Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 11/23/21
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?
I've also lived in New Delhi and Cairo.
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. You can fly via Istanbul to Dulles or through Europe (Munich, Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels, etc). Istanbul is typically not a code share/Fly America flight, so is rarely used for official travel except with certain Covid exemptions. However, it is great for self-funded trips.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. 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?
Mostly apartments. Some are only 5-6 floors high, but ours is 30 floors. Housing size varies a lot depending on family size (and somewhat on rank). We have 2 kids and have a 4 bedroom with living room and kitchen and 2.5 bathrooms. No closets except 1 coat closet at entry. Larger families have bigger apartments and those with 4+ kids often have very generously-sized apartments. Some apartments have good balconies, though many (like ours) are very tiny. Park Oran and Park Vadi are popular expat apartment complexes. They have green space, playgrounds, etc. They are also walking distance to shops. Park Oran is walking distance to THREE malls! Commute times are not bad. From Park Oran downtown to the US Embassy is about 30 minutes. Maybe more or less depending on day.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Lots of grocery options. Migros is a large grocery chain with a huge selection. Macro Center focuses on imported food and has a lot of international options. Metro is like a Costco and sells things in bulk. There are also many smaller grocery stores and those with US Base access have a commissary and BX that is pretty well-stocked. If you stick with local items the prices are very cheap. There are organic and natural options too. Imports are a bit pricier than in the US.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Those with DPO mail cannot ship liquids (I think this is also APO rule). So anything liquid-wise that you really prefer. For me, that mostly means coconut aminos, massive tub of minced garlic, Crayola tempera kid paint (finger paint and acrylic is easy to find, but the washable kid tempera is harder), and spray sunblock (liquid is more common here).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of food options. Yemeksepeti is a great delivery app that gives you a range of food. Indian and Mexican is harder in Ankara to find. Istanbul has more choices. Turkish food is great! Many, many restaurants both chains and small places, international and Turkish.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ankara doesn't have too much of an insect or infestation problem. We almost never have bugs in our apartment (15th floor).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We get ours through the US Embassy. DPO. Most mail takes a few weeks, but we've had a lot missent recently (Ankara and Addis are the same zip with 2 numbers transposed). We have not sent through the local post office, but they are all over the place. We do use cargo within the country if we order from a Turkish store. Delivery comes in a few days.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Typical cost is about $10/hour. If you hire full time, you'll pay less than that. Most seem to be Turkish or Filipino. Many people have a nanny and/or housekeeper. Some fulfill both roles. Some also cook. Most people drive themselves, so a driver is much less common. It is fairly common to have someone come 1-2x a week to clean, or have someone just in afternoons to clean and do childcare. Full time is less common unless both parents work and need full time child care.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of gyms. Many housing places have them (Park Oran and Park Vadi included), and there are also gyms inside malls and elsewhere. Price is very reasonable. Personal training is also available and is very reasonable (and cheap compared to US!). I paid about $15/hour for personal training.
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?
People use credit cards a lot. Some places struggle with foreign cards, so many expats get at least a local debit card. Cash is also common and sometimes you can get discounts for cash. ATMs are easily accessible and fine to use.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The US Base has a non-demoninational church service on Sundays. There is also a Catholic service at the Vatican Embassy and sometimes the Catholic priest from Adana comes up. I imagine there are other services too.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Local language classes and tutoring is easy and affordable. Turkish is helpful in Ankara as many don't speak English, but you can manage without much. Google Translate works well, and everyone knows how to use it. Knowing taxi and shop Turkish is helpful, along with common greetings/courtesies.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, the buildings are not very disability friendly, particularly for wheelchairs. For example, our buildings have ramps going up to the main door. But the main doors are very heavy and not automatic. And you have to get through two of them. A bit easier if you go through the parking garage as the basement doors are automatic. But the road down to the garages can be quite steep depending on which building. Buildings do have elevators as do the malls. Sidewalks are not stellar and parking is not easy around town.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, all are fine to use and fairly cheap. Most people use taxis in Ankara if not driving as it's more direct, but you can use buses if you want. We haven't done trains to another city, but friends have.
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?
Ankara is very hilly! So something good for hills. We also get snow and ice. Many people have some version of an SUV and having two cars is not uncommon. We have a smaller car for my husband to commute in and a larger family car for me and for road trips. You can drive all over Turkey and there is a lot to see. Something that handles big mountains, winding roads, and occasional off-roading/dirt roads is handy. You'll likely spend a lot of time road tripping, so a car that comfortably fits your family and luggage. Parts aren't too hard to come by and there are many dealers and mechanics here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it is available and reasonably priced. Those with the Embassy can request that it be installed prior to arrival and it works when you get here.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use Turk Cell and pay less than $10/month for 15 gb data, calls, and SMS.
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?
We don't have pets, but I have heard there are good vets and kennel services. Some dogs do doggy day care and seem to love it. No quarantine to enter, but a lot of paperwork.
