Istanbul, Turkey Report of what it's like to live there - 09/27/17
Personal Experiences from Istanbul, Turkey
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Previous assignments in Nigeria, Japan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
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?
For personal travel to Washington, D.C. you can take the direct Turkish Airlines flight, which is about 12 hours. Otherwise it is a 14-16 hour trip via Europe.
3. How long have you lived here?
About one year.
4. 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?
Consulate housing is all apartments. About half are within five minutes drive of the consulate, and the other half are about 20 minutes (without traffic). The apartments are mostly newer construction. Those closer to the consulate have amenities like pools, gyms and outdoor areas. There is family and single-person housing in both areas.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Nearly everything is available at a much lower price (60%) than the U.S. Some imported items are expensive (you can get Jif peanut butter, but it is 8 dollars a jar). There is an employee association store that stocks items from the military commissary in Ankara, and will pick up items from there by request.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing - everything is available locally, via DPO or from the employee association store.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Yemeksepeti is an excellent app that facilitates delivery from nearly any restaurant. Enter your address, choose the restaurant and order from the menu. It is too easy.
Nearly any cuisine is available as well as the standard American fast food (including Papa Johns, Popeyes and Starbucks, Krispy Kreme). There are a variety of excellent Turkish restaurants, steak houses and seafood restaurants at every price point with excellent quality.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No bugs to speak of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO is available. The employee association store can facilitate FedEx and DHL at a discount.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is plentiful. Housekeepers are around $50-70/per day (and prefer to be paid in dollars, versus local currency).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many gyms in the area of each housing unit. Prices run about the same as a higher-end gym in the U.S. ($100/month) with similar quality.
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 work well in person, both the magnetic stripe and chip types. Delivery services even have portable card readers. I have had some trouble using U.S. cards to make purchases via the internet in Turkey (grocery stores and restaurants allow you to pay for delivery in advance by the internet). For internet purchases I use a local debit card.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches in several areas of the city. Additionally, there is a Protestant group that meets at the Dutch consulate and other Protestant groups that meet in homes or other spaces. There are also several synagogues, and mosques aplenty.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some Turkish is certainly necessary. You can get by without in the tourist areas, but at grocers, in cabs and at smaller restaurants basic Turkish is necessary. Post offers language classes for employees and families.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Some - many older buildings are not accessible and some curbs are quite high. Public transportation, housing and more modern buildings are all accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes to all. Uber is also available here. The metro service is fairly new, but only comes within a mile of the consulate, so commuting by metro requires taking a taxi. A 10km/6mi cab ride runs about 6 dollars. Metro rides of any distance are $0.80.
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?
As small as you can get away with is helpful in dealing with narrow streets and small parking lots. Currently, U.S. government personnel assigned to the consulate are required to pre-clear their vehicle make/model to ensure it blends into the local environment. That said, other than pick-ups and minivans, everything is available here including Ford, Jeep, and Subaru.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Post has recognized the necessity of internet and ensured basic service is available upon arrival. For 25Mbps and a 100Gb cap, the price is around $30/month. 50Mbps and no cap runs us about $80/month and is reliable. More than enough speed for video streaming, Skype, etc.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell service is inexpensive here, running about $10-15/month for enough data, text and calling for daily use. Phones themselves are more expensive here, so bringing an unlocked one is recommended. They must be registered with the Turkish government, but the store or consulate can assist with that.
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?
My pet owning colleagues have found good vets, boarding and plenty of pet food. They love pets here and even the street dogs are well cared for.
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?
There is no real ability to work on the local economy, especially without Turkish language. Most employed American spouses work at the consulate.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many volunteer with groups supporting Syrian refugees. Pet shelters are also frequently seeking volunteers to work or foster pets.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business dress (suits, dresses) is the norm, though several sections lean towards business casual (collared shirt and khaki).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Istanbul currently has 15% danger pay due to terrorist threats and attacks in the city. In December an attack outside a soccer stadium killed 40 policemen. Another attack on January 1 killed over 40 at a nightclub. The consulate currently restricts employees from visiting certain types of locations to mitigate the threat. There are still plenty of activities, restaurants and sites to visit. Crime is much lower than most cities in the U.S.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is less expensive than the U.S., faster than the U.S. and good quality. We managed to get a consultation, MRI, CT and xrays completed in 2 hours start to finish for about $1100 (and insurance will reimburse most of that). The language barrier is the biggest problem, with many doctors speaking good conversational English but struggling more with communicating medical issues.
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?
Istanbul is a city of 14.8 million people and many of them drive, so air quality is poorer than your average American city, but not drastically so.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
For food allergies, you'll need to learn some Turkish to communicate your requirements to waitstaff.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Summers are mid-80s and sometimes humid. Winters are low-40s with weekly rain, and a few days of snow. Spring is mid-70s and beautiful.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
IICS is the primary school used by U.S. consulate employees. We don't have kids, but one major complaint that I've heard is that the commute to school is hard on kids (1 hour or so each way). Bus service is provided. Some use the British International School, which is closer.
2. 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?
Preschools are available, including Montessori. No info on cost or quality.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expat community from many different countries. Morale is generally good.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes to all, though kids don't much like the commute to school. Plenty of outdoor and indoor activities, great restaurants and Turkish people love children. Travel within Turkey, and from Istanbul to elsewhere is very convenient and affordable.
3. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Istanbul has very liberal and very conservative residents. You will see women wearing bikinis and burkinis at the beach, not bothering one another. In the more rural areas of Turkey, and sometimes within Istanbul, women travelling alone may face some verbal harassment from more conservative men.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Cheap travel, great and friendly people and beautiful views of the Bosphorus.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Tons of travel throughout Turkey. The Belgrade Forest, north of the city, has a 6km walking loop and picnic areas.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Rugs, copper and towels are common gifts and are high-quality.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great travel opportunities, good food and friendly people.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The relationship between the Turkish and U.S. governments has declined since I was assigned here. Sometimes this has resulted in less-friendly service at local shops, but no real harassment.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes - many great qualities make the challenges worthwhile.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Rugs and impatience with traffic
4. But don't forget your:
Tourist passport and appetite.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Hurriyet in English (http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/) will give you a little idea of what the political situation is here. http://www.istanbulexpats.com/ has good tips for living here.