My Difficulties of Life in Istanbul as a Foreigner

Istanbul Riots and Protests

Note: I had a difficult time while living in Istanbul and in this post I share the negatives. I also wrote a post titled what I loved about living in Istanbul, so read this for the positives. My negative experiences do not mean that I think the city is bad, nor the people, but I was unlucky and as I share my experiences, here is me sharing my thoughts on my time in this city. If you love Istanbul, do not take this as offence – I was simply unlucky. We can all be unlucky in the world, but surely we shouldn’t have to pretend that we love somewhere when we don’t?

It’s been a couple of months since I could call Istanbul my home and rather than ranting or raving about it as I left to hitchhike to the UK, I have had time to reflect upon my experiences. In conclusion, it is one of the most difficult places I have ever lived. Since I was 18, I haven’t lived in a single place for more than a year, so this is a rather bold statement to make. When I left South Korea, I said I would never go back and live there again, but the funny thing is, I miss Korea and the great people I knew there. However, Istanbul was a lot harder for me. Why was it so bad for me? Allow me to explain.

Our Landlord(s)

When we first arrived in Istanbul, we thought that it would be easy to find an apartment to live in. However, to find somewhere to live, we had to stay somewhere until we had a home (it’s hard to free-camp in cities). After months of hitchhiking and being low on cash, we didn’t want to have to come and book into an expensive hotel and even hostels were stretching our dwindling budget. We asked friends and looked online for different accommodation, but to simply find short term accommodation, we ran the danger of spending all our money and being stuck in a place we didn’t know without anyone to help us out. Fortunately a friend helped us out and solved our accommodation dilemma.

Due to our panic however, we ended up living in a horrible apartment with an even more horrid landlord. He cheated and lied to us about everything, taking much of the little money we had and when we told him we wanted to leave, he told us that he would sue us for six months rent because we had signed a contract (in Turkish) saying that we would remain in the apartment for 9 months. We only moved into the squalid apartment because of his promise that we were on ‘a rolling contract and only needed to pay for one months rent when we wanted to leave.’ Now we were back to looking at hotels again, carefully calculating our remaining money. After hours of debating and months of misery, we finally got out of the contract and the three of us moved to different parts of the city.

In my new (mouldy, smelly) basement apartment, I got a call while I was at work (teaching English), to be told that my bed had been sold, so I’d have to move that evening. That evening, I moved house and finally found myself living somewhere good. I invited someone else to stay and then once again, the new landlord demanded (a lot) more money. Tired of fighting, I paid it. This leads me into my issues with money.

No Money

Although Turkey is quite cheap, the salary as an English teacher in Turkey is very low and it didn’t balance out with the expenses. I was able to save much less than I previously hoped, but what really bothered me was that because I look different, it was often assumed that I was a rich tourist. On many occasions, people demanded money from me or charged me tourist prices and this too became very tiring. Even the process of getting a residency visa in Turkey is skewed by money payments.

On one occasion, I picked up a brush for a guy who had walked off without realising he’d dropped it. He then proceeded to polish my trainers (ridiculous), despite me trying to stop him and charged me £40 for the pleasure. I gave him £5 and refused to pay any more. £5 for damaging my shoes…

The Most Difficult Job in the World

Teaching English in Turkey is hard. I was employed as a foreign language teacher, meaning that we were to only use English in the classroom, but the kids spoke barely any English and wanted to learn even less. The school I taught at had neither a system of discipline or reward, and while I could write a whole article (or book) on the issues of teaching English in an expensive private school in Turkey, I’ll leave it with the summary that it was the least satisfying job I have ever had because I felt like my sole aim was to babysit the kids for 40 minutes and stop them running into other classrooms. Two girls started skipping my class when they found out that I was not religious and after six weeks of no class, the principle’s punishment was to “say sorry” (while giggling).

Too Busy

I am a country person. Istanbul is one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world and it takes forever to get anywhere on public transport. Was it a stupid decision for me to move to such a place? Yes. But I had my reasons at the time.

Few Friends

This sounds silly and it is, but I found it incredibly hard to meet people in Istanbul. I have lived in several foreign countries and always been very social, but in Istanbul, I had a very small group of friends (who were lovely). This again may be due to many factors, but it contributed towards my lack of positive feelings about the place.

Is It All Bad?

No, absolutely not. Istanbul has some beautiful architecture, peaceful islands, interesting riots in Taksim Square, and some of the most delicious food in the world. I really miss the food, especially çiğ köfte. It’s a fun city to visit (part of the reason why I ended up living there) and many foreigners love living in the city. It just wasn’t for me. But nor was the job and I felt like a sell out when I took it. If you want to know what I did like about Istanbul, please read this article about the things I loved in Istanbul.

Would I go back? No. I’ve tried it and it wasn’t for me. I’ll leave it for the people who love it and instead, I’ll live in my tent and cycle Europe, then build my raft and be a Pirate of the Danube. Each to their own, right?