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 of my friends that work as a spouse work at the Embassy. You can also sub at the DoD school. Telework is also possible. I don't know anyone who works on the local market.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Yes, particularly with refugees or stray animals.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
You'll see the whole range of clothing, particularly for women. Everything from mini skirts and sleeveless to full coverage. Beaches are the same: thong bikinis all the way to full body suits.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Ankara is a pretty safe city and I feel fine being out and about on my own as a female. There are the same normal concerns you'd have in any big city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good. People come here for medical tourism! There are two main private hospitals Embassy families use and we have received care at both, both in the ER and as scheduled appointments. Lasik is popular as it is very cheap compared to the US. There is also good dental and eye care and people do braces as well. Everything is much cheaper. Many people end up dropping dental insurance. My daughter had x-rays, fluoride and an exam/cleaning and it was about $80. People do give birth here as well, though some chose to medevac for that. I would say most medical conditions could be handled here. You can typically find providers who speak English as well. The private hospitals have foreign patient coordinators who will make appointments for you, translate, and help as needed. They are great! There is also a local speech therapist and I know kids who have done OT/PT locally. And a great local pediatrician who worked in the US for a while.
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?
Air quality is such a relative thing! It is much better than Cairo and Delhi! Ankara is shaped like a bowl. Downtown is the bottom of the bowl. It gets worse air and there are winter days you can really see the haze. Some of the housing is up the bowl, particularly Park Oran. We rarely have bad air. I have my own air monitor and I measured last winter outside on days that looked the worst and we didn't get over about 150 AQI and most days were under 100. If air pollution is a serious concern for you, request Park Oran. The other housing is lower down and will get slightly worse air.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Ankara is pretty dry, so not a lot of mold concerns. I see a lot of menus in mid to nicer restaurants with allergen symbols on the menu items. Most food in grocery stores is in Turkish or perhaps German (lots of imports), so reading ingredients not in English is important. Not a lot of peanut usage here, but pistachios and walnuts are popular. Most preschools provide meals, so you'd need to work with them over allergies.
Pollen allergies are a big thing here; we get a lot of things in bloom spring and summer! Tree and grass pollens are rough.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not anything in particular.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Ankara is pretty similar to Washington, DC in my mind, but drier. We get all four seasons, including snow in the winter. Our past two winters have averaged about 15" of snow in Park Oran (which gets more than in the downtown area due to its higher elevation). July-September is pretty dry with minimal rain. Summer in Ankara gets in the 90s, but it is dry. And we have cooler days sprinkled in. Fall and spring are delightful. Winter is often the 30s, with mornings in the 20s. Might warm up to the 40s.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several schools families send their kids to.
DoDEA--Ankara Elementary High School--the DoD school on base. Serves K-12. One class per grade in elementary. HS graduating class this year is 4 I believe. Has a mix of American and foreign kids with a large ELL population. Has a speech therapist, who I believe is also the special education teacher. Minor special ed services. Follows US holidays, not Turkish ones.
Oasis--an International school following an American Christian curriculum. Park Oran is closest housing to it, other housing a bit farther.
British School--BESA--up through about 8th grade. Long wait list and recommended you apply very early and have a back-up plan. Not uncommon for one child to be accepted and sibling not to be. Sometimes spots open midyear and kids transfer in. Has probably the best reputation for academics. School year is about mid Sept-July I think.
Bilkent/BLIS--International school with a majority of Turks attending. In both Turkish and English. Currently I only know one Embassy family with kids there, but they love it.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None of them handle major special needs that I'm aware of. I know DoDEA does a small amount, but not sure of others.
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?
Yes! Lots of preschool options and they are great. Both English and Turkish choices, plus a few other languages. Most are full day (and it's a long full day acting like daycare, but you can pick up your child early). We loved Mutlu Adimlar near Park Oran. Walking distance, in Turkish, very friendly. Director spoke English and my son's teacher knew a little. Very play based. Most people send their kids to preschool daily starting about age 2 or 3. A year ago, full day was 1800 tl (which was about $300) at our school, which was one of the cheaper ones. Exchange rate has changed a lot and not sure of current prices. For school aged children, most people have a nanny if they need before/after care.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer is very popular. Also gymnastics. There is also ice skating and options for basketball and volleyball. Schools do soccer at the HS level. Covid has cut out a lot of other HS sport options due to close contact. Piano and swim lessons are possible, too.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Ankara does not have as many expats as Istanbul. It is mostly diplomatic families, plus some other companies. Covid has made it hard to judge how easy it is to get to know others. I am mostly friends within our Embassy. Overall people love Ankara and people often extend assignments.
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?
Again, Covid has made this hard (18 months of the 24 we've been here so far). I mostly hang out with the parents of my kids' friends.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for everyone I think. Lots of restaurants, travel, outside activities. There are many parks. Turks are very friendly and love children.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I don't have local friends. Between not working and Covid, I don't meet many locals. If you want local friends, having Turkish will be helpful!
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I don't have a lot of knowledge on this. I don't see obvious same sex couples out and about and Turkey is fairly conservative socially.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Travel here is great! Which is a good thing as we were stuck domestically for a long time! You have mountains, beaches, big cities, ruins, castles, forests, hiking, and more! Cappadocia is my favorite place. Our Eastern Turkey 10 day road trip was epic and we saw so many amazing things.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Wandering the bazaars, hiking around the lakes, rug shopping!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Rugs! So many rugs! There is also a great guy in Ankara (Ethnik Anatolia) who does custom wood furniture made from old doors and his stuff is amazing. We'll go overweight for sure buying All. The. Things.
Pottery is also a big thing (particularly in Cappadocia), and authentic Turkish Cotton towels and blankets (Jennifer's Hamam in Istanbul is the place for that)
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's a big city without all the craziness of Istanbul. Daily life is easy, there is plenty of green space, and driving is manageable.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Plan on lots of road trips!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
old rugs and ratty furniture
4. But don't forget your: