Catie is an American expat who moved to Turkey with her husband, Jason, in August 2016. Having both previously lived in Turkey, and in search of something a bit different to the “American Dream”, they decided to return to Turkey on a more permanent basis. They have settled in the coastal city of Izmir and are enjoying everything the city has to offer, from the relaxed lifestyle and friendly people to the culture and favourable cost of living. Catie and Jason blog about their adventures in Turkey at funktravels.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: My husband and I are both from the United States. I am originally from Louisiana, but we settled in Iowa where my husband is from.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I live in Izmir, Turkey.
Q: When did you move to Turkey?
A: In August 2016, and made our way to Turkey via a month long travel through Spain.
Q: Did you move to Turkey alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved with my husband, an independent software consultant, specialising in advanced websites and web applications. Being independent, in his case, means a couple different things. It means that he is his own boss and that he can work from anywhere that we have an internet connection.
Q: Why did you move to Turkey; what do you do?
A: My husband, who is also an American, and I met in Turkey a few years ago. I was living here for two years and he was doing some volunteer work for a few months. And to make a very long story short, we met and got married a few years later. After we got married, our hearts desired something different than the ‘American Dream.’ It may not always be the case that we are able to live this way and it isn’t always easy, but we are thankful for the time we have now and these memories we are making with new friends!
With a background in computer engineering, my husband owns a software consulting company called Tough Space. Our international move and our expat lifestyle in Turkey is due to him creating a job that is flexible and allows remote work. I am part time language learner and part time expat blogger/podcaster for FunkTravels. Before our 2016 move, I was a university study abroad coordinator in Iowa. Before that I lived in Turkey and Afghanistan for a combined four years total.
So, basically, we are just living the expat life, learning the language, and exploring all that Izmir has to offer! We host a bi-weekly podcast where we encourage others towards intentional dreaming about internationally living as we share our journey about what that looks like for us! I share with friends and family our ‘normal’ lives, glimpses of daily lovelies, Izmir specific events, and roadie ramblings about our adventures as we are making this transition to life in Turkey.
Living in Turkey
Q: What do you enjoy most about Izmir? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the States?
A: I really enjoy the lifestyle we have right now. The cost of living is lower for us, the people are nice, and the food is delicious. The city in which we live, Izmir, is a fairly unique one in the country. The people here are friendly towards foreigners and are very laid back and have a relaxed attitude; especially compared to Istanbul. At a population of 4 million people, Izmir is big enough to cater to some of our foreign desires, but small enough not to be overwhelmed by masses. In the States we lived near a town of 50,000 people in a landlocked state with mostly farmland. To say the lifestyle is different would be a major understatement.
My favourite part of this city is living so close to the sea. And of course, the Turkish food is very good. There is quite a lot of dishes that aren’t easily available in America, both out in the restaurants and the ingredients that we use to cook at home. My husband and I especially enjoy eating eggplant, which is way better here than in America.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: My least favourite thing is easy. It’s that my family doesn’t live here too. We have seven nieces and nephews (along with parents, siblings, and friends) that we left back in America. When we were leaving, we would say that we are excited to go but sad to leave. It’s proven to be true even as we are here.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Turkey? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: My husband and I had been married for two and a half years before moving to Turkey. We had to learn to adjust our full-time work schedule and systems and figure out what worked for us here. It just takes time. I also went from full-time work to part-time language learning, which was a major identity change for me.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Turkey compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Since we are paid in USD, the cost of living is actually lower for us. We are able to only have one person work full-time and live comfortably. To give some comparison, for a monthly rent we paid in the States, we are living in an apartment in a main area of town with twice the space. But any technology purchases, baby items, alcohol, cars, and furniture are pricey. Fresh veggies and food are much less expensive than in the States. You can live frugally or money can be like water depending on where you live and how you want to live.
One of the things that we intended on doing when we moved was to rent a furnished apartment for a year. Since we moved with nearly nothing, we wanted to be able to move into a place and be able to live there without having to re-buy all of our furniture. This would have allowed us to settle and make the transition easily without the stress of setting up a new home from scratch. However, we ended up finding a beautiful, unfurnished apartment which, in Turkey, comes with barely more than the walls. We have come to love it now but we spent a lot of time, energy, and money buying all new appliances and light fixtures along with all the beds, couches, tables, and chairs to make it into a new home. Sticking with our initial plan of renting a furnished apartment is the biggest thing I would have changed.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Izmir? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Public transportation is frequent and abundant here. Because we live in the city, we have the options of buses, tramway, metro, group taxis, and ferries (which are my favourite). Currently we do not own a car, but there are daily rental places nearby that run around 30 USD a day. Since most places are nearby, we can walk or ride our bicycle. Otherwise, a taxi is always a hand wave away!
Q: How would you rate the health care in Izmir? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: As part of our residence permits, we are required to buy an ‘approved’ insurance (either local or foreign) which we are not using. However, our global insurance we purchased has worked well for us. In the larger cities there are good hospitals, and good public healthcare. We have work mostly through Kent Hospital (Çiğli and Alsancak), but we have heard Medical Park is a good hospital too.
Other friends here use the local insurance and have been fairly pleased with it. Any country has good and bad stories about their health care. Thankfully, we have had all good experiences.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Turkey? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: While we have never had anything directly affect us, there are attacks, accidents, and natural disasters in every country around the world. There is some animosity between the Kurdish Political Party and Turkey. Currently, ISIS is a possible threat, but thankfully we have not had any situations here in Izmir. Like most areas, you should always keep your personal items such as wallets and passports secure. Other than possible threats, we have not had any large issues.
