Working in Turkey as an expat
Navigating cultural differences
Think of all the potential problems occurring in a workplace in your own country and then figure out how to try and solve them with workmates whose first language is different to yours and in many cases, so are their work ethics.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle of working in a team environment in Turkey is overcoming the cultural differences especially if you are female and have the misfortune to land a job in a company where the Turkish patriarchy tradition is firmly engrained.
For hundreds of female workers in Turkey, skills of tact, self-discipline, a lot of patience and some clever negotiating are needed in an environment when your fellow work mates traditionally believe that your rightful place in life is behind the kitchen sink.
While we are not suggesting that you lower your work ethics, it is wise before entering any job in Turkey, to go in with an open mind and for the first few months, just observe so that you gain an insight into your fellow workers characters and beliefs.
Working in bars and restaurants illegally
In summer coastal resorts, bars and restaurants that specifically cater for foreign clientele like to employ foreigners who know the standards and expectations that their customers expect from an eating or drinking establishment.
The problem however is that the laws and regulations regarding working foreigners are extremely complex despite a recent overhaul of the system in the last few years. Even in 2015, stories of deported foreigners are rife and some had their residence permit application refused for working illegally.
As an expat, if you are willing to face the potential backlash from working without a permit, plenty of jobs will be offered to you by employers who are eager to cash in on your foreign status but beware of the consequences.
While the concept of working illegally may seem inviting at first i.e. no contract or written obligations, beware that this works both ways and in many cases, the only person who benefits from illegal workers is the employer.
Risks you will take include no legal representation if you have an accident, no social security or tax contributions. Working hours can be long and in most of the summer holiday resorts, a day off is not included.
The worst case scenario is that you work a 50 hour week for a month and then are told that you have no wages. You have just given away 200 hours of your time for nothing. There is also the risk of a fine or deportation and a ban from re-entering the country for up to 8 years.
In 2010, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in Turkey estimated the number of illegal foreign workers to be 500,000. Although because of tightening regulations, this number has probably decreased over the years, some foreigners are still willing to risk it.
As the world becomes more digital and technology is now an essential part of everyday life, some professions have the bonus of allowing workers to be location independent. This certainly cuts out the hassle of cultural differences that can occur but don’t assume there are no legal obligations to adhere to. Firstly there is the issue of paying tax and also the freelancing profession in Turkey is surrounded with confusion.
Natalie Sayin is a freelance writer living on the Aegean coast of Turkey. “Even though I had Turkish citizenship, nobody seemed to know the exact process of how I could legally register myself so that I was paying tax," Natalie says. In the end, she employed an accountant to sort it out for her. He registered her as a business and sorted out a tax identification number. However, even then it wasn't straightforward. "Towards the end of the process, there was still confusion in the tax office, because they were not sure which profession to list me under. I can laugh about it now but the whole process of trying to legally register as a freelancer is stressful. It would have been more stressful had I not been a Turkish citizen, because then I would also have needed a work permit.”
Another popular profession for foreigners is teaching English. After gaining a TEFL certificate, there are many jobs across the country but these are normally at designated schools so if you have plans to spend your days in a small coastal resort, the likelihood of finding a school that will take you on is minimal. Instead big cities like Istanbul or Ankara are popular choices.
While a majority of places do issue contracts and like to pay their employees on time, Internet stories have revealed a few disgruntled teachers who were promised work permits and never received them, therefore leaving them in a comprised position should they get caught working illegally.
Change is coming?
While the job market for foreigners in Turkey may seem like doom and gloom, it is worth noting the laws are constantly changing and we are gradually hearing stories about foreigners receiving their work permits and visas.
One rumour is that foreigners buying properties will receive citizenship, allowing them to work legally and become part of the system.Over the last five years, applications for work permits have become more streamlined so the discussion of foreigners working in Turkey is one to keep an eye on over the next 5 years. Maybe we are being optimistic but we think the situation will improve.