To be a digital nomad in Istanbul is the new norm, especially during these times, when employers actively encourage working from home. This situation works for both parties, and if the thought of becoming a digital nomad appeals, Istanbul is a great place to relocate to, to be a digital nomad in Turkey. We are not the only ones who think it either. A recent survey ranked the massive metropolis as the second-best destination to work remotely. Madrid only slightly beat it.
The benefits of being a digital nomad far outweigh the cons. This type of work and play lifestyle means delving into different cultures, traditions, and food to broaden the mind. Through the exploration of towns, cities, and villages, you meet new people, and in turn create experiences and memories and make your path well-travelled. In Istanbul, you will get to do this.
As Turkey’s largest city, it sits in the Marmara region and is a hub for everything and anything including transport, education, tourism food, culture, nightlife, and shopping. It was the former ruling capital for both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and is bursting with historical sites and attractions. Stay during summer to experience the outdoors lifestyle that Turkey actively encourages. Winter can sometimes affect your day with rain and snow, but it does not distract from the vibrant beauty that this city offers on every street. So, what do you need to know if you plan on living and working here?
Digital Nomad in Istanbul
Is it Expensive to Live in Istanbul?
This question is like asking how long a piece of string is? Istanbul is Turkey’s most expensive place to live in. But within the city, prices vastly differ, for daily expenses like rent, food, and drinks. Look for an apartment in the centre areas like Beyoglu or Fatih, and you will pay top dollars, simply because these hubs are the old and new parts of the city. Likewise, the Besiktas district carries with it, a prestigious status and many affluent families prefer to live there. However, ways to cut down on rent include looking at less expensive districts, most of which are in the outskirt European areas or renting a room, or a hostel, rather than an apartment.
Food and drink can be both cheap or expensive. To save money, go where the locals eat and drink rather than the tourist spots. Traditional Turkish restaurants, known as lokantas serve up fresh, cooked Turkish cuisine for next to nothing. If you rent a self-catering apartment, seek out the nearest weekly farmers market. Here, better quality fruit, vegetables and dairy products are cheaper than in supermarkets.
Many locals use cabs, and you will spot them all over the city but save money by buying an Istanbul Kart and using the local buses and metro. Likewise, if to explore attractions, buy a museum card, or join up for free walking tours. Many hostels, furnished Airbnb apartments, cafes and restaurants also have free Wi-Fi. For an overall view, Numbeo, a number-crunching data collector analysing prices all over the world, say consumer prices including rent, are 257% lower than London, and 137% cheaper than Madrid. So, regarding the cost of living, you are off to a good start before you even arrive.
Living in Istanbul Pros
Naturally, as with any lifestyle move, you must expect pros and cons but if you are still undecided as to whether the city is for you, let’s look at the advantages first. Istanbul provides a fun historical journey into the eyes of the world. As the former ruling capital for both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, who in their prime ruled many countries and massive lands, landmark buildings introduce the world’s historical timeline in a fun way.
Secondly, eating out is a culinary experience. Turkish street food is a big thing and provides masses of opportunities to save money. Otherwise, steer away from western fast food outlets to eat where the locals do, and you will realise the city provides for meat lovers, vegetarians, and vegans with plentiful choices. Perhaps the most significant benefit though is the local culture and people. As anyone who has been to Turkey will testify, the welcome and hospitality are out of this world. Turkish people’s reputation for friendliness and helpfulness means as you get to know them, you learn about their lifestyles and beliefs.
Cons of Istanbul
As with anything in life, there are two sides to every coin, and anyone thinking of moving here should be aware of the cons. Firstly, with a population of 15 million people, busyness is everywhere, and to get around means planning your day carefully. From the traffic to the shops, the city never stops. Still, check out the quiet places to get away. Istanbul has gone far out to preserve its parks. Places like Gulhane and Yildiz do an excellent job of providing green spaces in a bustling urban landscape. (Read about beautiful green parks in Istanbul.)
Secondly, every major city has crime and frauds. The key is to do the same you would do at home. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, keep bags across your shoulder, be wary of where you go at night times, only use licensed taxis, and use common sense. Two common swindles happen, but the good news is that few people fall for it because the word is spreading. As they say forearmed is forewarned.
The first is the shoeshine trick. Traditional shoe shiners carry their boxes of brush and polish and sit on street corners. Sometimes, they will drop it, wait for a passer-by, usually a tourist to pick it up, offer them a free shoe shine and then at the end charge them. The second one targets solo men. Ladies will befriend them, suggest a bar to visit, they will sit with them throughout the night, and at the end, the bar charges the man an outrageous amount for his and her drinks and even peanuts on some occasions. Protest and the bouncers will show up.
Coworking Spaces in Istanbul
If you are new to the digital nomad in Istanbul lifestyle, co-working spaces are where several like-minded people all performing different roles, or working for different people, share a common area, hence saving on expenses. The other benefit is social interaction, which is essential for solo digital nomads suffering from being lonely. Check out the co-working spaces at impact hub, Daire, which is pay as you use and who advertise themselves as perfect for freelancers and nomads. Kolektif house and Kamara and two other popular venues. One tip to access a wide choice is to use coworker.com who currently list more than 60 co-working spaces in Istanbul.
Need to Know: Tourist Versus Residency Visa
At present, Turkey has waivered the cost of a tourist visa, so getting into the country is free. However, this only allows you to stay for 90 days out of 180 days. To stay longer, apply for a Turkish residency permit, in which you need a rental contract. Besides this, you need to prove you can sustain yourself financially, but if you declare your digital nomad income, this takes you down the route of applying for a self-employed freelancer work permit, which is a whole other ball-game.
Also Consider: Sim Cards and Foreign Telephones
Using a foreign SIM card in Turkey can be expensive, especially for international roaming. Major Turkish providers like Turkcell and Vodaphone sell what they call vacation SIM cards. Both have shops in arrival halls at significant airports. Just show your passport and e-visa. However, here is the thing to know. You can only use a foreign mobile phone for 120 days. After authorities lock it, so you can’t access any providers. After this, you will need to register your foreign device, and at the time of publishing this article, it is a staggering 1,500 Turkish lira.
The Language Barrier
Naturally, many freelancing nomads ask if the language barrier is going to be a problem. Around the touristic areas, locals speak many languages, including English, German, Russian and Chinese. However, in traditional neighbourhoods, the man behind the counter in the corner shop probably only knows Turkish. We recommend downloading a good translator app. Even Google does a better job these days. Additionally, learning the basics before you arrive will be of a considerable benefit. Find out more about the Turkish language and basic phrases to learn.
Nice to Know
Living in Istanbul is a great life experience, and there are many places to visit, including famous landmarks like the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. However, there is much more to the country than that. We recommend visiting places like Cappadocia, the ruined city of Ephesus and the white calcium pools of Pamukkale. These top tourist attractions host millions of visitors every year. The Mediterranean Antalya region is also fast overcoming Istanbul as the go-to-destination for tourism and foreign house sales.
Expat Guide to Turkey: Many people, after being a digital nomad in Istanbul, decide to settle down for a couple of years by renting property. Of course, this is an entirely different lifestyle, but that is how much Turkey captivates the millions of foreigners who visit every year. In this series, we discuss making the transition to being an expat in Turkey, the benefits, and cons, what to expect, and tips to make a move work.
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