life in Istanbul

Life in Istanbul For Foreigners – What It’s Like & Is Istanbul a Good Place to Live?

Among all the places I’ve lived in the world, life in Istanbul was one of my favorites.

Well, I still live there part-time but now it’s only a few months per year to return to do some work and revisit my favorite places. Although I am currently in the midst of deciding whether to move to Istanbul permanently and invest in property there or not.

Since life in Ukraine (where home is) due to the war is put on pause, Mark and I are still not sure how to plan our future and where to settle. Right now we are living in Northern Tenerife but thinking about the possibility of moving to Turkey, particularly to Istanbul because we love this city dearly.

In one of our recent returns there, I noticed that Istanbul had undergone a few changes. It seemed to have evolved, with new establishments and vibrant new quarters emerging. Many areas with neighborhoods and historic districts got better infrastructure, integration of technology into public services, and more green spaces which contributed to the overall improvement of quality of life.

All these changes sparked my desire to sit down and update this post (it was originally written in the year of covid, our first year when we moved there), reflecting on the current vibe of life in Istanbul for expats and what living in Istanbul is like for a foreigner today.

So let me share my thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind and if you get questions about Istanbul lifestyle or Istanbul living conditions that didn’t make this list, you can always ask them in the comments at the end of the post or send me a message.

Planning to Come & Live in Istanbul?

Here is a mini checklist you need to go through if you are coming to this for the first time:

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission if you make a purchase or booking by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you).

Moving to Istanbul – The Basics

life in Istanbul

One of the reasons we decided to move to Istanbul is because it is quite easy to become a resident here.

The straightforward residency process, accommodating regulations, and welcoming atmosphere for expatriates make the decision more appealing. Alongside the city’s diverse lifestyle and rich culture, Istanbul easily becomes not just a new city but a welcoming home (of course not for everyone but we definitely felt this way).

You definitely need to spend some time and money on the residency permit (preparing some documents and sending them to immigration) but overall, the entire process is pretty simple. Especially if having a local lawyer helping you.

What is the Easiest Way to Come & Live in Istanbul?

So the easiest way to come and live in Istanbul is at first to come to Turkey as a tourist but then apply for a residence permit on a tourist basis (which is issued for one year) while being in the country. Other reasons for obtaining a residency can be based on work, study, on the basis of purchasing a property, opening a business, or marriage with a citizen of the Turkish Republic.

But in any case, the best and worry-free way to apply for a residency is when you are already in the country.

spending time in Uskudar
working in Karakoy

The majority of digital nomads and foreigners in Istanbul obtain residency in Turkey based on tourism. There is a special program called “Short-Term Residence Permit for Touristic Purposes” which is designed for foreigners who wish to stay in the country for longer periods while engaging in tourism-related activities.

You basically start the process by completing the application form on the Directorate General of Migration Management’s official website, scheduling an appointment, and preparing necessary documents, including proof of accommodation (very important, you’ll need a lease!), passport, biometric photos, health insurance, and financial means evidence.

From the moment of completing the form online, it takes about a month to hear from the Immigration Department about the appointed day and time when to submit the entire package of documents.

Upon the appointment, additionally to the documents, you also submit biometric data, pay the required fees, and wait for the application to be processed, this is it. If all the documents are in order and nothing is missing, it takes up to 90 days on average to receive an answer (usually approving an applicant).

While waiting for a residence permit, you cannot leave Turkey, unless with a special document for a good reason, up to 15 days. After the year, when the permit expires, you can renew it again if you wish.

It is quite easy to move to Turkey and live in Istanbul, especially if you have a remote job or savings.

What is Daily Life in Istanbul Like?

And now let’s actually talk about daily life in Istanbul. What are living conditions like? What are the living costs in Istanbul like compared to other cities? Is Istanbul safe? And what about the people – are they nice to foreigners? How do they treat Americans living in Istanbul?

Well, I don’t know what type of picture you have in your head about Istanbul but to tell you the truth, life here is very similar to life in any other huge city in the world. Of course, there is its own cultural difference, vibe, and style of architecture. And it is bustling with life and indescribable energy. But being a liberal diverse city, at first sight, Istanbul easily reminds of somewhere in Europe.

Daily life in Istanbul is usually fast-paced, but depending on what you do, it might be quite relaxed too.

life in financial center of Istanbul
Life in the financial center of Istanbul

For example, in Cihangir, Bahcesehir, or Arnavutkoy (and many other neighborhoods, these are just good examples) you won’t be seeing the chaos and hustle that you might see in other neighborhoods like anywhere in Kadikoy on the Asian side or Besiktas, as a lot of people here are usually digital nomads or people from the arts, culture, and entertainment circles, and they don’t really have 9 – 5 jobs, so weekdays here are kind of like weekends as well.

Daily life in this city is never boring -unless you are boring- as it is full of interesting things to see and do, countless hidden gems, and filled with endless possibilities.

If you are American thinking to come and live in Istanbul, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. The most important thing is to choose the right neighborhood where to live as it will define how much you’ll actually enjoy the city. 

Some neighborhoods are stylish and modern while others are old and sort of neglected. You don’t want to end up living next to very religious or radical people. And you don’t want to live among those who don’t have legal status in the country. So that’s important. Read my post about the most unsafe Istanbul areas to know which areas are better to avoid.

Is Istanbul a Good Place to Live?

daily life in Istanbul

Like any destination in the world, Istanbul can be a good and bad place to live. Everything depends on a few factors and they are: 

  • Which part of the city you live in – Turkey is not a homogeneous country, and Istanbul is certainly not a homogeneous city. Living in, say, Beyoğlu is A LOT DIFFERENT than living in a place like Avcılar or Beylikdüzü. As everything is different: the people, the streets, the apartments, the places… It is almost as if you are in a different town. So the concept of “living in Istanbul” changes a lot based on where you live.
  • How much money you are earning – Cost of living in Istanbul is very high, and if you are making enough money, you can enjoy this city with everything it has to offer. But if you don’t, struggling here is never fun. More details on this in the next subheading.
  • What do you mainly look for in this city – Istanbul is a chaotic place of 20 million people (it is officially 15 million, but everyone here knows very well that it is not less than 20 million). It is loud, not exactly very clean, very fast-paced, and can be easily overwhelming, especially for people who are used to living in small cities. So if you come from a small town or a very quiet place with a small population, moving to Istanbul without living anywhere else can be very overwhelming. 
  • Where do you live & where do you work- Istanbul is not just big, it is huge. If you live in one corner of it and work in the other, soon enough it will become very depressing having to deal with all the traffic (which is a big problem here) or the public transport. For example, if you live on the Anatolian side and work in a far corner of the European side, you will have to get up very early every morning – thanks to Turkey not practicing daylight saving time, it will be dark even at 7 am in Winter.

Cost of Living in Istanbul

life in Kadikoy
life in Balat

First of all, the thing you need to know – Istanbul is expensive. In the past, I was actually saying quite the opposite that Istanbul was cheap. But over the years, after living in Istanbul for a while, I can realistically say that it turned into an expensive megapolis. 

Of course, this can be and is being said about a lot of big cities such as Berlin, Paris, London, Vienna, New York etc., but the problem in Istanbul is that there is a lot of inflation in Turkey, and unfortunately money here is becoming less and less valuable every day which also influences prices all the time.

By the time this article was written (mid-January 2024), and happy new year by the way!- a dollar is worth 29.50 Turkish liras. Though this is not as big a problem for foreigners living in the city as it is for the locals, as they are earning money in foreign currency, they can still feel the absurdity of the prices, no matter how economically comfortable they are.

The concept of “living comfortably” varies greatly from person to person and will be based on your lifestyle and currency that your salary is in.

For example, the cost of living in İstanbul for someone who drinks alcohol will be much more than for someone who doesn’t, as alcohol is unfortunately especially expensive here. The same comes for pork products (as pork is not consumed in Turkey and pork products are imported which is why they are quite expensive) or any international goods which have an extra tax imposed on them.

Or the cost would be much higher for you if you like to live in a central area and go out and socialize often.

what is Istanbul like

In any case, just to give an average number, you need to earn around at least 50.000 – 60.000 Turkish liras (that is $1500 – $2000 based on the current currency value) to live without struggling much here (as a single person of course). But even that would not mean a very comfortable life in Istanbul- especially if you like socializing.

I’d say for 2 people you need to have at least $3000 per month to cover all the needs. This amount will be enough for a high quality of life but without anything extraordinary. A bigger part will be spent on rent but the rest should be enough for everything else including occasional eating out and entertainment, some basic medical services, and even a bit of travel via renting a car on some occasions or travel by public transport.

Of course, there are always ways to spend less than that. Some people manage to live in Istanbul even with $1000 per month for 2. But let’s be honest. This is well below the minimum which will be enough to live in the survival mode, not really to enjoy your life in Istanbul. 

Cost of Renting an Apartment

The cost of renting an apartment in Istanbul for the long term depends on many factors. Some of them are the area, the age of the house, the condition of the apartment, availability of gas, the proximity to public transport stops, Bosphorus Strait, or the Marmara Sea. Also, the price depends on whether you need to pay a broker for his/her services or not.

Generally speaking, rent prices in Istanbul these days are really high – though as the new restrictions on Airbnb are taking place now, people think rent prices will be going down as well. (I don’t think they will go down that much, to be honest.)

In the central areas of the city -places like Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş, Şişli, Kadıköy, etc.- a decent 1+1 apartment would be at least 20.000 Turkish liras a month ($678) (the main word here ‘at least’ many apartments of this type are more expensive).

Of course, there is also almost no upper limit, especially in elite neighborhoods such as Cihangir, Nişantaşı, Galata, and Karakoy where you can find 2+1 apartments with rents like 60.000 liras a month ($2000) and more (and that’s outside airbnb, meaning you rent it on a lease).

Obviously, prices for rent of Istanbul homes get cheaper as you move away from the city center and from Istanbul’s Old Town. For example, in Beylikdüzü, which is about 40 kms away from Taksim, you can find decent 2+1 apartments for 10.000 liras monthly ($340). But living there on your own without an expat community will be emotionally challenging.

Cost of Food in Istanbul

cost of food in Istanbul

As there is inflation in the country, the food -as is the case with everything else- is already quite expensive, and the prices don’t look like they are going to drop either.

Your total monthly food bill will depend on your diet and needs. So I can’t tell how much you’ll be spending on food.

However, here are some basic examples of food prices in Istanbul (these might of course be slightly cheaper and much higher in different markets, as the following prices are obtained from Migros, a very popular supermarket chain in Turkey, used a lot in İstanbul as well, neither particularly cheap or expensive):

  • Turkish Bread – 8 TRY ($0,27)
  • 15 eggs- 64 TRY ($2,17)
  • 1 lt of milk – 24 TRY ($0,81)
  • 1 kg of feta cheese – 130 TRY ($4,41)
  • 5 lt water – 25 TRY ($0,85)
  • 1 kg of potatoes – 20 TRY ($0,68)
  • 1 kg of bananas – 29.90 TRY($1)
  • 1 kg of tomatoes – 38.90 TRY($1,3)
  • 1 kg of apples – 35 TRY ($1,19)
  • 1 kg of chicken – 100 – 200 TRY ($3,39 – 6,79)
  • 1 kg of beef – 500 TRY ($16,96)
  • 250 gr filter coffee – 109.90 TRY ($3,73)
  • 1 kg of Turkish tea – 146.90 TRY ($4,99)

Istanbul has a lot of markets where you can buy all of the above products paying a bit less. So if there is a desire to save money, then it is better to buy products on the market but it would be better to know at least some words in Turkish to make sure you are not fooled.

I have another post with all the prices in Istanbul that includes prices on eating out, coffee, drinks, shopping, and various events. Check it out to get a better understanding of what the cost of living in Istanbul is like. 

What Life in Istanbul for Foreigners/Expats Is Like?

