Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 09/12/20
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?
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. Travel is typically 7.5 red eye to Frankfurt, then a 3 hour flight to Ankara.
3. How long have you lived here?
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 several high rise apartment buildings around Ankara. Commutes range from 10-30 minutes by car to the current US Embassy location. Housing is typically 4 bed, 2 bath and around 1,400 square feet. Apartments are nice, and typically feature a combined living/dining room, and a separate closed-off kitchen.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are unbelievably fresh and extremely affordable. Same with most household supplies. Imported goods will be more expensive, some at or exceeding US prices. A small commissary is located at a nearby base and offers a variety of American and imported goods for affordable prices. Groceries/supplies will be on average 30-50% cheaper than in DC.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
For US Embassy employees, Amazon delivers within two weeks, sometimes faster. Specially liquids and creams (shampoos, lotions, etc) over 16oz are not allowed in shipments and should be packed out from the US with your household goods. Between Amazon, the commissary and the local market, there is very little we are missing. For us it’s only Pimm's, mint extract, bitters, and Pad Thai noodles.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The food in Ankara is okay. There is standard central Anatolian fare, but it is very meat heavy and can be bland for some people. That said, there are some very good restaurants in Ankara, as well as many fish restaurants, and some ethnic ethnic cuisine. Being a vegetarian is doable, but challenging, as most veggie-based foods are still supplemented with meat broths. You can get a filling meal for under $10 per person for a normal meal, and $50 a couple for a fancy dinner with wine. Food in Istanbul and along the coasts are significantly more interesting and flavorful. Alcohol Is heavily taxed here and can be expensive at restaurants, but still cheaper than in America. Take out is extremely easy, abundant, fast, and affordable.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ankara is actually at 3,000 feet altitude, and as such it is actually rare to see insects. Though many people with balconies have pigeon problems. Stray cats and dogs can be found all over Turkey, and are usually tagged and monitored by local authorities. These animals are typically friendly and docile, but runners have reported some issues with packs of dogs. A full course of rabies vaccine is recommended prior to arrival.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the US Embassy’s mail system for anything from the States. There is a pouch and DPO service. On average packages take 1-2 weeks. Letters can take 3-4 weeks. There are lots of options for affordable online shopping from Turkish websites and those packages usually arrive within 2-3 at residences.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
There are many affordable options for nannies and housekeepers in Ankara. There is a large Filipino expat community that charges, on average US 10 an hour for housekeeping or nanny services. Turkish help is also widely available and while pricing varies, is generally more affordable. One full day of house cleaning (8 hours) is roughly 200TL or US 26.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are many nice gyms around Ankara and close to housing. Full gyms, CrossFit, boxing, yoga, Pilates are all available. Prices are are roughly half the cost of similar services in America, however many of the gym owners and instructors do not speak English.
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?
Credit cards are widely used, though primarily are chip and pin based. Ankara is also very much a cash culture and you can often get a discount on most things if you offer to pay cash vs credit. Would definitely recommend getting a local bank card. ATMs are widely available and safe, but are bank specific and charge significant fees for non-bank users. As such, we tend to seek out our specific bank to withdraw funds. Turkish online shopping generally requires a Turkish Bank Card.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The US military base offers weekly services and the British Embassy also offers masses in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is spoken unevenly across Ankara. There is typically at least one individual working in any major store that will speak English, but it is not a guarantee. Learning some basic Turkish will go a long way to shopping, dining, and getting around Ankara. Directions, numbers, and question words/phrases are particularly helpful.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Thus would be an extremely challenging city for someone with a physical disability, as the sidewalks are narrow, slippery, and uneven and Ankara is build on San Francisco style hills. We can’t even use a baby stroller here.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All public transportation is extremely affordable and generally safe. Unlike Istanbul, taxi drivers are so honest here that they often under charge when they can’t make change. Taxis are so cheap (US $3 to the embassy from home), that we’ve never tried public transit, though others commute that way daily.
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?
We have a regular mid-sized sedan which has served us well here. Others have SUVs. The streets in Ankara are generally wide enough that any normal sized car would be just fine. Would recommend good tires and new brakes as the roads can be very steep and slick. Most parking is in underground garages and I’ve heard of no issues with break ins as Ankara is a very low crime city. Car repairs and maintenance can be pricey and in line with US prices.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
The Embassy will have your internet ready to go on arrival and is wireless, through the phone lines. Speeds are fast enough for streaming and internet browsing, but the signal will periodically cut out. Would definitely recommend investing in a VPN service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We kept our Google Fi iPhones which work here without issue. Turkey is actually impressively wired for cell service and in all our exploring and long drives to the coast, we’ve never lost service.
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?