83 Comments

  • Hi Jamie,

    Actually I just came back from Istanbul about couple of weeks ago, My husband is Iranian-Turkish which made us receive so much warm attitude by people over there.
    I read most of the comments and even on other websites about bad affects of Istanbul. My experience as a tourist was a bit different, we just used public transportation and it was much cheaper than our own country, most of the time my husband talked to people in Istanbul Turkish and they never wanted to cheated us. Although I should say one man who spoke Farsi (I am Iranian as well) tried to cheat us by selling us some smuggle perfumes, he told us he needs money to go back to home and shamefully told us I am not like your previous president Ahmadi Nejad. Any how I liked there a lot. The traffic, food taste and costs, people were great even I can say I liked the way they behave to disable people, sometimes women. This is what I never saw in Iran and made me feel how far we could go from humanistic thoughts. When I see how Europeans are complaining about Istanbul again I think what they will say about Tehran when they see some horror facts here. But off course I can assure you we have nice architecture over here totally different of Turkish style which you surely will enjoyed them and the food are good too.
    My husband and I are planning to move to there during next year, please wish me luck and again thank you for your honesty in your writing.

  • There is a website called spotahome.com It is the easiest way for foreigners to find accommodation in Istanbul.

  • Great post Jamie! Easy to relate 🙂 For finding jobs I suggest wordapp.io, they have a lot of freelance jobs (as well as full-time jobs at career.wordapp.io) + they’re located in Istanbul!

    • Finding jobs? In Istanbul?
      What kind of kook would still be in Istanbul looking for jobs after the coup
      and all the political fallout?
      I just don’t get it.

  • As a former Istanbulite from Stockholm, I just googled “Living in Istanbul” and ended up reading most of the comments. Verdict: I miss the damn city a lot, but even as a former local, I can not stand it anymore for more than 2 weeks as a tourist. Cant even guess the difficulties for you guys who are not even from that very culture. Even Europe’s humiliative perception of being a Turk is more preferable than living inside zero oxygen and the worst traffic congestion in the world.

    Also as a tourist, one should forget “acting like a local”, you are going into the wild here, plan your vacation, double the amount of estimated costs, then go enjoy all the luxurious side of this amazing short-term city for a week or two, and return back to your country’s human standards. As mentioned by people above, the normality of cheating/lying/dishonesty is enough to keep away.

    I was a local. Still miss it. But can not stand for long anymore.

    Dont even have the courage to write my real name on the form, as we Turks are now so radicalised, people may tend to execute me in responses. 🙂

    • I find it interesting to contrast the difficulties of working here versus hanging out here.
      I described my frustration of getting paid for lecturing here in a previous post.
      I did get paid but only after lashing out at their broken system. Two weeks later I left Turkey to visit a nearby country and was barely allowed back in. My tourist visa expired but the university had done nothing to help with my residency permit. Customs gave me 10
      days to get a residency permit.
      So they gave me a long list of banks that would help me get a residency permit receipt.
      However, the first 5 I visited refused to help and offered kooky explanations such
      as “System failure” and “Must go to ATM” when I asked for clarification for the refusal.
      One bank finally offered to help but told me I needed “tax number” to process the receipt.
      When I came back with the “tax number” they said they still cold not help because I
      did not also have the “tax office number.” We called the tax office and got a 10 digit code
      but the bank then said it had to be a 6 digit code. You get the picture–the banks
      and bureaucracies here are obsessed with stupid details but have little regard for the Big
      Picture or getting things done. Again, this is the weirdest place ever to try to hold a job as a foreigner.
      In an era of Globalization they are moving the other direction and Turkishness seems to
      be the only standard they honor. The University tells me they want to hire more
      international faculty but there is no way in Hell that’s gonna happen any time soon unless
      they catch up to the 21st Century and start helping their workers along the way.

    • Kudos, Jamie! Your article hit the nail on the head. Mostly every foreigner that has come here to teach has had the same problems. I truly wish people would stop coming here. I love the land of Turkey and it’s amazing history but Turks are terrible! I am stuck here because of the money situation. Every two months, I either quit a job or I am fired for ridiculous reasons. It is exploitation to the fullest. I think this country doesn’t deserve to have such well intended people come for a visit. I am really miserable here and I want to go back home to the States. I even contacted my Consulate and there is nothing they can do to help me. It seems like this exploitation of foreigners will go on forever. Btw, they cheat each other as well but foreigners get easily duped. I get in shouting matches with Turks all of the time. I can’t stand their shiesty ways. Next time I see that shoe shine guy, I’m going to highjack his brush!

      • Sorry to hear of your experiences Barbara. The money was a constant problem in Istanbul for me as well and I felt like I was always struggling, never quite comfortable. I hope you can find a way out to somewhere that you prefer to live. In the mean time, enjoy the delicious food, I do miss that a lot.

