21 Things to Know Before Moving to Turkey
If you’re planning on moving to Turkey, tebrikler (congratulations)!
This ancient country of 84 million people sits between two worlds, and contains a multitude of fascinating cultures – as well as some natural wonders that will take your breath away.
25,600 Brits have already made the move (source: United Nations, 2019), so you’ll have a ready-made community when you move to this gorgeous country, but there are still some things you should be aware of before you arrive – and we’ve got you covered.
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The thermal pools of Pamukkale are stunningly blue
1. Europe to the west of you, Asia to the east
Welcome to a transcontinental country three times the size of the UK, with Bulgaria and Greece on one side, and Syria, Iran, and Iraq on the other.
As you might expect from the land where Europe meets Asia, you can expect a nation filled with cultural variety that’s influenced by both continents.
2. This country is ancient – and new
People inhabited Turkey around 40,000 years ago, making it one of the first areas to be permanently settled in human history.
It’s also home to Göbekli Tepe, which is the oldest known religious structure made by humans, having been built 12,000 years ago – a full 7,000 years before Stonehenge.
However, Turkey only gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire and occupying Allied forces in 1923, which makes it relatively young – 147 years younger than the US, for example.
3. The healthcare system is good, not great
Turkey has a universal healthcare system, like the UK does.
It’s not as highly ranked as the NHS, coming 37 places lower in a 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – but it’s improved considerably over the past couple of decades.
In 2006, the government launched Genel Sağlık Sigortası (GSS), which provides a range of medical services to all residents, and all children regardless of the immigration status their parents have.
However, unless your spouse is a policyholder, you won’t be able to access public healthcare for a year after you arrive.
If you’re under 65, you’ll still be legally compelled to have some form of health coverage, so make sure you look into private insurance before moving.
Check out our guide to healthcare in Turkey, and if you’re thinking of moving to this beautiful nation, remember to consider medical cover for when you’re out there.
We’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in Turkey. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.
Start building a customised plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.
4. Turkey is officially a secular country…
The country was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whose reforms prioritised secularism, modernism, and democracy.
These ideals, known as Kemalism, are lauded by the Turkish people, with a strength of feeling that has led to military coups against leaders who the public felt weren’t doing enough to protect Atatürk’s legacy.
This is a Muslim-majority nation, so you’ll still struggle to find many pork dishes in the country, and it’s practically impossible to buy alcohol during the month of Ramadan. But your life shouldn’t be restricted in any serious ways.
5. …and a democracy (in theory)
The political atmosphere has become increasingly authoritarian and Islamist under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has ruled the country continuously since 2003 and is now “a dictator in all but name,” according to The Guardian.
After an attempted coup failed to topple Erdoğan in 2016, he moved to abolish the position of prime minister and create the more powerful role of president.
It worked, but only thanks to a referendum that took place under a state of emergency, and during which European observers said “fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed.”
Journalists have been repeatedly targeted by Erdoğan’s administration, to the extent that the government now controls 90% of the nation’s media, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The group said in 2020 that for journalists in Turkey, “the risk of imprisonment and the fear of being subjected to judicial control or stripped of one’s passport is ever-present.”
So avoid making political comments in public – especially if they’re critical of Erdoğan – until you’ve become fully informed, and until you trust the people you’re with.
6. The weather is warm and welcoming
A country as large as Turkey will inevitably have a few different climates, but for the most part, you can expect hot, dry summers to follow cold, rainy winters.
You’ll enjoy sunshine for most of the year, with temperatures going above 30°C in summer, but not reaching scorching heights. And even better, there are hundreds of beaches where you can soak up the rays.
And don’t worry too much about wrapping up warm in winter – unless you’re planning on living in Eastern Anatolia, where temperatures can plunge to -40°C in certain areas.
You can enjoy the sun on many Turkish beaches, including this one in Ölüdeniz
7. Life costs a lot less
It’s much cheaper to live in Turkey than the UK.
As usual, living in the bigger cities will cost more than life in rural areas, but you should be able to get by on 2,000 liras per month – which is around £165.