There are no quarantine requirements for pets and vet care is good and widely available. It can be pricey for foreigners to go to the vet, depending on the clinic. Pet food is actually quite expensive and would recommend purchasing it from the commissary or Amazon. Turkish online outlets have much for affordable pet supplies than in person stores. Small dogs and cats can be transported in cabin all the way to Ankara, but pets that go via cargo can only go as far as Istanbul. Turkish airlines has a rule that only one type of animal can be in cabin (cats or dogs, not both), which is determined on a first-come, first-served basis.
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?
There are actually many EFM jobs available at the embassy. Others work in local private schools, and many work remotely for US employers. Salaries are significantly lower than similar jobs in America, in line with the low cost of living in Turkey.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Believe there are opportunities to volunteer to assist refugee causes.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Ankara is an expat city and I’ve never had issues with exposed shoulders or knees as a woman, and most residents dress in western fashion. It is unusual to see Turkish men in shorts, but no issues for western men. Business to business casual is common at the embassy.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Ankara is a very low crime city, and we’ve never felt unsafe walking around alone or after dark. There is still the possibility for terrorism, and expel should always remain alert to their surroundings. While we have not experienced many anti-American sentiments, we do try to keep a low profile. Driving is likely the most dangerous aspect of day to day life in Turkey, as most drivers are quite erratic. Driving the wrong way down one way streets is common, along with making multiple lanes where there are only one or two marked.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Turkey is a medial tourism destination for much of Europe, as care is high quality and affordable. There are several very nice private hospitals in Turkey that have English speaking doctors, many of whom trained in the West. Many women choose to give birth here, but high risk pregnancies and some specialized tests are able to medevac to the US.
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?
There are air quality issues in the winter when many homes still burn coal for heating, and many people with seasonal allergies find that Ankara can be difficult during certain parts of the year.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Allergens are marked on packaged foods, but nuts are popular in many dishes here and not necessarily marked. Alternative milks are available locally and at the commissary, but can be pricey. There are a surprising amount of gluten- free and organic items available at local stores.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is extremely dry and hot in the summer, so sun screen and regular hydration is recommended. Winters are mild, but will see snow. It rains infrequently. It stays quite warm until late October, and begins to warm up again in March/April.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is no American school, but there are several English-language, private international schools available, as well as a DoD school. People seem pretty happy with the education opportunities.
2. 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?
Private preschools and day cares are half the price of American equivalents and provide quality all-day care. Many provide lunch and breakfast. We have been very pleased by the quality of our preschool, particularly compared to the price.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are several kids sporting events and summer camps available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Expat community is quite large in Ankara, with many large missions from across the globe. Expats seem really happy and interested in mingling with other expats. Many housing complexes are primarily filled with expats.
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?
There are bars, restaurants, museums and other cultural events available for socializing. There are several Facebook groups and expat groups that are active in Ankara. In addition, the embassy’s CLO is extremely active.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Thus is a great city for couples and in particular for large or young families. Turks love children and kids can do no wrong here. It is affordable, easy living and the weather allows for outdoor play for most of the year. There is a playground on every block. Single people might be a little bored here, as Ankara lacks some of the culture and nightlife of Istanbul.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I don’t have first hand experience, but I could see this being a difficult city for LGBT expats given the current political climate.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
We have found it a very easy place to make friends with embassy colleagues and other expats, most of whom speak English.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
While an Islamic country, it still remains very secular at its roots. That said, Turkey does have a bit of a “yabanci” (foreigner) culture, and expats tend to get charged more for goods and services than Turks or Turkish speakers. This is definitely a country where you shouldn’t just take the initial rate for anything and should bargain. As you stick around longer you’ll get a better understanding of what things should cost, which will help, but obviously western looking individuals will always feel a bit like outsiders here.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We’ve really enjoyed living in Ankara this year, even with the craziness of COVID. We’ve taken some amazing trips to the coast. Turkey is a breathtakingly beautiful country and it is extremely easy to get around. There is so much history here and easy stumble upon structures that are thousands of years old. The country has done an excellent job of establishing museums and national parks and offers residents full access to all for about US $10 a year through their muze kart program.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are lots of unique neighborhoods in Ankara and easy day trips to the Black Sea and ottoman towns. Ulus is a neat, old part of town.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Absolutely. You can buy some incredible, we’ll made and affordable furniture, beautiful rugs, high quality textiles, hand carved wooden products, silver and copper all for half the price of America. Turkey is a country that produces...everything, and would highly recommend making the most of the shopping opportunities while here.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Very easy living. Affordable. Turks are friendly and love children. Weather is great. The produce is incredible.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
We heard a lot of people grumble about Ankara being boring and not like Istanbul, while that may be true to a degree we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much we’ve enjoyed it here. As for packing choices, we would have probably left our bicycles and gas grill in storage and packed an artificial Christmas tree.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Idea that Turkey is like Europe or the Middle East, it is surprisingly western with excellent infrastructure, but can be both modern and very very traditional.
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Definitely pick up a travel book as you’ll want to take advantage of all the travel opportunities.