I have lived in three places in Turkey - the capital Ankara, the beach village Sarimsakli (near Ayvalik, two hours above Izmir), and Fethiye. I did not enjoy living in Ankara. At the time I didn't hate it, but I spent six years feeling indifferent about my life - turns out feeling indifferent is not a good way to feel about your existence for an extended period of time. When we finally left and I remembered what feeling happy was, it took months for the nightmares about returning to stop. If you are considering moving there, I urge you to check out this blog, the woman who writes it is making a much better time of her life there than I did. I can't really imagine anyone wanting to live there forever, but if your business is transferring you there for a spell, or you get a job at one of the foreign schools, you can have a blast. There are plenty of other rich expats to hang out with and while away the evenings. If like me you go for love and live on Turkish wages... you may not have such a good time. The events the expat world there organises are expensive, entertainment mostly consists of shopping malls, you really need a car and on just one wage this is near impossible to afford. I did not find the Turks there more than superficially welcoming, and by and large far too interested in one-up-manship that making real friendships.
We were only in Sarimsakli for six months or so. It’s a lovely place and if you have a job before you go, and if you speak Turkish I can recommend it as a perfect place to discover “the peaceful life.” If like me, you don’t have either of those things, save it for holidays. There are virtually no other British expats there. Izmir is only two hours away, but that is about an hour and forty five minutes too far to ever really become part of the expat community, especially if you have small kids. If you have little ones you’d really rather not have to travel further than the end of your street for entertainment. At the end of the street in Sarimsakli is a beach – I think life next to the beach is the nicest place for any kid to grow up, but without any friends it can get lonely.
Just over two years ago we decided to move to Fethiye. It was a snap decision. We’d been looking for schools for Hero in Ankara and none of them were worth the price tag - other than to get him out of the extremely overcrowded free schools. An old Ankara friend had moved to Fethiye – he said there were a lot of Brits there. I started googling. He wasn’t kidding, the population of the town is at least 10% expat. And they aren’t just people with holiday homes they are a real settled community. They have opened charity shops, hold craft fairs, Christmas dos, car boot sales, murder mystery nights, barbecues on the beach, and all kinds of jazz. There are many many other women with kids married to Turks. For the first time in years I am not friends with people simply because of the inevitable (both foreign, both got kids, need someone to go for coffee with) but because I actually chose to be with these people. I can say without a shadow of a doubt, it is the smartest thing we have done in years. Hero and Rafey go to a gorgeous school, we have a lovely mortgage free home just 2 minutes walk from the woods, two seconds from the pool, and ten minutes drive from the beach.
Fethiye is perfect for us, but would it be perfect for you? I know a few families who have moved lock stock and barrel over to Fethiye from the UK with no reason beyond a few good holidays and the lure of cheap housing. I don’t really get it - we are a mixed family,in the drive for both kids to have a grasp on their cultural heritage, Fethiye is a great place to achieve that, but coming when you have no cultural tie seems odd to me. Still most families who are all foreign, rather than half like us, aren't usually thinking longer term than the next five years. Anyway there are two major downsides to living abroad –
1.) The language. I am not a linguist. It has taken me years and years to get to a reasonable level of fluency in Turkish. I still have to plan complex sentences in my head. I struggle to convey really deep thoughts and feelings. I struggle to be funny. People still assume I am below average intelligence because I speak too slowly and too clearly. I hate people assuming I am stupid, because I’m really not. I get it though, when people speak to me in bad English I find it hard not to think they are a bit slow on the uptake. A surprising number of people come to Fethiye and don’t bother to learn the language. The assume Fethiye is there to cater to their every need and get frustrated when the locals don’t speak any English
“don’t they know how much it would enhance their business? This is a tourist town...!”
answer, “don’t you know how much it would improve your life to actually speak the language of the country you are in...?”
Because here’s the thing – tourists get ripped off. Not all the time, and not by everyone, but enough. I went to the clothes market to buy some school shirts for Hero. The price said £10 (25 tl) I got them for 10tl (£4), my husband went back and got three for 10tl. Aside from stuff like that, you will need to ask for directions in Turkish and understand the response. You will need to pay your bills in Turkish, set up a phone line with Turk-Telecom, catch a bus and check where to get off. You’ll need to be able to go into a supermarket and ask where the milk is, and if you don’t know the word for milk you’ll end up standing in the aisle mooing. Not cool. People are kind, if they see you are struggling they will try and help, which is nice, but after a few weeks / months / years of this you will slowly eat away at your own independence. My advice, if you are not prepared to learn the basics, don’t come.
