The Turkish government announced today that foreign nationals visiting the country will soon be able to get their visas online, rather than have to queue up on arrival.
The move has been welcomed by Istanbul 2020, the city bidding to host the Olympics of that year, which said the new system will guarantee "a smooth entry into the country" should Istanbul be awarded the games ahead of Madrid and Tokyo in September.
Ali Kiremitçioğlu, chief executive of Istanbul 2020, said: "This is an important step in Turkey’s commitment to providing the best possible visitor experience for the ever-increasing number of tourists that visit our country. Istanbul 2020 will be characterised by a simple and enjoyable end-to-end experience for every guest. That starts with user-friendly entry procedures that minimise bureaucracy for the preparation and celebration of the games, with no compromise on security."
The new e-visa, which will initially only be available to visitors travelling with Turkish Airlines, a sponsor of the Istanbul 2020 bid, allows tourists to apply and pay for their visa online and print it out before they travel, eliminating the need to queue for a stamp-type visa.
The e-visa will be available to citizens of 94 countries.
It is expected that visa issuance at the borders will be replaced entirely by e-visas within three to four months, and that 7.5 million visas will be issued annually through the online system.
Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey's foreign minister, said: "This is a revolutionary practice and there is no other country implementing this system at the scale we are implementing it."
The Turkish government appears to have acted quickly to solve the visa issue, as during the International Olympic Committee evaluation commission visit to Istanbul last month, Omer Celik, Turkey’s minister of culture and tourism, told media "we have no clear strategy at present."
Celik said at the time: “The issue of visas relates to policies between countries. No decision regarding this issue [the waiving of visas] has been taken so far. Of course we would like to have a more fluid process for visa applicants and we will take additional measures.
“We have no clear strategy at present, but there will be no red tape and there will be a fluid flow of visitors coming in to the country.”
At present in Turkey, visas are issued at point of disembarkation, with seemingly no set price charged. For example, UK visitors can pay in any of sterling (£10), Euros (€15) or US dollar ($20) to obtain a visa, while Canadian passport holders must pay C$60 for the right to enter Turkey because of the reciprocal nature of the deal with the Canadian government.
As with all Olympics, accredited visitors to the host country will not require a visa, but spectators will.