Name any given product – be it bread, milk, public transport, utilities, or a cinema ticket – and chances are, it’ll be at least half the price you expect.
8. Cool your jets, hold your horses – just slow down
The Turkish pace of life is much slower than you’ll probably be used to.
People will often run late because of a chat they were having with someone else. Turks rarely end a conversation before it’s completely finished, preferring to prioritise personal relationships over punctuality.
This approach to life has also led to the popular Middle Eastern and Mediterranean custom of sitting in the sunshine outside teahouses and whiling the afternoon away over coffee and games of backgammon.
If you go with it, you’ll have a lovely time, forge deep connections with people, and drink some really delicious coffee.
9. Be aware of Northern Cyprus
It may sound strange, seeing as this is an article about Turkey, but Northern Cyprus – or, to call it by its Turkish name, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – is a sensitive subject in your new home.
In 1974, Greece backed a coup in Cyprus with the intention of annexing the island. This prompted Turkey to invade, end the coup, and take over the northern part of Cyprus.
The 1,295 square mile area – which makes up around one-third of the island – is recognised as part of Cyprus by the entire international community, apart from Turkey.
10. Learn the language
Only 17% of people in Turkey speak English, and 67% don’t know any foreign languages.
It’s therefore best to start learning Turkish as soon as possible, particularly as it can be quite tricky for expats to pick up.
Thankfully though, the 1923 Kemalism reforms mean Turkish is written using the Latin alphabet that English speakers are accustomed to – which is a huge help.
11. Turkey loves tea
Tea is even more popular in Turkey than it is in the UK, with the average Turk drinking an enormous 3.16 kg of tea every year.
That’s around five tea bags for every person, every day.
In fact, Turkey is the number one tea consumer in the world, drinking 31% more tea every year than the runner-up, Ireland.
12. There’s an ongoing civil war
Since 1978, the Turkish government has been at war with Kurdish insurgents.
Some of these rebel groups demand an independent Kurdish state, while others want greater autonomy within Turkey.
The country isn’t a warzone, and you should be fine as long as you follow official guidance.
But, as with all conflicts in a new country, try to learn as much as you can before deciding what you think, especially as both sides have committed human rights atrocities in the course of the war.
13. Strangers are friendly and generous
You’ll find that after meeting someone once or twice, they’ll commonly invite you home for a meal, ask if they can treat you to a meal at their (or, more likely, a family member’s) restaurant, or offer to show you around town.
This national habit makes it much easier to make friends and connections, and if it were more common globally, the world would be a better place – but make sure you don’t take advantage.
It’s not easy to pick and choose, but try to only accept offers that sound reasonable, and don’t place a huge obligation on your new friend.
14. This was home to the real Santa Claus
The character of Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas, a clergyman born in 280 AD who became the bishop of Myra, a Roman town located in modern-day Turkey.
He became well known for helping children in the Middle Ages, thanks to a grisly story of murder and resurrection.
The tale goes that the saint entered an inn – or butcher’s shop, depending on who you believe – and sensed that its owner had murdered three boys, dismembered them, and pickled their body parts in the cellar.
Happily, the bishop then brought the boys back to life, and he’s been the patron saint of children ever since.
15. People are concerned with their honour
Turks place a great importance on maintaining and strengthening their honour, and any loss of honour can affect your relationships, financial opportunities, and position in your community.
Your honour is associated with your family, education, and economic standing, along with your behaviour. Depending on where you live, it may be vital to exhibit sexual modesty, as well as the classic Turkish values of hospitality and generosity.
This has a twin effect of encouraging people to be lovely and giving, but also reticent in talking too much about their loved ones, for fear of seeming immodest or of letting something embarrassing slip.
16. The food is delicious
Turkish food is every bit as varied as the country’s culture, meaning you can delight your taste buds in innumerable ways.
Sample some spicy sucuk sausages and meat or cheese-filled pastries called gözleme alongside a rich Turkish coffee, before digging into your main course.
Firstly, enjoy yaprak dolma – vine leaves wrapped around a mixture including rice, tomato paste, and garlic – then travel to İnegöl in Bursa for the best köfte around.
These ground meat creations are a whole category by themselves, so try as many of them as you can – and while you’re in Bursa, try an Iskender kebab.
