Bordering the Black Sea to the north, the Aegean Sea to the west, the Mediterranean in the south west and sharing land borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, Turkey is a large country which bridges Europe and Asia and invokes a rich cultural heritage. Today, Turkey is a secular republic which was founded in 1920 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who is considered the father of modern Turkey. With its unique fusion of eastern and western culture, Turkey is usually regarded as a moderate country with a strong sense of national identity.
As you might expect given its location, Turkey is ethnically diverse. Around three-quarters of the population identify themselves as ethnic Turks while large minorities of Greek, Albanian, Armenian and Kurdish origins also reside within the country. Although the state is secular, the vast majority of its citizens are Muslim.
With thousands of years of history to explore, Turkey has an abundance of museums and cultural sites to visit. Music and dance shows are popular, with everything from contemporary jazz to authentic belly-dancing performances on offer. The country has a distinctive coffee culture which forms a popular social pastime as people share a pot either at home or at a coffee shop. Football is Turkey’s biggest spectator sport, but volleyball, basketball and wrestling are also popular. A varied climate makes it possible for people in Turkey to enjoy a range of outdoor pursuits, water sports and even winter sports during the season.
Food and drink
Turkish cuisine owes much to the Ottoman tradition, which brought together Mediterranean, Balkan and Asian influences. Rice and bulgur are staple foods and popular meats include lamb, beef and chicken. Although available, pork does not play a prominent role in Turkish cooking because of the beliefs of the Muslim majority. Traditional dishes include kebabs and mezes, while the famous baklava pastry dessert originates in Turkey. Traditional Turkish coffee and black teas are the everyday drinks of choice. Despite many people abstaining, alcohol is widely available.
Turkey’s only official language is Turkish, which is spoken by over 85% of the population. There are also a significant number of people who speak Kurdish as a first language, and some who speak Arabic. Many of those who consider Turkish to be their mother tongue speak fluent English or Arabic as a second language.
Although the size of Turkey means its weather varies quite significantly, it can be loosely described as three main climate areas. The western region, which covers the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, is temperate with hot, dry summers and fairly mild winters. The northern region on the Black Sea coast tends to be wetter all year round, and cooler winters mean snow is possible. Inland, the weather is more continental in nature with hot summers contrasting starkly with freezing winters.
Safety and security
Crime levels in most areas of Turkey are generally quite low. The biggest threat to foreign nationals is the risk of petty crime although like most places it pays to be alert if travelling alone or at night, particularly for women. Historically the country has experienced periods of ethnic tension and social unrest and the police response can be quite robust so visitors should be wary around any public demonstrations or protests. Be aware that you must carry photo ID at all times.
The current conflicts in Syria and northern Iraq have had a destabilising effect on some border communities in southern Turkey and it is essential to check current travel advice before attempting to enter these areas. There is also an elevated terror threat level across the rest of the country, including tourist areas, as a result of the ongoing hostilities so vigilance is to be encouraged.
In 2012 the Turkish school system was significantly reformed. All boys and girls must now complete 12 years of compulsory education: eight years at primary school from the age of 6 or 7, then four years at secondary school prior to university, which is not compulsory. State schools are free to Turkish citizens but admission of foreign nationals is usually at the discretion of the individual establishment. Most lessons are taught in Turkish, but again there are some exceptions. Alternatively, there are many private and international schools that may cater better for non-Turkish speakers.
The school year in Turkey runs from September to June and is divided into two semesters. The first semester starts in September and ends in January and the second begins in February and ends in June, usually with a break of about two weeks in between. As education is managed centrally, there tends to be little variation in term dates in state schools. International schools may run to slightly different systems.
There are two types of university in Turkey, state and privately-run. Universities and higher education institutions are overseen by the Council of Higher Education (CoHE), an autonomous entity which operates in accordance with defined education laws. Generally universities in Turkey enjoy similar levels of autonomy, so they are free to define their own academic programmes and calendar. Qualifications and standards are monitored against the National Qualifications Framework for Higher Education, which was introduced in 2010 to help Turkey continue to raise the quality of its education system.
The tuition fee scales for Turkish universities are defined centrally by the government ahead of each academic year, but it is up to the individual university as to how these fees apply. State universities are usually cheaper than private universities, although international students may find little difference in the fees charged to them. However, the Turkish government is keen to encourage international students to study in the country so they have opened up several scholarship schemes to overseas applicants.
