Everything Expats Need To Know About Living In Istanbul

The ins and outs of living in Istanbul as an expat: how much it costs, the best areas, retirement opportunities, the pros & cons.

Being one of the most important cities of both Turkey and the world in terms of its cultural heritage, Istanbul welcomes millions of visitors every year. Many of them fall in love with the city and some of them come back as permanent residents.

In this guide, we will talk about what living in Istanbul as an expat is like and what you should expect if you decide to move to Turkey’s capital. 

Is Istanbul a good place to live?

Istanbul is a great place to live if you are seeking cultural diversity, historical richness, and a vast sea.

Historically and geographically Istanbul unites both Asia and Europe. This helps to establish a bond between eastern and western cultures and creates a great sense of diversity in the city. 

If you’re planning to move abroad and diverse society is what you are looking for, consider Istanbul. 

Istanbul never fails to charm. Quite a few expats and foreign retirees living in Istanbul at present will tell you that they have made the decision to stay after visiting this magical city as tourists. 

Is it expensive to live in Istanbul?

Compared to other South European capitals, Istanbul is not a super expensive place to live. 

Living in Istanbul
The view of Istanbul from the Golden Horn

You can live quite well in Istanbul on 2000€ (20,000 TL) a month if you are a moderate person. 

However, there are no upper limits when it comes to spending your money in Istanbul. If you after a lavish lifestyle, even a 10,000€/100,000TL monthly income might not be enough.

Istanbul offers lots of opportunities to shape your lifestyle and spend your money. 

For an expat, a 2000€ monthly income would be enough to enjoy Istanbul in general. Renting a flat in safe districts like Beşiktaş and Şişli starts from 400€ (4,000 TL). You can also spend the same amount on food and transportation. 

Heating costs would be around 100€ (1000 TL) in winter. 

Can I retire to Istanbul?

Istanbul is becoming more and more popular with expat retirees. It’s not surprising: the city has all the amenities one needs to maintain active life in retirement, healthcare facilities are good and easily accessible.

İstanbul has lots of opportunities for foreign retirees. There are senior residences and retirement homes with all-inclusive packages that start from 600€/6000TL a month.

The cost of living in Turkey is significantly lower compared to other popular retirement destinations. Hence the costs of services for pensioners are much more affordable while the quality of the services offered to retirees is high.

The costs of senior residences in Istanbul vary between €400 and €700 per month, an average of €600 per month can be expected.

You will find new friendships, nice weather, delicious Turkish cuisine, sightseeing tours and other organised activities. Plus, housekeeping is provided if you wish to avoid house chores. 

One of the well-known retirees’ establishments is Çetin Life Club. The club offers retirees affordable rooms in houses with shared living areas. Cetin Life Club also helps expats to find all-inclusive flats in Istanbul.

The pros and cons of living in Istanbul

Like any other location, Istanbul comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s speak of the positives first.

Living in Istanbul
Beykoz district in Istanbul stretches from the opening of the Bosphorus into the Black Sea and to the villages beyond along the coast as far as the village of Riva. This is one of the most pleasant and peaceful districts of Istanbul, with much greenery still intact.

The pros of living in Istanbul

1. You will never run out of things to do

İstanbul is full of activities and events 24/7. Concerts, conventions, parties, exhibitions, sports events are held in Istanbul much more often and on a bigger scale than in other cities in Turkey.

Life doesn’t end at 5 p.m. or on Sundays like in some of the western cities. Even in outer suburbs, shops, stores, shopping malls, grocery stores are open until 10 p.m. 

2. Good public transport

Public transport in Istanbul is mostly safe and works quite well. A public transport card called Istanbulkart will allow you to use all public transport available in the city: boats, subways, buses, tramways, funiculars.

You can buy the card from Biletmatik ticket machines near metro stations, piers, and bus stations. 

You can top-up your Istanbulkart whenever you need using Biletmatic machines.

3. A capital city that comes with good beaches

The city is surrounded by the Marmara and Black seas. You can find some really great sandy and pebble beaches in the islands near Istanbul.

Living in istanbul
Babylon Kilyos is a perfect spot for families and youngsters to have a fun day at the beach.

