Enjoy A Better Life Living In Northern Cyprus
What it's like to live in North Cyprus: property issues, work and additional income for expats, settling in and more.
The main advantage of living in Northern Cyprus is getting all the perks of the Mediterranean lifestyle for a very attractive price. Indeed, in North Cyprus, your money can go much further than in most other popular retirement destinations.
Northern Cyprus is a sun-soaked, vibrant, historically rich, culturally diverse and beautiful part of the world, resting in the Mediterranean and at home both in Europe and the Middle East.
Due to the fact that the northern part of the island is recognized only by Turkey, economically it is not as robust as South Cyprus and it still suffers embargoes. However, the cost of living and property in Northern Cyprus is much lower than in most European countries.
Many expat retirees use this advantage and settle in the northern part of Cyprus to make their pension income go even further.
The northern part of the island is also arguably the most beautiful part of Cyprus, featuring dramatic Crusader castles, white colonial villages and miles of untouched, undeveloped sandy beaches.
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The TRNC is definitely one of the least expensive countries to live along the Mediterranean coast. Compared to the cost of living in the UK, it is really good value, although it is gradually rising due to the influx of tourists and expatriate residents.
Both buying and renting a property is considerably cheaper than anywhere else in the Mediterranean. If you shop at the local markets for fruit and vegetables, you will be surprised how far your pounds can stretch. However, imported products are expensive, as they can only be delivered through Turkey and are subject to heavy taxes.
Eating out is also inexpensive, especially if you can find little local taverns away from tourist districts.
Whichever side of Cyprus you live on, it’s worth making sure you travel and explore the whole island.
EU citizens are free to cross the border between the countries, but only at designated points, with most convenient ones being in Nicosia – the capital of both republics.
Nicosia is a divided city with part of it belonging to the TRNC and part to the Republic of Cyprus.
Crossing the border is not a big deal, although you might have to queue sometimes, especially if you do it by car.
If you are a resident of the Republic of Cyprus, when crossing to the TRNC you will have to get an entry clearance at the checkpoint and insure your car (if your car is registered in the Republic of Cyprus). The entrance clearance is free of charge and can be valid for up to 90 days; short-term car insurance is available on the spot as well.
For EU citizens resident in the TRNC, the procedure is similar – you will need your EU/UK passport and car insurance to enter the Republic of Cyprus.
Expats on both sides frequently go to and fro and think nothing of it. Once you’ve done it, you’ll realise it’s very easy.
Shopping and entertainment options are more abundant and sophisticated in the South, while natural and major historic sites are more impressive in the North.
Many expats living in the TRNC also prefer to use south Cyprus airports because they are much better connected to the UK and Europe and offer direct flights to many destinations all over the world.
There are two major international airports in South Cyprus – Larnaca and Paphos, and one airport in Northern Cyprus – Ercan International Airport, which is used as the main civilian airport.
It takes just under five hours to fly to Larnaca or Paphos from most major airports in the UK. A number of airlines offer flights to Cyprus, including low budget EasyJet, and the tickets are almost always reasonably priced (apart from during the school holidays, of course).
There are no direct flights to Ercan at the moment, as the international agreement demands that all the planes have to touch down in mainland Turkey before proceeding to the TRNC.
Flights, therefore, can be a long ordeal. However, with a great number of airlines offering their services, including Pegasus, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Air Lingus, etc., there is always an option to choose a very short connection in Turkey.
Some planes literally do “touchdown” and then take off again almost straightaway to continue to TRNC, so that you have to wait a maximum of about 40 minutes on the ground in your seat before the flight resumes.
When entering the TRNC (the north), you are given a 90-day permission to stay visa. However, if you decide to stay longer, you must apply for a temporary residence permit as soon as possible. Until you obtain Permanent Residency, all residency visas are classed as “Temporary”.
On your first application, visit the Immigration Section at your local police station.
You will have to present a photocopy of your property sale contract (kocan – deed), or rental contract in your name, and a local bank statement with a minimum of £10,000 or Turkish lira equivalent, per person.
Your valid passport, passport-sized photographs and proof of address in the form of an original letter from your local Muhktar (the head of a local community, usually found running a corner shop or in a local community centre) will be needed as well.
