the “roaming charges” are outrageous compared to your deal in your home country …. the regulators are on to this abuse and rates have fallen recently. In France I also got a text from SPF (I think that was their name) welcoming me and offering their services once they detected my device. I presume Turkey has the same—but they are of course not in the Euro Community (despite years of trying). I have to believe that the major carriers (like Vodafone) have partners there and that GSM is the technology used. Turkey is a well-travelled tourist spot so I doubt you will have too much problem. Fallback position as you say is the hotel WiFi system hooked up to skype or google talk. Is it still possible to check the Nexus One Help Forum to see if anyone has used the phone in Turkey or is someone who imported the phone there? If so, suggest a search.

    Good luck.

  7. I wish that I wolud be in one of these cities :) I’m near to antalya but I have a school going on :) May be next time :) Have fun in Türkiye :)

  8. There is a cool live wallpaper called Advanced Map Live Wallpaper. It makes your live wallpaper a map of where you are at that moment. It doesn’t map out routes or trips, but it’s nice to know where you are without having to fuss with apps, all you need do is look at your screen at any moment. One of the XDA guys created it and from all the screen grabs, there’s a lot of European maps shown (or looks that way, anyways). I’ve only tried it in the Chicago area, but it pulls from the Google repository of maps so I’m betting it has Turkey as well.

  9. I was born and raised in Istanbul, you will love Turkey.If you can get a local sim card probably will be cheaper. I do not use my phone when I go home those roaming charge could be really high. I bought a cheap unlock phone and local sim card but I go twice a year, for you phone card might be a better solution.

  10. I would not buy any sim cards and just use wifi as you can come across it.

  11. Make sure you register the IMEI for your phone with the Turkish Telecom Authority when you arrive. You should be able to do this in the same shop where you buy your SIM card. I was there for business for three weeks back in ’07 and was provided a phone to use. I stuck the SIM card from that phone into my phone and it worked fine for a week but then I started getting warnings via SMS (in Turkish). I just put it back into the provided phone and used it for the remaining two weeks.

    At the hotel I stayed at (the Conrad Istanbul), the wifi was basically unusable for anything besides simple web surfing on weekday nights. During the day and on weekends it was fast though. Hopefully wherever you end up staying will have more APs and/or a faster Internet connection.

  12. Oh every one is going to Turkey !! . Two of my friends are going there too . Anyway install APN On\Off and use wifi over there . Also ask T-mobile if they have any deals with Turkish carriers .

  13. Get my Right Number app (available in the Market). This will guarantee that you will have no problems dialing out from anywhere in the world with your Android phone.

  14. There is a Vodafone Turkey but I can’t understand their website even with Google Translate. Maybe the locals can help you understand the potential costs? It is common for European carriers to offer pretty cheap prepaid mobile Internet, not unlimited but generous enough.

  15. It’s too late this time, but for short lengths of stay, I find that an international SIM (I’ve been using one from gosim.com)offers a good value. Sometimes I purchase one where I am working, but it all depends. Typically, there is a “SIM charge” + minutes/data. The sim charge is what gets you. For 10 days, it wouldn’t make sense to pay $40 (for example) and then have to pay more for minutes/data. Of course, if you are going to return, it might be a better deal (now it’s only $20 per trip).

  16. The following site has a lot of info on SIMs in Turkey. I used it as a primer before I went a couple of years ago.


    The good news is that English is wideley spoken in the tourist area cellphone stores.

  17. I travel internationally quite often for work. I am using the CDMA Hero though so my phone is pretty much useless in some countries. Ff you connect to a wifi hot spot everything works great (except for phone calls). The bad part is that there is not always a hot spot. In Switzerland, they had wifi everywhere and you could pay for it by the hour. This worked out pretty well for me. I guess it all will depend on the area and you will probably have to figure it out once you get there. Is you nexus one unlocked? If not you may not be able to use a non T-Mobile sim card. Skype worked best for me when making calls back home. I actually used fring a few times before they removed the skype access and that worked great. Whatever you decided to do, let us know and HAVE FUN!!!