      • “Every two months, I either quit a job or I am fired for ridiculous reasons. It is exploitation to the fullest. ”

        Classic. If Turkey wants to be part of the EU they’re gonna have to leave their Medieval practices behind and join the 21st Century. I ended up getting fired for “attitude problems” for demanding a real contract after countless promises of “tomorrow, tomorrow.” And this was at a friggin Medical School, where you’d expect the conduct to be a cut above, and where the website promises “ethical” practices to students. What a sham. Can’t they come up with some laws to protect / respect foreigners? We go there to help.

  • I agree with you Ash, I thought it had a depressing feeling as well. Istanbul is certainly my least favourite place I’ve ever been. I found it to be run-down and overcrowded with little green space. Not to mention the relentless harassment from some of the men. It was just a completely under-whelming and sometimes negative experience.

    • I’m an Assistant Prof at a University here and pretty close to leaving Istanbul due to stress.
      I have been giving documents/diplomas to the Universiiy for 5 months now
      (3 months before I arrived and two months since) and am sick of
      dealing with their crazy bureaucracy which is stalling on my paycheck.
      After two months of empty promises, still no salary paid or contract signed, I was pissed.
      I informed them that I spoke to an attorney and the advice was not to teach anymore
      until I had received salary and had a contract signed. How were they going to fire
      me (for making demands) when they hadn’t even “hired” me yet.
      Also the university is totally disorganized and every day is a roller coaster regarding scheduling. A simple schedule seems like black magic to them, it’s bizarre…
      Yes, it is hard also hard to make friends, compared to other places I have lived…
      The Nationalism freaks me out more than then Muslims, and my mind it is
      linked to the stalling on my paycheck because the rusty, crusty YOK bureaucracy that
      needs to rubberstamp every document you have 120 times is
      created by the State and seems to be trapped in the 1940s or 1950s.
      The recent govt raids on newspapers lately makes me wonder if
      the Nationalism is not going to soon morph into Fascism and book burning rallies.
      Simpy stated, I could not possibly recommend Istanbul as a long-term job.

      • Sorry to hear about your unpleasant experiences, it really sounds like you are having a torrid time. I hope you can get it all sorted out and then get to somewhere that you prefer living.

      • Wow, amazing. I think I actually knew this guy before he went home to America.
        He said he was talking to a lawyer and no one in our department (I was foreign
        language, he was medicine) knew why they were playing such games with salaries.
        Also I notice your website was malware-infected.the last 15 days.
        I wonder…is that what the Turks do when people expose their corruption online?

        • Those infections have been a nightmare and the first group that hit me were a pro-religious group I won’t name. Hopefully it is all under control now.

  • Hi, I am presently living in Istanbul and would probably agree with nearly everything you’ve said. I’ve only been here for about 2 weeks and I hate it here.
    I don’t know if there is something that I could put my finger on exactly, it’s more of a ‘feeling’ that pervades this place or at least, I pick it up.
    To me, it just feels oppressive, depressing and heavy.
    I don’t know if it’s just the Muslim culture or what… Imagining the day when I leave.

    • Sorry to hear that Ash, I hope it gets a bit more bearable. If you have an opportunity, maybe try moving house. I lived in Taksim originally and spent my last week in Sirinevlar which seemed much nicer. I also tried to entertain myself by visiting the Prince Islands and tasting lots of Turkish food which was my favourite thing about Istanbul. And the Prince Islands are nice. Ultimately though, it is very hard to live in a place where you don’t feel comfortable and I was happy when I finally had the opportunity to leave.

    • Sorry about your bad experience. I am a Turk living in the US. I have two main things to tell you about this situation. First, please at least give yourself a chance to change this “muslim schema” in your mind. Because the things you have all seen in Ist are not totally relevant to religion but daily life and cultural codes. Turks are not religious,more likely to be nationalists. They have a great antiamericanism inside, totally based on politics and what America did in the Middleeast and Turkiye. When you say sth about America to an ordinary Turk, he/she may first think things about warcrimes, torture, terrorism support, CIA, gun industry, invasion and even Bush. Mostly people ask themselves “What is he looking for here? He might be an agent against my country.” Secondly, Ist is a good place to see around, but for sure not a good place to live in. I can recommend you Izmir and southwestern region for the next time of your visit.

      • Hello Emel. I didn’t attribute any of what happened to many Turks being Muslim. As mentioned, it was simply a very different culture and I am happy to mingle with people of all nationalities, religions, and whatever else – I just found it hard to live in Istanbul. Also, I am not American. My girlfriend was American, but no one would have known this unless they asked her. I don’t hold anything against Turkey and I would love to go back, but next time I will not go to Istanbul. Maybe I will do as you suggest and try to visit the southwest next time, it seems like somewhere I will like.

  • Hi
    Iam hadis from IrAn
    I visited istanbul last year for 5 days and i realy enjoied it,now i decided to live in this beautiful city,i know living in istanbul may be unsafe for foreign, but i want to test it at least for one year,iam very glad to read your experiences and now i want to invite you to my country Iran,despite of news that you heard from tv, we have a beautiful country with kind people
    Andd please forgive me becouse of my owful english
    Good luck😍

    • Thank you. One day I would love to visit Iran and have seen ever so many beautiful pictures. I hope to cycle in the country as it will be a great way to see it slowly. Enjoy Istanbul.

