🇹🇷 29 Pros & Cons of Living in Turkey as a Foreigner (First-Hand Experience)

living in turkey

Turkey is one of the world’s most fascinating countries. But what’s it actually like to live there as a foreigner?

Here I take a look at the pros and cons of living in Turkey.

This article is based on my three years spent living in the heart of Istanbul, plus my travels to far-flung areas of the country, such as towns bordering Syria and Iraq (Gaziantep and Mardin).

I’ll also take a look at several aspects of living in Turkey in 2023 (certain things have changed a lot).

My most recent visit was in September 2022, when I stayed in the Pera Palace Hotel (a fascinating object of Turkish history in itself, and a must-visit).

29 Pros & Cons of Living in Turkey as a Foreigner

Me in Buyukada, Istanbul

In late 2013, I moved to Turkey to start working as a freelance writer in the wake of the Arab Spring.

At that time, Turkey had recently experienced a series of riots and political upheaval centred around Istanbul’s Gezi Park. But none of that put me off. I wanted to experience life in the Middle East, and Istanbul seemed the perfect base from which to do that.

I landed on a chilly winter night, and headed straight to my accommodation in the narrow back streets behind Istiklal Caddesi (Istiklal Avenue), one of Istanbul’s main shopping and tourism streets. Little did I know, I would live happily in Turkey for the next three years.

The Pros of Living in Turkey

Pro #1: Rich history and cultural heritage

It sounds like a cliché, but in Turkey it’s absolutely true. The history and culture are palpable, especially in Istanbul. There’s such a fascinating mix of cultural influences, including Greeks, Jews, Syrians, as well as the Turks themselves.

Although Istanbul feels like a modern city in most ways, you’ll still find historical surprises around many corners (for example, wandering through the Balat area of the city).

Turkey has some breathtaking historical sites as well, such as Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Basilica Cistern, and the Cappadocia caves in central Turkey (this is just a small sample, there are 100s more).

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Pro #2: Warm and hospitable people

Again, this isn’t a cliché. In general, Turkish people are extremely kind, friendly and welcoming. For example, it’s part of Turkish culture to always offer tea (or Turkish coffee) to a visitor. This even happens in some shops!

As a foreigner living in Istanbul, I found it easy to make Turkish friends, many of whom I still keep in touch with almost 10 years later. In major cities like Istanbul, you’ll find lots of people who speak English and who are happy to invite you along to various different events and gatherings.

Pro #3: Delicious and diverse cuisine

The food in Turkey is stunning, what can I say? It goes far beyond just the stereotypical kebab (although those are great too!)

You can easily find plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, amazing local cheeses, olives, nuts, and fabulous wines. For vegetarians, Turkish food can sometimes feel limiting because of the emphasis on meat.

But in large urban centres like Istanbul, you’ll find a growing range of vegetarian (and even vegan) restaurants catering for your needs.

The cuisine on offer goes way beyond Turkish only. You’ll also find a lot of Syrian restaurants, some Persian, Greek, and a growing diversity of food in general.

Smaller cities outside of Istanbul will be more limited in terms of range, but you’re sure to find plenty of delicious local cuisine options, full of fresh produce. And did I mention Turkish breakfasts yet?

Pro #4: Amazing coffee

Coffee lovers will have a great time in Turkey – it’s one of the classic coffee destinations!

Turkish coffee is brewed in a specific style (boiled at least three times in a small pot). You drink it strong and black with sediment at the bottom of the cup. Go to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul where you’ll find them grinding fresh coffee and serving it up in still-warm bags, for you to buy and make at home. The smell is fabulous!

If you’re more of a specialty coffee fan, you’ll find a decent range of good third wave coffee shops in large cities like Istanbul. Here are my four favorites in central Istanbul:

Pro #5: The cats!

Turkey, and especially Istanbul, is great for cat lovers. In central Istanbul, you’ll find hundreds of cats living on the streets.

