While developments on testing and travel requirements surrounding COVID-19 continue to change frequently, there is one constant: Turkey has played an exemplary role in offering testing and treatment during the ongoing pandemic. Whether required for international travel or not and regardless of whether one is suffering from symptoms, diagnostic testing for COVID-19 has become regularly available throughout Turkey, with hundreds of testing centers available throughout the country.
Whether it be due to the “track and trace” system in play, as well as the government’s embarking on conducting random test studies, Turkey conducts well over 100,000 tests a day and has tested over 12 million people thus far. It is now possible for anyone, Turkish or foreign, expats or visitors, to receive a diagnostic COVID-19 test in Turkey.
For the layman, there are two basic types of COVID-19 tests, the diagnostic test and the antibody tests. While the diagnostic test can show if someone is presently affected and thus contagious, the antibody test shows whether antibodies have been created by one’s immune system as a response to a threat. The diagnostic test, which is predominantly a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test, is regularly available throughout Turkey, whereas the antibody test is admittedly harder yet not impossible to track down. most private hospitals offer the latter. While there may be rapid test kits available, they are not considered to be as accurate as the PCR test in diagnosing evidence of the virus’s genetic material. PCR tests are generally done using nasal or throat swabs, while the antibody test is conducted via blood work.
There are currently 245 different testing centers located in 78 different provinces throughout the country. Out of this figure, 101 testing centers are located in the five biggest cities, namely Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana and Antalya. Istanbul alone accounts for 45 of such centers. These include state and private hospitals, laboratories and international airports. What differs, however, is the where, why and how of it all.
First and foremost, Turkey’s Ministry of Health has set up a hotline to specifically answer questions regarding COVID-19 and health care. By dialing 184, you can easily reach an operator and find out detailed information about your personal situation. As in general, the Turks always do try to accommodate, there could be individual situations in which someone is incapacitated or faces difficulties in getting to a testing center themselves, and if so, this is the number to dial for further information. Otherwise, public and private hospitals, laboratories and international airports are set up to offer diagnostic PCR tests, with results that have a same-day turnaround.
Keep in mind that for the most part, testing conducted at international airports in Turkey is related to passengers’ outbound international flight requirements. In other words, the testing done at a majority of airports is connected to international flight requirements, such as those that had been imposed by Germany, which mandates a negative PCR test taken no longer than 48 or at most 96 hours before arriving at the border. The U.K. and the U.S. for example, do not have such requirements for in-bound travel. Passengers flying to the U.K. are, however, requested to have a Public Health Passenger Locator Form. International flight restrictions are changing daily though, as earlier this month Turkey and just recently Italy were added to the list of countries in which two weeks of self-isolation is required for passengers returning to the U.K.
Getting tested at Istanbul Airport
The Kapıkule and Sarp border gates as well as Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, Ankara Esenboğa, Antalya, Izmir Adnan Menderes, Dalaman, Bodrum, Adana and Trabzon are some of the airports that provide PCR testing. However, due to daily capacity limits, availability and waiting times can change.
One particular airport, however, has stood out from the rest: Istanbul Airport (IST). As Turkey currently isn't imposing mandatory quarantines on any international arrivals and the airport has wide testing capabilities, many travelers are choosing to stop over in Istanbul if they need to get tested before flying back home.
The testing center is located in the Arrivals Hall at Level minus 1 near Entrance 14 after passport control or customs, so those without proper legal documents to enter Turkey or those with no boarding pass will not be able to enter the area.
When you arrive in the area, you'll first need to queue with your number from the take-a-number machine located at the entrance. Then after you make the payment for the testing fee, you'll need to head to the testing cabins with the barcoded test tubes you'll be given. The whole swab procedure takes around 30 seconds.
The samples are tested on the airport grounds, in the laboratories of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman Training and Research Hospital. On average, the test results come out in 2.5 to 4 hours, but passengers are advised to come at least 5 or 6 hours before. Those with sooner flights won't be given priority so make sure you have ample time. The test results can be downloaded digitally from the government's e-nabız app after you enter the last four digits of your ID number.
If your test result is negative, congratulations and just go on with your day. But if it is positive, "geçmiş olsun," as the Turks would say, and be ready to enter quarantine in your private room at the terminal. After authorities are alerted, the contact tracing team will come to escort you to a hospital. Depending on your condition, you'll either be recommended home isolation or in-hospital treatment.
What if I choose to get tested at a hospital or clinic?
While international airports are conducting tests primarily for passengers with proof of flight details, many private hospitals are also providing this service. Tests are primarily conducted via nose swabs, and results tend to be provided on the same day. Should a passenger test positive, they are then given instructions, medication if required and hospital treatment if necessary or sent home to quarantine for 10 to 14 days depending on the situation.
If, however, someone in Turkey has symptoms, a specific medical complaint, or simply concerns, they are advised to make an appointment with a physician to discuss their personal situation after which the doctor will provide the relevant instructions for testing and further health care. Sometimes, in addition to the PCR testing, a blood test is requested as well as further check-up mechanisms such as a tomography to assess any respiratory damage. Depending on insurance coverage, at private institutions, the test costs TL 250 on average, or 30 euros, as it is charged in most coastal areas. For Turkish citizens who test positive, any medication required will be provided free of charge. For foreigners, there are a number of travel insurance options purchasable in Turkey that will also provide coverage.
How to locate testing centers:
The full list of testing centers available throughout Turkey can be found here.
In Bodrum – a holiday destination popular with foreigners, testing is done at the Bodrum State Hospital, Bodrum American Hospital and Acıbadem Hospital, though many private clinics also carry out the tests and will send them to be evaluated in registered laboratories. In Marmaris, COVID-19 tests are conducted at the private Ahu Hospital, and in Antalya at Antalya Medical Park, Antalya Medical Center, Alanya Anadolu Hospital, Lara Anadolu Hospital and Side Anadolu Hospital are just some of the regional options.
There are also dozens of options in Ankara, including but certainly not limited to Hacettepe University's Central and Emergency Laboratories, Memorial Ankara, and Medical Park hospitals. In Istanbul, testing is available at dozens of hospitals and laboratories, so check the list to decide which one is more accessible, but to name a few, there are Florence Nightingale in Kadıköy and Şişli, Acıbadem in Kadıköy, Beşiktaş and Maslak, American Hospital in Nişantaşı and Liv Hospital in Ulus.