Ankara, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 11/18/23

Personal Experiences from Ankara, Turkey

Ankara, Turkey 11/18/23

Background:

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

Second and fourth tour as an FSO; we liked it so much we came back!

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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?

If you’re traveling on your dime, the easiest and most convenient way back to the US is Turkish Airlines, via Istanbul. Unfortunately, FlyAmerica obliges you to do a codeshare with United and then a discount carrier in Germany (SunExpress) which is less than ideal. Turkish Airlines also allows for easy travel to anywhere in the world, though the IST-Ankara connection can get a bit tiring. For domestic travel, Ankara is at the center of Turkey’s fantastic highway network-road trips are easy and extraordinary, either for a weekend or longer.

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3. How long have you lived here?

4 years

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4. What years did you live here?

2019-2023

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

US Mission

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is all apartments, in one of two large luxury complexes - they’re very nice though a few shortcuts taken when they were built continue to cause maintenance problems today. Park Vadi was always considered the “closer” option for getting to work, but with the move to the NEC both complexes are essentially the same commute. Both have a lot of kids, though Park Oran is a bit more contained, so it’s easier for older kids to be independent. Also, the apartments are much larger than US standards - usually four bedrooms plus spacious living rooms and separate kitchens. (Less storage space than a US floor plan would contain though.)

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

Extraordinary fruits and vegetables, easily accessible and this is one area where Ankara excels, even beyond the rest of Turkey, because of its close vicinity to villages that still are very agriculture-heavy. A small Air Force base also means there is a U.S. commissary and BX for American goods, as well as alcohol, at very competitive prices.

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

Nothing, but we ended up shipping a lot of stuff from Turkey to our next post!

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

Getir and Yemeksepeti are king here; they are easy to use and very affordable

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

Some minor issues but nothing major. Since it’s all apartments, you see less of this than you would in another housing context

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Daily Life:

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

Turkish Post is very good - recommend Trendyol for a local version of Amazon. Otherwise, DPO and Pouch both work well.

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

If you speak Turkish or don’t mind Google Translate, easy to find housekeeper and nanny help fairly easily, usually via informal networks. (There are formal companies too, but they tend to employ Central Asians.) If you must have an English speaker, there’s a big Filipino community as well, all of whom are also very good but cost considerably more.

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

Lots of gyms available, including in both of the apartment complexes where people live - and they have pools. The embassy has a gym and pool as well.

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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?

Yes, and yes. Most folks get a local bank account too which helps with paying bills and other things when international cards don’t work.

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

Catholic, Anglican, LDS, Protestant are all available, though the communities can be small.

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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?

You can get by without Turkish, but speaking Turkish does make your life here considerably easier. Unlike Istanbul, Ankara doesn’t really have a lot of tourists, so English comprehension is surprisingly weak. Educated elites speak it, but your experience here will be so much richer if you can even eke out a 2/2 or so. Turkish is hard to learn, but it’s worth trying.

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

Yes, compared to a city in the US, though it is getting better. No compared to less modern places in the Middle East. The infrastructure isn’t really there yet, but people are helpful and work to make up for it.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, very much so.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

Small SUVs are the new thing here, but essentially you’ll see every kind of car. No more risk to cars than in the US. Service is easy, though you may randomly stumble over a parts problem or two if you have a US spec car, since everything here is geared around EU spec. It’s also very easy to buy a new car here tax-free - though, again, it’ll be EU spec.

For electric, Tesla recently launched in Turkey, and the country has a domestic version as well that is starting production. The charging infrastructure is still being built out but they’re working on it. (The embassy has two chargers available.)

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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, usually set up before you arrive. Not quite US speeds but close. The phone network is also very fast - Turks love their smartphones and the country’s IT infrastructure is working to keep pace.

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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?

Turkcell or Vodafone tend to be best. The Embassy uses Turk Telekom for legacy reasons, but it is the worst cell phone service of the three.

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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?

Yes, and it’s growing surprisingly fast.

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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?

The language issue tends to keep most EFMs working at either the embassy or at local international schools. Lots of teleworking happenings as well.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty, but I think the language issue scares folks off more than it should.

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

Embassy is usually suits. Government meetings as well - Turkey has a very affordable and developed textile industry, and this translates into a lot of people expecting formal dress in work environments, weddings etc - at least in big cities.

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Health & Safety:

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

There’s a lingering risk of terrorism, but I’d argue it’s no higher than in other European cities. Street crime much lower than in the US. The real risk is earthquakes, but Ankara isn’t susceptible to a major one (unlike Istanbul or Adana).

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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?

Excellent medical care. There’s a reason Europeans and Gulf Arabs come here for medical treatment.

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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?

The air quality can get poor in the winter though how bad you think it is likely will depend on where in the world you’re comparing it to. Coming from China? It’s fine. Coming from Sweden? It’s less fine.

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

Turks are getting more familiar with the idea of food allergies and special diets as the country continues to modernize but you may find older folks won’t quite grasp what you’re talking about. They’ll try to help though.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

If you don’t speak the language at all, I think it could be isolating.

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

Hot in the summer, cold in the winter - it’s the steppe. Always very dry, which is a plus for some and a minus for others

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Schools & Children:

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

Several international schools, people are pretty happy. French, US, UK and German systems all available.

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

I know they do, but don’t have much experience beyond that.

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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, mostly in Turkish but there are a few English options. Some even provide round trip transport, including for babies.

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

Yes

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Expat Life:

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

Medium - most expats in Ankara are diplomats, since the business world in Turkey still revolves around Istanbul. That means there’s a lot of mixing work and fun.

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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?

Restaurants, bars, each other’s houses.

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

When I was single, I much preferred Istanbul- far more variety of people to meet and things to do there. Married with small kids -> Ankara all the way. Easy city to navigate, great parks and playgrounds, etc

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

Not as open as Istanbul. The government isn’t big on LGBT - it still has a decent sized population in Ankara, but it’s very quiet

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I think so, but it is so much easier with some degree of Turkish.

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

More out of ignorance than anything else. A lot of remarks that would raise eyebrows in the US, but it’s usually not badly intended.

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

Road trips from Ankara, all the playgrounds for kids and just how easy everything is.

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

Road trips, even just for the weekend.

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

Absolutely. Your HHE will double in size.

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

It’s just so easy and nice, though admittedly more boring than Istanbul.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

If you don’t speak Turkish try to learn at least some of it. I think people who have the worst experience here are those who find the language barrier isolating.

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

In a second.

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

Pantry staples.

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4. But don't forget your:

Space for things you buy here

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5. Do you have any other comments?

It’s a great place.

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