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Interview with Kala – an Indian expat living in Istanbul

Updated 8 Feb 2010

Kala Shekhar has lived and worked in Istanbul for three years after moving here from India. Kala's son Sid is a regular contributor to the local newspaper and is also a deputy editor for one of their supplements. 

About Kala

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Bangalore, India

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Istanbul, Turkey

Q: How long you have you lived here?

A: Three years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?

A: Yes, with my husband and two sons

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?

A: We moved due to my husband's job.

About Istanbul

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?

A: The quality of life is excellent. Very good restaurants, clean environment. I love the fact that there are distinct seasons. Beautiful summers, pleasant spring and a mild winter. Good places to ski very close to Istanbul.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?

A: The cost of living is definitely expensive. Being an Indian, I miss not having enough Indian restaurants and Indian grocery stores.

Q: Is the city safe?

A: Istanbul is relatively safe. However as in any other tourist place, one has to be careful about pickpockets and petty thieves.

About living in Turkey

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?

A: Kemerburgaz is a suburb that is around 25 km from the centre of the city. Many expats live here. Some of the villas have beautiful golf course views. However one has to have a car to commute to the city since public transport is not very frequent and cabs are expensive. Other good areas to live are Bebek, Istinye, Levent, Tarabya, Etilier etc. Many of these places offer stunning views of the Bosphorus.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?

A: Standard of accommodation is fairly good. Even the lower end apartments are clean and neatly furnished.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A: Yes definitely the cost of living is expensive. Housing is expensive if you prefer to live in a good area with a good view. Other things like grocery, clothes and electronics have a KDV (tax) of 18% which makes it way more expensive than buying it in your home country. However for groceries, the locals buy from local bazaars (pazaars) where vegetables, fruit, cheese and bread is available fresh and cheap.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: Turkish people are very friendly and love to interact with different culture people. Many of them are well travelled and have a good knowledge of world affairs.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A: Yes the international community has many avenues to meet and make friends. IWI (International Women of Istanbul) is a good place to get started. They have programs and activities that cater mainly to foreign women. If you have children, the school PTA is a good place to volunteer and make friends.

About working in Turkey

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A: No we didn’t, although it can take a while to get the work permit.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?

A: Although there is plenty of work, foreigners do find it hard to get jobs that are suited to their qualifications. This might be due to the language barrier or because of the difficulty in getting work visas. Many of them end up as English language teachers as there is a constant requirement for teachers.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: Turkish work culture is very informal and relaxed atmosphere. They are fun-loving people and very modern.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?

A: Yes there are some very good relocation agencies which take care of packing, transportation, unpacking and assembling.

Family and children in Turkey

Q: Did your family have problems adjusting to their new home?

A: Children thrive well if they are put in any of the international schools here in Istanbul. Studying in a Turkish school can be challenging due to the language issue. A trailing spouse cannot work in Turkey. This can be a huge setback to many spouses.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?

A: Yes, since they go to an international school, it was easy to find like-minded friends.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?

A: There are a couple of international schools which offer IB and the IGCSE curriculum. If you are a foreigner settling in an international school may be easier. However there are some excellent Turkish schools where the quality and standard of education is very high. The tuition in a Turkish and international school do not differ much.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?

A:  Most expats do get healthcare benefits from their companies. It is expensive to be paying by yourself. However many companies insurances do not include dental. This can be quite expensive.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: Istanbul is a great city with a good blend of history and modern malls. There is always something happening in the city in terms of theatre, music, film festivals etc. It is always better to learn the local language and blend with the culture here. Having a few like-minded friends will help your stay more enjoyable.

► Interviewed February 2010


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