  18. Put your phone on airplane mode at all times unless making a quick call. I do this whenever I go to thailand.

  19. Hey, you’ll enjoy Turkey and definitely feel a lot more at home than you think. Don’t worry.

    About the wireless plans: You’ll be happy to hear that a local company, Turkcell, has 98% 3G coverage in Turkey. It is fast too, I was able to get around 2.2 mb/s download speeds. You can get a prepaid SIM card (called “Hazir cart”) and add a 4GB (or 8GB, or 1GB, etc.) data plan on it. Prices are pretty reasonable.

    While I was in Turkey, I collaborated with a colleague in the US and we submitted a manuscript together, using a MyTouch 3G, serving as a wireless router for my laptop. Both the Nexus and MyTouch frequencies are compatible with the Turkcell 3G service.

    You can get driving directions using Google maps in Turkey. The navigation does not work yet.

  20. There are 3 GSM operators in Turkey. The most popular and arguably the best one is: http://www.turkcell.com.tr/en
    The other ones are: http://www.avea.com.tr/index_en.shtml and Vodafone.

    You can get a prepaid card in minutes from any operator. After buying a prepaid card you need to apply for a 3G service. For example Turkcell has two 3G options for prepaid cards. 50 MB per week or 100 MB per month. If you go beyond these limits, it will cost you 0.5 TL = $0.33 per 100KB. I think other operators have similar prices but if you’re going to see different places (other than big cities) you will have the best reception with Turkcell.

    I hope you enjoy your stay in Istanbul. And don’t worry about the cultural differences. Turkish people are known for their hospitality.

  21. I traveled to Istanbul for a little over a week just almost a year ago. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. The cultures aren’t actually all that different — just be prepared to do your best bargaining (they’ll still kick your butt, just try to be willing to walk away and you’ll get a better deal); deodorant isn’t used too much; and the taxis will more often than not take the “scenic” route to wherever you need to go. It’s all in good fun though. :)

    Regarding phones, ultimately, I just dealt without having phone service. We had free wifi in the hotel, where between a laptop and my smartphone, we had sufficient access to the web and email, and could make calls with my skype account. Very, very rarely did we feel like we needed to contact someone on the go.

  22. Unrelated – Turkey is great, went there in May for 2 weeks, will definitely be going back! NeoteriX is right about the taxis, watch out for those guys…

  23. Ah, and don’t worry about “registering the IMEI for your phone with Turkish Telecom Authority”. This is only required if you’ll be using a local GSM provider. Even then, you’ll be able to use your phone for 10 days without issues. I had to do it because I was there for over a month.

    Vodafone 3G service is inferior to Turkcell. Vodafone is well-known in Europe, but in Turkey, Vodafone took over a company called Telsim, which had a weaker infrastructure than Turkcell. I hear that Vodafone is investing heavily to catch up. But as of two months ago, Turkcell’s 3G service was definitely superior.

  24. When I travel to Japan I remove the SIM card and rent a cheap local phone. Since I use the phone only in case of emergencies I get one with a low daily rate and a higher per call cost. I save money in the end.

    While traveling around I use my phone as a GPS. Obviously I don’t have a data connection so Google maps is nearly useless. I use Mavrick and download the regions I’m going to be visiting beforehand or while connected via free local wifi.

    Also, I was completely unable to use the Vonage VOIP app while in Japan. Not sure if it was due to my location (connecting through a Japanese IP addr) or the local speeds. I planned on using that for calls to the US. I hope Skype will fair better when it comes to N1.

  25. silly me I didn’t include I forgot to include prices in my previous comment.

