Find out why American expat Bea loves living in Turkey

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Bea Vanni.jpg
Bea Vanni

-Where were you born?
Des Moines, Iowa, USA

-In which country and city are you living now?
Istanbul, Turkey

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I am single, but was previously married and have two adult children.

-How long have you been living in Turkey?
Since November 1998

Istanbul-What is your age?
54

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Turkey?
When I was in the military, my first duty station in 1981 was Langley AFB, VA, and I hated it there; having just come from Sacramento, I felt like I was in a time warp. So, I volunteered to go to Turkey which was the quickest way out.

Needless to say, I fell in love with Turkey from the moment I landed. I have come in and out of Turkey now for over 20 years now, but in 1998, I came to Istanbul on a university contract and stayed here.

Ever since then I have been an unofficial representative for Turkey, lauding her special gifts of history, culture and endearing people; the warmest people I've ever found anywhere. I love Turkey and the style of living.

What's more though, I have become a people and resource connector for anyone wanting to know about or to get things done in Turkey.

I began a blog on Turkey back in February 2006, and continue to get email from people wanting to know more about Turkey or who need help to do something in Turkey.

Istanbul-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Not for me, but then it was over 8 years ago now. Laws and enforcement have changed somewhat since that time. I came in on a tourist visa, even though I already had a contract. At the time the schools processed your papers through the Higher Education and afterwards you were given a residence permit and permission to work through the Foreign Police department. Now, they insist on a work visa before you enter the country to work, but I expect that is still violated most of the time. Many people come in on a tourist visa and leave the country every 90 days and just work for the language schools.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I never did get insurance, although workers can get medical care from their Social Security Hospitals. Thereafter, I had insurance from the universities where I worked. Now that I work for myself, I do not have private insurance, but I do receive care from the VA for my past service-connected maladies.

-How do you make your living in Turkey? Do you have any type of income generated?
I am a copywriter/editor and project developer under my company name RemarkableSolutions.com.

Of course, I do freelance work for businesses needing expert written products or company projects developed.

For my first job here, I was offered a university teaching contract in the Language and Literature Faculty. The following year I moved to another university, and then ultimately went to work for a Rector of yet another university where I worked for three years. After that, I went out on my own to follow my passions a bit more.

I found the job before I came to Turkey by networking online with someone. Others, however, do come to Turkey without a job and find one when they get here. Nowadays, it is more difficult to do so with the schools and universities unless you have been here legally. Most of the language schools still do not seem to sponsor teachers for a work permit, and thus, many foreigners are actually illegally living here. Some do get their resident permit through outside income.

While I came on a contract in 1998, I did not do so when I went to Izmir in 1995. Then, there were only language schools where foreigners were hired because there were no private universities like there are today. I just came and interviewed with several places and accepted one. Those were the easier days of finding a job because not that many foreigners were coming to Turkey. I had a job the day after I landed.

Before I came in 1998, there was only Dave's ESL Café to find jobs and connect with others doing the same. Since I became an expert of sorts on job hunts through past experience, I knew how to find a job in any market. In 1995, Turkey always had language schools which need native speakers of English. In 1998, after I had been here a year, I just applied to different places, the same as one does in the U.S.

-Do you speak Turkish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
While I am not fluent in Turkish, I can do most everything I need to in Turkish. It is important to speak a little at least to move around comfortably without assistance and to take part in society. Language classes are expensive here and many pick up their Turkish on the street.
Especially now with tensions rising in Turkey, it is necessary and always has been to respect the customs of your host country.

Common sense and respect for others should dictate behavior. While observing local customs is not a mandate, the longer you live in Turkey, the more some things become part of your life. Religious holidays may not be observed if you are not Muslim, but hospitality should always be offered to your neighbors and friends. You should take off your shoes before entering a home, and greet people as they are accustomed. Learn some of the frequent sayings which Turks have many.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I do miss home when it comes to family but then I have been away for a long time. After all, I am the gypsy in my family. Also, I long to be understood the first time and where everyone understands exactly what I say. I miss book stores especially, and the ease with which most anything can be done in America. I miss American houses with double kitchen sinks and nice bathrooms. I miss living in a house or duplex. Conversely, I love the balconies that come with most Turkish apartments and the tea shops where I can sit with some tea and a book or writing paper.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
I continue to work on building my client base and hope for more income. I have many projects I work on to increase business, and desire to do more with a non-profit. I will present a paper in October at an NGO conference, and a lot of time is taken up trying to learn new technology tools, tips and tricks for my blog and website. I have been asked to write a column for a local paper.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home?
I still rent, and expect to continue doing so. I have owned 3 homes but it stresses me to do so. When I was at the university, I had been saving to buy a summer house where I could live all year round; but when I began my own business, I needed my savings to take the plunge. Now, prices have increased so much that I doubt I will be able to buy one any time in the future. There are still good buys here, but you must look carefully and then be aware of all the pitfalls that come with buying a place in Turkey.

