If you have been to Turkey in recent years you will be familiar with Türk Lirası Turkish Lira, which, as of writing, has an exchange rate of 1 TL = 0.44 USD, 0.34 Euro, 0.27 GBP.
Did you know that the currency was devalued as recently as 2005, when six zeroes were dropped? So, 1,000,000 lira became 1 lira, and since then Turkish currency has remained stable, and the economy is in fact booming.
Quite a difference from when I was first living in Istanbul in the early 1990s, and I looked at an apartment which had a monthly rental of 1,000,000 lira (1 million) –I couldn’t afford it as that was more than half my month’s teaching salary. It was, for a newcomer to Turkey, quite odd – and amusing – to be paying for anything in units of millions and hundreds of thousands. Just a few years later, on my weekly day off from high school teaching I ‘moonlighted’ at a primary school (it was considered prestigious to have a native English speaker teaching the children) and earned 25,000,000 TL (25 million) a day! Yes, I’m a good teacher but sadly I wasn’t being paid as if I were a supermodel, it was just that inflation was out of control at that time. I also acted in a Turkish TV series, and received 20 million for a few days’ filming … amusing to tell friends and family, but again not really a lot of money!
In fact, things changed so rapidly that every payday I would rush to the bank after work, withdraw my Turkish Lira and immediately change it to US dollars, Deutschmarks, French Francs, Sterling, anything except Turkish money, so that my meagre pay wouldn’t lose in value over the coming month. One weekend, I received a sum of lira as payment for private lessons, and on remarking to a friend that I wished I could change it immediately, he said we could go to the ‘black market’ and do just that. I was surprised as I’d never heard of the ‘black market’ as being an actual place! Yes, it was just that, a back street in Eminönü with shady-looking characters hanging around and offering to change money.
By 2001, when a million lira was worth less than $1 US, it became clear to the government that something had to be done.
When the currency was first changed, it was renamed Yeni Türk Lirası (YTL) to distinguish it from the old system, but now it is just Türk Lirası Turkish Lira again. One lira is divided into 100 kuruş, a unit of currency which had existed for hundreds of years, but went out of circulation in the 1970s.
It’s quite funny nowadays when I look through my old teaching materials, and see prices like 500,000 lira for a train ticket, 1 milyar (a billion!) lira for a car.
When you travel around Turkey, try to make sure you always keep some of your money in lower denomination notes and coins, particularly for tips and small services. Tipping is common, but thankfully (speaking as a Brit!) not at the levels of the USA, just more of a ’rounding up’.
Although Turkey is not quite as much of a bargain for holidaymakers as it used to be, it is still possible to have a fabulous holiday for less than you would pay elsewhere, meeting the friendliest people on earth, sampling the magnificent food, seeing breathtaking views and historic sites – what are you waiting for?