Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 07/28/13
Personal Experiences from Ankara, Turkey
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, have lived in several other European and Asian cities.
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?
D.C. - due ro limited flight schedules and the requirement to adhere to 'FlyAmerican' it can take anywhere from 20 to 28 hours to get to Ankara. You connect through either Frankfurt or Munich, but direct flights from Germany to Ankara are limited and more expensive, so often you also have to transit Istanbul adding time and yet another connection to your trip.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government - affiliated with the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Everyone lives in an apartment. Commute times vary by location ranging anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour with traffic. Commuting has become more difficult since the bombing and commute times have increased.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Costs of fruit and vegetables are lower than in the DC metro area, but meats (chicken, beef, lamb, and fish) are more expensive. Non food groceries are usually more expensive on the economy. Pork is astronomical on the local economy at international grocery stores like Metro. Everything is much cheaper on the base, but the commissary is small and its selection is limited. That said, I rarely shop off base, because they are that much cheaper.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Everything is available here or can be ordered by mail or through the BX or commissary.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Burger King, Popeye's, Arby's, Domino's, plus local chains like Timboo, NumNums, Sushi Co., and my favorite Liva Patanesi.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Insects are virtually non-existant. Not sure if it is due to the dry cilmate (no standing water for mosquitos to breed) or what.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the Embassy DPO. Generally packages take 2 weeks, but I have seen things take 6 weeks or longer. Lots of lost packages at this post!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Not as cheap as you would think. Usually anywhere from US$50 to $80 per day, plus transportation costs.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, at the Embassy and in several local malls.
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?
Generally credit card use is safe here. Take the normal precautions you would take in the U.S. and you will be fine.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. I know both Catholic and Anglican are available and the base also has services, but I don't know the denomination.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, but I do not have newspaper or TV service, so I do not know the cost. AFN is available though the Embassy's recreation club.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You will need to learn some Turkish, but you can usually find someone who speaks English or just pantomime what you need. The Turkish people are friendly and helpful to foreigners and are very forgiving when I butcher their language.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Ankara is like San Francisco, very hilly The sidewalks are mostly broken and handicap accessible buildings and public transportation do not exist here.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Train service in Turkey is very limited. Buses and dolmishes are plentyful and safe (other than the crazy driving). Taxis are also plentiful. They are moderately priced. Not so exorbitant that you can't use them, but not super cheap either. Buses and Dolmishes are fairly cheap, but their set routes do not cover as much of the city as other major European capitals. For example, you generally can't go form Oran to GOP without going downtown to Kizilay and changing a bus/dolmish.
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?
Anytype of car is fine, but smaller cars are easier to park in basement garages. Larger cars often handle the hilly terrain better however. Car care has been great at post, with labor costs being much lower than in the U.S. Just order your parts through the BX or from the U.S.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High -ish speed is available, but we have monthly outages.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are 3 major carriers in Turkey. Avea, Turk cell, and Vodaphone. There is not a lot of difference between them.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are many vets, but the quality of service varies. Most speak English, or have someone on staff who speak English
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?
No. Diplomat spouses are prohibited from working on the local economy except in the education field. Consequently, many spouses seek to work at the Embassy. However the number of Embassy jobs compared to the number of applicants is inadequate and job hunting can become cut throat. Do not expect to get a job at the Embassy until you have been living here close to a year.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business and business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes! On February 1, 2013, the US Embassy was hit by a suicide bomber destroying one CAC entrance and killing one of our local guard force. More suicide bombers are suspected to be on the loose. On a separate security issue, Patriot missiles are currently deployed on the border with Syria where there have been multiple incursions and bombings on the Turkish side of the boarder. In a third recent issue, Turkish citizens in most major Turkish cities have been protesting against their governments plans to redevelop a park in Istanbul. These demonstrations quickly morphed into a general protest against the leadership of their president Tear gas was liberally used by the Turkish police. Elections are scheduled for Spring 2014. Turkey is very unsettled right now and will probably remain so until the elections.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is excellent, but not cheap.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is moderate. It would be generally ranked as a code yellow on the EPA's color coded Air Quality Index scale, like most of Europe.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Ankara is very dry with an average humidity level below 20%. It rains infrequently, and last winter only had a moderate amount of snow. In the previous winter, Ankara had a lot of snow.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are 4 international schools in Ankara: DoDDs, Oasis, BLIS, Bilkent. All are regarded as good. DoDDs is on what remains of the American base in Ankara. It is a U.S. format elementary through high school. All of the other schools are IB, I believe. Many embassy personnel prefer DoDDs, because it is much more secure than the others, however they do not take any kids with learning disabilities. Families with one or more children with special needs all go to Oasis. However, Oasis' security is not very good, although they are considering improving it.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Their only option is to go to Oasis, which is actually considered a very good school. They just need to improve their security.
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?
There are English language preschools available including Montesorri, however most parents report dissatisfaction with the Montesorri school here in Ankara.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Fall and spring soccer and winter basketball is available on base. Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts are also offered on base. Dance classes and martial arts are available on the local economy and can be found in English.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small to medium. Everyone gets to know everyone. The Turkish baggers at the commissary know me by name.
2. Morale among expats:
This post has the lowest morale of any post I have ever served at. The embassy is extremely high pressure and very understaffed. Personnel work very long hours without enough time off and become snippy and extremely grumpy. Most people are counting down the days until they depart post. There is not sufficient employment for trailing spouses, so they become disheartened too. And all of that was before the bombing. Since then post morale has taken a nose dive. Upper management at the Embassy seem oblivious to post morale and generally impeed any efforts to improve it.
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?
Most people find good friends here among the expat community. We get so little support from the Embassy, that we must support each other. What is the saying, misery loves company?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Ankara can be a good city for families or singles or couples. Like most posts, it is all in what you make of it. That said, you quickly run out of things to do here, whichever category you fit into.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I haven't heard anything either good or bad in this regard.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I have not experienced any, but I have not delved deeply into Turkish life or Turkish culture.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Love the Turkish food and the people are nice, friendly and generally helpful. Many speak a little English and are for the most part very patient with my limited Turkish.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
See Attaturks mausoleum, shop in Ulus (old town Ankara), go to a mall and see an English language movie or go bowling.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lamps, pottery, tiles. Carpets are plentiful but way overpriced and not the best quality.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Ankara is centrally located within Turkey, making it easier to see historic sites scattered about the country.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, especially by shopping on the base.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. The work-family balance is all skewed to work here and the security situation is deteriorating. If it weren't for the current political instability and poor work-family balance, this would be a great post. The Turkish people, the food and the culture are fabulous. However, the stress level is through the roof and I wish we had never bid on this post!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
American driving rules, because we don't need no stinking rules here in Turkey!
3. But don't forget your:
Patience. Everything takes longer than you think it will. Slow down and don't get in a rush.