Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 06/08/17
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, I have lived in Okinawa, Lilongwe and Lagos prior to Ankara.
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?
My home base is in Houston, TX. It's a hike to get back but not as bad as some of the places I've been in Africa. There's a connection in Germany that goes to Houston.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Work at the US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is in apartments. There are three main complexes, Vadi, Oran and Zirvekent with a few others scattered about. That may change with the embassy moving locations in the next few years. The sizes vary, I have one of the two small two bedroom apartments. It suits me, however the kitchen is extremely small. Most people have a three to four bedroom place at a minimum.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The cost of groceries is extremely cheap. With the recent decline of the Turkish lira things are very affordable. Local produce is very good and widely available. Anything from the states that you must have can be purchased at the local military base. Prices there are a little higher than the US though and much higher than the local market.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. You can get anything that you're looking for here. It did take me a while to figure out that cilantro is the leaf of coriander. Both are called Kisnis here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Anything and everything. You can order from almost any restaurant in the city with yemeksepeti.com. Coming from Texas I miss really good BBQ and steak. There are a few steak places if you know where to look but no luck on finding good Texas brisket. There is a lot more to Turkish food than kebab. Get out and experience it.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Pigeons on the balcony is the only issue that I've heard of anyone having.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO, it takes anywhere from one to three weeks depending on how lucky you get with the pouch. Local postal facilities are up to the European standard but we don't use them regularly.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is usually around $50 - $60 a day. Most people don't have full time help. As long as you keep their hours below 20 a week you avoid a lot of the headache that comes with being an employer.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a lot of gyms and sports facilities, however, they come at a premium. Gyms are still considered a luxury here. You will typically pay around $50 a month per person. The facilities are good and you do get what you are paying for. A lot of folks use the Joya gym next to Vadi. It is good, however the pool is only 16.5 meters. If you are a swimmer there are other better options.
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?
Credit cards are widely accepted, however you need to specify which bank needs to run them. YapiKredi accepts US cards so I always tell the cashier to run the card with them whenever there is a problem.
No issues with any ATMs and there is one at the Embassy. Use the same precautions you would in the US or Europe.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are services of all denominations in Ankara. The base provides non-denominational and Catholic services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Local language is essential if you want to thrive in Turkey. I wasn't given any prior to coming to post and have been scrambling to learn as much as possible since. You can get by at restaurants by pointing at pictures but many locals have very limited English. Even those with university degrees are uncomfortable with English and will rarely attempt to speak it. There are Turkish tutors and classes widely available.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Depends on the disability. Ankara isn't quite at steep as Istanbul, but there is very little flat ground in the city. They have given lip service to putting in access for the disabled but most of it isn't very functional.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, I usually use taxis as they are very affordable.
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?
You can bring anything. I sold my Camaro prior to coming to post on the advice of someone previously here and I am regretting it. The roads are very good. They can be narrow in the city but I've seen suburbans driving around without difficulty. Ankara does get a lot of snow and ice in the winter. Make sure that you have winter tires.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is very good and inexpensive. The embassy will arrange installation for you before you arrive at post. You can arrange to have the speed increased once you arrive. I've found the service to be better than I had available in the US.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you need a personal cell phone, bring an unlocked one from the US. They are available here but 25% - 50% more expensive. Service is very cheap. I'm paying 60TL ($20) for 6gb of data and more minutes than I can use.
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?
I have two large dogs. The vets are very good and the prices are about what you would pay in the US. There is a very good animal boarding house at a facility south of Golbasi (30km from the embassy) called Canine College. The owner is named Tarkan and is considered the "Turkish Dog Whisperer." They will board dogs for 35 TL a day ($12).
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?
The embassy has a lot of EFM positions for all sections. They work hard to make sure that everyone that wants to work can find a job. Due to labor laws there are few options outside the mission.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business to dress casual depending on your section. Formal wear for sporadic events throughout the year.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is lower than you would expect at any major city in the US. The threat of terrorism keeps people on edge. Terrorist groups are active throughout Turkey, however, as long as you keep a low profile and limit your exposure to known tourist locations you can mitigate much of the danger.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Very good medical care. One of the mission employees gave birth here (in the middle of the coup attempt) and didn't have any issues. There are also a large number of mission employees that end up having surgery here for one reason or another.
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?
The air quality is good but dry. I like spending time outdoors and I haven't had any issues.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It entirely depends upon your ability accept the terrorism risks. Some people have a lot of trouble accepting that terrorism happens here but the risks can be mitigated. Those people tend to shut themselves in and have a lot of trouble here. Get out of the city, see the country. This is a wonderful place and if you accept that you can thrive here.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Ankara has all seasons. Hot in the summer with wonderful beaches to enjoy and cold in the winter with great skiing.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a lot of good international schools. The people with kids seem happy.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large. Morale is very good among expats.
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?
There are a few expat bands and choirs for the musically inclined, numerous sports clubs, bars, restaurants, just about anything that you can imagine.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great city for all. Dating here is very interesting. Casual dating doesn't exist in the Turkish culture, so if you're going to date a local you need to find out if things are going somewhere. That said I met my wife here and a number of others have gotten married here as well.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There are a few at post and I have not heard any complaints. Ankara is a mixed cosmopolitan and traditional culture.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is a little bit of machismo in the Turkish culture and some of my female co-workers have complained that they aren't taken seriously by the locals, however, they don't have to worry about catcalls when they go out shopping as they do in some Arab countries. Turkey is still staunchly secular, however, there are political movements working to make Turkey a Muslim society.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Driving through the mountains and stumbling upon Greek ruins just lying on the side of the road. Scuba diving in the sea which is a clear as a glass of drinking water and snowboarding fresh powder in Ilgaz.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Ask about Rabbit Hole. It's a single table restaurant with one of the best chefs in the world. Take a weekend at Kas. The beaches are worth the trip. Spend as many weekends out of Ankara that you can. You can rent a nice AirBnB for $30 a night.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are a lot of things here, it just depends on what you're interested in. Many people, myself included, buy a few rugs here. There is a very good knife maker in Golbasi that can make custom Damascus steel stuff. Eskeshehir (I probably spelled it wrong) is known for these white smoking pipes that apparently sell for $1000s in the US.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's centrally located for all the things to do in Turkey. There are also direct flights to Europe through Germany.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Don't listen to what anyone says. Ankara is better than Istanbul.
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:
Ski equipment and beachwear.