Degree courses in Turkey are offered in a huge range of subjects, most of which are taught in Turkish or English. There are typically three types of course available:
Associate’s degree – lasting about two years and accessible to vocational high school graduates without further assessment
Bachelor’s degree – usually completed in four to six years depending on the subject
Graduate degrees – ranging from one year to four year courses depending on the type of
Primary schools in Turkey teach a group of mandatory core subjects along with other classes which are defined by the institution. The most commonly taught foreign language is English, but it is not compulsory and some schools opt for German or Spanish instead. When students complete their primary education, they take standardised exams to gain entry into one of two types of secondary school: general or vocational. The former is usually a more broad education designed to prepare students for university, while the latter is more technical in nature with a view to students taking a more vocational degree or moving directly into work.
Preschool and childcare options
Preschool education is not compulsory in Turkey but it is increasingly popular and compared to other European countries it can be reasonably inexpensive. However, places in state-run facilities can be limited, so parents may need to investigate more expensive private establishments or look at employing a childminder or nanny.
While expats generally find the cost of living in Turkey more reasonable than in other European countries, this tends to rely on the purchasing power of foreign wages. Although the prices of goods and services appear low, many people who relocate and take up a Turkish wage find they are no better off than they would be at home. Interest rates and inflation have risen in the country in recent years, so anyone being paid in the local currency will need to keep an eye on this and ensure their salary rises to match. Urban areas and the coastal resort towns are the most expensive places to live, while rural and remote areas tend to be cheaper.
Turkey has invested quite significantly in building projects in recent years so whether you want an urban apartment or a country villa there are no shortage of places to live. However, both the prices and the quality of rental accommodation in Turkey vary immensely, often without a particular logic to it, so the golden rule for finding a place to live is to shop around. Always view the property in person as adverts don’t always tell the whole story – for example a property advertised as furnished may have little beyond fixtures and fittings, so don’t be afraid to negotiate for the value you any work that needs doing.
Recent changes to the law mean that if you are moving to Turkey for the longer term and want to buy a property, there are far less restrictions in place than in the past. However, some areas may have restrictions on the amount of land that can be sold to foreign nationals, so consult a local estate agent or lawyer for advice.
You will usually be asked for a deposit of up to three months’ rent to secure a rental property in Turkey. Tenants may also have to pay letting agents or administrative fees. Typically contracts last for a year, but be aware that what constitutes a contract is open to interpretation with some landlords running open-ended or even verbal contracts. Foreign nationals are advised to insist upon a written agreement if possible.
Real estate tax
Properties in Turkey are subject to a municipal real estate tax which is calculated at various levels depending on the usage and classification of the building. All the rates are less than 1% of the value of the property. An environmental tax is also levied against most properties, but this is usually added to the water bills.
Despite a lack of competition in most areas, utility bills in Turkey tend to be fairly cheap. Water is supplied by the municipality and paid for on a metered basis. Electricity is provided by the government-run TEDAŞ, while bottled gas can be purchased through one of a handful of government-owned agencies. Some newer properties may have a mains gas connection but this is not an option everywhere in the country. Internet and telephone connections are available through a range of providers, the largest being the now privatised Turk Telekom.
Instead of a regular TV licence payment, the Turkish state broadcaster TRT receives a one-off payment from every purchase of a television set.
Healthcare and medical costs
The European Health Insurance Card is not valid in Turkey. If you have been living in the country for over a year and contribute to the state social security scheme, you will be able to access public healthcare services. However, with services sometimes limited, particularly outside the main cities, many expats in Turkey opt for private medical cover. International schemes are available, but often it is cheaper to take out cover through a Turkish company as the level of insurance cover and treatment quality is usually comparable. Some employers may offer private healthcare schemes or contribute to the social security scheme on your behalf.
The cost of a regular grocery shop in Turkey tends to be a story of two sides. Markets offer locally-sourced fruit, vegetables and staples like bread at extremely low prices which significantly drop the cost of living. On the flip side though, the cost of imported goods and luxury items can be extremely high, so it can really pay to stick to the essentials.
Value-Added Tax (VAT) is charged on most goods and services transactions in Turkey at a rate of 18%. However, special VAT rates are applied to certain items. For example, the tax rate on books, basic foodstuffs and medical products is 8%, while for newspapers, magazines and agricultural supplies it drops to just 1%.
Rent on 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – TRY816.54 (≈£227.42) per month
Rent on 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – TRY489.38 (≈£136.30) per month
Price of apartment in city centre – TRY3,004.03 (≈£836.69) per square metre
Price of apartment outside city centre – TRY1,457.34 (≈£405.90) per square metre
Turkey has a well-developed infrastructure and highways link most of the major cities, although road maintenance standards can drop in rural areas. Vehicles are driven on the right-hand side of the road. In the more popular tourist areas, some road signs are in English.
