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Submitted by an expat woman living in Istanbul, Turkey

City: Istanbul
Country: Turkey
Submitter's Name: Tara
Nationality: American
Arrival Date: May 2005
Date Submitted: September 04, 2007
Expand/ContractCity Description
Istanbul is a city that spans two continents, Europe and Asia. It is divided by the Bosphorus, a magical body of water. It is an eclectic mix of the acient and modern, Western influences as well as Eastern. The winters are temperate but the summers can be very humid, as this one has been. reliable and cheap.
Expand/ContractPros and Cons
Istanbul is relatively low on crime given its size, I think. As a woman, I feel very safe on the streets, although like any big city, there are areas where one should be extra alert. Turks are very accepting of foreigners and embrace them fully. Because of the Turks emphasis on the family life, I think it would be a great place to raise children.

There is also a very broad network of expats living and working here to help single people find a community. I would say, however, that certain Turkish men can be quite sexist, but that can be expected in almost any culture, particularly a Muslim one. Also, women who dress very provocatively can expect a lot of possibly unwanted attention. It is better to err on the side of modesty in certain areas.

I would advise anyone moving here to make a Turkish friend as soon as possible to help out with everyday issues until you can begin to work on your Turkish and deal with things on your own. Living here can be very ! bureaucratic at times.
Expand/ContractImmigration / Visas / Work Permits
When a person enters Turkey, they must purchase a tourist visa. This visa is good for three months. After that, the person must exit Turkey to another country and re-enter to purchase a new visa. Expats often plan trips to Greece and Bulgaria to accomplish this together.

Work permits are not so easy to attain as they cost money and time on the side of the employer and they would rather not be bothered. But you can work perfectly well without one. While it is technically illegal, people do it all the time.
Most expats roomshare. You can find ads for people looking for roommates on http://www.mymerhaba.com. This is an excellent resource for expats living in Turkey. Most expats choose to live on the European side, which is where the business districts and nightlife are.

Average rent for a roomshare is around 400-600 YTL a month, although if the landlord is European, it can be in Euros, usually around 500. There is usually a months deposit and rent is paid month to month. When looking for an apartment, find out how close public transport is. It can make all the difference in a city this size!
Expand/ContractHousehold Help
House cleaners are very cheap to employ. A weekly visit will cost around 50 YTL (or 40 US dollars). Lunch should be provided if the cleaner works a full-time day. As far as live-in help is concerned, I have no idea what the rates are.

As far as nannies go, I myself am a nanny and I am represented by a great agency, Anglo Nannies. I would recommend calling them if you are in need of a nanny, governess or tutor.
I live by Skype Out! It is the easiest way t keep in touch with people all over the world. If not, phone cards work perfectly well.

Most expats prefer the pay-as-you-go method for cell phone use. You simply purchase what is called a kontor card with the number of minutes you would like. You can buy them all over the city, so they are a great way to keep your cell phone use in check. If you prefer to have a plan, Turkcell, Avea, and Vodafone are the most widely used. The quality of land line service veries.

We pay 50 YTL a month for high-speed internet servce through our phone company, which is reasonable.

With satellite TV you can, of course, have programming in English. I watch all the shows I watched back home. We pay 60 YTL a month for that. (50 US) You can also find news publications and magazines in English. Also, Time Out Istanbul and The Guide Istanbul publish monthly in English and are indispensable, in my opinion.

The postal service is the PTT. THey are somewhat reliable, if not slow. My advice is to pay the extra postage for express delivery if it needs to get there on time.
Expand/ContractLocal Language
I would say that in order for one to feel fully-integrated in society, one should make the effort to learn the language. There are plenty of taxi drivers and merchants that love to rip off expats, so being able to stand up for yourself when you are being conned is a very good thing! Lots of Turks advertise on http://www.mymerhaba.com for language exchange or tutoring. Most are willing to do a free exchange, your language for theirs. But the average rate for tutoring is anywhere from 35 to 50 YTL an hour generally. Most will even drop the rate if you get a group of people together, too.
Expand/ContractUtilities for the Home
Tap water is in no way, shape or form safe to drink in Turkey! Everyone orders water and companies vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. A pump should be purchased the first time you order and it is simply popped out and replaced in the new bottle. The size is 19 litres and the cost now is just under 5 YTL. And house water is usually pumped in. Aygaz is the gas company. The cost varies on the season, obviously, due to heating. But is is very inexpensive in the summer. Usually around 20 YTL. In the winter, it can be as high as 150, depending on what kind of heat you have and how god your windows are.
Expand/ContractLocal Employment
It is geting easier for expats to find work as foreign companies move in and Turkish companies expand to Western countries. Again, MyMerhaba lists jobs regularly as well as http://www.eit.com (Expats in Turkey)
Expand/ContractMoney and Banks
The YTL, or Yeni Turkish Lira (New Turkish Lira) is the currency. It is quite easy to set up a bank account. In order t do this, one must present their passport and a tax ID number. This can be obtained by filling out a form at any tax office in town. It generally takes a week to be issued, so d this before heading to the bank. Also, Garanti Bank is the chosen expat bank as some of their employees speak English and they provide English instructions at their ATM machines and online banking site.
From my experience, I think health care here is way below par than it is in the US, unfortunately. However, there are plenty of doctors that speak English and there are good women gynocologists. American Hospital or Acibadem are probably the best rated, as well as Memorial. Again, having a Turk make your appointment and helping you through the experience is priceless!