Prices on apartments here in Istanbul can be quite high in many areas, but if you want a decent place in the lesser known areas, you can get something acceptable from around 80,000 YTL, about $60K and up. These are apartments, though, because few people live in houses, although that's changing slowly. There are large differences from one area to another throughout Turkey

-What is the cost of living in Turkey?
In Istanbul, you can drop a lot each month because it always goes up and never comes down. Apartments span the gamut depending on area and age of the place. Almost monthly, your bills can change. All decent places have an apartment fee (aidat) of 30 YTL up and increases annually. Heating is very expensive as most share the bill with others in the apartment, so in high season 150 YTL probably the lowest amount. Monthly basic phone service is around $10 but each call is charged. ADSL for 256/64 is about $37 getting about 24 Mbps, but cable TV is a low $10 for two months. For one person, water runs about $10 per month, electric around $25 per month, and where a gas tube is still used for cooking in many places without natural gas runs about $35. A water heater heats water for both the bathroom and kitchen which is reflected on your electric and water bills.

-What do you think about the Turkish people?
Turkey has changed a lot in the past couple of years especially due to the Iraq War. Turks, however, have always been known for their hospitality and friendliness. They have always liked foreigners and will take every opportunity to communicate. There are some places now becoming less foreigner-friendly and where you may think twice of going alone into some areas. Overall, though, there seems to be a general disrespect for each other out on the streets. It does not matter whether it is in traffic, walking on the sidewalk, shopping, standing in a line to wait your turn, etc., there is little respect.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Turkey?
The land, the culture, the people all stand as diversity in the essence of the words. The land is broken down into very different areas serving up an array of sights and sounds in each area. The culture is as different as day and night from one area of the country to the other as are the people. You cannot beat the warmth of the Turkish people and openness to help out when asked.

On the negative side, most systems do not work and not because they can't. It is strenuous doing the simplest thing, such as moving and changing your utilities. No phones calls can get you set up in your new place. You must disconnect everything from one end and connect from the other, so it takes numerous days to get this accomplished.

Government works at a snail's pace for everything, and graft and corruption is still present everywhere in the country. The city roads and sidewalks are continually torn up with no attention given to why or when and the cost affixed to it. Traffic lights are just fixtures to decorate and not obey, as is enforcement lacking for most every law imaginable.
Education is sorely missing the element of educating. When it comes to money, don't ever give what you don't want to get back and this goes double for your monthly bills. They have no system that gives you credit for overpayment. And on and on and on.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Turkey?
For the expats living in Turkey, don't forget why you came here and try to enjoy what's around you. Remember you're the guest in this country. You're the yabanci. Living an expat life can be enjoyable, but it is after all still part of life.

The day-to-day grind can become unbearable anywhere you live and may be even more so here, because as foreigners we are used to everything working fairly well and easy access to services, but here, it can be a major event for the day and very time-consuming to get the simplest thing done. Don't expect it to be something it's not and try to offer improvement in your own small ways.

For those who plan to move here, know why you have chosen Turkey and become familiar with the unseen beforehand. It is the unseen that will annoy you into packing up again and going elsewhere, such as all the things you must do just to rent an apartment, get a residence permit, pay bills, or simply travel on the bus from point A to point B.

Be mindful of the type of life you want to live and check it out first hand. Turkey is not for everybody, and the days of old are all but gone. Don't believe everything everyone tells you because it can change tomorrow or be different for each person. Don't take legal advice from the armchair lawyers. Don't try to cut corners if buying a place, hire expertise by referral of a non-native, and don't be duped by being foreigner-ignorant in work and apartment contracts.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Turkey?
 I have a business website for my writing and editing services at www.remarkablesolutions.com.

You can check out my blog for all my favorite Turkey blogs, but if you want to learn all about blogging, go to the Blog Squad at www.bloggingandbeyond.com.

It was great to read, thanks

Deniz Kite's picture

It was great to read, thanks

from an ex-expat

Guests's picture

It is not for everybody to live an expat life but Bea, you are doing wonderfull. I wish we will spend more time together enjoying the beauties of Istanbul.
Berna

Hello from Florida!

Corinne Karisma's picture

Hello Ms. Vanni,
Thank you for the great information. My Turkish husband, Ismet, and I are in the planning stages of moving to Kas.
I've been looking into English certification programs to teach English when we move. Since there are so many to sift through if you know one program that's better than another, I would greatly appreciate the advise. I look forward to seeing your future adventures!
With warm regards,
Corinne Karisma

Living in Turkey

ErinArts's picture

I have been to Antalya twice now and have learned that there are teaching positions open there as well as in Istanbul. However, I have not been able to contact anyone and get any type of response. I am a single senior. I have an AA in Business, am working on my BA in Organizational Management. Like you Bea, I am in my 50s, single, and whenever I am here in the US I am missing Turkey. I fly there by myself and some people think that is really risky, but I have never been treated badly even though I am not Muslim and am a Christian. Respect and courtesy seem to go a long ways.

I have been told by Turkish women friends that the men in Turkey think American women will sleep with anyone. Does this explain why they are flirtatious with a woman in her 50s or is it the desire for a good tip? I was written love letters by the chef and the hotel manager at one hotel. I was very unhappy about this.

I want to live in my own apartment but wonder if there is any place for private tutoring in Antalya that you know of? And can it be done in my apartment? I am just trying to get a feel for what are the wisest steps to take and I want to protect myself from any further embaressment. Any words of wisdom? ErinArts

Husna Eissa hey Bea i'm

Hosna's picture

Husna Eissa
hey Bea i'm hosna from EGYPT ...

it was really very interesting interview :) i really enjoyed it and i wish to visit turkey soon :(