Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 02/14/15

Personal Experiences from Ankara, Turkey

Ankara, Turkey 02/14/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. We have lived in Asia, Central America, Africa, Europe, The Middle East.

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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?

The Southwest of the U.S. Flights usually head through Houston, then onto Munich, then to Ankara. The hours add up quickly with making a minimum of two connections and you are easily traveling for over 24 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Apartments. Mostly highrise, but not always. Commute can be from 10 minutes to 50 minutes, depending on distance and traffic patterns.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Local is cheap - fruits and veggies are quite low priced and very tasty. (easily found: tomatoes, peppers, onion, eggplant, potatoes, lemons, melons, pomegranates, oranges) If you are with the U.S. Embassy or military you will have access to the base where you can get really anything you might want/need/want from home at a very low cost. Local household supplies are a bit more expensive, but available, with lots of choices. I even found tobacco scented air freshener.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing really. Mostly everything can be found or done without. We downsized quite a bit before coming, and then even more so when we got here. Some apartments are quite small and there are no closets - so less is actually better for us.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything. Every mall will have a food court with local and expat focused food. Then more restaurants. There is Subway, McDonald's, Popeye's Chicken, BKing, KFC, endless Kabab options, Starbucks -- I even heard Cold Stone Creamery recently opened somewhere along a very busy street downtown. Almost all restaurants deliver and you can go online and order from a general place. Quick China is our favorite for some great Chinese food. As far as costs: 6" sub ~ US$6, McDonald's meal ~US$7, chai tea latte ~US$5/venti, Kes1Doner Kabab meal ~US$3, Turkish tea ~ US$1/$2, Simit ~US$1.
If you go for steaks, it will cost a lot though - for a nice meal for two plus wine expect to pay about US$100 easily.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Almost none. After Africa, this feels almost sterile. There are a lot of bees (honey is a huge product here) and flea and tick issues abound in wooded areas and over watered landscaping.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Though the FPO at the Embassy. We have had a package arrive in local mail and went to the nearest PTT to retrieve it without issue or much of a wait.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

It is available. Many have someone come once a week to help out. We have not hired anyone - not really a need with a tiny apartment.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. Our apartments come with gym and pool membership included. This is not always the case. We have heard of reasonable costs to quite high. The good news is that you can look around and find something that works for you.

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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?

As with anywhere, be vigilant. They are available at every mall and on the streets at the many, many banks here. Scams can happen. We use the ones at the Embassy and base mostly, but have not had an issue using from other locations.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are several - Interdenominational, Lutheran, Anglican, Mormon, Catholic.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A basic knowledge. Despite being the capital, very few Turks speak English - or a lot of English- so you will need more than just the pleasantries. You can get by with less, but it does effect the quality of your experience here and your abilities to do more.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. There are some accommodations such as blind guide paths along main routes and bus stops, but sidewalks are often broken or blocked. Awkward stairs and paths exist everywhere. There are many elevators, and some places have parking garages, but the connection for usage isn't the smoothest. I think someone with physical disabilities would find movement here to be limited to a few areas. I must say, though, that this is the only country I've been in where I saw a man get out of his car at an intersection and go out to help an elderly lady struggling to cross a busy road, clearing a path for her, before he got back in his car and pushed through the intersection himself.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Safe and affordable. Not cheap though, so if you are use to paying only a few dollars to go across town, taxis here are not for you. The average cost for a trip somewhere is about US$15-30. If you don't know where you are going or parking, taxis are helpful. Buses are very reasonable and easy to take. Trains as well, and they are putting in more routes between cities which would be a very easy way to go.

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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?

Four wheel drive is helpful with hills. You will need snow tires. Parking is very hard to come by, which is why many double park on the road, using the far right lane(s) for 'just running in'. Parts are available and the bit of work we have needed to do was very reasonably priced. That is not always the case though.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, moderate cost. We are very happy with our service.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring one unlocked. You will have to pay to register it for a number here within 30 days of arrival or you won't be able to use it. You can buy a local phone but the cost is high. Vodafone and Turkcell are two vendors that you can buy a sim chip for and pay by the call/text.

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Pets:

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?

Only one person I know of had a quarantine issue and that was misdirected (pit mix dog). Typically they come into Istanbul and will be delivered to you in Ankara. This is very draining on the pet and we would recommend making sure your pet is in best health and hydration prior to travel. (Our dog was at an unfamiliar kennel a week prior and shut down during that time, making the trip even more grueling physically for him). There are many vets here, VTM is who we use and we have been very happy. If you are bringing a dog you will want to find the Ankara Canine College on the outskirts of Ankara in Golbasi, and meet Tarkan. We take our dogs there when schedules get crazy, when we are out of town, or when we want a break and they need more interaction, movement, and stimulation. All dogs are off leash and it is like camp for dogs. Our two come back happy and tired and balanced each time, which helps offset the confines of apartment living in a city.