To drive a car in Turkey, you must be at least 18 years old and hold a valid licence. Motorbike licences can be issued from the age of 17. Foreign visitors may drive on a licence issued outside Turkey for up to 90 days and foreign nationals living in Turkey may use a valid foreign licence as long as it is accompanied by a notarised translation. The exception to both these rules is where a licence does not carry photographic ID – in these cases you will need an International Driving Licence.
Turkey has some fairly strong driving laws. Drivers must carry and be able to present their driving licence, vehicle registration document and insurance documentation at all times. Every vehicle must also carry two warning triangles, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.
Taxis are recognisable by their distinctive yellow liveries and are readily available in Turkish cities. They are equipped with a meter and fares are relatively inexpensive, but it pays to check the price up front and keep a close eye on the meter.
Private and public bus services serve most areas of Turkey well and the large numbers of competing companies keep prices down. Municipal services can be very oversubscribed and slow, but intercity coach services are well regarded and most companies run modern vehicles with amenities like air-conditioning and wifi connections.
A dolmuş is a type of shared minibus that crosses the idea of a taxi with that of a bus, carrying multiple passengers to multiple destinations. Dolmuşes generally start when they are full and when prices and routes are fixed, but the advantage is that you can ask the driver to stop anywhere. However, the name translates as ‘stuffed’, and true to that name dolmuşes do tend to get rather overcrowded!
The railways of Turkey are owned and operated by Turkish State Railways. Although the network is extensive, travelling around the country by train is generally considered slower than using the roads. However, train tickets are cheaper than most bus services, and with various high-speed rail systems being developed, the railways look set to become increasingly important to the Turkish transport network.
Trams and underground rail
Light railway systems have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in twenty-first century Turkey, and most major cities in the country have some kind of tram or underground system to help ferry commuters to work and relieve the pressure on urban roads.
As a relatively large country, domestic air travel is important for both passenger and freight transport. The Turkish aviation industry has developed rapidly in recent years and flights operate between several commercial airports, with healthy competition meaning reasonable prices can be found for many destinations. The major international hub is Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, which is also home to national carrier Turkish Airlines.
Other ways to get around
Turkey’s extensive coastlines make ferries and sea buses a popular form of domestic and international travel. In Istanbul, companies like IDO and Turyol run regular services between a number of urban stops. Domestic and international ferry routes are also available around the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal areas and on Black Sea routes.
The Turkish Labour Law defines the working week as a maximum of 45 hours per week spread evenly over five or six working days. Workers are entitled to at least one day of rest in each week. Work outside the standard hours may be paid as overtime subject to the agreement of your employer. Typical office hours are Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 5pm, but some employees give an extended lunch break on Fridays to allow Muslim staff to observe Friday prayers.
In Turkey, annual leave is given to employees who have completed a year’s service and entitlement increases on a progressive scale thereafter. The minimum entitlement under working legislation is:
14 working days for employees with 1 to 5 years of service
20 working days for employees with 6 to 14 years of service
26 working days for employees with over 15 years of service
Although these are the legal minimums, some employers offer their own holiday scales on an incentive basis. Sick leave and maternity leave are also usually paid in Turkey, so ask your employer for details of the terms.
Turkey has six national holidays each year, the dates of which usually remain unchanged. Labour law states that employees are entitled to these dates as paid leave. Alternatively they should receive time off in lieu or an additional day’s pay instead. Turkey also observes a number of regional and religious holidays including the major Islamic festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
Public holiday dates
New Year’s Day: 1st January
National Sovereignty and Children’s Day: 23rd April
Labour and Solidarity Day: 1st May
Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day: 19th May
Victory Day: 30th August
Republic Day: 29th October
Visas and eligibility to work
Turkey operates a limited visa exemption system which allows citizens from some countries to visit for between 28 and 180 days without a visa. To check whether you will require a visa to gain entry and see the visa costs, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. If you wish to apply for a residence permit, you must visit your local police station within 30 days of your arrival to do so. To work in Turkey as a foreign national you will also need a work permit. Residence and work permits must be renewed periodically and a fee applies each time. While Turkey generally welcomes foreign workers, be aware that some professions are restricted to Turkish nationals only.
If you remain in Turkey for the long term, you can apply for Turkish citizenship which would remove the need to renew visas or permits. To gain citizenship you must be of adult age and have lived in Turkey for 5 years or more. You may also need to prove that you speak some basic Turkish, have no criminal record and have some means of supporting yourself in Turkey.
