Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 10/02/18
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. Previously lived in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, Israel and the UK.
2. How long have you lived here?
Two and a half years.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Renovated apartment from the 1960s. Apartments are usually large, but often in poor repair, and with questionable decoration (local taste is for columns, gold, bizarre lighting features, and bright paint jobs).
Traffic is bad at peak times, and when it rains. Otherwise relatively easy to get around the city.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local food products (fruit and vegetables, cheeses, olives, bread, cakes) are ridiculously cheap, due to the fall in the Turkish Lira. Ditto household goods made in Turkey, to include glassware, ceramics, etc. All very good and very cheap.
Anything imported (e.g. foreign cheeses, appliances, clothes) is insanely expensive due to the exchange rate.
Alcohol is extremely expensive, especially spirits. Local beer is a reasonable price, and some local beers (Karakuzu, Bomonti) are drinkable.
For some bizarre reason, fresh cream is not available in Turkey; they only have gross long-life UHT cream.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cosmetics, beauty products. There is a limited range in Turkey, and very expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Ankara has fantastic Turkish restaurants, but basically nothing else. They try to cook foreign food, but it is not to my taste. There is one Italian place, Mezzaluna, which is passable. There is also one Asian place, Sushi Co, that is bearable. I did not like the one Indian restaurant, and there is nothing else.
Downtown, there is a Uighyur restaurant (Chinese Muslim) that is simple but quite nice, when desire something other than Turkish food.
Turkish breakfast is perhaps the best in the world though. One never tires of it!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Goods ordered from overseas, and sent via normal post, are subject to large customs fees. The fees can be hundreds of dollars, and there does not seem to be a system, so no way of predicting the charges.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Turkish household help is available, but no good unless you speak Turkish. Filipino household help is also available, for around TL 25 per hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Modern gyms exist, but I am not sure of pricing. You can run in summer, but in winter the stray dogs may chase you. I have heard some have rabies.
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 and ATMs all of western standard.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Church services exist, but the synagogue is closed.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is absolutely impossible to do even basic daily tasks, without Turkish. You cannot even go to the supermarket. Literally NO ONE speaks English, or any other foreign language.
On the plus side, it is relatively easy to learn basic Tukish. Good group classes at the Turkish American Institute, in the evenings. Or a private tutor, though I think they can be expensive, and of patchy quality.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Huge problems. There are no sidewalks, stairs and curbs everywhere, and the city is incredibly hilly.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses and minibuses exist, but taxi is the easiest method of transport. Cheap and easy to flag down a taxi on the street, but they speak no English at all, so this is no use if you cannot speak Turkish. Taxi drivers are mostly honest; I felt I was cheated only twice in 2 years.
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?
4WD, because the streets are very steep, and it snows a lot.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is cheap and fast, and installed quickly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local phone plans are cheap. By law, you must register your phone number within a month, and this costs TL50.
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?
Very limited work opportunities for spouses who do not speak fluent Turkish.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots, with Syrian refugees, but again, you would need to speak Turkish.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Normal business attire, and formal dress for balls.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
In my opinion, very high terrorist threat. Per my recollection, we had 16 major terrorist attacks in Turkey during my 2.5 years. The risks are always at the back of your mind.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care looks like western standard, but it does not seem that way to me. I would personally not have any medical procedure done in Turkey. Most people disagree, and are happy to have things done here, because it is cheaper than at home.
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 really bad. Ankara is a big city, and it seems to be horribly polluted. I feel like a dark cloud of pollution hangs over the city.
I believe the air gets worse in the winter due to the burning coal, and I had bronchitis twice a year, due to the pollution.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Air pollution seems to be a real problem here. Not good for people with asthma.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
In my opinion, the security threats can be hard to live with.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four distinct seasons. Very hot in summer, and extremely cold in winter. To me, European winter clothing is not warm enough and you will need polar jackets and heavy, knee-high boots for the snow.
When the ice freezes over on the street, it is very slippery. I knew several people who fell and broke bones. So, I think you need winter boots with good grip on the soles.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large community, though morale seemed very bad around the time of the coup in July 2016. It improved after new people arrived, without families, who were used to hardship postings. Morale seems okay now, but most people take every opportunity to leave Ankara, or Turkey, for holidays.
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?
Parties at the Canadian and UK Embassies. Most socializing is at home, or in a Turkish restaurant. English language cinema exists.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Fine for both.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would not be openly gay here. Homophobia seems to be rising.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I have found Turks have mixed feelings about non-Turks. There also seem to be gender equality issues. There are reports of domestic violence.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Istanbul is beautiful. Ditto Gaziantep and Sanliurfa. Ditto the Black Sea, and anywhere on the Aegean.
Basically anywhere but Anatolia seems to be nice.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not much to do in the area at all. Some decent hikes. On weekends, people like to visit a lake (Eymir Golu), but it always seems overcrowded. You can hire bikes, but they seem to be in terrible condition, and I have found there are no helmets.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Very much so. Anything locally made is very cheap. Good for glassware, ceramics, textiles, soaps.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
In my opinion, there are no advantages to living in Ankara. Even leaving here is hard, as there are very few direct international flights.
I do not see many advantages to this city. I cannot see why anyone would like it.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That Turks are incredibly nationalist, and I have had some negative interactions. There seem to be mixed feelings even among the more outward-facing locals. I also found Ankara to have bad air pollution.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. I was so happy to leave.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Peace of mind: In my opinion, Ankara is an extremely frustrating place to live. Everything looks like it works, but it does not.
For example: I brought my new suit jacket to the tailor, to shorten the sleeves. The shop looked good. like a proper tailors shop. It was in a fancy mall, and recommended by colleagues. However, when I returned to collect the jacket, the tailor had cut my sleeves off to the elbow. I had to throw the jacket out, without ever wearing it. This is what life in Ankara is like to me, several times a day. It is incredibly draining to me.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience and strong nerves. In my opinion, some days it is bearable, but often it is not.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Turkish baths (hammam) are good. The scrub is brutal, but effective. Sengul Hammami, downtown, is good. A visit there helps to make life in Ankara bearable to me, just about.