We Moved To Turkey – Here’s My Story

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Many people fall in love with Turkey after spending some time there on holiday. And any normal family will at least visit the country a few times and get the feel of it and maybe even grow familiar with its culture, customs and traditions before moving there right? But did we do that? Lol, no we didn’t do that, we just did it, we just packed up, sold all our furniture and moved to Turkey.

birds eye view of Turkey,Airplane view of Turkey, Turkey view from plane, green fields of Turkey, November 2020
Image of Turkish landscape from the plane prior to landing

However, we had friends already living in Turkey telling us all that we needed to know, also I had family members that visited on holiday and loved it. After they spammed the family group chat with the beautiful scenery, delicious food, cheap fake designer gear in the bazaars and exciting activities & facilities they had available. We all agreed to plan our next family group holiday there. Little did we know that our new friend Corona will arrive before then and ruin our travel plans. We plan and Allah plans and Allah SWT is the Best of Planners. Our Rabb Azzawajal had already written for us to visit this foreign land, however, we now understand it was to visit & stay and not visit and leave!

In addition to this, getting to know what it is like to live in Turkey is very different from the experience of going there on a holiday. It was the same for us when we first made Hijrah to UAE from UK back in 2011. Only my husband had gone for a few weeks to check things out and again to arrange the accommodation. We made the move within a few weeks of his return. We had the experience of selling all our belongings and starting again from scratch, we even have the experience of taking all our basic essentials via cargo. Each experience was different and both had their pros and cons. It also deeply depends on personal preference and what you would like to prioritise. It’s very important to list and get to know your needs, then differentiate them from your wants.

My daughter all set up in the plane as we wait for lift off

Instead of writing a long story about how we moved to Turkey, I thought it would be easier to highlight some of the most frequently asked questions. I would be happy to answer any additional questions posted on the comments section below.

Q1: Why did we move to Turkey from Dubai?

As mentioned before, we had already made Hijrah to UAE from UK where I was born and brought up. We chose UAE because it was a Muslim country where we could practise our religion freely with no restrictions or racism. I have an Arabic background and the thought of living in an Arabic country made me feel closer to my roots I guess, we thought it would help us and our children become more fluent in the language and encourage us to study further in our deen.

Al Ain Zoo,Dubai life,living in UAE,Muslim kids,halal life, Muslim family, Dubai, life in Dubai, Muslim family
My Kids at Al Ain Zoo, Al Ain, UAE

Romanticizing in the idea of running away from it all isn’t something I would recommend though. You have to remember that life in a foreign country will not be all sunshine and roses. The sun can burn and roses have thorns. Travelling abroad and living overseas is far from easy, especially if you are a family with kids. No where will be perfect.

In our experience, the UAE was a nice place, the English language is widely spoken, it is more organised and most clean as compared to other Arab and Muslim countries. With many beautiful family-friendly parks, Madrassas, Masajid, festivals and entertainment. But it wasn’t home, we never felt that security or saw a future there. It always felt temporary, artificial & very expensive. Without getting too much into politics, the recent changes that have been put in place to relax certain Islamic laws make it no different now from any other country.

burj khalifa, muslim family,muslim girl,Dubai,UAE, Dubai life, life in UAE
My daughter posing in front of the Burj Khalifa Dubai Mall, Dubai

As more & more Muslim countries try to attract and accommodate the Western society, one starts to look at their priority list again and question their reasons for being there.

We moved to Turkey because we were looking for a place where we could experience an affordable family lifestyle with the opportunity and choice of citizenship, we wanted to be treated equally and respectfully with all the benefits the nationals received. This isn’t possible in the UAE, but it is in Turkey.

