Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 09/21/17
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 been posted to Nigeria, Japan, South Africa and Malawi.
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?
My home city is Houston, TX. Connections can vary depending upon when you want to travel. There is a route from Ankara to Istanbul to Frankfurt to Houston which takes 20+ hours with layovers. There's another that's Ankara to Munich to Houston which is only about 15 or so hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
I have lived here for about a year and a half.
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?
Housing is in apartments in one of three areas. This could be changing as the embassy moves to a new location. The apartments are on the newer side and very nice. They are fairly spacious but their functionality can vary. I have a very large porch but a kitchen that is almost not usable, think the size of a twin mattress. Others have no porch but a large kitchen. Most units don't have any storage or closets.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything that you could want is available in one way or another. Local markets carry Turkish and European brands and they are very good and a lot cheaper than you would find in the US. Produce is very high quality but certain things are only available seasonally. I never had fresh figs until coming to turkey and they are now one of my favorite fruits.
Embassy personnel have commissary access at a small military base here in Ankara. Anything that you cannot find on the local market is available there, however, everything is at a higher price than you'd find in the US. I usually purchase dog food, toiletries and meat there. Meat is available locally but they have different cuts that I am not used to.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Ankara has just about any kind of restaurant that you can think of. Being from Texas, I find their Mexican food lacking but it's here and the Yankees I work with seem to like it. Almost every restaurant here delivers with an online service called "yemeksepeti" with no delivery fees. You can get a meal from most restaurants for around 20TL ($6) if you are not ordering drinks. The very nice, fine dining restaurants, run around 45TL ($14) a meal. Alcohol is heavily taxed in Turkey and you will pay Miami prices, usually $5 for a beer or $10-$15 for a mixed drink.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Birds. Figure out some way to keep them off your balcony. Otherwise they will poop all over it and it will not be usable. No insect problems to speak of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through diplomatic pouch and DPO. Local mail services are good but they run differently than in the US. You pick your mail up from the facility, it's not delivered directly. My wife is Turkish and uses it, but without the language you would struggle.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help runs around $50 - $60 a day. Most people have a housekeeper that comes once a week. A few folks have nannies but I don't know what they cost as I don't have kids at this point.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a lot of very nice gyms in the area. They are considered a luxury and are priced accordingly. They also do not have any listed rates and negotiate prices like a used car dealership charging what they think they can get you to pay. Negotiate and never sign the first day.
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?
They are safe and widely accepted, however, only a few banks accept American cards. You need to specify at the register which bank to run your card with. No one explained this to me when I got here and it caused a lot of confusion. Tell the teller to run your card with "Yapi Kredi."
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
At least rudimentary Turkish is a must to get by. Most locals don't speak any English. There are some pretty incredible smart phone apps out now that can help you get by but learn as much Turkish before coming as possible. Private tutors are readily available and there are classes given at the Embassy. Take advantage of them.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Ankara is a very hilly city. The streets aren't as steep as Istanbul but they are easily as steep as San Fransisco. There is no flat in Ankara, it's all either up or down. They try to make things easier with ramps for the sidewalks and textured walkways for the blind but it wouldn't be easy.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, however mass transit systems have been the target for terrorism in the past. Post recommends not using these during peak times. Taxis are recommended and very reasonable. Istanbul has an issue with a taxi scam. The 5 and 50 TL notes look very similar. If you attempt to pay with a 50 the driver says it's not enough and says you gave them a 5. This hasn't been an issue in Ankara and post recommends using smaller bills. Taxi rides usually cost around 20 TL or less to most places.
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?
Before coming to post I was told that the streets were very narrow European streets. I sold my Camaro and bought a small Ford. I was given bad information and regret it. The roads are more narrow than the U.S. but the post motor pool drivers use Suburbans without any difficulty. It does snow in the winter and get icy, so there are a few days out of the year it is helpful to have 4 wheel driver, but the city clears the streets very quickly and the roads are very good throughout the country.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, post will ask you what you are interested in and usually have it installed prior to your arrival.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
It would be very expensive to keep your home country plan as international plans don't typically cover Turkey. Phone service is very cheap here. I pay 50TL a month for 6 gigs of data and I talk to my family back home using WhatsApp which does voice calls and text over data.
