Background Antimicrobial resistance is considered one of the major threats to global health. The emergence of resistant microorganisms is a consequence of irrational use of antibiotics. In Turkey, the consumption of antibiotics is relatively high and antibiotics are among the most commonly used drugs. However, Turkey has adopted new, more restrictive policies and regulations on antibiotics. In addition, Turkish migrants to EU countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, may encounter health systems that promote a more restrictive and rational antibiotic use. The objective of this paper was to explore the variation in implemented policies related to rational antibiotic use that citizens in Turkey and Turkish migrants in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden are subjected to and to discuss the implications for the promotion of rational antibiotic use. Data were collected through focus groups and individual interviews with citizens, physicians and pharmacists in the four countries. In total, 130 respondents were interviewed. Content analysis was used. Results Three relevant themes were identified: Implementation of regulations and recommendations, Access to antibiotics and Need for health communication. Irrational use of antibiotics was reported mainly in Turkey. While it had become less likely to get antibiotics without a prescription, non-prescribed antibiotics remained a problem in Turkey. In the three EU countries, there were also alternative ways of getting antibiotics. Low levels of knowledge about the rational antibiotic use were reported in Turkey, while there were several sources of information on this in the EU countries. Communication with and trust in physicians were considered to be important. There were also system barriers, such as lacking opportunities for physicians to manage care in accordance with current evidence in Turkey and factors limiting access to care in EU countries. Conclusions Several fields of importance for promoting rational antibiotic use were identified. There is a need for harmonisation of health-related regulations and policy programmes. Antibiotics should only be available with a prescription. Programmes for rational antibiotic use should be implemented on a broad scale, in medical care, at pharmacies and in the population. Methods for health communication and patient-centred care should be further developed and implemented in this field.