  • Hi I just returned from Turkey and have to say I enjoyed Gourami, and Kas but hated Istanbul and would never go back I spend 4 days there at the beginning of our trip and 3 days before we flew back to Canada. Our accommodations were filthy even had a sewer gas smell coming out of the shower drain had to block it after our shower with a towel. Like has been previously mentioned the cabs were very expensive and they never seemed to know the location of our rented apt even when we showed the address, it seemed everything we purchased was over charged even down to a rug we spent 700.00 on which was packaged neatly by the store for the trip back to Canada, when we opened it on our return we realised it was covered in defects not the same rug at all. I have travelled extensively this is the first time I never felt comfortable and was glad to leave a city as I did not enjoy Istanbul at all, no chance I would ever go back to Istanbul and advise this to any of my friends that asked me how our trip was!

  • Just arrived from Istanbul a couple of weeks ago and must say was dissapointed with the great city. Got over charged by almost every taxi driver and wasn’t much we could do about it being 2 gay men we quickly realised where we could and couldn’t defend ourselves. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia not all its talked up to being. My partner and I also got drugged in the Grand Bazaar when we tested some herbal tea. They robbed us when we passed out was on the local news and all.

    Sorry Roxanne but you’re kind of contradicting yourself. Didn’t you say:

    ‘Istanbul is a VERY tiring city…..the bribes, the cons, the lies, the cheating, the disregard for rules and regulations, private space, disrespect for humans and animals, thinking they are above the law, the uncouthness……I could go on and on…..’

    Yet you go on to say you didn’t see any of it. Kinda doesn’t make sense to me.

    Great site Jamie warn as many people as you can. Will never return.

  • Hi Jamie,

    I AGREE WITH YOU 100%.

    I was in Turkey in September 2014 and visited Cappadocia, Bodrum, Adana and unfortunately Istanbul.

    My breakdown is this:

    Cappadocia is beautiful. Urgup town’s people were polite and friendly. Being a small place it felt calm and peaceful. Did the hot air ballooning and had a great experience but crash landed onto a tree. Got me thinking if I or my family members needed urgent medical attention would we be ok? Still you must go and see the breathtaking landscapes of the Fairy Chimneys.

    Bodrum a beautiful place with the laid back locals.

    Adana I liked but not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Istanbul is the reason why I’m NEVER and I mean NEVER stepping foot into Turkey again. The worst 10 days of my life. Made the fatal mistake of getting on a bus from Besiktas, thought we’d live like the locals, but ended up almost getting mugged by a group of men known as “kap kaçcılar” which translates to grab and run. The bus driver let them on for free out of fear for his own safety not really giving a shit about his passengers. The group of men pulled my 7 year old from a seat which freaked my child out to make way for another woman with a child. Then when some young ladies said “the child doesn’t speak English” they for some reason turned on the girls. Strangely, the girls went silent and just stared out the window as if nothing was said to them I later found out this was survival mode. The men got off because they were angry the bus was too slow to our relief as they were eyeing us and discussing my watch among themselves. Immediately after a young woman and her boyfriend got on and the girl sat on the floor directly in front of my 7 year old who my husband had on his lap. They were wedged in and couldn’t move. When my child tried to get off his dad’s lap she got up and said “ayağını koyduğun yere dikkat edeceksin” translates to be careful where you put your feet. To a 7 year old child! Not in my country or any other foreign country I’ve visited does a grown woman tell a child off after that same person almost sat on the child! That was it no man, woman, Jesus, Buddha, Allah could stop me I went after her on that crowded bus. She truly had her boyfriend to thank as he kept moving her away from me. Little did the people on that bus know I speak fluent Turkish and defended my child. I was not yelling all I said was “you were squashing him in” and she began yelling at me with the typical Turkish response which you’ll get when a Turk has no leg to stand on “sen kimsin ya” translates to who do you think you are? When she yelled at me I yelled back at her! I’ll tell you who I am a mother who is not going to allow a lard arse obnoxious cow cut her child’s legs circulation off only to turn around and blame the child! She yelled at the top of her lungs and I yelled back I DID NOT BACK DOWN. The people on the bus were so used to arguments like this nobody was shocked which shocked us. All I saw were a few other passengers, including her boyfriend, say it’s ok she is in the wrong let her keep screaming don’t respond to her. Apparently this is the norm. We finally got off a stop early and walked the rest of the way to the ferry. That was just a short bus trip I won’t even start on the remaining 9 days we were subjected to experience. We didn’t leave our hotel for the final 3 days.
    We even got ripped off outside Barış Manço’s house by teenagers who wanted money for a “bus ride” they just wouldn’t let go of my husband’s hand so we gave the leader money so we wouldn’t get attacked and left the area quick smart.
    Exercise extreme caution in Istanbul. Public transport is packed and dangerous, taxi drivers manipulate the meter, the people are ready to rip you off at every opportunity. If you’re a woman…….it’s all your fault.