Some of the reasons that pushed us towards Turkey were:

  • It is also a Muslim country where we can practise our religion freely with no restriction or racism.
  • The location. Turkey is like the centre of the earth and its transportation is advanced. From aircraft, buses and trains to trams, cabs and motorcycles, public transportation is reliable and very affordable. It’s not far from the UK, so family and friends can conveniently visit more frequently at no extra cost.
  • The weather is beautiful. You can experience the 4 seasons that we all missed so much while being in Dubai. The nature is all real and green with breathtaking views.
  • The cost of living is much cheaper than Dubai and any other European country. The price of housing, schooling and private medical care are all considerably more affordable.
  • The food is so fresh, healthy and delicious. Almost all produce is derived locally. There’s a good variety of organic and natural fruit, vegetables and dairy and it’s all much cheaper.
  • Most of everything you would pick up in the supermarkets will say made in Turkey. It’s a good self-sustained country that doesn’t rely too much on foreign import. And with Corona restrictions on the import and export procedure, deliveries being cancelled or delayed, you can see the benefits of having your own version/brand of everything within local reach.
  • My husband & I are able to continue our online businesses and get full value for our money without the extra pressure to cover costs and sacrificing our family time.
  • Turkey offers citizenship to foreigners after 5 years of legally working & living here or even earlier through exclusive business or property investment. Once you are a citizen, you are treated equally and respectfully with all the benefits Turkish nationals receive. 

Q2: Where in Turkey are we living?

Basaksahir,Istanbul,Turkey,Masjid,Mosque,parks,December 2020
A picture of a masjid from our local park in Basaksahir, Istanbul Turkey. December 2020

We currently live in Istanbul, we rented an apartment in Basaksahir which is on the European side of the city. We wanted to get the feel of things, give ourselves some time to pick up the ropes, sort things out and be more certain of areas before purchasing our own home. It is a multicultural part of the city where you will find locals as well as many ex-pats from the UK with Pakistani, European and Arabic speaking backgrounds. It’s not very central, however, close enough for when you need to go into the city. There are all the local amenities you would expect such as schools & nurseries, shops, pharmacy, hospitals, bazaar (local market) parks with children play areas and nature walks.

Istanbul Turkey, streets,graffiti,wall art

Q3: Do you need to know the Turkish language to live in Turkey? 

Yes, you definitely would. Not many Turkish people speak English, even though you can get by using non-verbal communication on your everyday local shopping trips. If you are planning to live here, do business, sort out your paperwork and earn a living, the Turkish language is a must. I heard that even in international companies, they would still require the Turkish language alongside English. English teachers are also worth more when they know Turkish as well as English.

ingredient lists,cosmetics,food,shopping,Turkey,language problems,Istanbul
The brands I managed to find on my first shop for toiletries. Himalaya Face wash, Bee Beauty 0% Aluminium Deodorant, Sesu Hair Removal Cream & Bee Beauty Micellar Cleansing Water

I love to use natural products and I certainly had a challenge reading all the ingredients on food packaging and hair & beauty products, if it wasn’t for smartphone translating apps and close friends, I’m sure it would have been harder to find what I wanted. In local bazaars and shops, I noticed many vendors spoke Arabic which was a plus for me to be able to know how much things were, I can ask how much something is in Turkish and they will reply in Arabic Alhamdulillah. There are many Arabs from different backgrounds so I get the impression the locals know more Arabic than any English.

Q4: What’s the visa requirements for Turkey?

Most countries are exempt from requiring a visa and can usually visit Turkey for up to 90 days on a tourist visa that is usually issued on arrival. We have British passports and did not require to apply for one beforehand. You can visit this website https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/apply/ for more information and view which category your country falls in.

muslim boy, moving to Turkey, Hijrah to turkey,Muslim family,Halal life,hijrah,airport,Dubai airport,Istanbul, visa application
My son waiting in Dubai airport while we check-in

If you are planning to stay for longer than the 3-month initial allowance, you can extend your tourist visa to up to a year within this time frame. You will need a proof of address for this though and any tenancy agreement should be under your name. To continue your stay after this time you will have had to either apply for a work or business permit before the end of the year.

