Photo: John Doe/Shutterstock

I Went to Türkiye on a Hair Transplant Journey. Here’s What It Was Like.

Türkiye Travel
by Eben Diskin Aug 7, 2023

The first person I asked, “hey, how would you feel about getting a hair transplant in Türkiye?” replied, “uhhh…weirded out.”

Weirded out by the out-of-nowhereness of the question, or by the prospect of getting a medical procedure in another country, I wasn’t quite sure. “Weirded out,” however, proved a common theme in my search for a friend willing to get a hair transplant in Türkiye (the official spelling of the name for the country, formerly Turkey).

Turns out, pitching affordable hair transplants in a different country to balding men can be tougher than selling dry aged steak to a vegan. The reason? People tend not to trust the things they don’t understand. In the United States, many people are conditioned to believe the only good medicine is American medicine, and though we complain about the exorbitant cost of our healthcare, we think that exorbitant cost means we’re paying for world-class service we can’t get anywhere else.

That’s not true.

While US doctors are certainly some of the best in the world, there are plenty of other countries that provide equally high-quality medical services at a fraction of the cost. That’s why medical tourism has been soaring in popularity, with people flocking to places like India, Serbia, and Mexico for affordable procedures that would make their bank accounts weep in the US. Indeed, a hair transplant in Türkiye, at the EsteNove clinic, costs $3,500, while the same hair transplant in the US can set you back as much as $16,000.

Let me back up a little. I was approached by EsteNove, a hair transplant clinic in Istanbul – one of the many reputable clinics in Türkiye’s capital city – to help them educate an international audience about the medical tourism experience in Türkiye. They understood that getting a medical procedure abroad isn’t a logistical inconvenience, but a cool opportunity to experience a new culture while also receiving affordable medical treatment. This intersection of medicine and travel is why they reached out to me.

Of course, I couldn’t be expected to write about Türkiye’s medical tourism without experiencing it firsthand. And unfortunately (well, fortunately for me) I’m not quite a hair transplant candidate myself just yet. So they asked if I had any friends who might be in need.

Six “nos” later, I finally got a “yes.” My friend Jeff, who that very week had been looking into getting a hair transplant in Boston, committed to the experience with very few questions asked. I’ll admit, I was surprised and impressed by Jeff’s immediate willingness to take a chance on a new experience, and his open-mindedness where others had shown extreme (though unfounded) skepticism.

The first step for Jeff was a virtual consultation. They don’t just expect people to fly halfway around the world, meet the surgeons for the first time in Istanbul, and potentially learn last-minute that they might not be medically qualified for a hair transplant. The virtual consultation is designed to give the surgeon valuable medical information about the patient to determine if they’re a good candidate for a hair transplant, as well as establish a patient-doctor relationship.

Once Jeff was medically cleared, we were officially on our way to Türkiye courtesy of Turkish Airlines. Even if you’re not flying in their famously luxurious business class — complete with aptly-dressed “Flying Chefs” who take your meal orders — the space and amenities on a typical Turkish Airlines flight make the time zip by. When we landed in Istanbul, I was in awe of the VIP-level treatment we received almost immedieately. Here’s the thing about getting a hair transplant in Türkiye: It feels more like an all-inclusive vacation than a medical procedure. In the US, you’d be responsible for your own airport transfers, transport to/from the clinic, and hotel stays. In Türkiye, that’s all taken care of. In addition to the cheaper cost of the transplant itself, Este Nove covers your rides to and from the airport and clinic, and pays for your three-night, four-day stay in a five-star hotel in Istanbul.

When we arrived, we were immediately met by a driver holding up a sign with Jeff’s name, who escorted us to a black Mercedes that looked more like a party bus than a hair transplant mobile. There were three rows of plush leather seats, water and snacks, blackout windows, and a roof glittering with faux stars. But it wasn’t taking us to a hip-hop concert. It was taking us to Marmara Pera in the heart of Istanbul.

Located in the Taksim Square neighborhood, this was the perfect base for Jeff to prep for his hair transplant and recover from it. A towering building with panoramic views of the city and Bosphorus Strait, the Marmara is also home to the Michelin-star Mikla Restaurant, which served as a crash course in Turkish fine dining. Maybe you’ve already dipped your toes in the pool of traditional Turkish cuisine aboard your Turkish Airlines flight, but going to Mikla is like diving in headfirst. You won’t find the kebabs and lamb meatballs you’d find on the roadside, but it’s tough to top upscale Turkish delicacies like Iskenderun prawns, sütlaç (rice yogurt), or, if you’re really hungry, the beef rib steak with sakiz artichoke.

Make sure to enjoy either an aperitif or digestif on the restaurant’s rooftop terrace, which has its own bar and views of the entire city. If you get there early enough, you can even take a dip in the hotel pool with similarly spectacular views. While sightseeing potential for hair transplant patients may be limited due to the importance of staying out of the sun, EsteNove’s five-star hotel partners are all centrally located and ideal for exploring the city at night or checking out indoor venues like mosques and museums.

The hair transplant party bus picked us up at the hotel promptly at 8 AM the next day and brought us directly to the clinic. No sooner had we walked through the door than we were greeted by three members of the EsteNove team, who gave us a walkthrough of the clinic, explained the ins and outs of the procedure, and introduced us to the surgeon, Dr. Zafer Çetinkaya. About 30 minutes was set aside for Jeff to ask the surgeon clarifying questions before the procedure, and for Dr. Çetinkaya to take some final measurements of Jeff’s hairline.

EsteNove team

Photo: EsteNove

I wasn’t allowed to be present for the procedure itself, so I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon exploring Istanbul, going to the Topkapi Palace Museum (the one-time seat of Ottoman power) and the underground Basilica Cistern. Though just an outpatient procedure taking little over five hours, it felt like I was waiting for a close friend to give birth, and I counted down the hours expectantly and impatiently.

When I reunited with Jeff at the hotel, a small and irrational part of me expected him to suddenly have a full head of hair – maybe a Cousin It-style mop or disco-era afro. But it takes about three months for new hair to start growing, and Jeff looked pretty much the same as I remembered him, only now with a fresh haircut and bandages around the sides of his head.

“Did it hurt?” I asked. After all, these procedures don’t even require anesthesia, just a local numbing agent.

“Not at all. Hurts more that I can’t be out in the sun.”

Luckily, Istanbul by night is perhaps even more enchanting than Istanbul in the day. That night we went to Hagia Sophia, the famed 6th-century Byzantine church turned Ottoman mosque. Moonlight poured through the 40-plus domed windows as we sat on the carpeted floor taking in the mosque’s opulent interior and considering the incredible weirdness of what we had just done that day. But looking around, we saw at least three other men with bandaged heads, each one sitting or laying on the floor staring up at the mosaics. Maybe it wasn’t so weird after all.

Discover Matador