Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 03/31/14
Personal Experiences from Ankara, Turkey
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I have lived in Africa, Southeast Asia, Caribbean, Middle East.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington DC, 17 hours via United through Germany; a bit less through Istanbul on Turkish Air.
3. How long have you lived here?
3 + years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Old apartments close to the Embassy (they have more of a local neighborhood feel) or high-rises further out where malls, traffic and not knowing your neighbors is the norm. All housing is apartments. This will not be the best housing of your career and once you come to terms with that, the better. Many people end up changing apartments and then not liking that one. None are great. Commute time seems to be bad for the people that live in Oran where the big mall is.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Cheap, cheap if you can shop on base. It's cheaper than in the States in the local markets and much cheaper and better produce than you can find in a famers market in the States.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Absolutely nothing. Everything is available here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is available and is delivered but fast food pales in comparison to a good Turkish doner or kofte.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None at all that I have encountered. A wonderful change from disease carrying mosquitos.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the Embassy. Mail usually takes about 2 weeks and when it is longer, people complain. This post has normal mail delivery times through the DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
About US$50-70 a day. US$1,000 a month for full time help. This is not a 3rd world country and you get what you pay for.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Tons of options plus many local classes for yoga, pilates, Zumba, Salsa.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
ATMs are everywhere and some banks do not charge transaction fees.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Church at the Balgat Base, Catholic services, British and 1 other missionary church plus a Mormon community.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The more, the better and language learning here is a door to open your world outside of the American community. Turks are kind and patient and very helpful when learning. There are many classes you can take. Full time courses are around US$140 a month.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The city tries to be accessible but they just haven't gotten the knack yet.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, the best and cheapest way to get around and much easier than driving and parking. Safe anytime of the day or night. Chivalry is not dead here. If you are a woman, someone will usually always offer you a seat.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Do not bring anything you don't mind getting dinged because it will happen. Any cars work here, small, large, whatever you would drive in DC area you would drive here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
TurkCell pay as you go.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Not that I am aware. Lots of stray dogs here so take a stick when you walk.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Yes, if you are willing to not go through the official channels and don't expect tons of money. Lost of teaching and translation opportunities. If you are expecting a job at the Embassy be prepared to be in competition with many others. Not many people speak English in Ankara so people who do not want to learn some Turkish and leave the confines of the American English population are desperate to work there. But like at all embassies, jobs are not great and not guaranteed. The people with the worst morale here in Ankara are dependents who end up settling for whatever they can snag for work from the few jobs at the Embassy and then complain about that.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Tons if you like to teach, work with refugees or animals.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Turkish women are quite stylish. Always over dress if you are not sure. Dressing nice is a sign of respect.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None, Ankara is probably the safest city I have lived in including cities in the States. Any concerns with security at the Embassy or the schools are unjustified. The 2013 bombing was a huge disaster that was averted. The guards are very professional and highly trained. I think nothing of walking or riding buses or taxis at night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Like in the U.S., there are good doctors and great dentists but you have to find them. Go with a good recommendations from the Embassy and employees. Most expat women have their children here.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Usually clear and beautiful in the fall, spring and summer. Sometimes in the winter it can be foggy and the air is smokey. I have asthma but the weather here has never bothered it.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons, winters vary from mild to severe. The spring is beautiful and green and everyone sits out and has tea on their balconies or picks fruit from trees on the street.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The DoD school is small and the teachers for the most part are great, lots of international children. Bilkent says they are International but it is run on the Turkish system and 90% of students are Turks that are wealthy. Bullying has been a problem there. Oasis is a religious school and even if they tell you they are not and your children can opt out of prayers etc.. they will be persecuted by staff and students. The British School is great for kids under 5th grade.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None, do not let anyone know you have special needs until you are already enrolled.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Many Turkish pre-schools and English speaking ones.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, if you are willing to expose them to Turkish speaking teachers. There is ice skating, gymnastics, ballet, archery, fencing, horseback riding plus more if you ask people.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expat community but since this is such a livable city, there is no need for lots of expat community outreach. There are tons of clubs and exercise groups here but you just have to take the effort to open your eyes and look for yourself. The CLO at the Embassy has tons of information and plans many group events.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Entertaining, hiking, learning the language, conversation groups, volunteering, art classes, helping at the schools. It is what you make it.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not if you want to be open and out with the locals, but there is no outward animosity towards same-sex couples.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None. I find Turks in Ankara and all through Turkey are very kind to all people. In fact most Turks are interested in asking about Church, Christmas, Easter etc...
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The beaches and seaport towns. Turkish Hamams, hiking trips, finding friends that that are Turkish and seeing the county through their eyes. learning the language.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are so many things to do here. Theater, hiking groups on Sundays, Poker Clubs, Choral Clubs, the Hash, book clubs, cooking clubs, Ice skating. You can discover many hidden gems here if your eyes are open and you get out of your expat pocket.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets, plates, lamps, old wooden items, tiles, cheap costume jewelry. Trips anywhere are well worth the money.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Wonderful people, excellent and healthy food and a million places to visit.
10. Can you save money?
Only if you try.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Nothing. I felt well informed. Oh, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is not so great and full of tourist and hackers. One trip is enough.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Preconceived notions that this is a hardship tour or a 3rd world country.
4. But don't forget your:
Turkish dictionary app!