Istanbul, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 12/03/09
Personal Experiences from Istanbul, Turkey
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Countless Asian and Latin American posts.
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?
Travel time is roughly 13 hours to the northeast coast. There is a direct flight to Istanbul from JFK on Delta.
3. How long have you lived here?
I have been here 3 months of a 3 year tour.
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?
The US Consulate housing pool is hit or miss. The consulate has apartments in Sisli, Etiler, Istinye, and Kemerburgaz. Commute times are between 20-30 minutes with the exception of Istinye, which is closer to the consulate. We are a family of 3 and we have to live in a 2 bedroom apartment. Most apartments have no closets and a very small amount of storage, so be prepared to get creative hiding suitcases and boxes. Places in Kemerburgaz are actually outside of Istanbul and require a car or second car if you're married and have a family since taxis and buses are rare in this area. The housing board at the consulate is not very responsive to your needs or concerns, so be prepared to be stuck with whatever they give you.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very expensive. The only exception is certain fruits and vegetables. Any pork product will run you over $100/kg. A kilo of beef will easily run you $10+ for an average quality cut.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Food and cleaning supplies. Coolers to store frozen products bought at the commissary in Ankara for the drive back to Istanbul.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Just about every type of fast food is available here. There is also a lot of turkish fast food.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are some mosquitoes during the summer, but nothing too extreme.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO or pouch at the consulate. Be warned, however, that theft is a growing problem. Pouch mail is not insured, so remember that before sending items of high value. Average turn around time for receiving something is between 1 and 2 weeks. Sending can easily take over a month.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is available, and typically runs $20-30 an hour for an English-speaking maid.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but they are expensive. The ones in the apartment complexes can easily run $1800+ a year per person.
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 can be used just about everywhere. Smaller shops prefer cash, however. ATMs are everywhere and in English.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Outside of the tourist areas there is very little English spoken. Turkish is a must. It also helps when bargaining prices.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many. I don't think anything is handicap accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains, buses, and taxis are everywhere. Trains and buses are cheap, but taxis are expensive and the drivers have the reputation of scamming people, especially foreigners.
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 about any car is fine here. Some people prefer SUVs, others prefer small cars to zip in and out of traffic. Gasoline is expensive, even without the tax.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High speed DSL is available, but it's still much slower than the US. Costs are about $45/month for a 2MB line.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The consulate will not provide you one. Getting a local postpaid plan is impossible for a foreigner. Local laws prevent it. Phones purchased outside of Turkey will only work for 2 weeks and then they will be deactivated. The only way around it is if you get your ID card before your first 30 days in country. With your ID card and passport they can reactivate your phone. However sometimes your ID card will take more than 30 days to receive. If this happens you are out of luck. There is no way around this. You must buy a phone locally and then your only option is a prepaid SIM card. The phones are expensive and it's about $0.20 a minute with the prepaid SIM card.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Kennels exist in the richer neighborhoods. Generally speaking, the older generation of Turks do not like dogs. Most of the apartments are not pet friendly and require you to walk your pet out of the garage instead of the main entrance.
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?
None. There is a minimal bilateral work agreement between the US and Turkey. I believe the only exception is teaching. There are only a small handful of family member jobs within the consulate.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal, but not too formal.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate. There are a lot of cars and people burn raw coal during the winter.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Street crime is not too common, but it still exists in Istanbul. If you take the normal precautions you should be ok.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care in Turkey is excellent. Be advised, however, that most doctor's offices or hospitals do not accept US insurance. Each visit must be paid in full and claims must be filed afterward.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Moderate. The summers can get into the 80's and 90's but the winters aren't very cold. It snows every now and again, but not too often.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Turks love soccer and you can find it everywhere.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large. There are a lot of foreigners in Istanbul.
2. Morale among expats:
Moral among expats in the consulate is very low. Poor management choices are to blame. Moral among expats outside of the consulate is generally high.
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?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It depends on what you're looking for. For singles it's not that great as the bars and restaurants are extremely expensive. A beer at a high class bar can easily cost you $8.Mixed drinks $18.For families it's a little better, but the cost of food and basic goods is very high. The cconsulate expects you to live off of the commissary in Ankara which is 5 hours away by car.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Turkey is a moderate Muslim country. Women may run into some prejudices in their day to day life since it is a male dominated country.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is a lot of history in Istanbul. You could spend a lifetime sight seeing here. There is also plenty to buy, but make sure you bargain the price.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Plenty. The Turks have many handcrafted items and plenty of rugs to sell you. However you can find most of the same items outside of Istanbul for a quarter of the price.
9. Can you save money?
Absolutely not, unless you live like a hermit. The cost of living is extremely high here. As a diplomat you can get items tax free, but only if the merchant knows how to file the paperwork or wants to. It's a huge process and most merchants will claim they can't do it. Taxes on food are low 5%-12%, and high on services 23%-33%.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Istanbul is a great city with so much to offer, but the consulate has managed to make it a very difficult place to live. Be expected to pay for a lot of work-related costs out of your own pocket because they don't want to spend the money (i.e., an official cell phone). Expect to make a lot of group trips to the commissary in Ankara because of the high cost of living. Expect to fix a lot of the broken things in your apartment out of your own pocket because they claim to not have the money to fix it.