Turkey Requires PCR Test for Arrivals, Transit Passengers

All international travellers going to Turkey, including those who transit through a Turkish airport, will now be required to show a negative corona virus PCR test before boarding their flight.


The new measure will go into effect on 30th December and will be in force until at least 1st March 2021. The PCR test requirement has been confirmed by Istanbul Airport as well as a NOTAM sent out by the national aviation authorities to the airlines.

The PCR test requirement affects all passengers, including those on transit who are merely changing planes at a Turkish airport to a third destination somewhere else in the world.

Only passengers under the age of 6 are exempt from the testing requirement. Passengers who do not submit a negative PCR test result will not admitted to the flight.

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The announcement from Istanbul Airport regarding the PCR test requirement. ©IGA
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The Turkish Airlines announcement regarding the PCR test requirement. ©Turkish Airlines

PCR test

There is still a little bit of confusion about the PCR test requirement, as for example Turkish Airlines mentions that it should take place “within 72 hours prior to their flight” while the NOTAM reads that the PCR test results should be done by passengers “within the last 72 hours prior to their entrance to Turkey”.

Depending on the interpretation, it can mean having half a day less to get the test done. If you fly for example from Kuala Lumpur to Istanbul (flight time 11 hours, 40 minutes) the Turkish Airlines interpretation means that you would have to do the test in the 72 hours prior to departure, while following the NOTAM would mean you have less time to get the test done as the 72 hours would be calculated back from the moment your plane arrives in Istanbul.

Nothing has been said about other PCR test requirements, for example whether these should be in English or if other languages would be OK too.

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Fishermen on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. ©Paliparan

Connecting flights

These changes in national laws do not only impact travellers planning to visit Turkey, but also those who are booked on connecting flights with Turkish Airlines, Sun Express, Pegasus and other carriers based in Turkey.

If you have flights booked with one of these airlines or are planning to visit Turkey, you are highly advised to keep a close watch on the regulations in place and your airline’s interpretation of the entry requirements.

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The measure will also impact transfer passengers at Istanbul Airport. ©Paliparan


Needless to say, this new rule will impact the operations of Turkish Airlines the most. The Turkish flagship carrier is one of the world’s largest airlines and prides itself of flying to the biggest number of cities in the world of any airline.

A huge chunk of Turkish Airlines’ traffic consists out of transfer passengers who are only connecting flights in Istanbul and who don’t actually set foot in Turkey.

The PCR test requirement could cause some major headaches for these passengers, especially those flying in the next few days. In many countries across the world, getting a PCR test isn’t exactly straightforward, let alone doing this on a short notice.

Turkish Airlines is however far from the only global carrier now having to deal with PCR test requirements as also KLM is impacted by a new PCR test requirement from the Dutch Government.

Emirates has a PCR test requirement for some of its transit passengers depending on their country of origin.

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KLM is another airline which is impacted by a national PCR test requirement for both arriving and transit passengers. ©Screenshot

In short

People travelling to Turkey, as well as those transiting through the country, will now need a negative PCR test before boarding their flight. This will hugely impact operations for Turkish Airlines as a global carrier as thousands of passengers with booked flights will likely not be able to arrange such a test on time in the short run.

In the long run, it will likely mean a sharp decrease in the number of bookings on Turkish Airlines given how big of a hassle this is for many passengers. Similar results can likely be seen when it comes to Turkey’s tourist numbers in the winter months.

With other major airlines such as KLM now having to deal with similar PCR testing requirements, it is a bit bizarre how quickly global aviation is again impacted from the perspective of the passenger.

With these requirements in place, I can’t see myself flying Turkish Airlines, KLM or Emirates in the near future – and I can only imagine there are many other travellers thinking likewise. Needless to say, it has a huge impact on global connectivity, which is something I didn’t expect being almost a year into the corona pandemic.

UPDATE 1-1-2021: The Turkish Government has withdrawn the PCR test requirement for transit passengers, meaning that it is again possible to change planes in Turkey if you have an international flight connection. A negative PCR requirement is still needed if you want to visit Turkey.

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Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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2 thoughts on “Turkey Requires PCR Test for Arrivals, Transit Passengers

  • December 29, 2020 at 9:31 pm

    A great piece Koen as ever.

    How do you think the vaccination roll-out will affect the requirement for PCR testing? I’m old enough to, if the promises in the UK are correct (read anyone’s guess) to be vaccinated before the end of May.

    I will be reluctant to get PCR tests once that’s done.

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      December 29, 2020 at 9:56 pm

      Thanks lhrpete!

      I think (and hope!) that airlines and countries will have some special waiver for those who are vaccinated. PCR/quarantine restrictions will still be in place for those without a vaccine, except for those who received their shots. Seems fair to me!

      What I don’t hope (and slightly fear) is that some countries might go too far in this, making the vaccine a full requirement for travel. I wouldn’t have any problem taking the vaccine myself and would gladly do so when it’s my turn. However, being in my mid 30s that could still take a while, and I’d hate to see being barred entry somewhere because I didn’t have the chance yet to get my shot.

      It’d be also discriminatory for citizens from many non-western countries who will likely roll out the vaccine at a much later stage, so I actually can’t see many airlines or governments making a hard demand out of a vaccine.


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