    The most dangerous city on Earth in my opinion. Never again.

    I’m so honoured to call Australia my home.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your negative experiences in Istanbul. However, I am glad to hear that you enjoyed other places. I would actually like to go back to Turkey someday and explore some of the more rural areas. I am not a fan of cities and dislike most of them, but like you, Istanbul is one of my least favourite. I have several friends who love Istanbul and I am happy for them, but it is hard to desire to see a place for the second time when you have already experienced such heartache.

      • Thank you for such a polite response Jamie…..unlike some. I really disliked Istanbul and couldn’t wait to get on the plane for home. Didn’t feel safe at all.

        Go to Nevşehir and Ürgüp it’s so beautiful.

    • Yes I’ve been living in Istanbul for 25 years and there are lots of bad things…..but they are not as bad as that, its the same in all overly crowded large metropolitan cities the world over…..and especially if you speak fluent turkish, why on earth would you have all these problems….in 10 short days??? I haven’t even seen any of this in 25 years……and its definitely NOT the most dangerous city on earth…that’s utter bullcrap…..!!!!

      • It’s my experience Roxanne and I most certainly don’t appreciate you calling it “bullcrap” how dare you!

        Maybe I had “all these problems in 10 short days” cos I came across ruthless people like you.

        In my opinion and experience it IS the most dangerous city on earth.

          • Seriously, Roxanne if it bothers you that much don’t read my posts. If picking on a child is funny to you then you have issues. Won’t be responding to anymore of your idiotic comments. Here’s something funny maybe your hubby can translate: her boka burnunu sokma. All the best to you in Istanbul.

          • Good luck to you in Istanbul. You are not a nice person I can see why you fit in where you live.

  • I’ve been living here for many years now (my husband is Turkish) and I can tell you that although it has its nice points, Istanbul is a VERY tiring city…..the bribes, the cons, the lies, the cheating, the disregard for rules and regulations, private space, disrespect for humans and animals, thinking they are above the law, the uncouthness……I could go on and on…..It wasn’t so bad a few years ago….but as the city becomes even more crowded – it can actually be considered a country in terms of population – the problems have become worse…… And there are no solutions for anything….

  • hey im sorry about your bad experience
    i hope that you can give second chance to istanbul :))

  • Hello
    I would like to thank everyone for sharing, very helpful knowing the positives and negatives of peoples experiences. Gives others insights into teaching abroad.

  • Hi Jamie! Thank you for sharing your experience. I`m Turkish and I`ve been living in Germany since a couple of years, so I can relate to the difficulties of being a foreigner and I do know that Turkey is not Switzerland. That said, it`s very unfair to blame your disappointments ALL on the “Turks” or on “Istanbul” without acknowledging your attitude and misjudgments. I went to one of these private schools you mentioned, and the amount of respect for a teacher – whether foreign or Turkish – depended on the teacher`s attitude, just as it would be in any public or private school. How did you expect your students to react when you apparently treated them like “babies” instead of adults? Are you saying that Turkish school kids are different from other school kids around the world and deserve to baby-sitted instead of being educated? On what grounds? You are saying girls left your class bec u weren`t Muslim, and they weren`t “punished” enough for that. If you have such a world view of punishing adolescents who are still in their identity formation years, instead of educating them and motivating them to be better, you may be in the wrong profession. You cannot expect to be respected just because you are a “teacher”, you deserve respect because you are “human”, but sadly this is rarely the case in our world, not only in Istanbul. It`s sad to know that a teacher is capable of writing a blog post full of prejudice, teachers have a substantial effect on who students become in the future.

    • I don’t blame all my experiences on Turkish people. As I mentioned at the start of the article, “I had a negative experience of living in Istanbul and this [article] is my negative experience. It does not mean that the city is bad, nor the people, but I was unlucky.” As for the school, I turned up one month before the end of term and less than half of the students had books and there were no registers to see which kids were supposed to be in your class. If someone turned up, you taught them. If they didn’t turn up, you didn’t know they weren’t there. My problem is the lack of organisation in the school. If I knew who was meant to be in the class and I had backup copies of the books, we could have made something work, but it was not the case unfortunately. Over the few weeks I was there, many of the classes got better as I built rapport with the students, but before I even started, I was told that I was going to the worst school in the chain of schools and I only went because multiple other teachers had quit. If I could have started fresh terms with the students and worked with them, everything would have been better, but I did not have that time with them. I think you have misunderstood my article as an attack on Turkey and its people. It is not that and I look forward to the time when I will return to Turkey. However, I will not be living in Istanbul ever again because it is too big and I am a country person.