Applying for a residence permit can be a long & painful process if you do not have anyone to help you that knows the language. Every situation is different depending on your circumstances I guess. For some I know, it was an easy & smooth experience and for some, I have heard the opposite. We haven’t been here long enough yet to find out but I can share my personal experience as soon as I can insha Allah. For now, I heard Corona restrictions and formalities have bought the waiting list up to 6 months to a year!

However, there is no way to escape this procedure and no other method around it unless you are able to invest in a property in Turkey. If you invest in property all the paperwork and residency or citizenship applications is dealt with for you free of charge with the agency dealing with your property purchase. We would recommend contacting https://turkeypropertybeys.com/

An important note to remember: Always bring all original paperwork, documents, birth certificates, marriage certificate, and educational qualifications. You will need them all and most probably may need to legalize them.

Q5: What job opportunities are there for Expats?

Finding a job in Turkey will not be easy without knowing the language. Most fellow Expats we know have their own businesses or work online like ourselves. Some families are living here and the husband is going to and from their home country because their work allows it, some have contract work and others are taxi drivers working hard for a good few months then coming to stay with their families for another few months.

work from home mum, Muslim mum,Homeschooling,Muslim entrepreneur,online work,expat life,Muslim family,halal life,Muslim life,home education, work from home mum
Working on my laptop while kids are ice-skating (enjoying off-peak timings are one of the benefits of homeschooling)

English teachers are always in demand but salaries will vary depending on qualifications and experience. Online teaching is another option and you can also look into retail, import and export. It would help a lot to try applying for any vacancies before your arrival. Job hunting can be a very slow process here so seeing what there is available and gaining any relevant qualifications while still in your homeland will help significantly. It’s also worth checking and applying for any open vacancies in international companies that have branches in Turkey, obviously in your area of expertise. Even if you can’t see any vacancies available, it’s still worth emailing your CV with a covering letter to them directly. You never know where or how Allah will provide your rizq, we just need to make the effort and have faith.

Q6: Is it better to rent Furnished or Unfurnished?

We rented a furnished apartment because we were uncertain of areas and undecided in where we wanted to finally buy and base ourselves. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything.

Furnished,unfurnished,apartment,Istanbul,Basaksahir,Turkey
Our furnished apartment in Basaksahir Istanbul

The advantages of renting a furnished home in Turkey:

  • Allows you time to familiarize yourselves with the environment & where the best areas are.
  • Allows you to get to know where the best shops are to buy your needs at the best prices.
  • Allows you time to know the general prices for things and minimize the possibility of being overpriced.
  • If you decided the area you live in isn’t for you and wished to move, you will not have too much bulky furniture to think about. This will also reduce the cost of relocating yourself.
  • Having furniture already there enabled us to get back into a routine almost straight away. Clothes were easy to wash and hang straight up into wardrobes and things were easy to unpack straight into storage cabinets, bookshelves etc.

The disadvantages of renting a furnished home in Turkey:

  • You can’t choose the furniture of your choice, if it’s already there chances are it may or may not be to your taste or quality.
  • Some of the furniture may not be of working or usable condition. (some of our dining chairs were very wobbly for instance and mattresses turned out to be overused). This isn’t something you can always pick up on pictures or a quick viewing. We also had some minor issues with the boiler and fridge, again, this will not be apparent in a picture or during a viewing. Always ask and make sure to get things in writing if you need to.
  • The cost of a furnished apartment in Turkey will always more expensive than the cost of an unfurnished one. Rent in bigger cities will always be more expensive than smaller towns and cities on the outskirts.

Q7: Should I take my furniture or buy everything new?