In my experience, Istanbul is the best place to live in Turkey if you are a foreigner. I have been all over the country and even lived in Antalya and Bodrum as well as traveled along the entire stretch of the Aegean coast of Turkey, southern Turkey, and in the east. But after all the destinations, I can confidently say that Istanbul is an excellent place where to live.

Of course, the concept of “best city” may depend on your expectations and lifestyle. But in terms of adapting to the culture of a different destination, Istanbul is the easiest as it does not really have a culture of its own.

streets of Karakoy
Istanbul lifestyle

It is so multicultural and so different in various parts (as I have mentioned above) that foreigners can fit in easily in a short time if they are living in central areas.

Here are people from all parts of the world, and Turkey as well. In fact, when you meet Turks here, you will see that a lot of the time they are originally from other parts of Turkey, living in Istanbul. And, as Istanbul is very multicultural and touristic, the people of the country are so much used to foreigners.

But of course, all of this is true generally in central, multicultural areas. In conservative places like Fatih, Kartal, Üsküdar, it might be harder to blend in.

Speaking Turkish is not a necessity, but, the problem is that Turkish people are not usually very good with English. So a lot of the time the people you come across with may have limited speaking ability.

But, as you live here you kind of start making your own circle by connecting with other expats in Istanbul or making friends with Turks, and it won’t take long before you find your comfortable places together with similar-minded people to hang out with.

Pros & Cons of Living in Istanbul

Despite the intensified Islamization of the entire country, Istanbul is a European city. Yes, there are conservative areas here and yes, there are many women wearing hijabs. But there are still beautiful fashionable neighborhoods where women 70+ years old go for a quick walk to the seaside with bright makeup, mini skirts, and stylish haircuts.

There is this Nisantasi neighborhood which is more like the second Paris. Bohemian Cihangir with coffee shops and wine bars where Turkish actors, artists, and musicians live. And then Balat, where at every step you’ll find restaurants, cocktail bars, taverns and the feeling that you are somewhere else in Greece or possibly Georgia country.

Istanbul rightfully deserves the title of one of the most colorful and vibrant cities. And, to speak frankly, everyone who comes here can see anything that he wants to see.

Advantages of Living in Istanbul

Kadikoy from above

As I have mentioned before, Istanbul is a big, multicultural destination that offers all kinds of options to the people living here. It is the type of place where no matter what you like and what you want to do, you can find it here.

Wanna have a fine dining experience in a Michelin-starred restaurant? Done. Want to go see some ancient sites? Easy. Would you like to see a concert or visit a museum/exhibition? There are countless of them! Feeling like spending the night out clubbing or going on a weekend getaway from Istanbul? Pick a place…

Or maybe you just wish to be by nature near Istanbul and have a chill Sunday morning. Then you can go to Prince Islands (Buyukada and Burgazaada being the most famous ones), or Belgrad Forest, or any other place of that kind.

Long story short, Istanbul is the type of city that lets you do whatever you want – provided that you can afford it :).

Another big advantage of living in Istanbul (at least to me) is the weather. There is some snow in winter and rains in late autumn but it never gets unbearably cold.

For the most of the year, it is sunny and warm. Winters in Istanbul are unpredictable and chilly but they are short and still see sunny days. March to May in Istanbul is absolutely gorgeous and one of the best times to be there.

Disadvantages of Living in Istanbul

busy Kadikoy life

I don’t know what I can say here that I haven’t mentioned before. To recap, the main disadvantages of living in Istanbul would be the following:

