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Turks to pay one of the highest departure fees in the world with planned 19-fold hike

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Turkish citizens flying to international destinations will soon have to pay one of the highest taxes of its kind in the world as the government plans to increase the overseas departure fee by 1,900 percent, raising it from 150 lira ($5) to 3,000 lira ($90).

The proposal, part of a broader austerity package aimed at addressing Turkey’s economic crisis, has sparked controversy and criticism.

The Ministry of Treasury and Finance, under the leadership of former Merrill Lynch economist Mehmet Şimşek, is drafting a law as part of new austerity measures. The proposal is expected to be presented to the Turkish parliament in early July.

Previous reports citing insider sources suggested that the fee would be 1,500 lira ($45), but the presentation made by the finance ministry shows that the planned fee is 3,000 lira.

With the hike, the government aims to generate approximately 12.5 billion lira (around $380 million) over the next six months, assuming the number of international travelers remains consistent with the 8.7 million individuals who paid the fee last year.

The departure fee was initially set at 50 lira in 2001 and has seen several increases over the years, with the most recent hike in March 2022 raising it to 150 lira.

Public outcry

The proposal has been met with fierce opposition from various segments of society. Critics argue that the exorbitant fee hike places an undue financial burden on citizens, particularly those from lower-income brackets, and infringes on their constitutional right to movement.

“The increase in the departure fee is not justifiable,” legal expert Gönenç Gürkaynak told Turkish media. “It restricts citizens’ freedom to travel, which is protected under Article 23 of the constitution. Such a significant financial barrier is disproportionate and unjust.”

Comparisons with other countries

Departure taxes are not unique to Turkey; many countries impose such fees on travelers. However, the proposed 3,000 lira ($90) fee places Turkey among the highest in the world. In comparison, Australia charges a $45 Passenger Movement Charge, which is included in the ticket price. Japan introduced a departure tax of $9 in 2019, while Mexico charges $65 for non-residents.

The steep hike in Turkey’s departure fee is unprecedented, especially considering the country’s economic challenges. Critics argue that the fee is not in line with the services provided, as it does not correlate with any specific benefit or improvement in travel infrastructure.

Certain groups are exempt from paying the departure fee. These include residents abroad, children under seven and crew members of commercial transport vehicles. Additionally, individuals with dual citizenship who use their foreign passports, and those traveling to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with an identity document, are also exempt.

Airfares in Turkey are already considered high, and the additional fee will further strain the budgets of travelers. Many believe they are paying a considerable sum for a piece of paper that serves no purpose.

Many countries impose such fees to generate revenue and manage travel-related expenses. However, the extent of the fee increase in Turkey is notable. Historically, departure taxes have been justified by governments as necessary for maintaining and improving travel infrastructure. However, in Turkey’s case, the fee does not seem to align with any specific infrastructural improvements or services.

Ozan Bingöl, a tax expert, criticized the proposed increase on X, highlighting the absurdity of the government’s expectations of generating 12.5 billion lira in revenue from the measure.

Bingöl pointed out that annual interest payments to creditors due to the 50 percent key interest rate amount to 1.254 trillion lira, vastly overshadowing the anticipated income from the fee hike.

He argued that such drastic tax increases, without addressing the fundamental economic issues, are akin to trying to fill a leaky pool without patching the holes. Bingöl lamented that while Turkey once was built as a nation connected by railways to facilitate travel, current policies are isolating the country’s citizens with a web of taxes, stifling their ability to engage with the world.

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