Tax and social security
The tax year in Turkey runs from January to December. Income is taxed on a sliding scale depending on your earnings, with tax rates ranging from around 15% to 35%. Tax is usually paid quarterly, although most employers will deduct it directly from your wages. To work in Turkey, you must apply for a tax number through your local tax and finance department. Generally speaking you are considered resident for tax purposes after living in Turkey for six months, although some foreigners on fixed contracts are exempt from income tax. You may also be required to pay social security contributions, although exemptions may be made if you are paying social security in your home country.
Pensions and benefits
Foreign nationals living and working in Turkey may be entitled to some benefits if they are contributing to the social security fund, but some are restricted to Turkish citizens only. For more information, visit the Social Security Institution website. Some employers offer access to private pension funds as part of their overall remuneration package.
Under the Turkish Disability Act, employers in Turkey are obliged to offer employment opportunities for disabled people. Unusually, there is a quota system in place for larger businesses, although this is not always strictly enforced.
Apart from a few large international companies with a presence in the country, much of the business in Turkey is conducted between relatively small companies, making personal relationships very important and an understanding of business culture key. Many companies are family-run and most are hierarchical in nature, and you may also notice some social class distinctions between the staff and management levels. Although final decisions are typically made by the head of the company, the decision-making process can be slow as ideas have to be presented and approved at several levels before the management will consider them.
In Turkey, management tends to be more autocratic than in some countries. Once decisions have been made, managers will tell their staff what to do and expect it to be done. Roles are very distinct within Turkish businesses and successful managers reinforce these positions to maintain their authority. Subordinate staff members are sometimes expected to stand when senior managers enter the room to show their respect in the same way that schoolchildren show their respect for a teacher. Changes are typically introduced slowly and with considerable planning.
From the outside, Turkish business culture can appear quite liberal and relaxed. However, many people in Turkey are more traditional than they initially let on, so even if the situation appears informal it’s best to maintain a degree of professional formality to begin with. Be courteous and demonstrate good manners at all times; try to respect the status of the people you meet. Use titles and surnames until your Turkish contacts decide your relationship has progressed to first names.
Turks typically prefer to work with people they know, so relationship building is crucial to doing business. At least one meeting should be dedicated entirely to getting to know each other. Relationships can be forged both within the workplace and outside in various social settings, so going out for coffee or a leisurely meal may be a good idea. Once a relationship is established, you will find that communication becomes much more direct and constructive.
Business dress in Turkey is largely formal, with men expected to wear a suit and tie and women similarly smart and professional-looking attire. At the hottest times of year, it may be acceptable for men to dispense with their suit jacket and tie, but shorts are not considered appropriate. Women should ensure that their arms and legs are covered and their clothing is modest and not revealing. Be aware that the dress code in cities can be more relaxed than in more rural areas, and that eastern Turkey is generally more conservative.
A firm handshake is the standard business greeting in Turkey, and the most senior people are always greeted first. Some women prefer not to shake hands with men, so if a woman does not offer her hand first then simply make a verbal greeting instead. In general though, personal space is less important to Turkish people than most westerners – if you find yourself a little crowded then try not to back away as this may cause offence.
With relationships this significant, diaries can get very full so appointments are necessary in Turkey. Try to give at least a couple of weeks’ notice and confirm the time just before. However, don’t be surprised if you still find yourself waiting as punctuality is not always considered important.
Business meetings in Turkey often take place in less formal environments such as restaurants rather than in the office, but it is important that you read the situation and maintain the correct level of formality. That said, small talk is common, with sport and football in particular a popular topic. You could also ask about your contacts’ family or Turkish culture in general, but steer clear of politics. Once you get on to business, make sure that any proposal or presentation is clear and well-argued, and make use of visual aids where possible. Turks are renowned as tough negotiators who will start at extremes to gauge your response. High-pressure tactics are to be avoided as many people will turn these around on you, so be patient and never try to rush anyone into a decision. Business cards may be exchanged during a meeting, but some Turks will choose not to offer you a card until they are sure that they want to work with you.
Although employment law promotes equal opportunities, many women in Turkey choose not to work and the business world in Turkey can appear rather male dominated. As a result, visiting foreign businesswomen may feel slightly isolated. However, don’t mistake the relatively small number of women for a discriminatory culture – women in Turkey quite easily command the same level of respect as their male counterparts.
Although English is quite widely spoken as a second language, Turkish is the main language used in smaller businesses and it is important to check whether translation is required for meetings or documentation.