A Travel Writer in Istanbul Shares Her Experiences

The hidden gems in Istanbul are just part of what Helen appreciates about living in Turkey. She works as a writer and editor for an online travel guide, and here she describes why she fell in love with the city and decided to stay. She also gives some tips on things to do and learn in Istanbul.

Helen Simpson

-Where were you born?

South Africa, but I grew up in New Zealand.

-In which country and city are you living now?

Istanbul, Turkey.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I am living with friends.

-How long have you been living in Turkey?

1.5 years.

-What is your age?


-When did you come up with the idea of living in Turkey?

I was travelling through Turkey and stopped in Istanbul. I fell for the city instantly and decided to stay. 

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

Residence permits are relatively easy to get, just expensive and a bit of bureaucracy to deal with.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?


-How do you make your living in Turkey? Do you have any type of income generated?

I am working as a writer and editor for online Istanbul travel guide, http://www.myistanbulinfo.com, though before that I was teaching English and doing some freelance work editing. It is relatively easy to find a job here if you are a native English speaker; there are plenty of jobs going all the time; English language schools are always posting job offers on websites like Craigs List. 

-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

I speak conversational Turkish... I have no problem getting by in everyday situations, though it is more difficult to have an intellectual conversation! Although most Turks speak English, I think it is important to learn some Turkish out of respect for the local culture. It also helps you understand Turkish culture better. 

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.

Of course! But overall I am very happy in Istanbul. There is plenty to do in this mega-city; I love to take time to explore places I haven't been, or to revisit some of the most spectacular historical sites. Trying all the delicious Turkish food (especially the street food) is a major part of life in Istanbul- it's just too good! Istanbul is also a major cultural hub, with concerts, art galleries, museums and other artistic endeavours constantly on the go. 

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Not for now.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I am renting a room in a shared house. Rooms in my area, which is popular with both locals and expats, range from about 200 Euro - 400 Euro/month including bills. A 2 bedroom apartment averages about 500 Euro/month in my area.

-What is the cost of living in Turkey?

Higher than I anticipated. It really depends on where you live, and what you eat. It is possible to live cheaply here, but it takes a bit of research. 

-What do you think about the locals?

Turks are, on the whole, amazing people; very friendly and hospitable, especially towards foreigners. They will often go out of their way for you. 

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Turkey?

Positives: The food, people, landscape, way of life. 

Negatives: It can be chaotic and hectic at times, especially in Istanbul. The crazy drivers and uneven pavements also get to me! 

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Turkey?

Make the effort to really get to know the backstreets and little visited areas of Turkey; you'll find some true hidden gems.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Turkey?

I am the editor of online Istanbul guide, http://www.myistanbulinfo.com, which is a fantastic source of information designed for expats, travellers and locals in Istanbul. 

Craig's List (http://istanbul.tr.craigslist.com.tr) is also a popular site for finding accommodation, jobs and for trading.  

Turkey gets under the skin,

Gerrit's picture

Turkey gets under the skin, isn't it?

I have lived in 7 countries by now (including native country) but Turkey was by far the most unique experience. I would have never left again if it wasn't for working permit issues. You rely on the employer keeping their promise, you cannot request the permit yourself. It was heartbreaking to leave, but I promised myself to return to the Middle East as soon as I could. Unfortunately then the economic crisis came and working permits become harder and harder to get. If you know employers who do recruit multilinguals with customer service experience (I speak Dutch-English-French-German and have 7 years experience with call center work anc customer service) and who do arrange working permits, please tell me!! I would LOVE to move back to Turkey. I write poetry and articles, which is what I hope to do professionally someday ; for now any stepping stone back to the Middle East, even if just a call center, would be great.

Istanbul, my love... The walks by Bostanci Beach, dinner under the shadow of the Sultanahmet mosque, getting lost in the Beyazit Grand Bazar, the countless little alleys, the waterfront in Besiktas and Ortaköy, the vibrant evening life of Kadiköy. Istanbul got under my skin from the first moment and I think it's a love that is unlikely to disappear. And I fully agree: the Turks are amazingly friendly people. Western Europeans could learn a lot from them when it comes to solidarity.