Temporary permits are issued for one year and must be renewed annually. Married couples should produce their marriage certificate and a photocopy of it.
There is also a health check to pass before your permit can be approved.
If you are 60 or above, you no longer need to apply for a yearly residency stamp in your passport. You are free to enter and exit the TRNC as often as you like and stay there for as long as you like.
Just a few years ago Northern Cyprus was caught up in the worldwide property boom with everyone and his wife believing they could become rich, super-rich, off the back of bricks and mortar.
At the time Northern Cyprus was still underdeveloped in terms of real estate, and this resulted in many landowners building properties to sell to foreign investors and expatriates.
Some of the developments were well-constructed by professionals – many were bodged and thrown together. Well, now that the dust has settled on the global property market, just like in the UK even, there are developments that have stood the test of a little time, and they are fully inhabited and thriving. These are the developments any expatriate considering North Cyprus should be drawn towards.
Do not even consider buying off-plan now – because you don’t need to. Why take the risk of something that has yet to be constructed when there are money worries on an international scale that could see your well-intentioned developer going out of business.
You are far better to look at the pre-constructed stock that is either being sold as a resale, or something that is completed on an already finished and inhabited site. Follow this advice and you will have your housing needs well looked after.
Alternatively, just as you can rent in any other country in the world, why put all your eggs in one basket, why not rent a home on the island first to get a feel for it. And to see whether you would be comfortable committing to the island for the long-term. After all, property is a long-term commitment if you buy it.
What’s more, there is an ongoing dispute between the Greek Cypriots in southern Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriots in Northern Cyprus over who actually owns the land across both sides of the island on which property is constructed.
For example, before the 1974 conflict, the land that Larnaca International Airport is now constructed on belonged to a Turkish Cypriot family.
Following the cessation of hostilities and the division of the island, the Turkish Cypriots inhabited all the land in the North and the Greek Cypriots all the land in the South. Now, generations later, there is still arguing about who owns which land.
As a foreigner, you may have absolutely no desire to get involved with this in-fighting as it really is none of your business. In which case, rent a property or buy a home with the ‘right type’ of indisputable title deeds.
Buying property in North Cyprus can seem very attractive price-wise, however, it’s highly recommended to rent first and get to know locations and the quirks of the property market before you commit.
Precautions to take:
Foreigners wishing to purchase in Northern Cyprus are allowed to acquire one property per person or per married couple, or up to one donum of land (1,338sq meters or 14,400 sq ft). This restriction does not apply when buying foreign or Turkish titled property.
To be able to purchase a property you have to get permission from the Council of Ministry, which can take about six months to complete.
There are several types of title deeds under which land and property are sold in Northern Cyprus, some of which are considered more desirable than others.
Property or land owned by Turks or Turkish Cypriots before the division of Cyprus in 1974 is sold under Turkish Title. Property that used to be owned by foreigners (Europeans or other nationals) before 1974 is sold under Foreign Title.
Both titles are internationally recognised.
TRNC Title (Kesin Tasarruf Belgesi – Absolute Possession Document) covers properties and lands that were given to Turkish Cypriot refugees in compensation for the land of similar size and value that they lost in the south following the war in 1974.
Should the two sides of the island ever reach a political agreement based on the United Nations’ Annan Plan, properties and lands covered by TRNC Title may be subject to claims for compensation from former Greek Cypriot owners. However, the compensation will be most likely based on pre-1974 values and be minimal, especially if the lands in question were derelict or grazing lands before 1974.
Most new developments in the TRNC happen on such land.
TDM Title or “Turk Mali Degil” – Not Turkish Title, covers the land that was owned mostly by Greek Cypriots before 1974 and was given to Turkish settlers after 1975. Purchasing a property covered by TDM Title can be a higher risk.
The process of purchasing a property in the TRNC is quite straightforward. As a rule, two lawyers are involved in the purchase – from the seller’s and the buyer’s side.
A buyer and a vendor agree on the price and the agreement is drawn in English. The agreement specifies the price agreed, time of completion and any other conditions of sale. At this point, the buyer is required to put down a 10% deposit.