    50MB/week = $3.3
    100MB/month = $7.8

  26. If you want me to translate something let me know.

    Taptapir, thank you for your comment of Turkish people are known for their hospitality. It is nice to hear that…

  27. I worked nearby in Adipizari for a while, this was quite a poor area and it had been devastated by an earthquake a few years earlier. Istanbul on the other hand was a very modern city, very similar to any major European city. Make sure you visit the Grand Bazaar :)

  28. Hi Rob,

    If you will be this weekend in Istanbul, we can meet :)


  29. If you for some reason want to use Google Nav, get Brut Maps. It’s basically a side-project that uses the same API as Google Maps, but unlocks international travel ability.

  30. Hi Rob
    we would be happy @ maxroam.com to get you out a test SIMcard
    drop me a line [email protected]

  31. Don’t know who well Openstreetmap coverage is in Turkey, but you could try out the osmand program to find shops/resturants/hotels, and it can maybe also be used for navigation. Also the andnav2 program might give you turn by turn navigation if you are lucky (it uses the openroute.org route planner, and it is badly outdated (couldn’t find adress added more than a year ago)). Maybe check out wardrive and look for local open wifi spots.

  32. Rob,
    Don’t worry about extra charges, phone will disable mobile network while you’re in rouming. Tested it in Egypt on Nexus One.
    As Hypercubed said, you can cache maps with Maverick using hotel’s WiFi.

  33. I’ve been doing this for 2 years – this is what I do.

    Don’t bother with roaming, ditch the T-Mobile sim and pick up one when you get there. Data, texting, and calling are all way, way cheaper in the other continents than in N. America, and no one ever gets plans. Just find a compatible company with data rates you like and you’re set.


    -Google Voice, get it. This is a great way to keep texting your friends back home through wifi / 3G for free. If you have sipgate as well, you can place free VOIP calls to the US over wifi/3G.

    -Google translate – with an unlimited data connection, it is the best translation software, and even accepts voice input.

    -Toggle Data widget: necessary for controlling your data usage.

    -NetCounter if you don’t buy unlimited data, so you can track your usage.

    -Shazam – because finding new music in foreign countries is one of the best parts of traveling. 2 out of 3 of the artists I try to look up abroad are in there.

    -TunnelDroid / OpenVPN – for VPNing over unsecure WIFI, because no one likes having their data stolen.

    -Currency – my favorite currency converter.

    -WikiTravel browser, such as iTravel.

    These apps are crucial to travling. Other country specific ones that are very useful include interactive metro/subway timetables, etc. which can be searched for individually. Have fun!

  34. I recently traveled to Brazil and used a combination of Google Voice, a SipGate number and the SipDroid app to make free VOIP calls over wifi. The initial setup is a bit cumbersome and you have to use GV’s mobile web page to make calls. If Google only made their Android page for GV as friendly as the one for the iPhone I would be a happy camper (or traveler).

    Call quality was pretty good, but I had to experiment with SipDroid’s settings the get call volume at an acceptable level.

  35. Any thoughts about getting a UMA-enabled phone? Only caveats would be that you should only use it when you have a wifi connection.

  36. Welcome to Turkey.
    Turkiye’ye hoşgeldiniz. :)

    I would like to meet you. I am in Istanbul.

  37. As a sailor I go to Kusadasi/Istanbul every 10 days. I use Fring to call my friends on line. Free wifi available in many restaurants/hotels in these places.
    Enjoy your trip in Turkey.

  38. if you are planning to use a non turkey purchased telephone in turkey with a local service provider, you need to register your phone :) otherwise it wont work (dont ask why :P) in some cases you can use it for months before they actually notices you, on some cases you get “caught” in first couple of hours :) so, i guess its related with the cron job schedule :)

    you can simply disable data roaming off and for sure put /* to in front of your apn name. also, not using 3g increases your battery life dramatically.

    will be around istanbul for couple of days. so gimme a shout out via twitter or drop meh an mail

  39. Hi Rob,

    I am an Android developer living in Istanbul. I would be very happy to host you or going out for a drink.