This wonderful dish is made with thin slices of doner meat, delicious pide bread, and a butter-infused tomato sauce that will leave you wanting more.
For dessert, gorge yourself on baklava, a syrupy, nut-filled pastry, before trying tavuk göğsü, a unique chicken breast milk pudding that’s thousands of years old.
However, one food popularly associated with Turkey – the turkey – doesn’t come from here at all; it comes from the Americas. European settlers just conflated the bird with the Turkish traders who had sold them poultry in the old country, and the name stuck.
In Turkey, the fowl is called hindi, because at some point, it was assumed the bird came from India.
That makes about as much sense as naming the bird after a country 6,000 miles away – or, indeed, naming it ayam blander (‘Dutch chicken’), which Malaysians do, or moan barang (‘French chicken’), which Cambodians do.
There are just so many mouthwatering Turkish foods
17. Football is the country’s most popular sport…
Before 1996, Turkey’s national football team hadn’t qualified for a major tournament since 1954 – but over the next couple of decades, everything changed.
The country played in six international competitions over the space of two-and-a-half decades, and reached the semi-finals in 2002 and 2008.
In this period, Turkish club side Galatasaray also made a splash on the international stage, beating Arsenal on penalties to win the 2000 Uefa Cup.
Galatasaray are one of the big three Istanbul teams – along with Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş – which between them have won every league title since 1984, bar two.
This hasn’t led to a sense of predictability. Instead, the local rivalries between the trio have intensified, with a fan culture that has on many occasions led to hooliganism and violence.
Attending a game can be a wonderful experience, but it’s also a risk.
18. …but prepare yourself for oil, bull, and camel wrestling
For more than 650 years, Turkey has played host to an annual oil wrestling competition called Kırkpınar, which takes place near Edirne, on the western edge of the country.
This involves a series of 40-minute matches in which two topless men grease themselves up with olive oil – to make the bout fairer – before trying to pin each other on their backs.
The winner gets to hold a golden belt and the title of Başpehlivan (chief wrestler) for the year.
You can also watch some camel wrestling in the Aegean region – in which pairs of male camels are pitted against each other – or if you’re in the north-east, you can attend Artvin’s Kafkasör festival, where bull wrestling happens annually.
19. LGBT+ people will face discrimination here
Gay sex has been legal in Turkey since 1858, when the Ottoman Empire adopted a new series of reforms, and people have been able to change their legal gender since 1988 – but only with sex reassignment surgery.
These are the only rights that LGBT+ people possess in Turkey, where discrimination on the basis of someone’s sexuality or transgender identity is fully permitted, and same-sex couples cannot adopt, access IVF, or donate blood.
And don’t expect a large amount of support from the general public, either. 57% of people in Turkey think homosexuality shouldn’t be accepted by society, according to a 2020 survey by Pew, while only 25% think it should be accepted.
Though there is a popular Pride parade in Istanbul every year, it’s been officially banned since 2014, and is frequently met with gratuitous force. The police commonly attack innocent marchers with plastic bullets, tear gas, water cannons, and pepper spray.
20. Explore your new home
Turkey is huge, with an incredible amount of attractions to see – and with a generous exchange rate in place for the foreseeable future, there’s nothing stopping you from exploring everything it has to offer.
You can gaze upon the gorgeous, bright blue pools of Pamukkale, the statues that guard a royal tomb in Nemrut Dağı National Park, and the interconnected underground settlements topped by dramatic, jagged fairy chimneys in Göreme Historical National Park.
And if you love appreciating manmade structures too, you’ll want to tour the country’s stunning mosques, Turkish baths, and the archaeological site of Troy.
21. The evil eye is watching
In Turkey, as in many other Muslim and Jewish societies, the 3,500-year-old belief in an evil eye is culturally prominent, meaning you’ll see protective blue eyes made of handmade glass everywhere.
These eyes, called nazars, are intended to ward off supernatural elements that would otherwise cause you injury or bad luck with a simple malevolent glare.
As a result, you’ll see blue eyes on door frames, around people’s necks, and hanging from kitchen walls.