The buyer’s lawyer then applies on behalf of the buyer for a permit from the Council of Ministers to purchase the property. When the permit is obtained, the buyer pays the rest of the price and the transfer of all rights of the property into the name of the buyer is signed by the vendor. The transaction is officially complete.
Make sure to budget 3% for stamp duty and a minimum of £1,000 for your solicitor’s fees.
Tax on a property purchase in North Cyprus is 5%.
If you’re too young to retire or too active to want to retire, you’re going to want to know about the employment landscape in North Cyprus.
The majority of local citizens who are not self-employed or working in a family run business work for the state – with more government jobs available than in any other sector.
For a foreigner government jobs are not going to be an option. So, you will need to find opportunities.
If you’re a teacher or a college or university lecturer you may well find a job doing the same in North Cyprus. Education on the island is very big business, with a number of international schools and universities catering to thousands of students dotted about across the whole island.
There are limited jobs available in the real estate and tourism industries – and these tend to be oversubscribed anyway. So your best way forward may be to find a niche that can be exploited, and open your own business locally.
Alternatively, why not consider an eBusiness, and find your niche via the Internet and work online. You could even consider trading online if you’re a canny and clever soul because Northern Cyprus has quite a good Internet infrastructure.
The currency of the TRNC is the Turkish Lira (TL). It is not very stable as a rule, and the exchange rate can work in favour of those who draw their income in pounds, euros or dollars.
Transactions can be carried out in all leading currencies in the north. The Central Bank of Northern Cyprus is responsible for the monetary, credit, and exchange policy, and acts as bankers to the government. Transaction hours are between 08:30 am-2 pm during summer, from 3 pm-6 pm on Mondays and 08:30 am-5 pm during the winter.
Commercial banks in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus can either be branches of large banks based in Turkey or actual local banks in TRNC.
It is easy to open a bank account in TRNC. Although different banks can have different paperwork requirements, most of them will ask for your passport and/or driving licence. Sometimes proof of address will be necessary. Also if you are an account holder with HSBC UK, and want an HSBC account in TRNC, the local HSBC will ask for a bank reference.
Most of the large banks have an English speaking section. There is also healthy competition in high street banking in the TRNC, with a number of recently-opened banks offering better interest rates: Iktisatbank, Credit West and Turk Bankasi are the most popular. So if you’re looking for a savings account, you’d better shop around to find the best offers.
There is not any tax treaty between the UK and the TRNC.
If you become a resident of Northern Cyprus you can either be taxed in the UK or if you receive a private pension, then you might want to look at the possibilities of transferring your pension to QROPS (qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme) and potentially living tax-free.
Seek professional advice from an international financial advisor about QROPS options available to you and what pros and cons you should consider.
It is worth remembering, however, that the government of the TRNC does not tax foreign pensions.
Prior to leaving the UK, among other things you should inform your pension provider and then register in Northern Cyprus for tax purposes. Thus you will be able to receive your UK pension gross and yet not be taxed on it in the TRNC either.
Another advantage is that the TRNC has not signed up to the European Savings Tax Directive. This means you can legally keep your money in offshore accounts and bring in only what you need.
Any earnings made in the TRNC, such as income from property letting or from bank interest, are taxable.
Tax issues in the TRNC are complex. To be on the safe side it’s best to consult a local tax specialist.
It is also important to have two wills in place: one in the UK, and the other in the TRNC to cover your TRNC property and bank account.
According to North Cyprus laws, if one of the partners in a marriage or relationship dies intestate (i.e. without leaving a will) the remaining spouse will not automatically inherit the estate if there are surviving children. I.e., the laws of succession differ to those in the UK for example.
To cover your assets and property in North Cyprus, you need to prepare and sign your will with a lawyer in the TRNC.
North Cyprus offers you a choice of state-run or public hospitals and clinics if you find yourself in need of medical attention. You will have to pay for all your treatment in TRNC.
Private healthcare and hospital facilities are quite good in Northern Cyprus, with new centres including the Near East University Hospital and Medical School, which boast world-class equipment and treatment opportunities.
Some private hospitals offer expats a membership system, where you can choose a certain level of an annual membership that entitles you to discounted fees for treatments.
You might want to consider private medical insurance. However, it’s next to impossible to obtain a private plan from a local insurer if you are over the age of 70. Some expats take out international health cover. This, however, is generally quite expensive.