But this isn’t your typical street cat situation. These cats are typically well-cared for: fed, watered, and even sheltered.

They also get plenty of attention from locals and tourists alike. Most of them are friendly and clean, so you can easily find yourself sitting in a café petting a cute cat while drinking your coffee.

Istanbul skyline at night, viewed from Haliç (Samantha North: 2022)

Pro #6: Diverse shopping options

Turkey is pretty good for shopping, whether you prefer traditional markets or modern malls.

The country has its own textile industry, so you’ll find some good quality clothing options available. It’s an especially good place to buy denim, from local brands such as Mavi, Yargici, or LTB.

In the big malls of Istanbul, many of the typical western brands are available, such as Zara, Mango, H&M, and Massimo Dutti (although prices are typically higher than in Europe).

Pro #7: High quality healthcare

Although living in Turkey requires you to pay for your own health insurance, it’s still a fraction of the cost of the United States, for example. And healthcare in Turkey is generally of high quality, with many doctors having been trained in the UK or the US.

Turkey is also a popular destination for medical tourism, especially hair transplants, nose jobs, and dental work. I’ve had some of the best dental treatment of my life in Istanbul, so I can speak for its quality.

In fact, my dentist was so good that I plan to seek her out in future if I need further work (even though she’s now in the Netherlands).

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Pro #8: Rich arts and music scene

You won’t be bored on the cultural front while living in Turkey. Istanbul in particular is heaving with art, music, and cultural activities, including some iconic jazz bars (think 1920s interwar period vibes), rock clubs, and underground music events (check out Jemiyet for some of these).

You should also try to experience the more spiritual side of Istanbul’s culture, such as visiting one of the historic mosques, or going to see the whirling dervishes (this is less of a performance but rather a religious event, part of Turkey’s 700 year old Sufi heritage).

Pro #9: Convenient transportation infrastructure

Well, at least in the big cities. Istanbul in particular is well-connected for such a massive city. You’ll find almost every imaginable public transportation option on offer here.

There’s an extensive underground metro system, many trams, several funiculars, lots of ferries, taxis, Ubers (although in Istanbul these are just taxis controlled via the Uber app), metrobuses (a bus that travels in its own lane, unhindered by traffic), and the undersea metro line beneath the Bosphorus known as the Marmaray.

And don’t forget the iconic dolmus, a yellow shared taxi that holds around 8 people and travels on specific routes around the city. I’ve lost count of the number of times a convenient dolmus has saved me from a long walk home (or an expensive taxi experience). They’re affordable, convenient, and usually very friendly.

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Pro #10: Traditional Turkish baths and spas

You should definitely try out a traditional Turkish bath at least once while living in Turkey.

They’re a great opportunity to experience history and culture, while also getting really clean and feeling relaxed. Some baths are more local and down-to-earth (and cheaper), while others are really fancy (and super expensive!) Don’t forget, many Turkish baths are gender-segregated (although some touristy ones aren’t.)

Pro #11: Hot air balloon rides

Having the opportunity to take breathtaking hot air balloon rides over the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. It’s an awe-inspiring experience and something you should try at least once while living in Turkey (or even while visiting).

Take a look at the many hot air balloon tours available – and read traveler reviews before choosing one.

Pro #12: Easy access to neighboring countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Turkey is really well located for onward travel all over the place. The national carrier, Turkish Airlines, offers a huge variety of routes, while local low-cost carriers, such as Pegasus Airlines, provide easy budget options. You can also enter Turkey by rail or international bus from various points in Europe.

Pro #13: Proximity to stunning beaches

Exceptional beaches are just a short hop away when you’re living in Turkey. From Istanbul, just grab a cheap flight down to Dalaman, or head to the north coast to experience the Black Sea beaches instead. If that’s still not enough for you, neighboring Greece has even more variety of beaches to choose from.