Izmir is a city that stays up late in the popular areas, but most public transportation stops around midnight. I suggest being on the last public transportation route home with the other locals. There is safety in numbers, and it also means there is someone to help if you are unfamiliar with the language or culture.
My suggestion is to remember there is no promise that we would be safe anywhere else. My sister-n-law said it best to us: “Be safe but don't live in fear”. We really do try to live our lives that way.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Izmir? What different options are available for expats?
A: Izmir is an old city, and while there are a lot of old apartments, there are also a lot of new renovated options. Our neighbourhood is working through completely redoing all apartment buildings older than 50 years. We were fortunate to find a beautifully renovated duplex apartment. Some apartments are side by side and others have a shared garden. Villas and townhomes are also available in certain parts of the city, but they tend to be further away from public transportation and easier to access via a car.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in Izmir?
A: We love the area of Karşıyaka and especially Bostanlı. Most other expats will live in Alsancak or Bornova since major companies are based out of there. If expats are provided cars via their companies, I have heard of expats choosing villas up to 30/45 minutes outside of the city centre near Urla in the south or Sasalı in the north.
Meeting people and making friends in Izmir
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: I think people, especially Americans, underestimate the friendliness of the Turkish people. When we first moved here, practically everyone we met and talked to told us that they were available to help us if we needed anything; and they’ve meant it. They have been extremely welcoming to us and happy to have us live here among them.
In Turkey, I have not felt any discriminations thus far. Islam is the majority religion, but even within Islam, how people worship can look very different. Personally, we have also found a small Christian church community that we have gotten involved with.
While Izmir and Turkey are more modern than most Muslim countries, there are conservative pockets especially as you move outside of the major cities or tourist areas. For women, I personally feel that modest dress for women will be received with more respect from both men and women here. The men can be very forward, and it is ok to not acknowledge or smile at them.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Izmir? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Fortunately, Jason and I knew some of the language from our previous time living in Istanbul. It has made it easier to meet our neighbours and other Turks more quickly. I am involved in the International Women’s Association of Izmir (IWAI) which has led to a lot of friendships. Coffee shops, Internations, and Facebook groups are all great ways to meet other expats or locals. You just have to make the effort!
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: Our friends are a good mix of locals and expats. We are slowly getting more integrated into the society. We are known and accepted in our neighbourhood and have made friends with our neighbours and local businesses. We recently were able to attend and participate in a friend’s wedding ceremony, which was a big honour for us.
I have met many expats via the previously mentioned International Women’s Association of Izmir. Here are a list of Facebook groups to start interacting with before your move:
Real Izmir Expats
Expats and Foreign Women of Izmir
IWAI - International Women's Association of Izmir
Foreigners Living in Izmir
Foreigners in Izmir
Expats of Turkey, lets help each other out
Cook's Corner for Expats in Turkey
Working in Izmir
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Turkey? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: Since Jason’s work is US based, we applied for a simple residence permit. It means we are not allowed to work in Turkey. If we were to find a job then the visa would change. For our first visa applications, we worked with a company called YellAli for visas and finding property. With Jason working, our Turkish language being rusty, and the recent coup prior to the move, we felt it was easier to work with a company that understood the ever-changing rules.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Izmir? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Unfortunately, due to ISIS, refugee migration, and the recent coup, the exchange rate for the Turkish Lira had dropped quite a bit. While the dollar goes farther for us, the TL does not go as far for the locals. Many lost their jobs or are in search of jobs. Foreigners, however, especially English teachers, are in high demand.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Turkey?
A: I don’t honestly know the answer to this question. The majority of my husband’s work happens alone in his office with people in America, so we don’t have much interaction with the Turkish business world - except as a consumer. However, he does plan to get more involved as his language ability increases.
For others who will pursue work here in Turkey, I suggest learning about the work culture here as much as possible by asking good questions about work hours, communications, pursuing agreements/contracts, conversations, and work atmosphere. If you plan to open a business here as well, it is extremely important to understand how business works here in order for your services to thrive.
Family and children in Izmir
Q: Did your husband have problems adjusting to his new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: Moving anywhere new means there will be challenges. For my husband, he had to find a balance between work and learning the language. Home offices are still a novelty here in Izmir, and it’s been interesting to explain it to locals.
I have had to adjust from full-time work to part-time language. Finding my stride has been difficult. And since we do not have children, it’s been odd to others as to why I don’t have a job here in the meantime. I suggest finding an international group right away. Finding the IWAI and our church has brought lots of connections and friendship that have supported us the last nine months!
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: We do not have children, but many of our friends do. Children are highly protected here and looked after by the community. It is not abnormal for a waitress/waiter to carry your child around and entertain them while you are eating. While most think the adjustment will be hard on their children, it is usually easier for them than the parents. We are hoping to raise our children here and are looking forward to seeing how they grow and learn in this culture.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: While I can’t speak from personal experience, our friends with small children have sent their children to a daycare/pre-school and have all had great experiences. It is a way for the children to make local friends and learn the language. The private schools are very expensive and there are several to choose from. Otherwise, students can go to a public school like other locals and also receive the student benefits like meals and food allotments for milk and food.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Shortly after we moved, there were a few incidents that happened in Turkey that made us question why we decided to move here. But after reflection we remembered that nowhere is perfectly safe. There are attacks, accidents, and natural disasters in every country around the world. And while we could leave here, there is no promise that we would be safe anywhere else. My sister said it best to me: “Be safe but don't live in fear”. We really do try to live our lives that way.
Many expats would assume that Istanbul is the place to be, but I would suggest that people consider Izmir. As the third largest city in Turkey it provides all of the amenities of a major city but has 25 percent of the population. With modern public transportation, a really nice international airport, and lots of history within a few hours drive, it’s a great choice.
~Interviewed May 2017