Throughout my previous moving experiences, I learned to stay light and very minimal. (Yes, we have travelled & moved a lot ;))

luggage,Turkey,move to Turkey,hijrah to Turkey,Family migration
All our luggage, moving to Turkey

In our experience on this occasion, we were very fortunate to get 2x bags of 22kg each on our connection flight to Turkey with Ukrain Airlines and that didn’t include 8kg carry-ons and 5kg handbags each for our family of 5. We brought as many of our electronics as we could from Dubai as we had heard that foreign brands of this sort are expensive in Turkey due to high import taxes. Plus there is also the possibility that as a foreigner, you might get overcharged, unless it is an IKEA or known chain store with fixed prices. There are quite a few IKEA stores located in various points of Turkey if you did want to buy all new when you get here and they are known for great prices. However, I would only get the bigger essential furniture items from there such as beds, matresses, wardrobes and livingroom furnishings. There are plenty of other places for kitchen essentials, storage, bakeware, cookware, linen and so on. The bazaars have plenty of options and beautiful curtains, carpets and rugs as well as table wear and dinner sets. They also have better prices.

rugs,carpets,Turkey,Istanbul,Bazaar,Basaksahir,local market
Rugs and Carpets being sold at our local Basaksahir bazaar

In conclusion, I would say it’s only worth bringing all your books & electronics such as laptops, tablets, phones & their accessories, printer, computer consoles and their games & equipment, that type of thing. There are not many English books available here from what I’ve seen. As for clothing, toiletries and so on, they are widely available too, offering good quality and value for money. H&M, Mango and Zara are some of the widely known and popular brands also available here and their prices seem to be cheaper here than in the UK and Dubai.

Mall of Istanbul,Istanbul,Turkey,H&M Store
H&M Store in Mall of Istanbul, Turkey

There are benefits to bringing all your own furniture if you can afford to, it does save you the time and energy of getting everything again and is more convenient.

moroccan majlis, pillow fights, kids,muslim family,halal life
My son making the most of our Moroccan Majlis pillow fights before they were sold

Q8: What’s the typical monthly cost of living in Turkey?

This depends on the city, family size and lifestyle you want. The first months will always be more as there will be extra things to buy and it will take a while to learn how to bargain shop. The following common expenses were calculated monthly:

Rent can range anything between 3000-8000 TL for 3bed apartment in Istanbul. (we are on the European side that is more expensive and we pay 4500 TL for fully furnished)

Food Shopping can range between 2000-4000 TL- for our family of 5. We like to eat lots of fresh foods though and don’t buy any tinned, processed or pre-cooked & packaged foods. Cereal, fizzy drinks & snack foods will bring the price up. Meat and nuts tend to be the most expensive items in our trolley 😉

Turkish cheese, cheese variations,local store, local produce, Basaksahir,Istanbul,Turkey
Fresh Turkish cheese variations on sale at a local store in Basaksahir Istanbul Turkey

We take advantage of the local bazaars for fresh fruit and vegetables as convenience stores are more expensive. We normally eat out or order in sometimes but it’s usually home-cooked style foods that are abundant here in Turkey and we haven’t had much opportunity to try out new things & explore different places yet with the corona restrictions still in place.

Private Nurseries & Schools range from 1000-5000 TL per child. We homeschool so I haven’t experienced the quality of education and facilities. However, we have heard mostly good reviews on both government Turkish schools and private international schools. There are also very affordable and sometimes even free madrassas and Quran classes.

Petrol, we hear, is expensive ranging from 600-2000 TL per month depending on how much you travel. It’s easy to not have a car though as Turkey has very efficient and reliable public transport. You can also purchase an Istanbul card that works with all transportation services and is topped up pretty much like a mobile sim card.

Electricity 200 TL (for our family)

Gas & Heating 200 TL (we heard it can get expensive in winter, but we hardly used it so far for heating)

Water 80 TL

There is no TV Licence or council tax here as far as we know.

Q8: What’s healthcare in Turkey like? 

I was very impressed with the government children’s hospital I visited with a friend. It appeared clean, modern, well equipped and organized. The waiting area was welcoming & child-friendly. The treatment my friend’s son was given was thorough and professional. Usually, expats go for private hospitals, where insurance costs 1000-3000TL per year but general local GP visits are FREE. 

hospital,healthcare,health,medical practice,childrens hospital,government,Turkish,Turkey,Istanbul
A view of the New Government Children’s Hospital in Basaksahir Istanbul Turkey

The rules, as they currently stand, require any foreign citizen under the age of 65 to have health insurance if they want to have residency in Turkey.