As a side note I think living in Turkey is giving my kids a huge advantage in life and this is down to the language. They will speak, read, and write two languages fluently. Whether they want a career in something that needs two languages or not when they are older is up to them, but they will always be able to get a job. And they will have an edge that other people don’t when they apply for jobs. There are a lot of people in the world, the market place is competitive anything that makes you stand out is a good thing. I have huge admiration for the English-English families who manage to make it work here. They generally have to hire tutors to support their kids when doing homework, and work with them at home to make sure their English is up to scratch (I do that too) but they do it and I personally think their kids are better off for it.
Part 1b) You will always be foreign. There is enough of an expat community in Fethiye that there is no need to ever be lonely, but you will always be different. Always stand out. I am six foot tall, very pale, and blonde. It is extremely obvious that I am foreign. I have mostly grown used to this, particularly now I can speak a reasonable amount of Turkish, but I don’t think I will ever be 100% comfortable with being different. I am much more of a background person than a “look at me, look at me” type person. People always look at me. People don’t just judge you on your behaviour, they judge your whole country – it is a responsibility that shouldn’t just be dismissed.
2) Making money. Turkey is (on balance) cheaper than the UK, but you still need money to survive. Work permits are like gold dust and have a lot of conditions attached to them (click here for a basic overview). Here are they ways I have seen people get by:
Option one, have enough money to invest and live off the interest. The interest rate goes up and down but is mostly between 8 and 10%, whether or not you buy or rent your home will make a difference to how much you need, but 2500tl a month should be more than enough (as a family of four we live on half that). To get that much you need around 80,000GBP in the bank. Older people collect their pensions in Turkey and seem to live fine with that.
Option two, set up you own business. It is easier to get a work permit if you do this as you are creating jobs not taking them away. I can’t give any advice here really, as entrepreneurship is not my thing. In fact it scares me. I am a big fan of 9 to 5 jobs. However if you do want to do this, and there is a gap in the very full market place, good luck to you.
Option three, commute. Some people, usually in contract industries eg. electricians, builders etc, fly back to the UK for work while the rest of the family lives in Turkey.
Option four, online freelancing. Work which can be done anywhere in the world on a computer doesn’t count as illegal-work provided you are still paying taxes in another country and meeting that other countries minimum residency requirements.
Option five, go seasonal. In Fethiye companies recruit during the spring for the tourist season. They need: hosts, secretaries, beauty-workers, and TEFL qualified teachers. Don’t work for anyone who doesn’t provide a work permit, being deported is no joke. Be qualified before you come.
So those are the main disadvantage, or “things to seriously consider” before coming here, but what about the advantages? I have already said how happy I am that the kids are growing up bilingual. Here are a few other things I like:
Drug and drink problems exist here, but to a much lesser extent. There isn’t a culture of drinking to get drunk. There are very few gangs. Kids are kids for much much longer.
People are poorer. You don’t have to buy your kids every gadget going just because their friends have it. In my village some of the kids only have one pair of shoes. Family time is valued. Riding bikes and kicking a football are the way to entertain yourself. Older children are expected to take an active interest in younger ones.
We have a three bedroomed, two floor, flat. It is on a complex with a huge garden and a swimming pool. It is five years old (but we were the first people to live in it). We paid less than £30,000 for it
I have a few really good girl friends who totally get the whole married-to-a-Turk thing.
For nine months of the year the weather is perfect.
We can afford to have a good quality of life on much less money and spend much more time with the kids.
That’s actually a pretty short list, but it kind of covers the essentials: family, security, safety. I don’t know if we will stay here forever. I kind of want to try living in the States for a while (I’m a citizen), but if we didn’t it would be more on my list of “what ifs” rather than “huge life regrets.” I am happy here in Fethiye. If we did move away for a while, I would want to come back. It feels like home. If you are really considering moving here, I’d say do it! But don’t burn your bridges back until you’ve been here for at least three years or so...