· istanbul · 7 min read

What’s It Like to Live In Istanbul?

Discover the vibrant city of Istanbul and what it's like to live there.

istanbul bosphorus bridge large

Istanbul is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, but what is it like to live in Istanbul? Here we’ll talk about everything you need to know before you decide to move to Istanbul.

So, what is it like to live in Istanbul? You will never get bored with the nightlife, history, shopping, or food in Istanbul. Crime against foreigners is low, but the amount of traffic is very high. Turkish hospitality will more than make up for it. Istanbul is very affordable for expats, although Turkish salaries are lower.

We'll discuss the positive and negative elements of living in Istanbul so you can decide if living in Istanbul is right for you.

Why Should You Move to Istanbul

Istanbul was the center of the world for centuries. Its position on trade routes meant that it was touched by nearly every culture over the years. You can still see the evidence of this in the varied architecture, the diversity of its shops and restaurants, and the hospitality of its people.

Now, Istanbul is the bridge between Europe and Asia, with a large airport hub that makes travel easy. With Turkish Airlines, you can fly anywhere in the world or have family fly to you. This is a huge draw for the city's expat population.

Istanbul is a city of 17 million people, all with different backgrounds. You'll find ex-pats, students, Turks, Europeans, Americans, refugees, and more all blended in this metropolitan center.

The plethora of people has meant more houses being built and fewer green spaces, like most cities around the world. But it also means access to the highest paying jobs in Turkey.

In fact, entrepreneurs will thrive in Istanbul with all of the gaps in the market, like English-speaking cleaning services.

Expats or digital nomads able to work on a Western salary will find Istanbul incredibly affordable. As of 2020, the Turkish Lira is worth $1 USD equals over 7.50 Turkish Lira; you'll be able to afford significantly more than you would be able to back home.

The main reason people move to Istanbul is to experience the vibrance of the city. Living in Istanbul is like living in a mini country, with every neighborhood like a new city for you to discover. Some areas are heavily religious; others are laxer.

You'll find neighborhoods with Asian influences and European influences. Some areas are predominantly expat or English-speaking, while others only speak Turkish.

Whether you're looking for cultural or financial wealth, Istanbul is full of opportunities.

Is Istanbul Affordable to Live in?

Istanbul is the most expensive city in Turkey. Although it's not the capital, like Toronto or New York City, it is a cultural mecca with a flourishing business district. This draws millions of residents to the city, driving up prices and leading to its rapid urban expansion.

Turkish salaries are significantly lower than European or American salaries, especially when you factor in the lower exchange rate. Digital nomads and expats with Western jobs can live very well in Istanbul.

You can find a 500 square foot apartment in a desirable district for $500/month. Upgrade to a 750 square foot apartment with high ceilings and a terrace for $1000/month.

If you are on a budget, you can find shared apartments for $150/month. However, the further you go from the downtown core, the more affordable the city becomes.

Many Turkish people struggle to live in Istanbul due to the cost of living.  The average monthly salary in Istanbul is the equivalent of $820 USD. If you are planning on living off your Turkish wages, you will need to consider your industry and location approximate to the downtown districts.

The cost of living in Istanbul is fairly low. On average, individuals spend $610 USD per month. However, this will drastically increase if you are frequenting the city's expensive restaurants and nightclubs or if you need to purchase a car. Cars are imported from abroad, giving them a hefty markup in Turkey. 

Be careful of city scams or you will unknowingly be driving up your cost of living. Istanbul has a widely known issue with taxis trying to swindle tourists. Avoid any taxi without a meter or who claims to be taking you sightseeing, as they will drastically overcharge you.

Restaurants will try to overcharge you. Only go to restaurants with listed prices and be clear about the price of everything, including the "free" bread they offer at the beginning of the meal. Avoid restaurants in tourist districts like Sultanahmet and Taksim where they raise prices for tourists.

Overall, Istanbul is very affordable for foreigners, especially if you are living on a Western salary. Avoid scams that will drive up your cost of living and move away from the city center to keep your costs low. 

Pros and Cons of Living in Istanbul

Now you know how affordable living in Istanbul is, but you still need to know the pros of living in the city. What can it offer you that would make you want to live here?

If you ask anyone from Istanbul what the best thing about living in Istanbul is, they'll always answer one of two ways: the Turkish people or the culture.

We've already discussed the city's amazing culture. You'll find a mosque beside a church beside a famous bazaar, all on a beautiful old street. More so, you'll find a blend of cultures in their food and nightlife. Need your Irish pub fix? You'll find it alongside a Turkish disco and a tourist bar. 

Turkey is famous for its hospitable people. They welcome dozens of cultures into their country over the centuries, so it makes sense that they find it easy to open their arms to strangers.

You'll find it very easy to make friends and get help while living in Istanbul. The people are always prepared to give directions or invite you over for tea with their family moments after meeting you.

Although this hospitality can be found around Turkey, Istanbul has the added bonus that many of its citizens speak multiple languages. You'll find more English speakers in Istanbul than elsewhere in the country.

Istanbul is incredible, but like any city, it has its negatives. The main negative? The traffic.

Istanbul is famous for its horrible traffic. This is because the rules of the road are more of a suggestion in Turkey. Cars don't stop for pedestrians or cyclists, and they come to a standstill on the city's bridges.

Be sure to plan extra time for your commutes across the city.

Tips for Living in Istanbul 

Istanbul, like any city, has its pros and cons. The rich cultural history and a plethora of activities mean that you'll never get bored, but you'll have to combat the traffic.

If you decide that you want to live in Istanbul, here are some tips to help make the transition easier:

1. Plan to Learn Some Turkish

Although Istanbul has the most English speakers in Turkey, not everyone is fluent. It's easier to live in Istanbul if you know some Turkish. Plan to learn a few phrases or take a language class when you move.

2. Skip the Car and Take the Metro

Traffic is one of the biggest cons of moving to Istanbul. The long traffic jams burn a lot of gas and, with car prices already high, it’s not worth the expense. Skip the car and plan to take the metro system or walk.

The metro is significantly cheaper than paying for parking and gas. You can put your savings towards the next tip.

Note: It isn't safe to cycle in certain parts of Istanbul.

3. Factor Cultural Events and Shows Into Your Budget

Istanbul is the cultural hub of Turkey. You'll find festivals, concerts, shows, and other events in the city all year round.

Don't miss out on experiencing the incredible culture by not factoring it into your budget ahead of time. Save money with the metro and you'll be able to have more fun nights in Istanbul. 

4. There's No "Night" in Istanbul

That's not to say that there's no nightlife. Istanbul has a very lively nightlife. However, nearly everything in Istanbul is open late.

You'll find clothing shops, grocery stores, and cafes open later than most of Western Europe. Restaurants stay open late around the city so partygoers can get a meal before heading home from their night out.

5. Istanbul Has Four Seasons

People assume that Istanbul is an eternally hot desert, but there's actually no desert in Istanbul.

Istanbul gets all four seasons, although their winter is less frigid than those in North America. You can expect snow from January to mid-February before the country begins to warm up for summer.

Pack accordingly or plan to buy some seasonal clothing at one of the city's many shops. 

Closing Thoughts

Istanbul is an incredible city to live in, where you will always find new things to do. Although traffic and tourist scams can put people off living in Istanbul, it's very affordable. Consider living outside of the city center to live among the locals and get a real taste for what it's like to live in Istanbul.

Expats will love the low cost of living and the multicultural feel of the city. The friendly Turkish people will quickly make you feel at home. You'll never regret living in Istanbul.