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The Perils of Using Uber Where It’s Technically Illegal

The Perils of Using Uber Where It’s Technically Illegal
Ariana Arghandewal

Istanbul is my favorite city in the world, so when I got to return this past August for my cousin’s wedding, I was thrilled. After an incredible flight on Austrian + Turkish Airlines business class, I was looking forward to a seamlessly planned-out vacation. What I didn’t account for was the headaches I would deal with when ordering an Uber.

Whether it was the drivers themselves or the Taxi Mafia, it seemed that, as an Uber rider, I had a target on my back the minute I stepped outside of the airport.
It all started when I ordered an Uber at the airport. Cabs are actually cheaper in Istanbul than Uber, but since there were five of us and we had a lot of luggage, I figured the larger vehicles offered by Uber would be more convenient.

I will say, I did read in advance that Uber wasn’t legal in Istanbul, but that the police more or less turn a blind eye to it.

As we waited for our ride in the heat, a man approached us and asked if we needed a taxi. I let him know we had a ride and he told us Uber was illegal in Istanbul and he would call the police if the driver showed up.

We ignored him and he was soon joined by a guy who claimed to be working for the airport and warned us of the same thing. “Your driver will go to jail and you will get a fine.” I asked him for identification and he refused to produce it, so I told him to kindly f— off because I was not in the mood to get messed with already.



They badgered us a little more, I exploded and told them off for harassing two women traveling with kids, and they eventually stepped away. But then a police car showed up and we got worried. We didn’t want the Uber driver to get into trouble, so we cancelled the ride and got our own taxi. Far away from the two men.

Were they in the right? I guess so, considering Uber isn’t legal in Istanbul. But to call the police on someone who is trying to make a living, while harassing tourists who need better transportation options makes you a crappy person. Period.

Also, claiming to work for the airport and trying to intimidate tourists when you’re clearly part of the taxi mafia makes you a total jerk.

That’s not the scam in this story – just something you should be aware of when you’re hailing an Uber ride in Istanbul. During my nearly 10 days in Istanbul, I had several instances where I ordered an Uber, waited for it to show up, then got a notification that I had been picked up and the driver was dropping me off at my location. Meanwhile, I’m standing around miles from my hotel, with no idea who took my ride. I Googled this situation multiple times and have no idea if it’s a common scam or a simple mistake that kept happening because of a language barrier.

Any time I order an Uber, I text the driver to let him/her know where exactly I’ll be (i.e. “I’m in front of the Intercontinental Hotel entrance”) and what I’m wearing. I didn’t do that in Istanbul because most of the drivers didn’t speak English and I didn’t want to confuse them. I also noticed that none of them ever asked for my name when I got into the car. So my guess is they just randomly picked people up on the route, assuming it was the person who requested a ride. But if that’s the case, how come these people were picked up a good mile and a half away from where I was standing?

Uber customer service wasn’t helpful in resolving this issue at all, so I let it go. Every time it happened, I did cancel the ride while it was supposedly headed to the destination because it was seemingly the only way to avoid paying the full fare for a ride I didn’t actually take. Anyway, if you’ve taken Uber in Istanbul and had a similar experience, I’d love to read about it in the comment section.

View Comments (15)


  1. Kannai

    November 28, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    I’ve used Uber a few times in Istanbul, including for rides from the airport—but the most recent time was Sept. 2017. I’ve found it hard to find the Uber driver in the chaos of the traffic but keeping an eye on the location of the car on the map and then checking the license plates as cars come up has worked. I was never harassed about it. And I’ve never had a car not show up but still “pick me up.” Weird.

  2. tenn_ace

    November 28, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    Wouldn’t/shouldn’t one trouble be enough not to try again? Just wondering…

  3. strickerj

    November 28, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    Yeah, I’d have given up after the first incident too. Uber already has a pretty poor reputation for its business practices (in the U.S., anyway), but what kind of company continues to operate in a location where it’s “technically illegal”, and doesn’t refund a customer for service not provided?

  4. ilcannone

    November 28, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    It’s called a different culture…

  5. Irpworks

    November 28, 2018 at 7:55 pm

    Illegal is illegal. What an “ugly American” attitude, whether you are or not, or sense of entitlement to do things your way. Inviting legal trouble in a country with a bad due process reputation is utterly stupid.

  6. BlueThroughCrimp


    November 29, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Not sure why you’d use an illegally operating service to be honest.

  7. pointchaser

    November 29, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    @tenn_ace One incident isn’t usually representative of a typical experience. About 85% of the time I didn’t have an issue using Uber in Istanbul

    @strickerj That baffles me too. In Australia, drivers regularly get arrested and Uber urges them to keep working.

    @ilcannone I find the culture of Turkey to be the most warm, generous and friendly of any place I’ve visited in the world. Since this article posted, a few people have emailed me saying they had the same thing happen to them in the US.

    @Irpworks Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.

    @BlueThroughCrimp Uber wasn’t allowed at most US airports until recently. Didn’t stop people from requesting rides.

  8. anabolism


    November 29, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    Where does Uber operate “technically illegally?”