  • Hi Jamie,
    As an Istanbullu, I am sorry to hear that you had such a miserable time there. I agree that it is not for everyone, especially if you are not into big cities.
    As you mentioned, a lot of it also has to do with your mental state at the time. I also lived in various different countries for the last 20 years (I’m 39) and had good and bad experiences. All the places I have good memories of are the ones where I have made good friends and embraced the culture. When you are an outsider, having access to an insider’s knowledge is invaluable.
    I do long for the day I go back home to Istanbul. Sadly neither the city nor myself is what we used to be 20 years ago. With its good and its bad, I still find it a fascinating place unlike any other.

    • Certainly not loving cities and having a negative mental state contributed to my experiences. If I had lived in my second apartment (Sirinevlar), I think I would have enjoyed Istanbul a lot more. It was a quieter neighbourhood, nicer apartment, and I was right by the friendliest çiğ köfte shop too! One day I would love to go back to Turkey, but I will be cautious of going to big cities as wherever in the world I go, I struggle when surrounded by urban sprawl. I hope if you go back to Istanbul one day, you enjoy it again, even if it is different.

  • Hi Jamie
    , i felt sorry about the experiance you had while staying in istanbul.. i’ve been living 6 years now in istanbul and im totally agreed with you,
    landlord always do that they increase the rent as they wish not just because you’re foreign but with local as well.but apart of everything i still love this country..
    wishing you a better luck next time,

    • It was an unfortunate occurrence, but I guess it can happen anywhere. I hope your experiences in Istanbul are better than mine. Please eat some çiğ köfte for me, I miss that delicious food.

  • well, …
    what you say in English “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” or something like that !
    -a French

  • Dear Jamie,
    what are you bringing to the world that should make someone be interested in you, like you, hang out with you or even become your friend? As someone blogged travelling as such doesn’t make you interesting. Just because you happen to be born in England doesn’t make you a good English teacher or someone to be bothered about. If you are somebody, you are somebody everywhere. If you’re nobody, no amount of travelling will change that.
    Stay home instead of spoiling the image of western people wherever you go and show that you can master life in a decent way at home instead of trying to travel cheaply in poorer countries relying on ‘help’ from the locals.
    After that you may travel with more to offer than your needs and complaints.
    Good luck in becoming …
    Andreas (since 6 weeks in Istanbul, loving it and speaking the language already to some degree)

    • Andreas, there is nothing in the world that says anyone should be interested in me or like me – I don’t think that I have ever made such claims. As I said in my article, Istanbul “just wasn’t for me” and “each to their own.” I was simply expressing my own experiences and unfortunately they were negative because I was unlucky. To tell someone to stay home and to insult them as a person is quite strong, but each to their own – we are all entitled to our opinions – or so I thought. I do however, maintain my opinion that one does not need large amounts of money or to rely upon locals – for the past few years I have lived cheaply, but paid my own way by working when I need to and living on a shoestring budget, sometimes staying in countries for months or weeks at a time. I am sorry you felt that this was such an attack on a place and a representation of my lack of value as a person.

  • Hi dear Jamie,

    Benim adım Sara ! I have read your lovely blog several times as long as my husband and I planing to move to the Istanbul since 3 months ago. We are learning Turkish and so good at it !!! It’s a very simple language! Actually we are from Persia , and Turkish is so familiar to Farsi . Iam a medical doctor who is wishing to take a good residency seat after passing difficult examinations in the Istanbul .
    We are going to visit Istanbul next week for searching a good place to buy and live. Do you have any idea about best places for this plan ? I mean we need a good price place with easy access to main road and facilities .
    It will so nice of you to give me some info about Istanbul’nun mahallesi !!! (Istanbul ‘s living area and places )

    Iyi şanslar
    Çok teşekkür ederim
    Sara

    • Sara, I found my time in Istanbul very difficult and sadly I know mostly where not to go! However, I have been told that Beşiktaş is a nice (albeit expensive) part of the city to live in, but I never lived there so I cannot verify this. There is public transport everywhere, but apart from the metrobus and metro, it is mostly very slow as the roads are very busy. As I am not a city person, everywhere was too busy for me and I would prefer to live outside the city. I hope you find somewhere that you enjoy.

  • I think it’s a shame that someone could write a post like this about anywhere in the world. What you experienced Jamie cannot be generalized as being a miserable life in istanbul. Istanbul is such a huge city with millions of different types of people there is no way you can generalize and use such a degrading title. You have said – 6 things to look out for in istanbul or any big city.

    I am from the UK and I moved to Istanbul a year anda half ago. I have always been a keen traveller and was in Canada a month before I had come to Turkey. After living in Canada probably one of the most straightforward yet entertaining places EVER, it was very difficult for me to adapt to a life in Istanbul. I am a teacher by profession so I have had no trouble finding work. However the culture and way pf life is so different from the British way it was and still is a difficult transsision for me.

