Istanbul, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 10/24/10

Personal Experiences from Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey 10/24/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

First expat experience.

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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?

New York NY. About fourteen hours with layover and a connection in Frankfurt.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I lived there for two years, from 2008 - 2010.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is great (don't be spoiled; government housing is FREE!). But where I was situated, I was living in the furthest residence from the consulate. So, a train ride and a taxi ride later (and then home again), I was relieved of more than twenty dollars a day. Bring a vehicle.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Fruits and veggies are very affordable. Meat is fresh, although most people buy it from the consulate shoppette. Fish is exceedingly expensive. For those who need a little taste of home (Oreos, wine, etc.), there is always the shoppette on the consulate compound (sorry, it's only open to government employees) or the BX/PX/commissary in Ankara which delivers larger orders to you via the Istanbul shoppette.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing. Everything is available, and if not, order it online (liquids notwithstanding).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Decent eateries abound. Unfortunately, yes, there is fast food. Pick your favorite.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There is one organic market, but I missed that shopping experience. Judging by the way that everything spoils quickly in Turkey, I'd bet my bottom dollar that just about everything is organic (or damn near) anyway. You will have a hard time finding complete meals for vegetarians, though. Stick with the mezes (appetizers).

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

I didn't have any bug problems in my residence. I did not hear of anyone having bugs of any kind.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Through the consulate APO (although as of this writing, it might be DPO; they were moving in that direction when I left).

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Expensive, like everywhere else.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes and they are shamelessly expensive, from what I understand. My residence had a full gym (FREE for government residents) so I could work out anytime.

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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 to use.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Sure. There are churches, a synagogue, mosques everywhere.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

I had some cable television which came with my apartment. I didn't upgrade from BBC, CNBC, and CNN. I just lived with it. You can upgrade, though, and deal with the nonsense of speaking Turkish when your cable goes out. It's best to stick with AFN if you can get it at your residence.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You will get caught up pointing and talking loudly and slowly to be understood at some point (does that EVER work with ANY language?). It is best to have even a little Turkish before coming to post.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Getting on and off the ferries (and you will take them if you want to get to the Anatolian side) can be hazardous, especially in rough water. Judging by the way that any disabled person (or me who tripped over every gecekondu brick in the pavement) would get around the city, I'd say there aren't many safe ways for people with disabilities to get around. I had a hard time just getting on the bus. There are no kneeling buses that I remember.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

All are safe but the prices went up last year (everyone is in an economic pickle right about now. Baby's gotta eat!).

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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?

Just bring a vehicle. Any vehicle will do.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

It's available. I think I paid $50 a month for the cheapest bandwidth.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Get one. But do realize that in order to use your current cell phone with a new Turkish SIM card, you must, upon arrival into Turkey, declare it. If you attempt to put a Turkish SIM card into your existing cell phone it will overtake your phone and lock it, preventing you even from using your original SIM card. Check further into this policy before you go to post.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes. It's coming along, although Turkey is still using medications for people to treat their pets, as veterinary healthcare is expensive. I had a dickens of a time getting animal-specific medications in Istanbul. If I had it to do over again, I would have a Washington-based veterinarian who 1) knows your situation, 2) knows your pet, and 3) will ship medications to you with only a phone diagnosis. This is your best bet. There is prescription food available, though. Also available are simple medical procedures (dental care, x-rays, sonograms, etc.).

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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?

Teaching jobs, yes. All others, well, I hope that your spouse can get a job in the consulate.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Professional at work. Whatever you like in public, although even the Turkish punks are conservative (no tats, faux-hawks, etc.).

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

The southeastern part of the country can be a hotbed for would-be political reformists. Also, be aware of Istiklal Caddesi, which runs off of Taksim Square. If anything is going to happen, it will start at the far end of the caddesi.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Excellent health-care if you can afford it. Sound familiar?

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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?

It's just like New York (cough, cough)! I feel right at home (cough, cough).

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The climate is mild. There is a dry season that I didn't like much. The entire country is brown and gloomy because of it. I was missing the color green after a while.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I don't have any children, but there were a lot of complaints about the time it took kids to get to and from school: up to two hours each way depending on the school that the child attended. Many people complained about the time in the morning that kids had to get up.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

There are a couple of preschools available, but they must be paid for by the parents.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large. Everyone wants to live here.

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2. Morale among expats:

Crappy, although I don't know why. Your post is what you make it. So if you have a crappy time then you have a crappy life.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

If you want to.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Great post for all! Couples have each other, and singles have the nightlife!

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Not sure. But a friend who came to visit said that there is a gay-friendly hammam under a bridge somewhere, so there must be an active gay community.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Anywhere you find people there are sure to be prejudices to follow. I did not have any prejudicial incidents towards me.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Cruising the Bosporus. Doing the historical sights in Istanbul again and again. Never getting enough of the food. Don't forget to catch the tulip festivals, especially in Emirgan Park. I thought I knew what a tulip was before I came to Turkey, but I was wrong.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Anything you want to do, you can find a way to do. If you can't find something to do in Turkey, shame on you.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Hahahahahaha!!What a question. (Carpets, silly.)

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The culture of Turkey is fabulous. Everywhere you go and look there is something to behold. For the shoppers out there, Turkey is a dream come true. Just don't expect any bargains. There aren't any to be had here.

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11. Can you save money?

Not if you are a spendthrift.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely. But not before I see the rest of the world.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations.

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3. But don't forget your:

Love of exploration.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

LonelyPlanet Guide is all I ever needed.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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