Moving to Turkey is a dream of a lot of people out there. A country described as the most beautiful and multicultural in the world. Accommodating one of the most magical cities. Istanbul, a city straddling on both European and Asian continents. Turkey represents a magical place for millions of tourists and history lovers who wish to move and live here forever.
Moving to Turkey was my dream also. And sometimes dreams come true. I had already lived in Istanbul 2 years earlier for 9 months but I never felt that I was living here. I always considered it as a long holiday. Since then, I have always wanted to go back and experience the country. Now that I am here for more than 1 year, I wanted to share my experience of moving to Turkey and specifically Istanbul that may help people thinking about taking the leap too. I divided this post into different parts to make it easy to read.
Before Moving to Turkey: Things to Know
After leaving Saudi Arabia my husband and I were thinking of relocating to other countries. We considered many places but eventually decided to go on our adventure to Turkey. To be well prepared, we have done tons of research because we didn’t know how settling in Turkey might be. There was no shortage of resources but none of them really covered all aspects of living in Turkey as a foreigner. After two years of experience of living in Istanbul and meeting other foreigners living here, I’ve gathered information that might come in useful before relocating to Turkey.
Before coming to Turkey you must check the visa requirement for your country on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. As a Moroccan, I don’t need a visa to fly to Istanbul but my husband does (South African). Thus he had to apply for an e-visa. So, you may want to check your visa requirement for Turkey before planning to move. The foreign ministry has a website for e-Visa applications allowing you to request and obtain your e-visa in 5 minutes.
The language barrier
You probably know that Turkey’s first and official language is Turkish. The bad news is most locals speak very little to zero English or any other foreign language. Which leaves you with no choice, you have to learn Turkish and it is NOT fun (at least not for me). From my humble experience, it is not easy to get by in Turkey without speaking Turkish or at least knowing some of the basics. Thankfully, there are unlimited resources to help you learn Turkish by yourself. Check this post about how to learn Turkish by yourself.
You probably heard about what Turkey’s economy is going through at the moment. Turkey is suffering from a major economic recession. Therefore, a drop in the Lira’s value (Local Currency) against the US dollar due to several political and financial issues. However, the cost of living in Turkey is still affordable, perhaps cheap, compared to European countries and America. Jobs on the other hand, are a little bit tricky and hard to find at the moment.
For us, it wasn’t serious until I got a job offer from a company in Istanbul. So, If you are moving to Istanbul and planning to settle there, it’s better to secure a job before moving unless you have a source of income or you are willing to take the risk and look for a job when you are here. It can work pretty well but considering the current situation, it may be hard. Moreover, salaries in Turkey are NOT nearly as good as you were expecting -True Story.
Kids and Education
For all parents out there, you might want to think about the few available options for your kids’ education before moving to Turkey. In Turkey, you will have to choose between Devlet schools (state schools) and the horrifically expensive private schools. According to many foreigners’ experience here, both the public and private education is not as good as the first-world standard you may have been acustomed to. But this might not be true for everybody. Alternatively, some of you will want to go down the path of homeschooling. Homeschooling in Turkey is illegal for citizens. Therefore, foreigners have the option of homeschooling their children in Turkey.
Turkey is one of the countries with a long history of earthquakes. According to the local newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, 92% of the country lies on a seismic belt. In other words, 95% of Turkey’s population are living on an active area at risk of earthquakes. Over the years, Turkey sustained many small and catastrophic earthquakes in different parts of the country. In August 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Izmit. Unfortunately, this gastly event left more than 17,118 dead, 50,000 injured, and upwards of 500,000 people homeless.
Also, Turkey recently experienced another 6.6 earthquake followed by a small Tsunami in the beautiful city of Izmir where 106 people lost their lives. Overall, we can say that Turkey is an earthquake centre and the country does not seem to be fully prepared to face strong earthquakes -at least not yet. This one reason why moving to Turkey could be such a tough decision to make for some, especially if you plan to invest in property.
Settling in Turkey
Choosing where to settle in Turkey will depend on many factors. You may be relocating to Turkey for work, retirement or to start a business. For those moving to Turkey for work or business, the metropolitan cities such as Istanbul and Ankara clearly offer more job and business opportunities but also a busy and hectic life. There is also a whole different side of Turkey for those looking for a peaceful place to retire. Many foreigners choose Izmir and Antalya to live a more laid back and quiet Turkish life.
The best and recommended plan for finding accommodation in Turkey is to book a hotel or preferably a B&B for a few days. This way you can relax from your travels, and at the same time shop for safe and affordable accommodation in places you like. This is what we did, we spent about 10 nights at a cheap Airbnb. During this time we visited different apartments to lease.