    To give you more detail… Istanbul has the worst and the best of everything… the dirtiest and the cleanist… the poorest and the richest. it is a city of variety an extremes. It may not be for everyone but it still caters for everyone. The city never sleeps.. yes neither do the bad guys.. but its a big city.. there are bad guys in london and NYC and KL and AD etc etc etc…..

    It is said that people can’t drive… no they can drive they just have a lack of respect for the rules.. but you are here now and you have to play by there rules. I’m a confident driver and I feel safe driving here now.

    It’s all about having an open mind. Travelling a lot doesn’t equal an open mind…. if a person wantd to write a genuine blog about Turkey they would make sure to have tried everything in their hands to make the experience fool proof and it things go wrong … then ye you can blame him or her.

    There are a lot of sharks here but also many many helping hands. you are never alone (sometimes it can be overwhelminbg).

    I came here without a back up plan and I had problems. But I have learnt from them now. I took the time to learn enough Turkish so no one would try and con me. I make sure everything is done properly.. I have made loads of friends and actually being foreign enables you to get into places, meet people etc that a normal local guy wouldn’t be able to. As a foreign person you are much more highly respected than we deserve. Secondly, a private school isnt’ the place to expect recognition or amazing students. If you were a real teacher you would know how to handle them and also know how to the ask the right questions when walking into a place to work.

    Actually, most places are fed up with these on season traveller guys who think they are the world because English is there mother tongue. It doesn’t work that way in respectable places. I started off in a language school, then a kindergarten in a private school and now I am doing a phd in a university. Only because I was able to escape from that western traveller style and actually tried to adapt to the life here.

    Istanbul is too busy for me. Its waay to loud for me, but being in İstanbul means im one step closer to exploring the rest of Turkey and bordering countries. The hidden gems, the hospitality… just so exciting. I really wish for people to spend more time understanding and appreciating places as a real traveller or explorer would do, and shake off that typical western travelling dude who has just come from south east asia….

    There is so much more to live than what we think we are living…

    sorry for the long post

    thank you for reading

    I apologise if Ihave offended anyone.. I feel as though this post offends me and what the city stands for I felt I should defend it.

    • Melissa,

      Each of the points I addressed are based upon my experience of Istanbul. As I said in the post, “Is it all bad? No, absolutely not. [..] Many foreigners love living in the city. It just wasn’t for me.” I do feel that labelling me as a “typical western travelling dude who has just come from south east asia” is somewhat unfair, but as ever, we are all entitled to our own opinions.

      Have a great time in Istanbul, I know that many people do.

  • First of all, regardless of whatever mistakes you may have made, you did not deserve that kind of treatment. I live in Korea and there are also plentiful of bad stories. I have been through enough of them myself and even had to go to the Labour Board once. Now, I am a well-treated university teacher. Istanbul is a place where you have to be really street and city smart. That is also true of a place like Rome. I did not know why you did not have the contract translated. You did not seem to plan things out. Yes, the school thing is something out of one’s control, but one could ensure that a housing contract fits what you want. Taking someone’s word for something does not work in the West, either. You look at Korea with nostalgia. Seoul is more straightforward than Istanbul, but you can only have flats for a year. Whatever planning you should have done, you did not deserve that kind of situation. Turkey still has some poverty consciousness and like many Koreans, if some can cheat you, they see nothing wrong with it because it is a survival thinking. It just manifests in different ways. It applies to many places also like Bulgaria and Romania. One has to be careful.

    • I didn’t plan things out, but a friend explained the contract to me. I trusted that all was well. Unfortunately a lot of my negatives came down to my landlord. I am actually back in Korea right now (not teaching) and things are working out better. I hope you enjoy your time here too.

  • I am planning to come to Istanbul to study and to work as well.. Reading your blog really make me feel that am i taking a good decision? i have my people in istanbul but it is a new city and new place.. i hope when i arrive there, everything will be fine for me.. i really pray for that..

    • Lots of people love it, however a few unfortunate occurrences conspired to make my experience a negative one. I hope your experience is better than mine.

  • Hope you realize that the shoe-polishing thing was an organized scam. A classic.
    What’s more, I generally enjoyed reading your blog, but this post was really a bit to much. You go take a look at how Istanbul’s illegal immigrants live, then come back here and write about “the misery of life in Istanbul as a foreigner”.

    • I would not tell a happy person that they cannot be happy because someone else is happier. Equally, I would not tell a sad person not to be sad because someone else is sadder. There are many people in Istanbul who had / have things much worse than I: I do not doubt this for a second. However, during my time in the city, I was quite low. I simply wanted to share some of the reasons why.

  • Hi, I’m an African-American male from New York City. I have been teaching english in Istanbul for three months, in a private school. I once was a substitute teacher in some really bad neighborhoods in NYC, so the kids here are frankly a walk in the park for me. But let me say one thing, as a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Morocco) I learned one important thing about this part of the world: all problems get solved through personal relationships with people. Foriegners who come here run into trouble when they try to be independent and solve things on thier own. This is a “communal culture” and A LOT of your headaches will be avoided if you immediately, once you arrive, began to form friendships with locals and have them intervene for you (and YOU in turn, help them, like teaching them english, telling them about where your from, cooking them dinner, etc.). If you are a stubbornly independent minded westerner, the middle east/balkans/caspian region/north africa/africa region IS NOT FOR YOU.

