Eight things I wish I’d known before I moved to Turkey
Veteran traveller and expat Ulrike Bauer has lived in eight countries across four continents during her lifetime. The 62-year-old former teacher from Munich says her move to Antalya City, where she’s bought an apartment on Konyaalti Beach, will be her last. We pick Ulrike’s brains and discover what people really need to know before they move to Turkey.
1. It’s REALLY hot
“I don’t think anything can prepare you for quite how hot it gets here in July and August,” Ulrike says. “People come here expecting to laze on the beach and explore but some days it’s even too hot for sitting doing nothing on the beach.” Some also find it difficult to get their heads around the fact that in many parts of the country it doesn’t rain for months on end, she says. Ulrike cautions that in July and August you should be very careful in the sun, especially if you have young children or are elderly, and says sometimes it's best to just stay in the comfort of your Turkish villa or apartment.
2. Turks eat seasonally
“In many parts of Europe you can buy a pineapple all year round, but in Turkey everything’s seasonal. It’s a more natural - and environmentally friendly - way of eating.” If you want to buy imported produce there are a few supermarkets with fruits flown in from all over the globe. However, Ulrike says she likes the Turkish way of eating. “Humans were meant to eat with the seasons. Everything’s fresh and tasty and has plenty of flavour, the tomatoes, for example, are probably the tastiest I’ve had anywhere.”
3. Put yourself out there
Making friends can be difficult, Ulrike warns. “I know people who moved here expecting to make instant friends and have ended up feeling isolated.” It takes a long time to build up a friendship group like you have at home, she says. “My advice is to say yes to every invitation. If someone invites you along to an outing that back home you might have scoffed at, just go. You never know who you’ll meet - and you might even find a new interest.” Ulrike also recommends taking Turkish language classes. “The more you learn the more Turkey will open up to you. And if you take a class with other foreigners you’ll probably make some friends.” If you’re really outgoing consider starting your own group or club. “I started a book group in my first year and lots of people came out of the woodwork after I put a few feelers out on Facebook and a forum I belong to. There are nine of us and we meet every month.”
4. Don’t underestimate the cultural differences
“One positive difference, for me, is that Turks are so approachable and friendly,” Ulrike says. “It’s one of the only places I’ve lived where you’ll stop and ask directions, and the person will not only show you where you’re going but offer to buy you a cup of coffee when you get there.” You might even be invited to a wedding or festival only a couple of days after meeting someone, she adds. Some people find this overwhelming at first, especially if they’ve come from a country where people are more standoffish. As for Ulrike’s ‘don’ts’: “Coastal areas like Antalya, Fethiye and Bodrum, where there are lots of westerners, are relaxed. So you don’t need to worry about covering up if you’re a woman. But you might need to do this if you go to a more conservative area.” Other things to bear in mind is that blowing your nose in public is seen as rude and unhygienic, and it’s customary to take your shoes off when going into someone’s house.
5. Give it time
The first year of moving abroad can be difficult, Ulrike says. “You might find yourself wondering why you moved away, and feeling homesick and sad. This is completely normal, we all go through it - even me, who has moved around constantly. You’re dealing with a new culture, new food, climate, tricky bureaucracy and all of this while trying to meet people.” Ulrike advises new expats to do something nice for themselves when they feel down, even if it’s just cooking a nice meal or going to the cinema - making an effort to leave their Turkey apartments. “Call a friend, call the people you’re missing. The world is smaller now and we can communicate with family so easily on Skype.” And longer term? “Just stick it out. You’ll have good days and bad days but overall it will get better and better and one day, hopefully not too far away, the homesickness will be a distant memory.”
6. Tidy everything up at home
“Try and simplify your assets and make sure everything’s up-to-date before you leave,” Ulrike suggests. Her tips: make sure your will is current; make an inventory of all your possessions so if you return you will know what you will be going back to; move everything you can online as it will be easier to keep track of than paper transactions; do all your transactions locally (for example, paying bills) to minimise the amount of money that needs to be shifted between countries; and finally, try and find a close, trusted friend who can be your liaison at home, helping you with banking, forwarding mail and any unforeseeable loose ends.
7. Consider buying goods in Turkey
“I shipped everything over to Turkey but I wish I hadn’t,” Ulrike says. “It was costly, time consuming and I ended up paying more tax on my old furniture than I’d thought I would. If you look around you can buy new furniture and white goods at fairly good prices here. And you can always get second hand items from expats who are leaving the country.”
8. No, you won’t take it all for granted
“I moved here from northern Europe and a lot of people said ‘oh you’ll get sick of the sunshine and the sea eventually, you’ll be craving snow and more familiar surroundings’. Well, I don’t. I’ve been here for two years and every day feels like a gift. I have been back to Germany twice to visit friends in the past two years but each time I couldn’t wait to come home.”