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?
Animals do not need to be quarantined and there are good vet services. There is also a very good kennel to board your pets while you are traveling. It's run by a guy they call the Turkish Dog Whisperer. He's very good with the dogs and mine are always happy to go. It 35 TL per dog per day.
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?
Most spouses work at the Embassy. There are a few that work for international schools around the city. It is possible to obtain a work permit, but salaries in Turkey are about a third of what the same job would pay in the US.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Depending on your job the dress code is either a suit and tie or business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Terrorism is always an issue here and was a much larger problem when I first arrived in February, 2016. Things seem to have quieted down considerably since then. It doesn't seem to affect people on a day to day basis as long as you pay attention to your surroundings and avoid crowds whenever possible.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None, the medical care here is top notch and reasonably priced. A number of people have had major surgeries here and one person gave birth in the middle of the coup attempt last year. All without any issues.
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?
The air quality varies. It is very dry and some people have issues when they first get here and in the winter the air can worsen due to coal heat being used among the poorer communities. It doesn't compare to Mexico City or Chinese cities though. I'd say it's usually good and can get to moderate on the worst days.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Be very careful eating out if you have nut allergies. Nuts are a large part of many Turkish diets and tend to be in a lot of dishes.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Whenever there is a terrorist attack people get amped up a bit. Other than that, I'd say no. There are mountains for skiing only a few hours a way in the winter and the beaches in the summer are top notch. If you need to get away for a bit it's easy and inexpensive.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Lower to mid 90s in the summer and can get down to single digits in the winter. Ankara has all seasons. If you dress accordingly you won't have any issues.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Lots of international school options. People here appear to be happy with them. I don't have any direct experience.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There is a soccer league every year. I believe there are other activities as well but once again I don't have any direct experience.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expatriate community. The German, Canadian and British missions all have regular events. Make friends among the community to get invited.
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?
Lots of bars and music for night life, places to go out for dinner and house parties. There's a great scuba club that does weekend trips. You can pretty much find anything you're interested in here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, yes, and yes. This is a great city for everyone. I met my wife here and love it. The dating scene is a little different than in the US and casual dating doesn't really exist. It's OK to go out in a group, but you don't go out on a one to one date unless you are serious.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
While Turkey isn't nearly as closed down about LGBT issues as Arabic countries, it's still not as open as the US. There are a number of LGBT expats and locals in the area though. I don't have any direct experience.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
While Turkey is mostly a Muslim society, they don't tend to bother expats unless you are preaching on a street corner. I openly wear my cross to the gym and I have not had any issues. Gender equality isn't quite where it should be in Turkey, I've been told that Turkish men can be dismissive of women. But by and large there are many women in all professions in Turkey.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Swimming in the crystal clear water down in Kas, exploring the ancient roman city of Ephesus, visiting the wine village of Sarince, and seeing the ancient capital of the Hitites. There is so much history in Turkey that you trip over it. To add to that the beaches all around the country are amazing and the mountain in the winter are wonderful as well. The food is great (there are a lot of other kinds of Turkish food than Kebab), try Mante, Midye, Lokma, Menemen and anything else you can.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I mostly talked about it above. Go to Kas, there is a restaurant there called Retro Bistro. Some of the best food I've had in my life. Cesme is another beach town that I really like, or you could try Dalyan. There's another place called Pammukale which was an old roman town with a natural spring bath. You can still swim in the spring pool among original roman columns.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes. Lots of really nice art and copper items. Most folks buy Persian and Turkish rugs. There is a guy in Golbasa that makes custom damascus knives who's family has done so since the ottoman empire. Go out to Ulus on the weekend. You can find just about anything and if they don't have it you can have it made.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There's no particular advantages for Ankara itself. It the proximity to everything around Ankara that's appealing. You are in the middle of the country and only a few hours drive from anything you could want to do. The city does have some very nice parks though in the valleys to take advantage of.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Nothing, I wish I'd come sooner.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely, I may retire here.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations. Turkey is so much more than I would have thought.
4. But don't forget your:
Beach and ski gear. You will need them both.