Pro #14: Availability of international schools

If you’re planning to move to Turkey with children, you’ll be pleased to hear that the country has a number of high-quality international schools.

Many have English as the main language of instruction, such as the British School of Istanbul, while others teach in French or German. Other languages such as Arabic may be on offer as well. The most common curriculum taught in Turkey is the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Pro #15: Affordable real estate options

Turkey used to be famous for its many affordable real estate options. While this is still partly the case, at least in relation to US or western European salaries, prices are rapidly rising due to massive inflation.

Don’t forget, if you’re willing to spend a minimum of US$400,000 on property, you can fast track your way to Turkish citizenship via the citizenship by investment program.

The Cons of Living in Turkey

Con #1: Rampant inflation and falling lira

I first noticed the effects of this during my September 2022 visit. When I left Istanbul in 2016, the Turkish lira was around 2.5 to the US dollar. When I returned in 2022, it was around 18 to the dollar (22 to the British pound).

This massive drop (and the subsequent inflation) is already having some negative social effects. For example, many foreign friends still living in Turkey have told me their landlords are asking for huge rent increases.

And my Turkish friends earning in lira can no longer afford to travel to Europe. Many of them seek remote work so they can get paid in dollars or euros.

In general, Istanbul feels more expensive these days, as prices fluctuate to cope with inflation. There’s a new sense of tension around prices that wasn’t there before the crash of the lira. Living in Turkey as a foreigner could be more challenging now because of this.

Con #2: Lots of crowds

Turkey has a big population and Istanbul in particular is always super crowded. If you live in the city center, there’s no way to escape it.

You’ll be dealing with crowds on a daily basis. The Asian side of Istanbul is maybe slightly less packed than the European side (with the exception of Kadikoy).

For a more peaceful lifestyle, I recommend avoiding the cities and instead checking out some of the smaller towns on the Mediterranean coast, such as Fethiye.

Con #3. Major traffic congestion

Following on from lots of crowds comes lots of traffic congestion. Turkey’s big cities get extremely overcrowded with traffic. In Istanbul, I personally wouldn’t even bother owning a car. There’s plenty of public transport and you’ll be less stressed if you avoid driving.

In contrast, if you’re living outside the major urban centres, you’ll need a car as public transport infrastructure can be sparse.

Con #4: Landlord <> tenant problems

10 years ago, it was super easy and affordable to rent an apartment in Istanbul. In fact, my apartment used to cost only 700 Turkish lira per month (about 250 USD at the time).

But things have changed dramatically in the wake of the lira’s crash. My foreign friends who still live in Istanbul report many instances of conflict with their landlords over large increases in rent, many of which goes far beyond the legal limits.

What’s more, for new arrivals, it’s almost impossible to find a low-cost apartment. Rent prices are now on par with countries in Europe (even though local salaries haven’t kept up).

For example, you could easily pay the equivalent of 1000 USD per month for a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Istanbul, which is comparable to prices in European capitals such as Lisbon. And as a foreigner, finding a bargain will be even more challenging.

Con #5: Risk of earthquakes

Another tragedy that struck Turkey recently was the huge Turkey-Syria earthquake of February 2023. The epicentre was the city of Malatya, in the province of Gaziantep.

There were two major quakes, the first measured 7.8 in seismic magnitude, and the second was 7.7. This was the most severe earthquake in Turkey since the North Anatolia earthquake of 1668.

And Istanbul is not immune to severe earthquakes either. In 1999, a major 7.6 quake struck close to the city of Izmit, causing huge damage and between 17,127 and 18,373 deaths. Istanbul was seriously affected, with 1,000 deaths in the city’s Avcilar district.

The whole country is located in an active seismic zone – worth considering if you have plans to live there.

Con #6: Lack of freedom of expression

There are certain subjects you should avoid talking about in Turkey, and criticizing the government is definitely on that list. The “Kurdish issue” is also a sensitive topic is best avoided.

I’ve known several acquaintances who have been either deported or refused entry based on things they’ve written for various international newspaper outlets.

Con #7. Restricted access to social media platforms at times

Since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, the Turkish government occasionally blocks access to social media platfo rms at times of crisis.

To get past this as a foreigner living in Turkey, I recommend subscribing to a VPN service, so you can stay connected throughout these tricky moments (especially if your income depends on social media). My favorite is ExpressVPN – it’s affordable and reliable.

Reliable VPN service is an essential part of living in Turkey as a foreigner. Here’s my top choice (and you can grab a 63% discount on the two-year plan).

Con #8. Political instability and terror risk

There was political instability in Turkey 10 years ago, and it’s still a problem there today.

Ongoing tension between the current government and opposing parties sometimes leads to protests and even riots. Most of this is centred in Istanbul, so if you live in a coastal town it’s unlikely to affect you.

Another risk of living in Istanbul is the possibility of terrorist attacks. Although it’s rare, it’s nevertheless a very real possibility.

When I lived there in 2015, we experienced at least five separate terrorist incidents in that year alone, including the major attack in June at Ataturk International Airport.

And the risk of terrorism hasn’t gone away. In late 2022, a suicide bomber struck in one of Istanbul’s main tourist areas, Istiklal Caddesi, killing six people.

Con #9. Potential language barrier

in Istanbul, you can find a lot of people who speak English. But outside the major cities and tourist centres, you’re likely to encounter a language barrier.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it will compel you to pick up Turkish more quickly (you get more motivated when people don’t reply in English all the time, as is common across Europe).

And, on the bright side, although the Turkish language doesn’t have much in common with English, it has an extremely logical grammatical structure (and no gendered nouns, yay!).

In fact, I know many foreigners who can speak Turkish fluently after living there for a few years and taking language classes.

For 1:1 online conversation classes with native speakers, check out iTalki. It’s by far my favorite way of becoming fluent in a language, even without living in the target country. I’ve used it for Mandarin, Arabic, and now Portuguese.

Con #10. Conservative social norms in some regions

Turkey is a predominantly Islamic country, so you’ll find some regions are more conservative than others.

If you’re a non-Muslim foreigner (I’m making assumptions here, I know!) you’ll probably feel most at ease in Istanbul (with the exception of areas like Fatih or Bagcilar, where very few Westerners live anyway).

The western city of Izmir is largely secular, so it could be of interest if you don’t fancy Istanbul. You’ll also find significant expat communities along the Mediterranean coast close to Dalaman.

To be perfectly honest, I never found conservative social norms were much of a problem for living in Turkey (even as a foreign Western woman).

If you stick to big cities and international hubs, you’ll usually find a high level of tolerance and will be able to live comfortably. When visiting more conservative areas, simply showing respect and decency is always a good rule of thumb.

Con #11. Air pollution in urban areas

Istanbul is the main offender here. Lots of traffic plus a big population leads to air pollution. If you want to avoid it as much as possible, your best bet is to live somewhere close to either the Bosphorus river or the Marmara sea.

Con #12. Restriction of certain banking services

This is a very recent development, but I’ve been hearing reports from friends that Wise is closing its operations within Turkey.

I’d strongly advise that you keep the majority of your funds in pounds, dollars or euros in a bank outside Turkey. The situation is volatile at the moment because of rising inflation and currency devaluations. It’s risky to hold too much of your money in Turkish lira, which could lose more of its value at any time.

Then just draw out cash in Turkish lira whenever you need it, or use your foreign debit card to pay for things. Check your foreign bank to see what their charges are for foreign cash withdrawals and debit card transactions.

Con #13. Widespread use of loud car horns

Dealing with the common practice of excessive and often unnecessary car horn honking, which can be a source of noise pollution.

Con #14. Limited access to certain international products and services

You might find it tricky to get access to some of your usual products and services in Turkey, but I didn’t find this to be a massive problem while living there. Many more international brands have landed in Turkey since I last lived there, so hopefully you’ll be able to find something sufficient for your needs.

Living in Turkey in 2023

View over Turkey-Iraq border from Mardin city

Costs and Standards of Living

The cost of living in Turkey has changed massively since I last lived there in 2016. That’s why I’ve asked my friends who still live there to share their insights for this section of the article.

Most of these insights are based around people living either in urban Istanbul, or in towns on the Mediterranean coast including Fethiye, Dalaman, and Antalya. Living costs and standards elsewhere in Turkey may be very different from these.

Prices have gone up across the board. For example, renting in Istanbul is now on a par with Western capitals such as Lisbon or Brussels.

The most expensive areas of the European side are the Cihangir and Nisantasi neighborhoods (the former has a large Western expat community), along with upmarket Bosphorus-adjacent spots such as Bebek, Ortaköy and Arnavutköy. Sariyer and Istiniye, near the US embassy, also provide a luxury living experience.

Typical standards of living in Turkey are broadly equivalent to southern European countries such as Portugal, Greece, or Spain. It’s also possible to go super upmarket if you have the budget to afford it. In general, I’d place Istanbul in 2023 on a par with southern European capitals.

Mileage may vary in other parts of Turkey. You can find cheaper options the further east you go. But bear in mind that the number of foreigners in these Anatolian regions will be much smaller than in Istanbul, so you may experience more culture shock and other difficulties.

I don’t know much about Ankara, Turkey’s capital (I never got round to going there because everyone said it was boring!). But by all accounts it’s a somewhat dull place to live, especially when you’ve got the vibrancy of Istanbul in the same country.

Getting a Residency Visa for Living in Turkey

Entering Turkey as a tourist has gotten easier in recent years, at least for EU and US nationals.

I remember having to queue up at the airport to buy an entry visa sticker for my passport. But now, you can get an automatic visa on arrival that’s good for 90 days.

For those who want to live in Turkey, see below for an overview of the best residency options available to you.

Bear in mind that Turkey currently doesn’t have any sort of digital nomad or remote work visa. In fact, the concept isn’t yet recognized in the country’s immigration law. In the past, most foreigners who lived there simply used a long-term tourist visa to maintain their residency status (even while earning from abroad).

On the other hand, if you work for a Turkish company, they’ll need to apply for a work permit on your behalf. Working for a local company is quite unusual for foreigners (as salaries are low and requirements are restrictive). One exception might be teaching English as a foreign language.

#1. Short-Term Residency Permit

This permit lets you stay in Turkey for up to a year (before you need to renew it). You can choose from many different reasons within this route, but the most common one for living in Turkey is “Foreigners who wish to stay for tourism purposes”.

Another viable option is the “Foreigners who wish to attend Turkish language classes” (although bear in mind you’ll need to actually enrol at a language school to use this route).

Once you’ve applied for the permit and been accepted, you’ll receive a plastic card containing your personal details and photo, known as an ikamet.

#2. Turkish Citizenship by Investment (Turkey Golden Visa)

Turkey is one of the most affordable options for getting citizenship by investment.

The Turkish government launched its citizenship by investment scheme in early 2017, to improve the country’s real estate sector. For a number of years, you could get citizenship by investing just US$250,000 in Turkish property.

But the scheme became so popular that the Turkish government recently increased the minimum threshold to US$400,000. After making the investment, you can get your Turkish passport in less than four months. Turkey recognizes dual citizenship.

While the Turkish passport may not necessarily be of interest to foreigners from the UK, EU, or United States, it can nevertheless be a beneficial option for those wishing to live in Turkey for the long-term.

Bear in mind though, that you’ll be treated like any other Turkish citizen while living within the borders of Turkey.

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Best Places to Live in Turkey (As a Foreigner)

#1. Istanbul

Istanbul is by far my top pick for foreigners who wish to live in Turkey.

The city has an exciting blend of rich history, diverse culture, and a convenient location. There’s also a strong expat community from all over the word that provides a sense of belonging and support.

Istanbul’s strategic position as a bridge between Europe and Asia allows for easy travel and exploration. The city features a vibrant culinary scene, bustling markets, and iconic landmarks.

In short, Istanbul provides a well-rounded lifestyle and an engaging environment for foreigners seeking to settle in Turkey.

#2. Izmir

Another potential option for living in Turkey is the coastal city of Izmir. Situated along the stunning Aegean coastline, Izmir offers a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.

With a more laid-back vibe compared to Istanbul, Izmir provides a balance of coastal charm and a touch of urban lifestyle. The city has a growing expat community, making it easier for foreigners to integrate and find support. What’s more, Izmir is one of Turkey’s most secular cities.

Izmir hosts various cultural festivals, showcasing local music, dance, and delectable street food. Its historical sites and picturesque sunsets add to the city’s appeal. If you seek a more serene coastal experience with a friendly community, Izmir could be the ideal place to call home.

#3. Fethiye

Nestled on Turkey’s beautiful Turquoise Coast, the small town of Fethiye offers a serene and relaxed place to settle in Turkey.

With its stunning natural landscapes, crystal-clear waters, and pleasant Mediterranean climate, Fethiye is a paradise for nature enthusiasts.

The town blends traditional Turkish charm with modern amenities, providing a comfortable and laid-back lifestyle. Fethiye offers a strong sense of community and a warm welcome to foreigners.

Its thriving expat population, particular British and US nationals, make the integration process easier. What’s more, Fethiye is a top tourist spot, so you’ll find plenty of English spoken.

Fethiye’s affordability, relaxed pace of life, and opportunities for outdoor activities, such as sailing and hiking, make it an appealing choice if you’re seeking a tranquil coastal living experience.

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#4. Dalaman

Another top choice on the turquoise coast is the town of Dalaman. Surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty, including pristine beaches, verdant mountains, and charming villages, Dalaman offers a serene and idyllic lifestyle.

The region is known for its warm climate, making it a year-round destination. With a growing expat community, Dalaman provides a welcoming and inclusive environment. There’s an international airport, so it’s easy to travel in and out of the region.

The area’s affordability, authentic Turkish culture, and proximity to renowned tourist destinations like Fethiye and Göcek make it an attractive choice for those desiring a tranquil coastal haven away from the hustle and bustle.

#5. Antalya

Last on the list we have Antalya, another popular destination on the Mediterranean coast.

With its year-round pleasant climate, stunning beaches, and stunning natural landscapes, Antalya provides a perfect blend of coastal charm and modern amenities. Antalya’s rich history, ancient ruins, and proximity to popular tourist destinations make it an ideal place for cultural exploration and adventure.

With a range of housing options, affordable cost of living, and a thriving tourism industry, Antalya holds immense appeal for foreigners looking for a balanced coastal lifestyle in Turkey.

Living in Turkey in 2023 as a foreigner – is it worth it?

Turkey is an amazing country with a great deal to offer.

From incredible food and hospitality to fascinating history and stunning beaches, you’re sure to find a warm welcome in Turkey. The three years I spent there were very happy ones.

But that said, recent developments have tarnished some of Turkey’s appeal. Chief on that list is inflation and the crashing lira, which has left many Turks in serious financial straits and put a lot of pressure on the economy.

You’ll feel this tension in the air when you get to Turkey; at least I did in Istanbul. As a result, many things will be more expensive, such as renting an apartment. If you’re a Western foreigner earning from abroad, some people might view you as relatively wealthy, which can sometimes cause issues.

Nevertheless, these problems won’t last forever. Many of my foreign friends have been living in Turkey for decades, some of them even taking Turkish citizenship. A foreigner can easily feel very much at home in Turkey, especially with some knowledge of the Turkish language and local culture.

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