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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?

Teaching, subbing, embassy work.... the usual three.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Teaching at schools and a lot in volunteering with refugees.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Suit and tie for work, stylish but casual for public (good shoes for walking on slippery and uneven surfaces).

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Yes. If you look at Turkey's neighbors, there is a lot going on in the region. There was also the attack on the U.S. Embassy on Feb 1, 2013 with concerns still involving the same group responsible. Demonstrations and protests often result in excessive force (water cannon and tear gas). Areas in the east of the country are off limits. OpSec and constant awareness of surroundings are strongly encouraged. You can easily be blind to these risks, but they are still there.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The air quality can be an issue, especially in the winter. There are many private hospitals that offer good medical care. Medications are bought directly at the pharmacy, they usually only speak Turkish, but showing a box or having written down what you need will help.

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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?

When we look out onto the city, especially in winter, you can see the brown cloud settled over the valleys. Two of our family are back on asthma medications (we thank Beijing for the start of this regimen need). Blue skies are more common than not, though.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Bring what you need to start off and be cautious regarding food allergies, don't expect them to notify you.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Squalls. Ankara is a bit windswept. Each winter has been different - from super snow, to ice fog that won't leave for a month, to intermittent and accumulating flurries that disappear in the dry air rather quickly. If you are in the higher elevations of the city, the 1000 feet more makes a difference in what you experience.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are a few schools: the DoDDS school (formerly George C. Marshall, now Ankara ES/HS), the British Embassy School of Ankara (BESA) which only goes up to year 8 (7th grade), Oasis School, and BLISS which follows an IB program. One child graduated from DoDDS and it was a good enough fit. One child we moved mid-year to the British School and cannot praise BESA enough for what is offers and how it motivates and encourages its students.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

This is tricky. Oasis was known for being most accommodating, but I believe current staffing issues have affected this. The DoDDs school is dealing with big budget losses, and will only have special needs accommodations if a military family is assigned to this post and requires assistance. But that is catch 22, because they won't be assigned where there is no assistance. BESA seems to work really well where each child is at, but only goes to 7th grade equivalent. BLISS has some assistance in its program, but the one family I knew going there was not happy with their behavior modification contracts that were used to help direct the child.

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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?

Yes, they are available, but we don't have any direct experience with them.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There is AYSL (Ankara Youth Soccer League) that also runs basketball. Some schools have sport teams but we haven't found sports to be a big or strong part of this post.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Quite large actually and quite low. The pace of high expectations is quite furious. There are many long hours. Ankara is also an aggressive city on the roads and even when transiting on foot. Due to traffic, it can be a bit harder to break out of the bubble and get some balance and inspiration from getting to know others outside of the work arena.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Going to the movies, going for hikes, getting together with friends (usually within the same housing area due to traffic) going out for dinner or tea, shopping, exploring

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes. Ankara is a conservative capital and very government heavy, but there are ways to get out and be involved in what you enjoy: hiking groups, expat groups, religious activities, travel, parks (small but there, with some playgrounds suitable for the younger crowds). Malls are big and everywhere with movie theaters, arcades, lasertag, and restaruants. There are paintball parks too. You could choose to be miserable here (especially when the wind blows strong and freezing) but you can easily choose happy here as well.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I would think that there are better posts out there. Turkey is becoming more conservative and Ankara is no exception.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes. While there are a lot of secular Turks, the conservative push is happening. Prejudices against the Roma and against refugees (which is increasing greatly every month) are common. Having said that though, the Turks are fantastic with children and the elderly - amazingly fantastic - and once you get out of the city mentality you will discover why Turkish hospitality is famed around the world.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Visiting Istanbul, Cappadocia, Antalya, Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Bergama.... really there is almost too much to see here and not enough time in 3 years to do it all.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Exploring. There is way too much to see and do - you can find anything you want, really. Museums, hiking the Lycian way, climbing Mt. Ararat, beaches, getting dive certified, swimming, exploring history, watching the Dervishes, taking classes, hot air ballooning over Cappadocia, sampling unlimited local cheeses and enjoying tea and coffee and getting to know the locals.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Carpets, silver, copper, tiles, art, tea, Turkish delight.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The culture, history, Turkish hospitality, and delicious Turkish food.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes. If you do nothing. If you get out and go in any direction you will have so much to discover and see - and in doing that you can decide where and on what you want to splurge.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Possibly. It has been a good post in many ways. Not an easy post, but good.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Dreams of leisurely walking your dog around the city to explore. With the amount of wild dogs everywhere on the main streets, walking your leashed dog anywhere can become quite an issue. Most people carry a stick or device of some sort to help with defense. But if you are also wrestling your dogs on a leash on often broken walk areas, you are likely to injure yourself as well. Additionally locals either love dogs or become hysterically afraid, especially of the ones on a leash.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor and your plan for being happy. Ankara is what you make of it.

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