The options open to each individual under the age of 65 are either:

  • Buy your own private medical insurance
  • Join Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu (SGK) which is the state insurance scheme category open to expatriates. Note: you have to legally reside in Turkey for at least one year to be eligible for this.
Childrens,Hospital,Istanbul,Basaksahir,Turkey,Government,New, December,2020
A waiting area in one of the wards of the new government hospital Basaksahir, Istanbul, Turkey. December 2020

To join SGK you have to have a health assessment and make monthly fixed payments. It is currently at 426.60 TL a month which is no more than 43.00 GBP.  This premium will cover a married couple and any dependents under the age of 18. for more information about this you may want to read Medical care in Turkey – A Health Guide For Tourists

Childrens,Hospital,Istanbul,Basaksahir,Turkey,Government,New, December,2020
A gift shop I saw in the children’s hospital in Istanbul Turkey.

Q9: Do you feel safe in Turkey?

We have not been here for too long but we can say we feel really safe and happy here so far. Don’t blindly follow the news, as much of it is very exaggerated :-).

There are the odd common scams in the bustling streets of the city as you would expect in any major city. We haven’t experienced any alhamdulillah and don’t know anyone that have. For more about scams read Money Matters, Haggling & Tipping In Turkey.

Every country will have its politics and ups and downs, we have experienced good and bad in all the countries we lived in before & visited, but this is dunya, where nothing is perfect or complete. In general, we feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to see & live in this admirable country that’s so rich in history. Turkey is full of beauty with many different and interesting places to visit and see. 

A beautiful view a friend shared with me on her road trip through the outskirts of Antalya

Q10: What are the schools in Turkey like?

There are Turkish government-funded schools and nurseries that teach in Turkish and are free for all to attend. There are also international schools and private schools that teach in English but they will include Turkish language lessons also. Parents can choose a school that teaches a British Curriculum or the American one. There are also Imam Hatip schools where they teach Islamic studies as well as Quran & Arabic in addition to academic lessons, these are government-funded schools and taught in the Turkish language and are segregated.

I am currently homeschooling my children and have not had any personal experience in any of them as yet. We are considering to maybe try a few of them out though, in the hope that it will help the kids learn the Turkish language more fluently. When the schools open up normally again that is.

homeschooling,Turkey,education,Turkish lesson,schools in Turkey,Istanbul
Our last Turkish lesson notes on a whiteboard

I also recently set up a Turkey homeschooling whatsapp group, for all the fellow English speaking Muslim sisters I’ve found as well as anyone interested in educating or education in Turkey. Let me know if you would like to be added.

Final Thoughts

If you are considering making Hijrah to Turkey then I recommend reading: Important things to know before moving to Turkey, this will give you more of an idea on some annoyances that Turkey can be known for 😉

Hearing other people’s experiences may be useful for advice and information, however, don’t assume everything will be perfect or horrible based on others say so. Turkey can feel and look like it’s a European country but it is NOT in the EU. It’s often assumed that Turkey is a Muslim country. In fact, it’s a democratic country although the majority of its inhabitants are Muslim, it doesn’t legally go by the Muslim Shariah Law. Although, I do believe that you can choose to if required. Rules and procedures are very different in Turkey, it reminds me a lot of Morocco actually and it changes frequently just like that. So, there is more than just the hammam & culture that connects us 😉

In general, the main point is that the Turkish government is very keen and happy to accommodate foreigners to live, buy, invest, work or study in Turkey, and for that reason, it’s been very productive and successful in simplifying the legal processes for them to do so.

Taking that huge step to move abroad is a big decision, try to do your own research as much as possible as well as getting advice and asking fellow expats that have already made that move. Of course, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. We haven’t any regrets alhamdulillah, however, everyone’s way of life, standards of living and priorities are different. Maybe it is better to regret moving abroad than to regret staying behind.

I do hope that my post is useful insha Allah, and I will be happy to answer any of your questions in the comments section below 😉

Wa alaykoum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakettu

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