Istanbul, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 01/04/10

Personal Experiences from Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey 01/04/10

Background:

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

no, Beirut, Oaxaca

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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?

Asian side - five minute walk

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3. How long have you lived here?

2006-2010

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

educator

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments for every income level; very few single homes and only for the very wealthy; best to live near your work as traffic is always an issue in a city of 15-16 million

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

Groceries nd household goods do not need to cost a lot if you learn to use TUrkish brands and shop like a Turk. Fancy markets like Migros cost more and Western goods and brands are, of course, luxury items. I, personally, live on 1/4 of my salary and live well.

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

none

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

Everything is available except pork. Every cost range. Ex-pat fast food is pricier than Turkish food, naturally.

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

few problems

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Daily Life:

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

by post or delviery service to my work address

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

I have a Filipino cleaner because I find it easier to communicate with her culturally and pay her more than the cost of a Turkish cleaner as a result - 75 YTL ($40) but will do things their own way which often involves turning the whole house upside down in their insistance on making things spotless which I find unnerving!

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

Yes, everywhere and at every price depending on what you want - but not always co-ed

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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?

No problems - strongly recommend Garanti and Yapi Kredi banks for English speaking branches and websites - you can pay all bills, recharge your mobile phone and change money on-line.

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

Yes but limited.

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

I have Digiturk satellite TV which costs me about $35 a month with many English-speaking channels, movies and sporting events. There are two English language newspapers you can read for free online.

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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?

The more you have, the easier it is anywhere you go. I do not consider myself much of a Turkish speaker, but all efforts are appreciated if you smile and be patient and remember YOU are the foreigner.

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

Not a good place for the physically-challenged. Walking is not something you can safely do without constant attention to where you step and traffic around you. Lots of stairs and hills.

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Transportation:

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

Absolutely - you can travel from one end of Istanbul to the other for about five dollars by clean, frequently running public transportation. Taxis are more expensive and you need some Turkish and an idea of where you are going to use them eficiently but still far superior to most of what I've experienced in the rest of the world.

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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?

I do not have experience with owning a car in Turkey.

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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?

yes - about $25 a month

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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?

I use Turkcell and buy my credits as needed on-line - also available as scratch-off cards in every market

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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)?

avilable everywhere but far more expensive than the West since far fewer Turks keep pets

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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?

In education yes, in other areas very few.

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

Much more dressy than the US

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

moderate

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

An amazingly safe city given its size - I feel much safer here than in US cities of much smaller size.

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

excellent and cheap

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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?

four seasons,lovely spring and fall, hot summer, chilly winters

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Schools & Children:

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

Have worked in two and experienced mny more up close as a professional visitor - good quality but with a verydiffernt cultural mindset than US schools that takes awhile to understand nd get used to. They are much more child-friendly than US schools but often appear to Western eyes at first glance to be less disciplined and punitive.

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

Very little - big difference in culture here

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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?

none

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

yes - tend to be pricy since they cater to the wealthy

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Expat Life:

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

Huge! Get out there and make some connections!

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends on whether you want things to be just like home or whether you came overseas to experience a difference I guess.

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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?

Unlimited

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

Absolutely! There are beautiful parks everywhere and strolling the Bosphorus is a pleasure all its own. Turks ADORE children!There is something to do for everyone if you are willing to get out and explore. There are several websites that list events. You can shop online for groceries and have them delivered regularly and every little store in your neighborhood delivers too if you learn a small amount of Turkish. Huge nightlife scene in Taksim and Moda for singles. Lots of sporting events to watch or participate in.

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

Depends on how you define "good" - there's a very different cultural perspective here - being "out" is not appreciated, but there's apparently a lot of action to be had with the understnding that a Turkish man who has same-sex relationships does not consider himself gay unless he eschews marriage and family and this almost never happens and would be a source of great individual and family shame.

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

Yes, but again, differently from in the West. It takes a newcomer quite awhile to understand the complexities.

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

Where to begin?Explore 4000 years of history all around you, visit the many, many amazing museums, often for little or no cost on certain days, take a cruise up the Bosphorus or pack a picnic and go on day trips to nearby islands or thermal spas, sit in a cafe and watch the ships go by, shop in the largest mall in Europe or any of the other glamorous upscale malls around the city or immerse yourself in the weekly bazaars for the freshest fruits and vegetables (which are amazingly good here, wander the 10,000 nighspots of Taksim, take in a rowdy football match at one of the three clubs' stadiums or join the crowd in any pub on game nights, shop Tahtakale's ancient alleys for ANYTHING, climb Galata Tower for unforgettable views, explore some of the most beautiful mosques in the world, go to the beach at Kilyos or the forest preserve nearby, soak and be scrubbed in a hamam (mine has been in continuous operation since 1640) take weekend trips by bus for very little money and visit Troy, Gallipoli, Assos, or hundreds of other specatcular ruins, the list is endless.

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

carpets, ceramics, copperware, travel, textiles, glass, leather boots

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9. Can you save money?

I save 3/4 of my income, but I don't try to live like a foreigner either.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely!

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

preconceptions

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3. But don't forget your:

desire to learn, grow and open your mind - do some reading in history before you come and explore some recent works of authors with first-hand accounts of living here for cultural understanding

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

A Handbook for Living In Turkey - Pat YaleTurkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea - TOm BrosnahanTales from the Expat Harem - Ashmn & GokmenConstantinople: City of the World's Desire - P. ManselOrhan Pamuk's worksThe Bastard of Istanbul - Elif ShafakIstanbullu - Buket Uzkuner

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This is the best city in Europe! Great hub for travel to everywhere in the world.

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