    • Across the world, personal relationships are vitally important. I love the Balkans and the parts of North and East Africa that I have seen (the other places you mention I have never visited): the people are wonderful. In Istanbul, things didn’t work out. I had a few great Turkish friends and they did their best to help me and we often made dinner together and spent the evening together, but ultimately it came down to my two landlords and my school making my life unpleasant as they had so much control over my day to day life. I would love to spend time in Turkey outside of Istanbul. I think life there would be very different.

      • did not your great friends in istabul help you understand the rental contract ?
        I thought they were your friends, not landlords’.

  • Actually it doesn’t make sense that you are deceived by your landlord, because that contract must be translated for being approved by the notary and being legal and the translator has to translate it accurately…If it wasn’t translated well, you could sue the translator….

    • It’s an unfortunate situation and rather than getting involved in legal battles, I escaped while I could. We lost a bit, but not enough to fret over and now we won’t look back.

      • I am a translator also and I translate legal documents sometimes, that’s why I felt sorry to see mistakes of my colleagues…also I am really sorry to hear what you have experienced in Turkey…Even Turkish people sometimes experience those type of things but actually there are good people and bad people all around the world, that doesn’t make all Turksh people or landlords bad…

        • Of course. I had some good Turkish friends and I am sure that there are many more wonderful Turkish people to meet: I just wasn’t lucky enough to encounter them.

  • I just discovered your website through your post on tomsbiketrip … and wahou. I mean it’s funny what life has to offer. I’ll explain. I taught French (my first language) in England for a few years where I hated it, my girlfriend and I wanted to travel and decided to look for a job abroad. We found one in Colombia (where I’m writing from at the moment) in a private school. We started in august and today is the 22nd of october, I’ve been hating it mainly due to the lack of discipline in the school and I can totally relate to the expensive babysitter, with no respect whatsoever. Yesterday topped it up when a kid used her phone during the whole class, refused to give it to me (the “school policy” being no phone at all otherwise it is confiscated for 1 month). Her phone WAS confiscated by the director after the lesson … only to be given back 1 hour later after she cried enough and complained of how a teacher I was. Anyhow, sorry for the long moan but this helps as therapy :p I took today off as I cannot stand this environment any longer, and I read this article … My plan is to quit at the end of the month (well next week) and start cycling across south america in January (i had already booked my tickets for Christmas .. silly me). Thank you for the inspiration.
    Good luck to you!

    • I’m sorry to hear of your experiences in the UK and Columbia. I think that you and I are both are more suited to a life on the road, rather than in a classroom, so moan away, because you need to sometimes. This whole post is one long moan by me in fact. Your plan sounds like a wonderful one and I hope that you have the most amazing time. I’d love to be cycling through the South Americas sometime, so maybe I’ll se you there!

    • Hi Mr Raguin its meeeee im sorry we ruined your life in England we didnt mean it!! we miss oyu terribly please come back sop you can teach us le Francais:D hope you got mine and Lucy’s going away cards that we left on your desk, we love you!!! p.s i got a C in my writing mock!!!!! <3 <3

  • I’v just come back from holiday in Istanbul. I am glad I went but I was very relieved to return to Britain. It was a relief I’ve not experienced before. We got ripped off leaving us dreading going up to pay for something. We heard a lot from my friend who we stayed with – she once noticed a waiter had a menu under each arm, so, impatient with him while he was busy with another customer, she grabbed one, and discovered it was in English and had much higher prices than the Turkish one her friend had been given! To add to your stories of woe, being female seems pretty much illegal in Turkey. Or if not illegal, certainly very restricting. In some areas you can’t go for a swim without some weirdo thinking you’re a Russian prostitute and trying to follow you home.

    • Kat, after living there for several months, I am not surprised by your experiences, but it is very sad. I had high expectations of the place. And I know what you mean about the Russian prostitute issue because in Turkey, that seems to be what blond haired female translates as!

  • Since the age of 23 years after joining the “Merchant Navy” as a “Marine Engineer” i have been touring the World, to date having covered 26% of Planet Earth. Have passed through Istanbul port during my shipping years but never ever stepped ashore unlike other ports visited during my employment.Strangely, i had planned numerous tours to Istanbul in recent years but cancelled the same due to various circumstances, touring other city’s instead. ISTANBUL is definitely on my list of “City’s to see before you die” and your article and experience is of great help.

  • I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad time in Istanbul, though I’ve never been there my friend studied there for 3 years and she has told me similar stories of shady landlords… Some of the are horrible to such a degree I was astonished they got away with it…

    • It surprised me very much and is quite unfortunate. If we had have had a different landlord, our experience of Istanbul could have been very different.

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