If you’re looking at Turkey as a potential retirement destination, as somewhere to relocate with your family, or just somewhere you believe you could feel at home no matter what stage of life you’re at, wouldn’t it be ideal if you could try before you buy into the dream?
In this guide, we’ll explore what it’s like to live in Turkey as an expat, where expats live in Turkey, and what you need to do to move and settle down as easy as possible.
What is Turkey like?
Turkey is a big and multifaceted country with diverse landscapes, from mountains to salt flats to the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s sunny, it’s steeped in history and legend, it’s controversial and it’s plain beautiful. It’s also a wonderful mix of Eastern and Western cultures.
Although a Muslim-majority country, Turkey, on the whole, feels pretty secular. There are, of course, conservatives attitudes within the society, and right-wing politics still prevail, but the general feeling when you are in Turkey is that it’s close to Europe.
It’s more obvious in big cities with their huge shopping malls and supermarkets, global coffee houses and liberal women’s fashion.
Turkish people are very friendly and hospitable. In most tourist hotspots you will find the locals who staff shops and restaurants are multilingual – they speak English, German, French, and Russian and don’t think much of it. If, in turn, you can learn some basic conversational Turkish, you will be much more respected.
There are very conservative parts of Turkey, but they are very rarely expat hotspots.
In general, you will still find Turkey exotic, but mildly, not too overwhelming. You will find that life in Turkey is more relaxed and less stressful compared to major western countries.
Is living in Turkey a good idea?
Turkey can offer its residents a good climate, an active and healthy lifestyle, and most expats find they get a good value for money when they move to Turkey.
To make sure your idea of moving to Turkey works out well for you, learn the ropes beforehand. Research your locations, rent first before buying a property in Turkey, plan with your income and residence status, and, most importantly, make sure your health needs are covered.
Learning the language will help greatly. All official agencies in Turkey only speak Turkish and everything becomes 100 times more difficult if you do not speak the language.
A good job or a steady income is really important. You can appreciate in full Turkey as a great value-for-money destination only if your income is paid in one of the major currencies, not in the lira.
If you get it right, you will enjoy your life in Turkey greatly.
Things to know before moving to Turkey
If you are planning to move to a non-tourist destination in Turkey, you won’t meet many people speaking English, so day-to-day communication may be challenging.
You are moving to a Muslim country, so you should feel comfortable with and be respectful of this fact. Get used to hearing the adhan (call for prayer) in Arabic (not Turkish) 5 times a day.
Things are a little different in Turkey. Some places are really conservative and people will look at you weirdly for wearing shorts, so be mindful of this.
During Ramadan (1 month of fasting), if you eat, drink or smoke in public, there is quite a high chance of being judged.
You will most probably be warmly greeted and accepted. Turks always try to make you feel welcome. But you simply won’t be able to truly and fully fit in; it’s not always possible. That’s why so many expats end up living in ever-growing expat communities.
Turks are ferocious drivers, and pedestrians are not much respected, so watch out when crossing a road.
Turkish people have a distinct tendency to disregard rules and procedures when they don’t suit their needs, so if you’re thinking of living in Turkey, beware that not everything will work as promised all the time.
Don’t count on finding employment in Turkey. Turkish laws are not very welcoming to foreign job-seekers, and most local companies require a very good command of the Turkish language in order to get started. Unless you are being relocated by your company or headhunted by an international corporation, finding a high paid job won’t be easy.
Don’t criticize the country, the food, the culture, etc. even if your Turkish friends do it in front of you.
Turkish coffee is not as popular as one might think. This isn’t to say that they don’t drink it, but çay (tea) is the absolute winner.
Living in Turkey: the pros and cons
There are advantages and disadvantages to relocating to Turkey. It’s important to be at least aware of both before you move to make sure you know what to expect.
The cons of living in Turkey
1. Turkish bureaucracy
When you want to register your residency in Turkey and get a work permit or import your car and household effects you will encounter reams of paperwork.
You will have to visit dozens of government offices that are barely open for more than a couple of hours each day and you will find yourself being given contradictory information whichever way you turn.
Also remember, most officials do not speak English.
One top tip: if you can find a willing and friendly runner who will assist you for a small fee, take up their offer of help.
2. No universal standards for qualifications of tradespersons
Every man you meet in Turkey will tell you that yes he is a plumber, electrician, builder, plasterer, tiler or whatever it is you say you are looking for.
However, there are no training or qualifications to be gained in any aspect of the building trade and, chances are, you will have a better idea of how things are done.
