The Republic of Turkey requires that Canadian citizens, along with citizens of 108 other countries and territories, obtain an electronic visa prior to arriving in the country.
I had gone through the application process earlier this year, prior to passing through Istanbul on a free Turkish Airlines city tour on my round-the-world trip; I then had to process the same application for my girlfriend Jessy prior to our trip to Istanbul and Cappadocia in May.
Then, since the e-Visa is only valid for a period of six months, I had to apply for yet another Turkish e-Visa prior to passing through Istanbul again on my current round-the-world trip.
With Turkish Airlines flying to more countries than any other airline in the world and also being one of the most popular Star Alliance partners for surcharge-free Aeroplan redemptions, it’s almost inevitable that Canadians who travel on points will consider applying for a Turkey e-Visa at some point.
In this quick guide, I’ll provide a summary of my (relatively straightforward) experiences applying for the Turkey e-Visa in the hopes that it’ll be helpful to those of you transiting or visiting Turkey along your travels.
Who Needs the Turkey e-Visa
You’ll definitely need a visa if you’re spending time in Turkey, but you’ll also need one even if you’re only spending your layover in Istanbul in-between flights on Turkish Airlines.
The airline’s vast route network is scheduled in such a way that encourages transiting passengers to spend some time in Istanbul in-between their flights – for example, most of their flights from North America arrive in Istanbul in the afternoon, while their flights to East Asia don’t depart until the wee hours of the morning, giving guests the opportunity to head into the city for the evening.
To that end, Turkish Airlines has set up some complimentary layover perks for transiting passengers, including a series of daily city tours (which are available to passengers travelling in any class of service) and a complimentary hotel program (which is available to business class passengers whose itineraries meet a certain set of criteria).
To make use of either of these free services, though, you’ll need to hold a valid e-Visa, so unless you already have one, I suppose it makes more sense to think of these layover perks as costing you US$61.50 in visa application fees, rather than totally free.
(Note that if you’d rather not pay for an e-Visa, you can always spend your time in the excellent airside facilities at Istanbul’s new airport, such as the Turkish Airlines Business Lounge if you’re travelling in business class, or the Priority Pass-affiliated IGA Lounge otherwise.)
The Turkey e-Visa
The e-Visa is valid for a six-month period. After six months, as I recently discovered, you’ll need to apply for another visa to enter Turkey again.
Citizens of Canada and the below 39 other countries and territories will be issued multiple-entry visas, allowing you to enter Turkey as many times as you need within the six-month period:
Each time you enter, you’re allowed to remain in the country for a period of up to 90 days.
The visa costs US$60, plus a US$1.50 service fee. In my estimation, that seems like a pretty steep visa fee for what is an incredibly popular place to visit, especially if you only want to check out Istanbul for a few hours on a layover.
You are asked to submit your Turkey e-Visa application at least three days before your planned arrival, although in my experience the turnaround time was very quick, so you could probably get away with cutting things closer than that.
Note that as recently as last week, the Turkish immigration official was directing me to a “visa desk” at Istanbul’s new airport upon thinking that I didn’t have a valid e-Visa (more on that below), so it seems that you could in fact get your visa arranged upon arrival instead of applying online, but I definitely think that getting things done in advance using the established e-Visa process will probably give you the smoothest experience on the ground.
The Turkey e-Visa application is handled on a dedicated website set up by the Turkish government, which is very intuitively laid out. Click the Apply button to begin the process.
The first screen asks for your nationality, travel document type, and a verification code. If you’d like to resume a previously saved application, this is also where you’d be able to do so (although keep in mind that you only have 48 hours to complete a visa application, or else it’ll be discarded and you’ll need to start over).
Next, you’re invited to enter your planned date of arrival in Turkey, and the webpage also helpfully shows you the six-month period that your e-Visa would be valid for based on your input. In my case, I knew that I could re-use the same e-Visa to enter Turkey anytime before May 5, 2020, should I choose to do so.
The third screen asks for your personal information, all of which should be entirely self-explanatory.
And that’s it for this part of the application! At this point, the e-Visa system will send a verification email to your email address, and you’re asked to click that link to continue to the payment stage.
I received the verification email almost immediately, and was then taken to the payment page to finalize the application.
A variety of payment methods are accepted for the US$61.50 fee (US$60 visa fee, plus a US$1.50 service fee), so I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred to get the job done. You could also choose to use a Canadian credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Once the payment was complete, my visa was ready to be downloaded as a PDF file. There seemed to be no human verifying the application on the other end – it was entirely automated (at least when applying as a Canadian citizen), and took about five minutes to complete from start to finish.
Using Your E-Visa to Enter Turkey
One final point bears some clarification. When I entered Turkey for the first time back in January of this year, I actually hadn’t had a chance to print out my e-Visa PDF; however, the immigration official must’ve been able to pull up my details in her system, allowing me safe passage into Istanbul without saying a word about whether I had a visa or not.
However, on both the second and third times I used the Turkey e-Visa, the immigration officials flipped through my passport for a while before asking me point-blank if I had a visa and where it was. Thankfully, even though I hadn’t printed it out, I was able to pull up the e-Visa PDF on my phone and show it to them, and that seemed to suffice.
It’s worth noting that when I entered Turkey last week, the official had at first told me to go to the “visa desk” and then come back, before realizing that I had an e-Visa on my phone. So even though the online process is as straightforward as it gets, you should be able to get the visa done upon arrival as a fallback measure.
Given these experiences, I think it’s fair to say that my first Turkey immigration experience was a one-off; as a best practice, I’d recommend printing our your Turkey e-Visa and bringing it with you upon entering the country to make things as smooth as possible.
Canadian citizens are required to obtain a visa to enter Turkey for any duration of time, even if it’s just to take advantage of Turkish Airlines’s free layover perks in Istanbul.
The good news is that the visa application process is pretty effortless throughout – there are no funky requirements to submit invitation letters or upload selfies of yourself or anything like that – and you should be able to get it done in a matter of minutes.
Of course, I’d love to see Turkey implement wider visa-free travel in the future to eliminate the need for this pesky US$61.50 e-Visa, but to be fair I can’t see that happening too soon with the current political climate.