  9. hfly

    November 29, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    hmmmm, where exactly is it stated that Uber is illegal in Turkey? I mean yes, prior to the June elections in turkey the President made a big deal about Uber and claimed that it was illegal and that it was banned, and yes the Police started cracking down on Uber as the ruling party was trying to make a populist gesture……However in fact Uber never became illegal and the big court case against it has NOT yet been decided in the Turkish courts. Furthermore, as of about a month ago Uber has been issuing tax receipts electronically for all trips and has pretty much proven that Uber is paying far more in taxes than all the “legal” taxis in Turkey combined, which has pretty much turned the tables on the taxi mafia. If Uber were truly illegal in Turkey, the service would simply be blocked, it is not, Turkey has no problem blocking services that are actually ruled illegal by the courts in Turkey, just try accessing Wikipedia in turkey or host of other services that have been banned/blocked or ruled illegal or subversive for a variety of reasons.

    Now as for what is real and not real. There is no justification, nor any real cases that I have heard of when passengers have been given fines. it simply has not happened. the drivers have in fact been fined many times and Uber has been covering their fines.

    Yes there were some ugly incidents in June/July at IST when some idiots tried just tactics just like described above. One tried it on me, even put a hand on me and threatened to call the Police (I do have the advantage of speaking Turkish): I invited him to, and explained to him Graham Greene rules, that what he believed to be true, was in fact not true, that the cameras (which I pointed to) would show him grabbing me, and that while I might lose an hour in all of this, he would spend at least six months in prison for assaulting a foreign government official, at which point I shouted for the Police to come over – and the idiot ran away -cursing – but ran away. This has been cleaned up now and none of these taxi mafia guys has been bothering people since August.

    Drivers starting and going randomly. I have had that all over the World, i do not understand what the ultimate scam is in this, but I have had it as much in London or LA as in Istanbul.

    As for sanctimonious comments above. The reason that Uber is more expensive in Turkey is because the cars are infinitely better and quite frankly Turkish taxi drivers have a terrible reputation. In fact Uber has been great for Turkish consumers. When they were going anti “uber” even the Prime Minister at the time, Binali Yildirim warned Istanbul taxi drivers that there was a reason that Uber could be more expensive tahn taxis, because their cars were terrible and they offered terrible service. Because of Uber the Bitaksi app was introduced, which is an Uber like service for ordering taxis and the Turquoise taxis have been introduced which cost 15% more than normal taxis and are much higher quality cars than the normal junky taxis.

  10. chavala

    November 30, 2018 at 9:06 am

    “Were they in the right? I guess so, considering Uber isn’t legal in Istanbul. But to call the police on someone who is trying to make a living, while harassing tourists who need better transportation options makes you a crappy person. Period.”


  11. hfly

    November 30, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    Again, the whole premise here is wrong perhaps you need to read what I wrote again. Despite all sorts of hype and vitriol Uber has NEVER EVER been ruled illegal by the Turkish courts, maybe it will be one day, but this had NOT occurred.

  12. alangore


    November 30, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    I don’t think this has anything to do with Uber. Turkey is a nation of relentless salesmen. Walk down any small street, and you have to walk fast and carefully stay to the center because people hawking goods will be diving on you from every side. Everyone you meet is selling something.

  13. Grog

    November 30, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    “To call the police on someone who is trying to make a living, while harassing tourists who need better transportation options makes you a crappy person. Period.”

    Nah–1) knowingly breaking the law, 2) shouting obscenities in a foreign country (especially with kids in tow?), 3) accusing the man of lying about his employment and then writing about it with no proof to support the assertion…they all make for something.

    And nice try, but there was no “mafia” here…no, wait…I guess Uber and its customers who conspire to operate illegally would actually be the mafia in this scenario. While Uber customer service may not have been helpful in resolving this issue, the two gentlemen sure were–good on them.

    In closing, how about a proper headline? The word “Technically” should never have appeared there.

  14. hfly

    December 2, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    1) The author did not knowingly break any law,
    2) These people were bothering her for no good reason. I can say with lots of experience that the people that bothered her had no right to do so, and their claims were lies.
    3) If the guys produced no identification, they were not employed in what the said they were. Fairly simple.

    Perhaps the English nuance here is beyond you, there is no formal taxi organization named the “taxi mafia” in Istanbul, but the business is a huge cesspool of black money, bribery and criminality. How else can you explain a place where taxi licenses (Plakas) sell for more than most other cities in the World, yet fares are so low? and the drivers and condition of the vehicles so bad?

    Grog, please point out to me and others where in Turkish law Uber is actually illegal currently?

    How about a headline where is simply says technically LEGAL, despite a witch hunt?

  15. BlueThroughCrimp


    December 5, 2018 at 4:57 am

    @pointchaser Uber wasn’t allowed at most US airports until recently. Didn’t stop people from requesting rides.

    1 – You weren’t in the US.
    2 – If there’s issues with a service that’s not legally operating, if you get trouble, US or not, it’s tough luck on you for choosing it. Even more so choosing it knowingly.

    And nice attitude re rules. Are you above them?

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