If you can attempt it, do it yourself. If you can’t then we wish you the best of luck. Get referrals and recommendations from other expats.
3. Stray animals
There are many strays and street dogs and cats, which can be shocking for expats at first. However, the situation is getting better.
You might find that quite a lot of stray dogs have ear tags and seem well cared for. They are looked after by an animal welfare organisation, neutered and inoculated, and are regularly checked according to their tag colour and number.
You can help organisations looking after stray animals with donations and volunteering. Or you can adopt a few animals as pets as plenty of expats do.
The pros of living in Turkey
1. The lifestyle in Turkey is fantastic
Most of the year the weather is so ideal that one can live outside. Meals can be taken on the terrace and walks can be enjoyed in the spring, autumn and even winter – even on cooler days people switch on a terrace heater and shelter from the wind and enjoy the winter sun.
This outdoor lifestyle is healthier and also results in far more social interaction, which is good for the soul.
In the summer, of course, the sunshine boosts vitamin D levels and promotes a general feeling of well-being in most people.
All focus is on being outside, having barbecues, visiting the beach, sailing, walking and socialising with friends at restaurants or bars rather than paying for cinema tickets or for the family to have a day out at an overpriced theme park.
2. The food is amazing
The abundance of locally grown fresh produce is staggering. Local markets are where you should shop and learn to live on fruit, veg, meat, cheese and bread rather than going to the supermarket and looking for vacuum-packed ready meals.
3. Low cost of living
If your income comes outside of Turkey (such as pensions, investments, etc), you will generally find that your income in Turkey can buy you much more than back in your home country.
Locally grown produce is incredibly affordable, as is eating out. It is possible to live in Turkey on a fraction of the income that you need in the UK, for example.
How much does it cost to live in Turkey?
Turkey is a brilliant value-for-money destination and many expats find that their income lasts longer in Turkey and buys them more than in their home country. This is because, on average, the cost of living in Turkey is lower than in most Western countries and Turkish prices come as a pleasant surprise to expats.
However, this depends on your chosen location.
If you plan on living in a city, be prepared for higher expenses. In this regard, Turkey isn’t much different from any other country in the world where you pay more for urban living.
Istanbul is the most expensive place to live in Turkey. It features higher rents, and higher day to day costs like transport, food, utilities and dining out. If you have about $1000 after you pay your rent, you can live comfortably in Istanbul.
However, if you move towards the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, the prices of almost everything will be much more agreeable. Some very popular coastal expat locations like Fethiye are about 20 percent cheaper than Istanbul. For many, they are much more fun places to live as well.
Is it easy to get a job in Turkey?
To be employed in Turkey you need to have a work permit. Turkey has an excellent labour supply as the population is very young. It is also a major commitment for an employer to hire a foreigner over a Turkish national, so not many companies will bother applying for a work permit for a foreigner if they can employ a citizen.
The best chance for finding employment in Turkey is to be employed by an international company that has a branch in Turkey and will relocate you there.
Those who can teach and have teaching experience are in a better position. If you’re planning to teach English and you’re a native speaker of the language, it’s easier to get a job in Turkey. Some major private schools are struggling to find English language teachers to the point that they are willing to hire people with little experience. These are quite decently paying jobs.
It’s easier to find a well-paying job in big cities like Istanbul and Izmir than in the coastal locations preferred by expats.
If you want to live on the coast and need a job, the most common way to get employed is to ask your local expat businesses whether there are opportunities. You won’t be paid a lot though.
If a certain income is a priority, setting up your own business or working remotely for an overseas company is a better option than trying to get employed locally.
How can I get a visa and residence in Turkey?
If you want to visit Turkey temporarily, you can simply apply for an E-Visa Turkey. This application is for those who want to enter Turkey for tourism and commerce purposes.
If you’re a foreigner who will be in Turkey for less than three months, this tourism visa will cover your stay.
Citizens of certain countries don’t even need to apply for e-visas to enter Turkey as temporary visitors. Check with your Turkish embassy or consulate if you are not sure.
However, if you plan on moving to live more permanently in Turkey then you will have to apply for a permanent resident’s visa.
Can I stay and live permanently in Turkey?
If you plan to stay in Turkey longer than 90 days, you have to apply for a residence permit in advance.
A Turkish residence permit allows you to remain in Turkey for longer than three months in a half-year period. You need it if you are planning to live permanently, work, or study in Turkey.
Apart from this, the permit will let you get married, apply for a Turkish drivers’ license, get a tax number, open a bank account, purchase property, make investments, and much more.