We used Sahibinden, a very famous Turkish website to look for anything you want to rent, buy or even sell. We eventually found a guy who speaks a little bit of English. He showed us 2 apartments 2+1 and 1+1, We decided to go with a 2+1 option as the 1+1 was very tight. By the way, these random mathematical equations are quite commonly used in Turkey to refer to apartment sizes, for example, 2+1 is a 2 bedroom apartment with a living room).
In Turkey, most rental agreements go through an agent and never the owner. This is why you will be paying an extra month as a commission. We paid 2 months’ deposit, 1 month’s rent and 1 month’s commission. The agent tried hard to get more out of us but we learned that 1 month is the standard commission rate and refused to pay a cent more. We got our house keys, we were so happy and ready to move but it turned out to be more complicated than that.
Water and Electricity accounts
If your apartment is brand new, with no water or electricity, the next step is to apply for electricity and water accounts, and guess what, you need a residence permit for that. Some people managed to open their utility accounts on their passports but we couldn’t. It actually depends on the district and office you go to, a question of luck, we could say. To just let you know that every single step of the process was just hard and overwhelming and the language barrier made it even harder. We personally went from being excited about moving and settling in Istanbul to suddenly regretting taking this decision.
We finally managed to get the water and electricity accounts but not on our names because it is almost impossible for us to register anything in this country without the little pink card. So, if you come across the same situation, you may want to try different offices and don’t be shy to ask for help.
Now that you have secured your apartment, you will want to buy some furniture unless you are shipping yours from your country. There are many options from brand new to used ones. We bought our fridge, washing machine, and dishwasher from Carrefour. And we bought the rest from Vivense and Ikea. But buying it at one go could be costly. So, you could buy it slowly.
Residence, and work permits
The first thing to do once you are settled in Turkey is to apply for a -tourist- residence permit called Ikamet. This permit can only allow you to live in the country, not for work or business. The touristic residence permit is granted for 1 year only and can’t be renewable unless you have a job, business or property in Turkey. To be able to work in the country you have to get what they call çalişma izni or work permit. The work permit can only be done on behalf of your employer.
Living in Turkey advantages
The whole process of looking for a house, getting the contract, opening water and electricity accounts and cleaning took us around two weeks and it was the hardest thing we ever went through together. We are very proud of what we have achieved so far. Our dream was to find a place where we can make a life for ourselves, so the fact that we are here in Istanbul, the place where we first met makes us very happy and grateful.
For us, living in Turkey feels like you we are on a long trip. Every city offers a unique and authentic experience. For instance, Turkey’s most popular city Istanbul impressively offers a mixture of rich cultures and traditions dating back to the Roman and Ottoman empires. Spanning 2 contents, Istanbul is home to thousands of ancient landmarks. But Istanbul isn’t the only city that makes people dream. The Black-sea region, for example, is a colorful destination with hundreds of years of culinary culture, authentic cuisine, and heritage music that anyone would want to visit. In recent years, the Black sea region has became one of the favorite escapes to visit in Turkey by many tourists and residents.
Moreover, Turks are generally a very welcoming and friendly nation to live with. There might be some difficulties communicating with them at the beginning due to the language barrier, but once you learn Turkish you will get to really know them.
One of our favorite things about Turkey is the food. Turkish cuisine is amazingly rich with all the exotic flavors. In fact, Traditional Turkish foods rely more on tasty fresh ingredients and less on seasonings. Turks themselves love their food very much. So much so that they wrote many songs about it. And this love spread all over the world attracting many food lovers.
Good to know
Living in Turkey can definitely be an amazing experience for all foreigners wishing to move here. But still, Turkey, as any other country out there has many downsides. Therefore, I would like to recommend anyone planning to move here to take the following precautions:
- Always insist on getting a receipt for every transaction. We have been over-charged on a few occasions.
- Don’t apply for your residence permit through a third-party agent or office. Many of these people just waste your money while providing no extra services
- Before signing a rental agreement or any other documents take your time to read it and translate it if you don’t have a Turkish friend to help you.
- When you go to see an apartment make sure that the apartment receives sunlight. Ask the agent what time the sun comes in and be sure to go and see for yourself. (Our apartment has lovely street-facing windows but we never get any sun). Also make sure that the lifts are in good working condition, especially if the apartment is high up. Don’t rush when renting an apartment.
Enjoy your time in Turkey, this is why you came here, after all.