Istanbul, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 12/21/09
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, previously in London & Mexico City.
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?
DC, 14 hours flight time with one plane change.
3. How long have you lived here?
2008 to present.
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?
Most folks from the office seem to live in high-end Etiler neighborhood about halfway between office and old city. Rich Turks in building can bring a bit of attitude, but building is very conveninent with lots of services inside (grocery store, bottled water delivery, car wash, hairdresser, ATM machine, dry cleaner, etc.). Great restaurants and stores and movie theaters walking distance away, and a metro station nearby. Down the hill is very fashionable Bebek neighborhood on the Bosphorus.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The office has a great little store bringing meat, dairy, and American items from a military base. Most everything is available locally, including fantastic fruits and vegetables in season (and bread and sweets year round), but anything imported is expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing comes to mind, as you can find most things here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Full spectrum, from American fast food to high-end international cuisine. Eat Turkish food in a mom & pop place, and you can have a great meal for well under $10 per person without alcohol. Go to a fancy place with a view, and order dishes with imported ingredients and imported wine, and you can easily spend $100 per person.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the office. A little slow but not bad.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
For $50 a day you can get someone for 8 hours to clean, cook, and shop.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, for free in some buildings, at big-city prices in others. Expat neighborhoods also have independent gyms.
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?
A local bank account is helpful to have. Credit & debit cards are used everywhere. Some ATMs dispense Dollars and Euros in addition to Liras.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, in many Christian denominations.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are two English-language newspapers and many channels and programs via cable TV.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need basics, and a few formalities. With zero Turkish it could be unpleasant to be here, but every little effort to speak the language is most appreciated by locals. Businesses catering to expats and many professional contacts will speak English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Mobility. This is not a good place to be on wheels in anything other than cars. Plus, to take advantage of public transportation, long walks and stairs are often encountered.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, taxis are fine for short trips, but it is expensive to go across town. But for $1 you can get on most buses and trains. Excellent "fare fob" devices can be pre-loaded with money to work on trains, buses, trams, ferries, and even a funicular!
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?
A Honda CR-V or similar is ideal. Something small, maneuverable, and with 4-wheel drive. There is very little snow, but steep hills get slippery. Anything too big will be hard to drive. Most brands exist in Istanbul.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, approximately $60 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can pick up a pay-as-you-go phone quite easily. Getting a contract is more difficult, but I didn't try.
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)?
Vets exist in expat neighborhoods. There are many stray dogs and cats.
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?
The official work permit route can be long and difficult, but some have succeeded. The informal route of teaching English or consulting, sometimes being paid via the home country, also seems to work. But it has its perils.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work can be formal business attire, and higher-end situations call for something classier. Neither local men nor women appear to wear shorts in public, even when it's hot. But jeans and t-shirts are common.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Good-moderate most of the time, but can get yucky in witer with coal smoke if there's no breeze.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Some very bad terrorist incidents in the past, but does not appear organized or persistent. Security services seem to do their job. Have heard of pick-pocketing incidents, but have had no problems of my own. Much safer than I expected.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Nothing in particular. A few hospitals seem to cater to expats. There are many Western-educated doctors and dentist throughout town.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winters are wet, summers can be uncomfortably hot & humid, but spring and autumn are awesome.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We have kids in one of two main ex-pat schools. Academics seem good (both have IB programs), but it is hard to make friends due to small class size (especially higher grades), and the fact that families are scattered all over town. Long bus rides to both schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Have not had personal experience, but schools appear to have coordinators for this.
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?
Lots of preschools seem to be around, but many with small children opt to keep them home with nannies. Filipina nannies seems popular with ex-pats.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, especially if as a parent you help organize.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Must be in the thousands of officially residing people with all their permits. But the unofficial number is much higher, especially in summer months and full tourist season.
2. Morale among expats:
Many came not expecting to stay but liked it and remained. For those with a little patience and sense of adventure, you can have a great time here. But if you are intimidated by the language or unwilling to take chances, it could be a bad experience. People with that mind set are better off not leaving their home countries.
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?
Anything and everything. Turks are very friendly. It does help, though, to have a passion (e.g., Latin dance, scuba-diving) so as to meet other like-minded individuals.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Fantastic for people with energy and no kids. Among families, middle-school aged kids seem to do best. Not a great city for strollers and smallest kids, nor for teenagers, who face challenges of getting around independently in such a big city.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I have heard that there a number of gay clubs and at least one lesbian club. The monthly "Time Out" magazine runs a regular column.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are not many black people in Istanbul, but I have seen no racism. Turks originally came from Central Asia, so Asians appear well accepted. The glory days of the Ottoman Empire have long faded, with Jewish, Armenian & Greek Orthodox communities now much older and smaller. Churches and synagogues appear to operate more or less freely.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
You name it! Incredible historic sites, museums, shopping, restaurants, concerts, theaters, movies, etc.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets, antiques, ceramics, jewelery, leather.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, if you live modestly and avoid nice meals and trips, but then what's the fun of being here?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I would, but I'd find a way to drive less and work less, so I could experience and enjoy more.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
preconceptions about Muslim countries, and some of your guardedness towards strangers, as many Turks are sincerely friendly. If you can leave your car behind as well, you may find day-to-day life less stressful.
3. But don't forget your:
sense of adventure and willingness to see and experience new things.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Anything by John Freely.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Istanbul appears in many movies all the way back to "From Russia with Love," to last year's "The international."
6. Do you have any other comments?
Having lived in London and Mexico City, I'd say the culture and liveliness are greater than London's at a much lower price, and the chaos and day-to-day hassles are lower than Mexico City, but at a much higher price. Istanbul sits somewhere between Rome and Cairo geographically, historically, and in terms of size and difficulty of living. It is certainly not for everyone, but I recommend it.