The recent coup attempt in Turkey, and the government’s massive retaliation, must be taken seriously by any Canadians planning to visit family or friends in that country.(According to the 2011 census, there were then almost 55,500 Canadian residents who claimed full or partial Turkish descent, and certainly a lot more today.)
In the wake of the botched uprising, the Government of Canada has warned its citizens to “Avoid Non-Essential Travel” to Turkey as a whole, or to “Avoid All Travel” to its border region with Syria—specifically within 10 km of said border.
These warnings are not just formalities. They can have serious consequences for you if you ignore them and then run into any problems or even misunderstandings while in that country.
Following is what the advisories mean:
Avoid non-essential travel
There are specific safety and security concerns that could put you at risk. You should reconsider your need to travel to the country, territory or region. If you are already in the country, territory or region, you should reconsider whether or not you really need to be there. If not, you should consider leaving while it is still safe to do so. It is up to you to decide what “non-essential travel” means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors.
Avoid all travel
There is an extreme risk to your personal safety and security. You should not travel to this country, territory or region. If you are already in the country, territory or region, you should consider leaving if it is safe to do so.
Be aware that although the Canadian government can issue advisories and give you information to protect your security, its ability to help you if you get into trouble is limited.
If you choose to travel despite the warnings, make sure you at least register with the “Registration of Canadians Abroad” service at https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration. This will help maintain a connection with your family and friends in case of disruption or loss of contact. You can register online, so if you are presently in Turkey, register now.
If you run into an emergency while in Turkey, you can call the Embassy of Canada in Ankara or the Canadian Consulate in Istanbul and follow their instructions. You can also call the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa toll free at 00800-14-220-0149. But the toll-free number is not available for mobile phone users in Turkey.
If you have dual citizenship with Turkey, be aware that while you are in that country, Canadian authorities may be unable or limited in their ability to help you if Turkish authorities consider you a Turkish citizen. For example, if you are of suitable age, you may be required to do military service. And if you have other obligations current in Turkey, local authorities will have primacy in dealing with you.
Also, since the recent government crackdown and the re-assertion of Islamic practices, be particularly sensitive to the rules of behaviour.
As the Canadian government advisories emphasize:
Use of drugs is absolutely forbidden; heavy fines and jail terms can be expected.
Drinking and driving is a zero tolerance activity that is punished on the spot.
It is illegal to desecrate the Turkish flag or to insult the name or image of its historical founders. We can also suggest you be careful about making any derogatory remarks about the current authorities. Canadian-style freedom of speech is not fashionable in Turkey.
Be careful not to photograph military or public institutions, public demonstrations, or members of the police or security forces. Do not photograph people without their permission.
Though homosexual activity is not illegal, intolerance is high in some parts of the country. Avoid physical contact such as handholding in public, for either or both sexes.
Always dress conservatively, especially in non-urban areas and coastal resorts. Women should cover their heads and avoid showing bare arms and legs.
In case you need medical services, understand that cash payment will likely be required, unless you have internationally valid travel health insurance. And if you plan on being in Turkey for an extended period, such as a year, you will be required to register for Universal Health Coverage under Turkish social security.
If you are visiting for a shorter period, you will be expected to show proof of valid health insurance that’s substantial enough to cover any bills you may generate. Your provincial health insurance won’t do it.
Take all your travel insurance documents with you—a toll-free number or name of insurer won’t be accepted by border officials, hospital, or clinic personnel. And if cash is demanded, aside from the local currency (the lira—TRY), U.S. dollars, euros, and major credit cards are widely accepted. Leave the loonie at home.
As for your travel insurance, be aware that if you are in an area already designated by the Canadian government as an “Avoid Non-Essential Travel” or “Avoid All Travel” zone, your travel insurance benefits may be sharply limited or voided altogether. Make sure you ask your travel insurance professional to explain these limitations to you when you buy your coverage. And if travelling anywhere to Europe, Asia, or beyond, it is always safest to first review and then purchase your policy from an agent or company that specializes in international travel insurance. Don’t take shortcuts.
The bottom line is that government advisories are based on ground-level decisions aimed at protecting you when you travel. They are to be taken seriously. There is only so much your government can do once you fall under the authority of another country’s laws and practices.
The responsibility to cede that authority is yours.
For more on travel advisories, read our articles here.