An Expat’s Comprehensive Relocation Guide: Istanbul

An Expat’s Comprehensive Relocation Guide: Istanbul

Turkey’s geographical location has meant it has enjoyed a proud history of significance, usually through its time as the Ottoman Empire. However, in recent times they have felt the full brunt of the economic down turn and political unrest. Despite this, many forecasts see Turkey as a pivotal emerging market in the coming years. Find out the the key figures and facts to assist you with your move to one of Turkey’s main trading hub, Istanbul.

Key Industries:

Istanbul, as any world metropolis, has a diverse industrial economy. Some of its prominent commodities produced include olive oil, tobacco, transport vehicles, and electronics. Logistics and transportation/shipping also play a significant role in Istanbul’s economy, due to the Bosporus. As the only sea route between the oil-rich Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the Bosporus is one of the busiest waterways in the world. Further, Istanbul’s status as the fifth most visited city in the world leads to tremendous opportunities for those within the tourism industry.

Income Tax Rates:

Income tax in Istanbul, as with the whole of Turkey, ranges between 15 and 35 percent; this is levied against all income. Expats living in Turkey will be subject to paying income tax based on their residency status.

Residents of Turkey are liable to pay taxes on their worldwide income; this is referred to as unlimited liability. For tax purposes, any person who lives in Turkey for more than six months in a calendar year is considered to be a resident. However, foreigners who stay in Turkey for six months or more for a specific job or  purpose that is not specified in the Income Tax Law are not treated as resident; they are therefore not subject to unlimited tax liability. Non-residents are only subject to pay tax on their income derived from within Turkey, which is referred to as limited liability.

Visa requirementsVisa Information:

It is now no longer necessary for foreign nationals working in Istanbul to apply for their residence permit separately. Due to visa reform, an expatriate’s work permit will include their residence authorisation.

Residence permits for Turkey are issued for a maximal period of one year. This applies to all categories of residence permit- including those for spouses of Turkish nationals and business owners.

Foreigners who wish to live and work in Istanbul are required to register themselves at the nearest local police department upon arrival. This is regardless of the validity of their visa. Expats will be required to present the following documents at the Alien’s Branch of the police department:

  • 4 valid passport-size photos
  • Valid passport
  • Photocopies of the relevant passport pages
  • A bank statement or currency exchange slip demonstrating that they have sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay in-country
  • Two copies of their Turkish Title Deeds or rental agreement as proof of address
  • The original plus a copy of their work or study permit
  • A Turkish tax number obtained from the tax office

Main Relocation Costs:

The process for importing a car into Turkey can be complicated and expensive. So if public transport options are not acceptable for your lifestyle, this will be a considerable cost to go along with the usual housing and daily essentials. For those with children, private schooling fees will also be considerable expenses to anticipate.

Cost of Living:

Compared to the rest of Turkey, the cost of living in Istanbul is relatively expensive. Petrol prices, in particular, are high when compared to Europe and the United States; the same is true for as imported alcohol. Most branded imported items you may be attached to will likely be costly as well, due to high import duties.

However, if you are willing to acclimatize to local products and foodstuffs, Istanbul can offer great cost of living value. Daily groceries, medical care and domestic help in Istanbul are cheaper than in most Western countries. Expatriates will also find that the property market in Turkey for both buying and renting generally offers fantastic value for money when compared with the likes of the Great Britain or the United States. A wide variety of accommodation is available to suit all tastes and budgets.

IstanbulLifestyle Synopsis:

Expats moving to Istanbul will find a vibrant and modern multicultural city. There are fantastic attractions such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower, and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, which can culture and touristy fun. There are also numerous modern shopping malls and markets to entice avid shoppers. The most notable of these in Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar, which boasts over 4,000 shops and is surrounded by a maze of streets lined with even more shops. Istanbul also has a lively nightlife accentuated by some very upscale restaurants and trendy nightclubs.

Private Schooling Fees:

Expat children, unlike in other locations, are allowed to attend public schools in Istanbul for free. However, as the quality of public schooling is variable; further, the language of instruction at public schools in the city is Turkish, making this a difficult option for most children not already familiar with the language. Most expats instead choose to send their children to international schools, which generally offer a superior education in the child’s native language.

These international school options are not cheap by any standard. Let’s use the Istanbul International Community School as an example. For the 2011-2012 school year, tuition ranged from $US 10,000 to $US 21,000.  An entrance fee, separate from tuition, can range anywhere from $US 5,000 to $US 7,000. Application fees can cost as much as $US 1,000.

Cheaper private school fees can be found, but these are frequently found to be for schools that do not provide English-centric curriculums.

Expat Community:

The expat community in Istanbul is a blend from nationalities all around the globe. Among the largest expatriate communities include those from Germany, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and Russia. There are over 8,000 American expats in Turkey, with the majority based in Istanbul.


Istanbul, with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, is a captivating city. Filled with frenzied markets, stunning royal palaces and minarets, and modern art and entertainment, expatriates in Istanbul will hardly find themselves being bored.

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