Want to live in Turkey?
From the sun-baked Mediterranean coastline to the energetic cities of Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey offers expats a rich and balanced lifestyle.
Whether you move to Turkey to climb the corporate ladder or to enjoy a laid-back retirement, you’ll find it a captivating place to live. A recent building boom means there are plenty of properties to rent or buy. The cost of living is lower than other popular expat destinations in Europe. And an extensive public transport network makes both local and long-distance travel easy.
Accommodation in Turkey
Most expats in Turkey choose to rent, but the language barrier can be a problem when you’re dealing with landlords. An English-speaking estate agent could help with your search and lease negotiation.
There’s a wide choice of accommodation in Turkey. Many expats live in spacious apartments, condominiums or luxury villas. Most rental properties are unfurnished.
Rental contracts are fairly standard, although you can negotiate the lease duration with the landlord. You’ll likely have to put down a deposit of a month’s rent, and you may have to pay a regular maintenance fee if you live in an apartment complex. In some cases, utility bills are included in the rent.
Local culture in Turkey
Seen as a bridge between East and West, Turkey has a unique cultural heritage with a strong Middle Eastern influence. Although a secular country, the majority of the population is Muslim, so you should respect the tenets of Islam. Any effort you make to learn some basic Turkish phrases will also be appreciated.
When Turks are communicating, you’ll rarely hear the Turkish word for ‘no’. Instead of saying it, the Turks have a gesture – an upward flick of the head accompanied by a clicking of the tongue.
Turkish people enjoy close contact and often touch each other while they’re talking. Greetings between friends and family usually involve kisses on both cheeks and a hug. There are rules governing physical contact between men and women in public – so if you don’t know someone well, wait for them to initiate a greeting.
While Turkey is safe for women, female expats and tourists often complain of being harassed by Turkish men. The best way to avoid this is to dress conservatively, avoid eye contact and ignore any flirtatious remarks.
Wherever you go in Turkey you’ll find tea houses where Turkish men gather in the evenings to play backgammon and discuss the way of the world. Traditionally, women didn’t enter tea houses, but this is changing now that Turkey’s popularity as a tourist destination is growing.
Education in Turkey
Education standards vary in Turkey’s public schools – so most expats send their children to a private or international school. The academic year runs from mid-September or early October through to May or early June with the main holidays in January/February and June to September.
Children must attend school between the age of 6 and 18. Both primary and secondary schools are free for expats. Large classes and a shortage of teachers mean that a school may divide the day into two sessions, with some children attending in the morning and others in the afternoon.
Private schools follow the national curriculum and lessons are taught in Turkish. Children have to pass an entrance exam to get a place.
Homeschooling is illegal in Turkey – and failing to register your children at a school is a serious criminal offence.
Most of Turkey’s international schools are in Ankara and Istanbul. These mostly follow American, British or German curricula or the International Baccalaureate. And many teach Turkish as part of the syllabus. Fees are high and competition for places can be fierce.
Keeping in touch in Turkey
With a wide choice of service providers, getting online in Turkey is easy and cheap, and there are plenty of WiFi hotspots in urban areas. There has been increasing censorship in recent years, with social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube blocked at times, and several websites permanently blocked.
In terms of mobiles, there are three main providers – Turkcell, Avea and Vodafone Turkey. Each has a range of contract packages and pay-as-you-go services.
If you would like to get your hands on some English media, the main English-language daily newspapers are the Daily Sabah and Hürriyet Daily News. The public broadcaster Türkiye Radyo ve Televizyon Kurumu (TRT) sometimes includes English-language TV and radio programmes in its schedules – and you don’t need a TV licence. The main satellite and cable providers, Digiturk and D-Smart, also have some channels in English.
Healthcare in Turkey
The quality of healthcare in Turkey varies from region to region. Public healthcare in Turkey tends to be cheaper than in the rest of Europe, but standards are comparatively low. If you’ve lived in the country for more than a year and contribute to the state social security scheme, you’ll get free treatment at public hospitals.
Most expats in Turkey use private hospitals, however, which are more likely to have medical staff who speak English. Private healthcare is cheap, and standards are good, making the country a popular medical tourism destination, particularly for cosmetic surgery and fertility treatment. If you take out medical insurance to pay for private healthcare, make sure it covers the hospital you want to use.
Most Turkish neighbourhoods have a duty pharmacy that’s open 24 hours a day. Many medications that are only available on prescription in other countries are sold over the counter in Turkey.
For the public ambulance service, dial 112. The line is open 24 hours, but there’s no guarantee the operator will speak English. Some private hospitals run their own emergency services for registered patients.
The main health hazards facing expats in Turkey are malaria, which is present in the southeast, parasitic diseases and there’s also a high incidence of rabies.
Getting around in Turkey
With good public transport infrastructure, it’s easy to get around Turkey. Catching a bus is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to travel in Turkey. The bus network is extensive – long-distance routes connect many towns and cities, and intercity buses are clean and comfortable.
The rail network, run by Turkish Republic State Railways, covers most of the centre and east of the country, but services are limited in the west and along the Mediterranean coast. There’s a high-speed line between Istanbul and Ankara, and both cities have reliable metro systems.
You’ll find metered yellow taxis in the bigger cities. Drivers don’t always speak English – so it’s useful to have your destination written down if you don’t speak Turkish. Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, are also available in Turkey. In Turkey’s main towns and cities there are also minibus taxis called dolmus that can be flagged down anywhere along their designated routes. While they’re cheaper than metered taxis and faster than buses, dolmus can be overcrowded and driven dangerously.
There’s also a regular ferry service across the Dardanelles at Gallipoli. You can also catch a ferry to cross the Bosphorus, travel to Greece and Cyprus, or take short-hop rides between various parts of Istanbul.
If you’re determined to use a car in Turkey, you should drive defensively. Traffic may seem lawless by Western standards, with much flashing of lights, hooting of horns and a high incidence of accidents.
For air travel, Turkey’s main airports are Ankara Esenboga and Istanbul’s Ataturk International. Fierce competition between domestic airlines keeps ticket prices low. The national carrier, Turkish Airlines, also has flights to a wide range of international destinations.
Cost of living in Turkey
The cost of living in Turkey is lower than in many European countries. In particular, public transport is cheap and housing is good value for money compared to the rest of Europe and the USA.
Buying food at a local market is the cheapest option. Many modern supermarkets stock imported products, but these often have a high price tag. You may also find red meat surprisingly expensive.
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Top tips for Turkey
See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Turkey.
Learn the language and see how things open up for you.
All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.
All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.
This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.
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