You may want to buy insurance with high excesses to be insured against the most expensive misfortunes only and pay out of your own pocket for minor treatments.
In this case, your monthly insurance premiums can be quite low and you will have peace of mind knowing that you are covered in case of critical emergency.
If you are under 70 years old, one of the options is Emergency Health Insurance from some of the local insurance companies. Emergency plans are usually reasonably priced and will cover you in most cases of medical emergencies.
Make sure you understand what emergencies your plan covers before you sign up.
With the cost of healthcare in the TRNC being fairly low anyway, you might find this option the best one.
You might also choose not to bother with insurance at all, and if you think your risks of getting seriously ill or needing an emergency surgery are quite low, then you can just pay per visit to see a specialist.
Example costs of dental and optical treatments:
The emergency departments of all hospitals in North Cyprus have English-speaking personnel. But they do recommend you seek the assistance of an interpreter for more complex medical matters.
Emergency medical treatment is administered in the Accident and Emergency department. The emergency number for an ambulance is 112.
Alternatively (and this is the best way), make your way to the nearest hospital or health care clinic for immediate treatment. No one is refused emergency care, whether they have the financial means to pay for it or not.
Pharmacies in North Cyprus are famous for selling almost every single prescription drug you can think of over the counter. Prescription and over the counter medicines produced in Turkey are often far cheaper than in the UK, while the drugs imported from Europe are usually expensive.
The British Residents Society is a non-profit organisation that provides support and advice for Britons in North Cyprus. The Society has direct access to the British High Commission and Government Departments of the TRNC and has a certain say in how expat affairs are managed there.
The group has agreements with a number of institutions in the TRNC, which means members of the BRS can access discounted or better level services from those institutions.
As an example, the BRS has negotiated discounts with some hospitals, but you have to present a valid BRS card to obtain this.
Creditwest Bank can offer more favourable conditions to the BRS members than other TRNC banks. The bank also offers health insurance plans.
Apart from advice and help, the BRS can help you integrate quicker and find friends. They also host and organise various social events and gatherings.
You can virtually have any level of lifestyle you want on the island – depending on how much disposable income you have!
For example, if you have megabucks you can have everything from a personal gym to a cinema in your own home – as well as the ubiquitous pool in the garden of course, which you can use for at least 8 months of the year comfortably.
There are cinemas, clubs, bars, an incredible array of restaurants catering to all tastes and all budgets for those living in Northern Cyprus. There are casinos, discos, societies and sports clubs, public gyms, spas and beach clubs.
What’s more, because the local average wages are relatively modest, the cost of living well in the North can be easily within your reach.
You can access English speaking, internationally trained doctors and dentists in North Cyprus – and private fees for seeing the best are not excessively high.
You can have your children educated at an international school – although these are fee-paying. The English School of Kyrenia, for example, is accredited to the standard of UK schools and courses.
You can shop in a supermarket where the shelves are lined with international produce – or of course, you can save huge amounts of cash and shop at the weekly markets across the country.
You can sun yourself for 9 months of the year for free, never get bored of the blue skies and the beaches. You will find your Cypriot neighbours make you most welcome, and that there are plenty of expatriates who already call North Cyprus home.
Just because there are many similarities between Northern Cyprus and the UK it doesn’t mean that things are the same on all levels.
There is plenty of bureaucracy, and you have to pay to have a visa to reside and/or work on the island – and pay every year for its renewal.
What’s more, there is some hostility or resentment towards ‘wealthy incomers’ from certain sectors of society including from some of the expats who have lived on the island for many, many years.
You will find a friendship group and selection of acquaintances that you get along with – these will be your core. You’ll then find you settle in and then settle down successfully and can enjoy an incredibly high standard of living in this safe, secure and beautiful country.
And one final note – if you are looking for an affordable place to live abroad, North Cyprus is affordable for many of your day-to-day essentials, and you can live like a local and reduce your bills right down.
However, as soon as you start adding on bells and whistles, buying expensive white goods for your home or a TV, garden furniture or going out every night, the cost of living will rack up! If you’re on a budget, spend a couple of months ‘holidaying’ on the island before you commit to it, to see whether it is indeed affordable for you.