    About your questions, Roaming is very expensive but you can easily buy a prepaid SIM card just at the exit gate of the airport. I am sure all three mobile operators have some special offers for tourists. But, if you want just for data plan, Vodafone has a good offer. They give you 100 MB for nearly $5.00. But, they don’t over charge you after 100 MB. they only reduce the speed from 7.2 Mbps to 96Kbps which is enough to check e-mail. However;

    1. downloading the terrain and using with AndNav2 will drastically decrease the data usage. I use it a lot when I go abroad.
    2. APNdroid is good idea for blocking the background data usage.
    3. Keep Sync always off when you are on 3G. Use the browser version of gmail instead.

    About Turkey specific app, you are out of luck. Since Android is not officially entered to the Turkish Market, we don’t have much devices and subsequently apps.

    If you need anything else, send me an e-mail. Hope to meet a phandroid fellow in Istanbul.

    Have a nice trip.

  40. Hey Rob, I’m in Istanbul. We can meet. ^^ If you wanna I can show around.

    So, you have to know one important thing about internet in Turkey. There is a huge cencorship againts internet. There are 6000+ forbidden web sites including YouTube and Google’s shared IPs with YouTube. Because of that, some Android features may not work as well, unless you change your DNS. All people in Turkey learned how to change DNS IPs in order to enter YouTube and other banned web sites including a lot of pr0n sites.

    In last saturday, we protested the government because of that cencorship in Taksim, Istanbul. But we don’t know that it will work someday.

    Against all odds, welcome to lovely Turkey. :)

  41. Hi Mate,

    First of all take care about unlimited sims because (yes there are hidden restrictions under name of “fair usage rights” in Turkey. Second, register your phone with Telecom authority or it will be banned probably in next 15 days. There is a Vodafone shop just outside Istanbul arrivals hall I would not suggest to buy anything from there. if you need any help at all drop me an e-mail. I am in istanbul.

  42. Well i have never been to Turkey, Ive heard its a great place to go and one day will get there, i have traveled to a lot of Asian countries and Carribean countries. I know if you call T-Mobile and let them know that you will be out of the country for a short period of time they have special plans they dont advertise just for trips like this. I paid something ridiculously low for going oversees for a few days(like maybe and extra $15 that month) and i used my phone just like i was at home. Have fun and try to snag one of the hottest turkish cell phone and bring it back…

    P.S. Don’t ask wht the food is until you eat it and decide if you like it or not.

  43. i am agree with your statement, because you explained it very well

    please visit my blog, I will learn more about sport. this is my blog http://domesticintravel.blogspot.com/

    thank you……

  44. Hi Rob,
    Have a nice trip in Turkey. Believe and hope that you will have really nice time in Turkey, what you are gonna think after/during your visit to Turkey clearly be “why i was so late to discover this country” and “hmm all negatively said/heard abt this country were simply some unfair prejudgments”
    As to your queries, here is an official site that may partly cover your needs;

    and links to the Turkish mobile operators


    http://www.vodafone.com.tr (since the page was not available at time of writing -apparently due to a technical reason- cannot advise direct link to the english pages of vodafone but sure you can find it when you open the homepage)

  45. I’d be interested in meeting up with fellow android users in Istanbul (I recommend some beers near Taksim Square and Istiklal Street). I use a Nexus One here, and do android development. Word of warning: paid apps don’t seem to be available here since the 2.2 update.

    I second the comment about registering your phone with the Telecom authorities (I believe you can do this at the airport, or at most of the ubiquitous TurkCell shops) if you ever plan to come back to Turkey and use the same phone.

  46. there is nothing cheaper then PCC http://www.phonecardscentral.com


  47. So, how was your trip with your Nexus one? Did you pick up a local SIM with data and go? Did you just pay roaming issues on the data use. What apps did you try? which ones were more helpful? On-line or off-line? Your experiences could be invaluable to the rest of us.

  48. Folks,

    Did you happen to use this app “Calling Plus” on Market, seems this address the issue of direct usage of Rebtel and mobivox and also access numbers from different VOIP providers many more from European Market.

    Try out the App:






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