Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15
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?
Kiev, Ukraike; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Tbilisi, Georgia ... it's all about perspective, this is the nicest place we've lived so far in terms of availability of goods and services and 'familiar things'
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?
Wisconsin- we generally travel via Chicago (ORD) or Minneapolis (MSP) from Munich, Germany. One connection - either to those major U.S. airports if you can get a direct flight from Ankara to Europe, otherwise it is a terminal change in Istanbul, then direct to one of those two airports.
3. How long have you lived here?
Three years, August 2012-August 2015
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. government employee, State Department
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Primarily apartments in several areas of town. Even the furthest apartments assigned to Embassy personnel had no more than a 20-minute commute in normal traffic. In HIGH traffic times, 8-10am and 5-7pm, it could take an hour or more.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There is a DECA Commissary on the American Support Facility, and a BX, which has ridiculously well-priced food. Kipa, Migros, and many other chains are located in all of the neighborhoods as are the fruit and vegetable markets. Costs are very reasonable.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All kinds of restaurants of varying types and quality available, from 5TL on the street durum (wrap) to pretentiously over-priced steak and everything in between. McDonald's, Arbys, KFC, etc.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I think I saw a total of 12 bugs and spiders. In three years.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
UPS does ship here, customs takes for ever.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Locally available help, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently made the requirements much more formal, so no more cash for service set-ups.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are available all over, cost is high, but facilities can be quite high end
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?
We got a local bank and bank card for transactions in Turkey. Credit cards and ATMs use the chipped system and so a call back to the for each transaction can result in dropped calls and double-transactions. We only had this happen once in three years using an ATM. Larger chains like H&M or Marks and Spencer have the wherewithal to make these transactions with foreign cards, just let them know you're using a foreign card at the time.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
ASF Chapel has non-denominational services which change with the chaplain, Meryam Amana Catholic Church has a regular service with a great community. St. Nicholas Anglican/Episcopalian Church is on the British Embassy and is a liturgical service. IPCA is the International Protestant Church of Ankara and is more contemporary.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Polite niceties, and "do you speak English, I only have a little Turkish?" will get a smile and switch to charades.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The hills, cobblestones and lack of ramps would make it extremely challenging, but it is changing.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Plenty of people use the buses and dolmush (route minivans). Taxis are clearly marked, with fares posted. Prices continue to rise in taxis but not exorbitantly so.
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?
Any automobile is suitable. Cars are new, well-cared for or old and junky. Driving is a circus (skiiers' rules, if your nose is ahead, you have right of way) but your insurance may go down because there is no litigation, cars are just fixed. Driving at night in the country is discouraged, primarily for single car accident reasons. We had a Subaru and VW serviced regularly and see everything from Renault to Mercedes and Range Rover.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Easily available and cheap internet. We streamed five devices at once and no one hiccuped. It gets slow in the evenings as people get home. I strongly recommend a VPN, we use the Buffalo Cloakbox from Witopia.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
TurkCell is easily available, pre-paid is easy to do.
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?
No quarantine unless you've missed something on your paperwork. Quality pet care, with English speakers as well, available. Excellent kennel and dog trainer available.
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Ample volunteer opportunities particularly for services for refugees as the UNHCR is located in Ankara
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Slightly more covered than usual, sort of 1950 Americana with Islamic touch
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Definitely the closer you get to the Syrian/Iraqi/Iranian border, the greater the security concerns. Protests in the center of town are announced so you can remain away, and Regional Security Office is excellent about keeping folks in formed. Fears run high and low like the tide, but it doesn't slow down life as usual for the most part.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Rabies shots are recommend due to wild dogs, which are large. Tetanus has to be a risk and of course travelers diarrhea. Double-hernia surgery at a private hospital has ruined us for all other medical care as it was like going to a posh resort! Dental crown was 3D printed on premises and got high marks from my home dentist.
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?
In Oran, on the hill/ridge to the south, we had a lot of wind, and therefore reasonable air quality most of the time. Our son has a pollution/ozone allergy and it was entirely manageable with Zyrtec and Singulair. There is pollution and 'down in the bowl' you will get a distinct smog haze over the city, particularly in winter when the thermal inversion holds it in. The pollution index is rated at 64 (as compared to Mexico City at 79 and 94 for Beijing, 10 for Stockholm and 14 for Tallinn)
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Decorating with flowers is not unusual, and plants are everywhere.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather in Ankara was moderate, winter is winter, summer is hot but not desperately so. You can easily travel to snow for skiing or the coast for beaches.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Four schools that I am aware of: BESA, the British embassy School Association located on the grounds of the British Embassy had an excellent IB/PYP program for reception to Year 8 (7th grade), and is by far the most secure and safe school with a park-like environment. BLIS is the Bilkent Laboratory International School and is an international school in the Turkish system with a native English speaker director and teachers and is located a good distance from the center of town, but transportation is provided by the Embassy or school. Oasis is a Christian missionary school offering K-12 education and has an excellent reputation. The DoDDS George C. Marshall School is located on the American Support Facility and has a U.S.-based curriculum.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Oasis can make accommodations for children with an IEP. BESA had two children with Downs and they each had a designated adult teaching assistant, but I am not sure if this was via IEP or a special accommodation. DoDDs specifically prohibited a child with an IEP stating that they were not equipped to deal with children with IEP, but this should be verified. I have no idea about BLIS
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?
N/A for our family, but I have heard that there are many options available from BESA to local Turkish schools, international English language pre-schools, etc.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The Ankara Youth Sport group offers soccer twice a year and basketball in the cold months and acres of expat children participate in this. Scouts and schools make up for the other programs. My daughter went to a Turkish horse riding club, but it took considerable searching and negotiation to figure this out.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The community is large, and very diverse. The morale fluctuates with the politics and events
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?
Dinners at people's homes
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I would think this would be a boring city for singles/couples unless you found a like-minded group of people. It is good for families in that there are parks and activities and schools, but it is not an INTERESTING city overall.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Unknown. I would be surprised given the climate for homosexuals outside of Istanbul in Turkey.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I say all of this with a grain of salt, because individual results may vary. It is a Muslim country and call to prayer occurs five times a day, as clergy I certainly did NOT wear my collar around town, but I never noticed any overt discrimination or attacks, verbal or otherwise. Women are not treated particularly respectfully overall and more women are choosing to wear the headscarf, but there is not pressure to do so, particularly as an expat (shorts and tank tops are not uncommon, although cleavage is). When I was mistaken for a Turkish woman, I was subject to a level of sexual harassment that was sort-of ingrained into the men (I never sat alone in a restaurant, but I do know women who could and did).
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The travel was our highlight. We didn't have a wish list of things to buy and already had plenty of carpets, so those things were not a highlight. We went for experiences and got them in spades.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Leave :-) Really, use Ankara as a point to travel to Cappadocia, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean...
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets, marble, textiles, pottery
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Tourism! Holy smokes, travel. From Ankara you are a one hour, less than US$100 plane ticket to ANYwhere in the country. And there are quite a few European and other destinations available either direct from Ankara or via Istanbul. We did not purchase overly much, but marble, carpets and porcelain are easily obtainable, but you must bargain over tea or it isn't a good price. The coast between September and May (off-tourist season) is glorious.
10. Can you save money?
if you stay home, you certainly can
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
to travel more
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
swimsuit and head cap to cover your hair in any public pool
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Barbara Nadel writes mysteries set in Istanbul.
The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century's First Muslim Power
is a good flavor of Turkey.
Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks (Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics),
and Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds.