If you look at pictures of Turkey online, the image is that of an idyllic getaway. In fact, we think Istanbul is the cheapest, world class city to retire to today and it makes living in Turkey a fabulous choice for retiring abroad.

The cost of living is low, high-quality healthcare is affordable, and there’s lots of opportunities for an active social life. From British expat communities like Didim, full of English breakfasts and pubs playing football games, to Istanbul’s varied and diverse expat community of teachers and freelancers from all over the world, it’s a popular destination.

Turkey has hot summers, cheap property and beautiful beachside communities on the Mediterranean and the Aegean. The sunshine and fresh and healthy food is loved by European tourists. If you’re looking for a new place to call home abroad, read on to learn about this exciting and very affordable country. We’ll share our in country experience along with some facts and data that will show you exactly why Turkey is a great choice for retiring abroad.

living in TurkeyLiving in Turkey Gets You a First-Class European Experience

I’ve been visiting Turkey off and on for twenty years. I have family there and my children attend an English summer camp for an entire month each summer in Istanbul. From my personal experience, Istanbul one of the cheapest, world class cities to retire to. It straddles Europe and Asia with great proximity to lots of places for quick trips.

Turkish airlines is continually ranked one of the world’s best. The brand new airport (IST) opened in the Spring of 2019 and claims to be able to handle 90MM passengers, with a build out to handle up to 200MM by 2027. This would be the largest in the world. It’s gorgeous, albeit daunting to navigate and only 25 minutes from Taksin Square.

Check out this review of IST’s Business Lounge.

While the country used to have a carefree vibe in many ways, recent years have brought regulations more in line with EU countries. There are more security cameras keeping an eye on things than there used to be, you can no longer smoke indoors and health insurance has become a requirement. It all has its advantages, but it comes with increases in bureaucracy when it comes to getting things done for a move abroad.

With its varied culture, its diverse population, and its many charms, many expats find it to be the right place for them. It all comes down to what you’re looking for in your in your experience.

Cost of Living In Turkey

Turkey compares favorably with any cultured European city. Below are charts for 4 cities in North America and 4 cities in Europe to help you picture how far your income will go in Turkey.

Living Turkey Comparison

Living in Turkey European Comparison

While these charts are an overview and reflect data at the time of this posting, I encourage you to go to Numbeo and compare where you live to Istanbul. There’s tremendous detail there that will compare your location to Istanbul and itemize the transportation, childcare, rental and sale properties, food costs and more.

Where You Live In Turkey Makes a Difference

Different parts of Turkey come with different costs of living. Whereas places on the Mediterranean or Aegean coasts, costs of living tend to be quite low, a city like Istanbul is comparatively more expensive. Other factors such as health insurance or a resident permit may add to those costs.

Expats living on pensions or making a living through online income are doing particularly well in recent times as the exchange rates from many of their home countries’ currencies to Turkish Lira is currently very high. At the time of this writing, $1USD has been hovering between 5 and 6TL for the last year. This can always fluctuate, and it pays to have a backup plan, but at the moment, it can be a helpful thing. Right now in a place like Antalya, a meal at an inexpensive restaurant is the equivalent of $3.50 USD per person, and a mid-level restaurant is more like $7 USD. Income from the US or the UK can go a very long way.

Obtaining a Resident Permit

Turkey offers a variety of residence permits depending on whether you are looking for short-term versus long-term, a family versus an individual, or if you’re a student or a humanitarian. If you want to apply for a residence permit from within your home country or country of residence, you can do so at the nearest Turkish consulate. If you’re already in Turkey, you can also apply with local authorities. The length of a permit’s validity varies from 6 months to 5 years and the costs vary, but tend to be in the neighborhood of $80USD.

Applying for a permit requires a passport valid for at least 60 days beyond the expiration of the requested permit. You need two copies of your passport, four passport sized photos, any current visa you may have, and a filled-out application form. Depending on what type of permit you are seeking, there may be further documents required, such as a certification from your employer, school, etc.

Once in the country, renewal of your residence permit can be done through local authorities 60 days prior to the expiration date of your permit. They will issue you a free document indicating that your renewal application is pending, allowing you to stay in Turkey until the decision is made, even if the decision is not made until after the expiration of your residency permit. If approved, you will be issued a new permit valid from exactly the expiration date of your previous permit.

Living in Turkey and Enjoying the Lifestyle, Culture and Food

Turkey has a diverse heritage. Elements of Greek, Armenian, Georgian, and Arabic cultures have left their mark throughout history. Near the border on the northeast coast, Turkish and Georgian culture is most notable, the southeast is more reflective of Kurdish and Arabic culture, and the western coast has been influenced heavily in the last several decades by European traditions.

Turkish people are often very hospitable and like to invite new friends to dinner at their houses. Guests are given slippers to wear in the house while leaving their shoes at the door, and it is considered rude to refuse the food that is offered. It is not expected for guests to bring gifts to these dinners, but it is acceptable to do so. However, the western tradition of bringing a bottle of wine is often not such as a good idea, as many Turkish people do not drink at home, if at all.

Each meal in Turkish culture is thought of as a gift from Allah that should be enjoyed and not wasted. Breakfast is considered to be the most important meal, typically consisting of eggs, vegetables, and olives, and always bread. Bread is a staple of the Turkish diet, eaten with every meal, and some Turks won’t even sit down for a meal without it.

Turkish coffee is usually only consumed on a few days out of the week, whereas tea is the national drink. It is served with sugar in tulip-shaped glasses. In many towns, villages, and cities, men gather to play games at men-only teahouses. There are tea gardens popular with women and families as well, especially on weekends.

Turkish Real Estate Sales

With the value of lira at a low, foreigners have recently been seizing the opportunity to buy up Turkish homes and properties in great numbers, with everything from American dollars to Iraqi dinars. Where a coastal villa worth 5 million lira would have come to $1.4 million USD in 2017 and $1.7 million in 2016, today it comes to about $870,000. On top of that, the Turkish government also recently eliminated an 18% value-added-tax on homes purchased with foreign currencies.

The number of Iranian buyers of real estate has quadrupled from 2017 to 2018, and American and German buyers doubled. According to government data, Americans even made it into the nation’s top 20 for the first time in four years. Ankara has seen the largest increase in foreign buyers, with Istanbul and Antalya showing enormous growth as well. Homes are an excellent value from expats looking to get a great deal on a new place to live, and many predict the lira to recover soon, bringing those property values back up. All of these real estate purchases could prove to be excellent investment opportunities for long-term investors. It’s easy enough to get a short term rental in lieu of buying property before you relocate.

Health Care for Expats and Retirees

While quality of healthcare in Turkey varies depending on region, expats and retirees will be glad to learn that it is generally cheaper than elsewhere in Europe. Major urban areas like Istanbul and Ankara are home to private hospitals with high-quality care from experienced doctors and staff, most of whom speak English. In more rural areas, however, access to healthcare can still be quite limited.

If you want to learn more about retiring abroad and the steps you need to succeed sign up to get our best retire abroad resources here.

Private hospitals offer good quality care and are relatively cheap, to the point that Turkey is becoming a common medical tourism destination, especially for cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and fertility treatments. Often private hospitals have English-speaking call centers making it easy for expats to schedule appointments. Public healthcare, however, is not up to the standards that American and European expats are familiar with. The rise in competition from private hospitals has brought about an increase in the quality of care from public hospitals, but expats still tend toward the private institutions. Pharmacies are abundant in main towns and cities and you can get many prescription medications over the counter at a low cost.

All residents 65 years of age and under are required to have public or private health insurance when living in Turkey. Expats who have lived in the country more than one year, and who have a valid resident permit, can apply for public health insurance. For those employed in Turkey, many employers contribute toward public health insurance for their employees. Most expats, however, choose to purchase private medical insurance to cover care at private hospitals. Private health insurance for expats is available from lots of international companies, as well as from local Turkish companies with competitive rates and services.

Working as an Expat or Retiree

Laws regarding foreigners working in Turkey have improved in recent years. If you have a work permit, job search opportunities are getting easier to come by. If you do not have a working permit, you should definitely not depend on a job, as fines and deportation still take place for people found to be working without permits, even if you own real estate in the country. Minimum wage has been coming up, but as of 2019, it is still only 2,020TL. Jobs also tend not to have the same benefits as they would in western countries, and the work week is usually 45 hours over the course of six days, with only one day off for the weekend.

If you’re considering working online (we recommend this) rather than getting a job with a company in Turkey, there are may options available to you. Check out our list here.

The Turkish Language

A common worry for foreigners considering making the move to Turkey is the prospect of living in a country where they don’t speak the language. How hard is it to learn? How important is it to be fluent? What is the best way to learn?

As is the case any time you try to learn a foreign language, there are obstacles to overcome and there are conveniences to be discovered. There are many differences in grammar and pronunciation that take a lot of getting used to, but on the plus side, once you become used to those rules, they almost always hold true. Whereas in English, there is a necessity to keep track of a hundred exceptions to every grammatical rule (“I before E, except after C, except with weird words like ‘weird'”) the Turkish language comes with few exceptions to its rules, and even when you do encounter the few that exist, you tend to be understood despite your mistakes. That said, since the order of sentences usually goes subject-object-verb, it takes a lot of careful listening when starting out, as you often aren’t sure whether the sentence is positive, negative, or a question until you hear the verb at the end.

It also helps a lot that Turkish people tend to be very patient with foreigners trying to speak the language, and take care to make you feel comfortable when attempting to do so. That can go a long way to making the language easier to learn.

Even despite all this, a lot of foreigners who move to Turkey spend a little while learning the language and then give up, because the truth is that in expat-heavy parts of the country like Bodrum, Fethiye, Antalya, or Didim, huge amounts of the locals (not to mention the other expats) speak English anyway since much of their income is derived from tourism. Even when the inevitable issues of language barrier to rear their head from time to time, all it takes is a Turkish friend, a helpful passerby, or maybe even good old pantomime to figure things out.

We recommend Fluent In 3 Months for language learning. Check out their Turkish Guide for beginners here.

Enjoying City an Coastal Life as an Expat in Turkey

Even after the initial excitement of settling into your new home wears off, there’s plenty on offer in Turkey. Golfing is popular among expats in Antalya and there are many charity groups.

Making new friends in expat communities is a huge benefit of the expat experience, and can often lead to more travel as well as a richer appreciation for the new culture in which you’re living, but if you fall into the wrong group, it can also have the opposite effect. Avoid the expats who have nothing better to do than spend their time complaining about the differences between here and back home, or who want to argue with and shout at every shopkeeper they think is charging 3 lira too much. Negativity can have a contagious effect, and it’s best not to associate with people whose rhetoric threatens to taint your experience.

Make friends, travel, learn new things, practice photography or write about your experiences. It’s a new experience that will come with ups and downs, but there’s plenty on offer to make your new adventure something to enjoy.

While the country used to have a carefree vibe in many ways, recent years have brought regulations more in line with EU countries. There are more security cameras keeping an eye on things than there used to be, you can no longer smoke indoors and health insurance has become a requirement. It all has its advantages, but it comes with increases in bureaucracy when it comes to getting things done for a move abroad.

With its varied culture, its diverse population, and its many charms, many expats and retirees find it to be the right place for them. It all comes down to what you’re looking for in your in your experience.

We hope you’ve learned everything you needed about living and working in Turkey as an expat or retiree.

If you’re interested in the other countries we profile for retire abroad moves, sign up here and you’ll receive them all by email.

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