When it comes to living in Istanbul, stats show this is a popular hub for foreign expats. A recent report said that excluding refugees, 645,000 foreigners with residency permits lived in Turkey's biggest metropolis. Sitting next to the Marmara Sea, Bosphorus, and Golden Horn, Istanbul occupies Turkey's Northern, western corner and sits on an advantageous geographical location. To be cliché, it is the bridge between east and west, often enticing various nationalities to move to Istanbul and live there all year round.
However, as with any destination, around the world, no place is a utopia. No matter where we live, there are hurdles to navigate and some downfalls to manage. With that in mind, if you are thinking of moving to Istanbul but are undecided, our pros and cons about this vast metropolis in Turkey will swing your decision, one way or the other. Let us start with the pros, then do the cons after.
About Living in Istanbul
1: Varied Nightlife Scene
Without a doubt, Istanbul has the best nightlife scene in Turkey, from the backstreet bars of Beyoglu with their live music bands to the large pulsating nightclubs of Ortakoy. Reina, Superrclub and Sorties are places to spot the odd Turkish celebrity hanging out, but we much prefer any lowkey establishment with Bosphorus views. Also, work your way around the backstreets of Istiklal avenue to find many popular bars.
2: Food Galore
Now, this is what we like. Imagine any food you want, and Istanbul delivers with plenty of choices. We often indulge in street food, from the good old fashioned Taksim burger to the famous jacket potato of Ortakoy. We also love the Turkish style lokantas. However, to go upscale, restaurants like Nusr-et, Armada terrace and the sunset grill do fine dining with style. Find out what delicious Istanbul street food dishes we like to indulge in.
3: Expat Circles
When you move to Istanbul, look to various expats groups that often meet up if you want to find new friendship circles. Consisting of multiple nationalities, some focus on mutual interests like walking, charity work, or learning Turkish. In contrast, others arrange weekly visits to numerous attractions or provide coffee mornings to drop in for advice and tips on settling in. In Istanbul, you are never short of foreign friends.
4: Things to do
Maybe you work and get a couple of days off a week, or you are retired and looking for new hobbies and things to do. In that case, get ready for an avalanche of choices. Whether you jump on the bus and visit Bosphorus villages like Arnavut, or head to tourist attractions like the Princes Islands, get ready for enough things to do that will take you years to work through. Read about free things to do in Istanbul.
5: Cost of Living
Regardless of where they live, many Turkish people say Istanbul is the most expensive place to live. However, for foreigners, Istanbul still delivers a low cost of living compared to their home countries. Bills like TV licenses don't exist, and low council taxes make western countries seem a rip-off. Residents also save money by shopping at the local weekly farmer's markets and avoiding tourist shops. Indeed, many foreigners have a decent standard of living here.
6: Ideal Weather
Istanbul is not the warmest place in Turkey. (The country has several different climate zones.) Indeed, snow often falls in winter. However, bar two months of rain and snow, the rest of the year offers decent weather, especially during summer when temperatures can reach 35 or more degrees. We love Spring and Autumn, and this is where we get out to the local Istanbul green spaces like the various parks on the Asian and European sides.
7: Good Transport and infrastructure Network
The key to living in any major city around the world is a good transport network. Over the last 20 years, Istanbul has invested heavily into transport infrastructure and providing cleaner, quicker, and cheaper services. Istanbul governorship extended metro lines, and highways like TEM are major routes for easy access to central districts. Think ferries, taxis, buses, the tram, and metro lines to get about quickly.
8: Historical Vibes
As the former ruling capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul city screams historical vibes on every corner. You do not have to visit the tourist attractions to see them either, because places like the Balat and Fener neighbourhoods give great insight into the past with their old Ottoman houses. Other famous historical interests include buildings of the Sultanahmet district, ancient city walls, churches, mosques, and museums. Read about Istanbul's historical value.
9: International Schools
Families enjoy a wide range of international schools with a record of accomplishment and globally recognised curriculums. Granted, they do have high yearly tuition fees, but the bonus is the after-school activities and emphasis on foreign languages and cultural awareness. While some focus heavily on sport, others specialise in culture and art, so whatever your child's passion is, you will find a school to boost their learning.
10: Low Cost of Housing
There are many affordable districts to buy property in Istanbul. Central districts like Beyoglu charge higher prices per square metre, but property buyers find cheap apartments on large lifestyle complexes in the outskirt European districts. Given that many neighbourhoods are still expanding and investing, there is much potential for capital growth. Therefore, Istanbul is also Turkey's top spot for foreigners buying homes here. If you want to purchase property, browse our portfolio of apartments and villas for sale in Istanbul. Each listing contains everything to know, including price, location, home features, and contact details to find out more or arrange a viewing.
11: Istanbul Airports
Istanbul has two airports; Sabiha Gokcen and the new Istanbul airport. Both are prime travel hubs with frequent, year-round flight schedules to many destinations around the world. This means, should you get a bit homesick, you can get back home to visit friends and family easily.
12: Congestion and Crowds
So, that is our list of pros, but what about the cons? Naturally, as Turkey's largest and most populated city, get ready for the crowds and congestion, especially if using public transport. If possible, time your daily activities to miss critical times similar to school runs and people going to or leaving work.
13: Culture Shock
Yes, multicultural Istanbul is home to various foreigners, but you may still come across some incidents or places that evoke a bit of culture shock. This happens typically to foreigners when they first move to Istanbul. Ride it out, and within six months, the culture shock normally wears off, and daily Turkish life becomes normal.
14: Language Barrier
Hang around the touristic districts, and you will probably find someone who speaks English or another foreign language. However, in some residential neighbourhoods that don't focus on tourism, foreign languages are a rarity. So our advice is to start learning one Turkish word a day or sign up for a crash course at one of the many language schools in Istanbul. Read about easy ways to learn the Turkish language.
14: Jobs and Working
Gone are the days when you could jump hop on a plane, get a job and work illegally in Istanbul without the authorities batting an eyelid. These days, Turkey fully cracks down on any working foreign who does not have a permit to do so. Additionally, Turkish employers have strict rules and regulations to stick to regarding hiring foreigners. For this reason, we recommend finding a job before you arrive.
15: Lack of Privacy
The welcoming Turkish culture is known the world over. Indeed, friendly Turkish people welcome everyone with open arms. However, while it may appeal to tourists, some foreigners from western countries don't like it. We often hear them say life in Istanbul is intrusive, and likewise, for expats who live in crowded apartment complexes with no sound insulation.
16: Beach life
Istanbul might disappoint if the sand between the toes and warm sea water is your idea of fun in life. It is not one of the world's best cities with beaches, and residents go further afield to find the sandy hotspots. If a daily visit to the beach is on your agenda, we recommend living in Antalya city centre instead. This city in Mediterranean Turkey offers bustling social scenes, and the Lara and Konyaalti beach sit among the list of Turkey's best beaches.
Complete Checklist for Moving to Turkey
So, that is our summary about being an expat in Istanbul. If you decide to make a move; research beforehand. For most people who move overseas, it only goes smoothly when they have done their research and preparation. They know the hurdles to overcome and how to deal with unexpected situations. This article is a complete checklist covering all aspects of moving to and living in Istanbul.
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