There are reasonable transport links from the city to help you escape to the coast on a hot summer’s day.

You can take advantage of the free beaches like Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada.

If you prefer better-serviced beaches and don’t mind paying an entrance fee, there are many private beaches on the islands for you to enjoy. 

4. Excellent travel hub

Do you need to travel frequently? It’s hard to find a more convenient place than Istanbul then. The city has great travel connections with the rest of the world. It is really easy to fly anywhere (Europe, Asia, Africa, America) from Istanbul. 

5. Good healthcare facilities

The private healthcare sector is outstanding in Istanbul. It is also cheaper than in many European countries and definitely much cheaper than in the USA. You will find the cost of private healthcare insurance in Turkey quite affordable.

As to the state-funded healthcare system, it’s not as impressive as the private sector. However, it’s been invested in and improved to a reasonable level. It’s worth knowing that after a year of living in Turkey, you can choose to join the public healthcare system if you wish to.

The cons of living in Istanbul

1. Heavy traffic

Traffic does make life difficult for people living in Istanbul. Like many other capitals, Istanbul is overcrowded and traffic is always a problem.

Going towards the coast on a weekend can become a mission impossible. It’s common to spend 2 hours in the traffic while travelling to a destination 30 minutes away. 

2. No parking spaces

Heavy traffic also means finding a parking space is a problem especially in tourist-heavy places like Eminönü, Beşiktaş, Kadıköy or Taksim. 

3. Hectic driving

Istanbul residents’ driving style is not for the faint-hearted! Pedestrians should also be very careful. Most of the drivers won’t give way to pedestrians on a pedestrian crossing. Turn left/right at a red light is also common. 

4. The most expensive property in the country

If you are planning to buy a property in Turkey and your chosen location is Istanbul, be prepared to pay more than anywhere else in the country. An average house price in Istanbul is around €650 per square metre compared to the nationwide average of €390 per sq. metre.

Is Istanbul safe?

Like in other popular tourist cities, there’re all kinds of people that you could possibly see from all over the world in Istanbul.

Living in Istanbul
Etiler, a modern neighbourhood on the European side of Istanbul in the district of Beşiktaş.

If you take sensible precautions, it’s easy to keep safe in Istanbul. Go with the crowd and be careful at night. Avoid isolated or poorly lit areas especially the backstreets of Taksim, Karaköy and Şişli.

It is recommended that you should avoid Dolapdere, Tarlabaşı, Gaziosmanpaşa, Kasımpaşa, Kuştepe, Laleli/Aksaray as they are not safe for female foreigners especially if you are on your own. 

Also be careful in Sultanbeyli, Esenyurt districts on the European side and Gülsuyu on the Asian side of Istanbul.

And please, don’t get too vocal about the inner affairs of Turkey as everybody is just very tense about it. 

Where to live in Istanbul?

If you work in Istanbul it’s crucial to find a home near your workplace. This way you can avoid traffic and this gains you lots of time on weekdays. 

Living in Istnabul
Bahçeşehir park, a housing project that combines social and shopping areas with city life.

On the European side, the best areas are Bahçeşehir, Beylikdüzü, Küçükçekmece. They are quite affordable and safe. If you don’t have a car, it won’t be a problem as public transport is efficient and easy to use. 

If you don’t mind living in popular tourist districts then there are Nişantaşı, Ortaköy and Etiler.  These areas have high renting costs but you will rub shoulders with İstanbul’s elite social groups who love these prominent locations.

On the Asian side, Sancaktepe, Kirazlıtepe, Kadıköy are quite affordable.

If you prefer more fashionable places consider Fenerbahçe, Suadiye or Beykoz. All of these districts are great for families, young professionals and retirees.

Living in Istanbul – summary 

If you think of living in Istanbul as a foreigner, you will never get bored. Every day is a new day. Living here comes with a low cost of living, cheaper healthcare, good nightlife, cultural diversity, and delicious cuisine. 

You will experience the four seasons just like they are meant to be: a hot summer, a cold winter, chilly autumn and warm spring. 

“Istanbul is a magical seal which unites Europe and Asia since the ancient times. Without a doubt, Istanbul is certainly the most beautiful place of the world.”

Gerard De Nerval

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