Right, so. Visas. Just a quick warning: While I'm going to do my best, the information I'm providing here is only correct as of today (3 July 2012). By the time you read this it could be out of date.
IF YOU'RE STAYING FOR 3 MONTHS OR LESS
For citizens of these countries, no visa is required, you can stay up to 90 days at a time. You just need a valid passport: Andorra, Argentina, Albania, Azerbaijan (30 days only), Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina (60 days only), Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Chile, Costa Rica (30 days only), Cyprus (north), Denmark, Estonia, Ecuador, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan (30 days only), Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan (30 days only), Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau (30 days only), Macedonia (60 days only), Malaysia, Maldives (30 days only), Mauritius (30 days only), Monaco, Mongolia (30 days only), Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Romania, Russia (30 days only), San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan (30 days only), Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan (30 days only), Uruguay, Uzbekistan (30 days only), Venezuela
For citizens of these countries, a visa is required but it's no hassle. You just need to buy a visa from the desk at the airport when you arrive before you go through passport control. For most countries it lasts 90 days (3 months) and you can exit and enter the country as many times as you like. For some of the countries with shorter periods, they let you stay longer if you apply before travelling: Armenia (30 days only), Antigua, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus (20 days only), Belgium, Belize, Canada, Columbia (30 days only), Cyprus (south), Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Hungary, Indonesia (30 days only), Ireland, Jamaica, Malta, Mexico, Moldova (30 days only), Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, South Africa (30 days only), Spain, St. Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & Grenadines, Qatar, UAE, UK, Ukraine, USA, Vatican
Citizens of other countries must apply for a visa before travelling. For some countries they will let you get a visa on arrival, but only at Istanbul Atatürk airport and even then only if strict terms are met. I'll be happy to help if you have any specific questions.
(Funny isn't it?... France, Greece, Israel? No visa required. Rest of the EU? Show me the money!)
Speaking of which... Here is a list of all the visa charges: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/sinir-kapilarimizda-vize-alan-yabancilardan-tahsil-edilen-vize-harclari.tr.mfa For most it's €15/$20. Except for Aussies and Canadians, who pay €45/$60. While of course the Kiwis get in for nothing. Something weird going on there.
IF YOU'RE STAYING FOR LONGER THAN 3 MONTHS
In the past, expats on tourist visas could hop out of the country for 24 hours, turn up the next day, and get back to... ahem... being a tourist. This loophole was closed to great fanfare a few months ago, when the government announced that foreigners would only be allowed to stay a total of 90 days in a 180 day period on a tourist visa, ostensibly to crack down on illegal workers.
Meanwhile the police station (responsible for all tourist passport stamps, stickers, doodles etc.) issued a nice helpful announcement (http://www.egm.gov.tr/detay.aspx?id=57&tur=duyurular&Page=4) saying 'Don't worry people, here's how to do it...'
Basically, before the end of your stint on a tourist visa, (or stay if you're exempt from tourist visas) you apply for a 6-month tourist residency. Then at the end of this residency you can either extend it, or hop out of the country, hop back in, and get another 3-month tourist visa. And you can do that because your last tourist visa was 6 months ago. So, all aboard for another lap on the gravy train!... sorry... more touristy things and stuff! (Seriously, they really did spell it out like that. Except for the last bit.)
Getting this tourist residency (turistik amaçlı ikamet tezkeresi: http://yabancilar.iem.gov.tr/ikamet.html) is not too difficult unless you're really skint. Aside from the usual passport photocopy, mugshots and so on, you need one of four things. Either:
- A statement showing $500 in a Turkish bank account, or a receipt from a bureau de change proving you've changed $500,
- A notarized rent agreement (which can be hard to get, because the landlord has to pay tax on it),
- A hotel reservation document (presumably for the length of your stay, which would be ridiculous), or
- A notarized letter of guarantee by a Turkish citizen, a very basic document in which the person takes responsibility for looking after you.
And don't worry, getting stuff notarized isn't too expensive. Usually something like 30-50 lira a pop.
If you're working, technically you should be getting a work permit. This can be easier to do once you're in the country. You need to find an employer, who applies for a work permit on your behalf, after which you get working residency. But that's a subject for another day...