  • Crowded (might be a big disadvantage for people who don’t like crowded cities)
  • Traffic is bad (there are too many cars and traffic jams that take over the city. You just can never be sure that you will get where you need to by a certain time because traffic jams can happen at any minute!)
  • Pollution
  • People here are smoking from all nooks and crannies. Sometimes they smoke so much that you can’t enjoy your time in a park or cafe, or even when sitting on the balcony of your own apartment because the neighbors smoke nonstop. So the best way is either to adjust and accept it as it is or not to move to Istanbul at all. 
  • Very expensive (the gap between the poor and rich is big enough)
  • Istanbul is noisy. It is one of the biggest cities in the world with a lot going on 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Even if you are living in a soundproof apartment, you can still hear some music, talking, laughing or late-night chit-chats from 1 of the 20 million neighbors. That being said, if you are used to living in a country or a very quiet place, Istanbul is going to disappoint you very fast.
  • All imported goods are taxed, and their final price sometimes doubles. Taxes in Turkey are insanely high and you feel it every time when you go to the grocery store or try to order something online. All foreign products are expensive and you have to stick mainly to Turkish produce to be able to meet the budget.
  • Can be dangerous – certain parts of Istanbul can be very dangerous, especially at night.
  • Some people might be irritating – although there are a lot of friendly people, especially as you move away from the city center. But in central areas, people can get less tolerant and a bit obtrusive (it is very common to ask questions about the amount of the salary you make or what the reason for not having children, for example, etc).

Why Do I Personally Like to Live in Istanbul?

I love living in Istanbul for all the good reasons I have mentioned in this post – it is multicultural, filled with interesting people, it never sleeps, and there are a lot of interesting things to see and do.

Istanbul is so big, complex, sometimes frustrating but always exciting and filled with endless possibilities.

And, aesthetically it is one of the most beautiful and historically rich cities in the world. So, I would definitely not want to live anywhere else in Turkey, as there is no city here that is quite like Istanbul!

More Posts About Istanbul to Get to Know It Better

Other Places Where We Lived & That I Wrote About

Life in Istanbul for foreigners
How is life in Istanbul different from life in other places? Is it a good city for foreigners? Find out in my post! #istanbulturkey #istanbul #nomadlife

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  1. Really cool to read your observations as they seem fair and accurate – me as a Turkish immigrant, find it interesting before venturing on a short term life in Istanbul. Genuinely, Thanks.

      1. Hi Nastya, I don’t like Tbilisi at all. It’s absolutely not my type of a city. It reminds me a lot about life in Ukraine during the 90s. I don’t know if you saw my two other posts about life in Tbilisi and life in Georgia but they tell very well how I feel.
        Istanbul on the contrary has so much to offer literally for any taste and budget. It’s like NYC or London with endless things to do. It also has beautiful nature, access to the sea, lots of museums, cafes, and there is always a lot of action there.
        Tbilisi is much smaller and is rather a monotonous city (as to me). Also, it is not that cheap anymore. That’s a very short answer, I know, but at least to let you know how I feel when comparing them.

  2. Hi Anya,

    Thank you for your personal insight about life in Istanbul, with many things covered and explained. I want to ask if it is safe for a single woman to live there. I personally prefer Kartal, on Asian side but I have not got to visit that part, so if you can give some advice on this, that will be wonderful.

    1. Hi Cecily, overall, Istanbul is a very safe city for everyone, including single females, although in the end everything will depend on the neighborhood where you live and spend most of your time.
      Kartal district is pretty big and has its own nice and not very nice neighborhoods, where exactly do you look to live there? I’ve been to Kartal a few times but mainly to go to the mall and when applying for my residency. On each visit, I’d also spend a day there just walking around and exploring the area. It looked very residential and rather quiet compared to Kadikoy. There are also a few famous universities in Kartal, so it’s a popular place among students.

      So, to make a long story short – Kartal is a good district where to live if you plan to study or work anywhere in that area. You’ll find many apartments for rent there reasonably priced. However, to give you more information, I’d need to know the neighborhood you are interested in.
      Also, consider the fact that not many foreigners live there and most local people don’t speak English, so be ready to immerse in local life. Second, Kartal is really far from touristy parts of Istanbul, it will take you a while to reach Kadikoy, not to mention the European side.

  3. Anya,

    In the last fifteen years, I have lived in Amsterdam, Turin, Melbourne and Brisbane.
    I did not speak Italian before but I picked up the language after studying hard for a few months. I guess I’ll learn some Turkish as well.
    If I aim for expat areas in Istanbul, how likely is it to create a friend circle with other people living away from home?