If you have been employed by a Turkish based business and are moving there for work, you will only need a work permit, which also serves as a residence permit.
Long-term residence permit in Turkey
If you have lived in Turkey legally for at least eight years uninterrupted with a residence permit issued by the Turkish authorities, then you can apply for a Turkish long-term permit, which is an indefinite leave to remain.
How to apply for Turkey Residence Permit
You need to apply within a month of your arrival in Turkey.
Apply online on the website of the Turkish Ministry of Internal Affairs.
When your application is submitted, you will be redirected to the “Central Appointment System” website. There you need to book an appointment at the nearest office of the Directorate General of Migration Management.
You will be given the address of the nearest DGMM office and a list of required documents. You will be able to choose from the available dates and times for the appointment. You will also need to pay the application and residence card fees.
Anyone under 65 must have full health insurance – state or private – if they are applying for a Turkish residency permit.
Can I start a business in Turkey?
Foreign nationals can set up a business in Turkey. It’s highly advisable to get a professional body to help you to do so. Multiple companies help register and establish limited companies or other business formations.
It might take up to 3 days to register and establish a company in Turkey. There are no requirements of Turkish participation in the capital or management of a company established by foreign nationals.
Establishing a limited company in Turkey:
- Minimum 2 shareholders
- Capital requirement is TL 5,000
- Relatively fast incorporation process (3 days)
- 100 percent of foreign shareholders allowed
- 100 percent of foreign directors allowed
- Automatic membership in the Chamber of Commerce
- No Turkish participation required in the management of the company
- Equal treatment for domestic and foreign shareholders
Can I use Turkish healthcare?
Once you have been a legal resident for a year, you are eligible for state healthcare in Turkey – the Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu (SGK) scheme.
When you are enrolled you will receive an SGK health insurance ID card that you can use to access several services in state hospitals. The scheme is funded by monthly fees paid by all participants.
To enrol, submit an initial application at your local SGK office. You will need your residence permit, passport, and proof of address. You will be provisionally enrolled and provided with a Provizyon Sorgulama Cevap (Provisional Enquiry Reply).
You will be required to pay the premium for the first month of coverage.
Do I need private health insurance in Turkey?
You cannot obtain a residence permit in Turkey without having full health cover of some sort. You also cannot use a state healthcare scheme until you have lived in Turkey legally for at least one year. So, in short, the answer is yes, you need health insurance at least for one year.
Also, private hospitals (özel hastane) and clinics have better facilities and well-trained staff who are more likely to speak English.
Private health insurance in Turkey is more expensive than your monthly SGK payments, however, it remains quite affordable. You can also skip the long queues in state-run hospitals.
If you are planning on living in Turkey long-term or suffer from chronic illnesses, you should consider investing in health insurance.
Where is the best place to live in Turkey?
As is so often the case when it comes to foreign citizens relocating to a popular destination abroad, there are quite a few expat enclaves now developing in Turkey, particularly along the southern coastline.
If this appeals to you, it won’t be difficult to find a place where you feel like home without a need for a long adjustment period.
Look at Altinkum, for example. This place is sometimes called “Little Britain”. It has one of the largest British expat communities and all the paraphernalia that comes with it, including British pubs, cafes and restaurants. You won’t miss your traditional English breakfast or Sunday roast if living there.
If you are after a more international feel, look at the Antalya region. It feels more European than other destinations in Turkey. There are more global expats permanently living in Antalya than in other parts of Turkey. It’s also the second most popular location for foreigners who wish to buy a property in Turkey, which is reflected in the prices.
If you are after something quieter and more authentic, have a look at the Dalaman region. It’s not very popular with expats yet. The town of Dalaman lies inland and the nearest beach is about 10k away, so you will need a car to get there.
The best thing about Dalama is that it’s not popular with tourists either. So unlike coastal towns, Dalaman is never overrun by crowds in the tourist season.
If you are after a buzz of city living, your best choice will be moving to Istanbul. Istanbul is unique; it’s inclusive, diverse and charming. You will also find that despite being a capital city, Istanbul is still more affordable than other popular European destinations.
Final thoughts on living in Turkey
Turkey has so much going for it that might easily become your perfect home abroad. Many expats love living in Turkey and won’t even consider going anywhere else.
However, fitting in when moving to a different country is a very personalised experience. What is perfect for some, might be awful for you.
Doing initial research before you move is vital, but it won’t help you understand completely whether Turkey is the right country for you.
The best thing to do is to spend some time in the country as a temporary resident and talk to local expats before you commit to a permanent move.