It is very easy to get whatever medicine you may need and I find it insanely cheap here. That's the upside. If you can self-diagnose, you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

My advice would be to be very careful about the food you eat when you first come. Do not eat food from street vendors until you have been here at least a year. I takes your body time to get used to the new bacterias found in the food and water here. I suffered many gastro problems, including an intestinal bacteria that sent me to the hospital because I was reckless about what I ate. Heed this warning and you will be fine.
There are very good schools here in Istanbul at all levels, even ones with English-speaking curriculum. Two of the best are Papatya and Aci. Both are located on the European side. Most schools provide service buses for their students.
I am not sure about this one as I am driven around by my fiance. But I will say that Turks drive like maniacs and it takes some adapting to. People routinely ignore traffic lights and cut across lanes suddenly without signaling. It about gives me a heart attack! Public transport is fantastic. There are ferries, three kinds of large buses, as well as mini-buses and smaller versions for more local rides, called a dolmush, which is a mini-van. There is also a tram and a metro line. All of these things cost around 1.30 YTL currently.

You can purchase what is called an akbil which has a computer chip that can be filled up at stations around town, much like a metro card, but it goes on your key chain. This is the easiest route as you can use it for everything except mini-buses.
Expand/ContractShopping & Beauty Care
It is getting easier to find the things that I need all the time. There are some products that I bring from home when I visit, such as Clinique, which is sold here but at astronomical prices and Aveda, which is not in Turkey at all yet. Women may want to bring tampons unless you like OB because that is all that is easily found.

I also stock up on lingerie, bras and undies as Turkish women are smaller than me and I have a hard time finding the right sizes. Ditto for jeans as Levis are also crazy expensive here. Same goes for Adidas, Nike and other American brand name stores.

Some of the main department stores are Boyner and Beymen. There is also a Harvey Nichols now as well as many Zara stores, Lacoste, Burberry, Mango, Bennetton, and recently even Agent Provacateur! There are also Tommy Hilfiger stores as well as Levi's and the Body Shop. I would have brought more of my book collection as quality books in English are harder to find. Then again, there's always Amazon UK which delivers to Turkey. There are great stylists in Istanbul and it will not be hard to find a quality hair stylist, manicurist, etc.
Expand/ContractSports and Entertainment
People are mad for football here (soccer to Americans). It is all they care about sports-wise. The main clubs are Besiktas, Fenerbache , and Galatasaray. People are incredibly passionate about their teams! You can go to a soccer match for a reasonable price. There are also loads of concerts and theater. The AKM (Ataturk Kultur Merkezi) is the government performance space.

Operas and symphonies are usually performed there. And prices are very cheap! There are also music venes of every variety around town and great shows every night of the week. Entrance fees vary but usually run between 10 and 20 YTL.
I have no clue about this one. But there are good vets in town, I know that. We go to Animalia on the European side as they have the best reputation and some of the docs speak English. (Ours speaks English, German and Turkish)
Expand/ContractUseful Resources
I have already recommended two websites as well as two city guides. As far as books are concerned, I would highly recommend reading books by Rumi, Orhan Pamuk, and even the poet Orhan Veli and short story writer Aziz Nesin. And the Tales From the Expat Harem book edited by Anastasia Ashman and Jennifer Gokmen is also indispensable! And, of course, the Lonely Planet guides for both Turkey and Istanbul.

Another book that I love is the Little Hotel Book which features B and B's and small inns all around Turkey for every budget and taste. Fantastic! My last recommendation would be Culture Shock: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette by Aryan Bayrakoglu. This book helped me learn a lot about how different the culture is here and how easy it can be to accidentally offend someone.

I would just like to add that I think Istanbul is one of the most beautiful, enchanting cities in the world. Living here has changed my life completely and I am beginning to think I may never be able to leave. It gets under your skin and sneaks into your dreams. It is a city of lovers, poets and dreamers. There is no place on earth like it! So, what are you waiting for? Move here, already!

See too: Our Expat Women Living in Turkey page

City Experience - Ankara, Turkey - February 25, 2008

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