    1. Hi Ron!

      If you know at least a couple of languages, learning Turkish will not be difficult. Plus the language isn’t hard to learn as many other languages. It has an easy-to-read alphabet, organized structure and consistent phonetic pronunciations.

      In regards to finding friends, I can’t answer with certainty because that depends on the personality. But I can say for sure that there are a lot of expats living in Istanbul and Turkish people are very friendly, building relationships with them is easy.
      Actually, Turkey is the only country where we made friends with random people after meeting them on the street. One time it was near the Suleymaniye mosque when we were walking around and a local girl asked if we needed help. So we started to chat, exchanged contact information and connected very well. She is a dear friend now. The second time it was a worker in a grocery store where we always shopped, the next time an owner of a cafe, another time there was a couple from Iran sitting at a nearby table who asked a question which led to a friendship later… While I am writing this, I am remembering more and more wonderful acquaintances that were easy to make in Istanbul and some of them became friends later! And we happened to meet them when running errands or going for a walk or to a coffee shop.
      I am not saying that you will experience it to the same extent too but overall, meeting people that you can connect with in Istanbul is easy.
      What I can recommend you do is to join some groups on Facebook (like Istanbul for expats or Istanbul for foreigners group). There are usually a lot of foreigners and locals who arrange different meetups and events through those groups and you could join them to build friendships.
      Again, I think Istanbul is the right city where to meet new people and create a circle of friends but it will all depend on how open you are.

  4. I’d like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this website.
    I really hope to view the same high-grade content by you later on as well.
    In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own website now 😉

    1. It all depends on where you live. Some neighborhoods are very conservative, so you definitely need to watch what you wear, who you invite and the lifestyle you lead. But there are many other neighborhoods that are very liberal and where, apart from daily azan, nothing else reminds that you are in a Muslim country.

  5. Anya, I would like to say when you refer to Istanbul being like a European city or Istanbul having a comparable cost of living to a European city, that you may want to qualify that. Based on what you said I assumed you were eastern European and must be comparing it to that part of Europe. In big cities in western and Northern Europe the $1600 that you speak about would not even be enough for housing. This is also the case for many major cities in the U.S. Having spent a lot of time in London and New York city, and Istanbul, Istanbul is not like any other European city nor is it a European city. It is similar in terms of size, urbanity and cosmopolitanness. It’s busy and hectic and crowded like them. In terms of culture, ethnicity and history, it is not Europe. Under the ottomans it conquered parts of Eastern Europe and you can see Eastern European influence on the faces of some people and culture but the overall culture is a diverse and historic one. It is more in line with middle eastern and Greek worlds, with modern expressions as interpreted by Turks. I would not mistake being in Istanbul for being in Belgrade or Warsaw. But yes when I am there I feel I am in another massive vibrant city.

  6. We would love to see your take and an article on best places to go thrifting (clothes, vintage items)! Great writing on Turkey and very informational, looking forward to going back there this year after so many years away.

    1. Hi Michelline, you know, I actually have one post about shopping in Istanbul which I never published, it still sits in my drafts. I plan to update it some time in the nearest future and make it public.
      Thank you for stopping by!

  7. ARE YOU SERIOUS ???? DID YOU JUST DESCRIBE RELIGIOUS PEOPLE LIVING IN ISTANBUL AS RADICAL !!!!!!!!!!!! Shame on you >> Whoever respect locals hecan just stay in his country , Period!

    1. It’s ironic that you stop by to criticize my expression of opinion as disrespectful while not being able to deliver your own comment with respect. You need to learn to read carefully before jumping to conclusions.

      I talk about specific neighborhoods, obviously not about the entire city. And there is a big difference between those who are religious and those with extreme beliefs in Istanbul. Your denial in such a way reveals more about your temper than your actual knowledge and ability to see things how they really are.

      If you have any questions or things to add in an intelligent way, let’s discuss that in a mature discussion that respects different perspectives without resorting to uncontrolled expression of thoughts – that’s the basic standard every intelligent person should aim for.

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