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Turkey Expat Health Insurance Guide

Turkey, over the years, has been somewhat tainted by the conflict of bordering Syria and Iraq. However, the people of Turkey remain as welcoming and warm as ever, with expats feeling instantly at home in the country that is a merging of Europe and Asia. Whether a solo expat, or travelling with a family, there are towns and cities throughout the diverse country that will suit all lifestyles.

Whether you’re moving to Turkey with your employer to tackle new tasks in Istanbul, or want to experience a completely different way of life in remote coastal village, there is a lot to learn about the country before your aeroplane lands on the tarmac.

Climate

europe-1803495_1920Many assume that, due to Turkey’s location, the weather conditions stay relatively temperate throughout the year. However, due to its diverse geography, from mountains to coastline, there are significant differences region to region. A general rule of thumb is that the coastal areas enjoy warmer weather annually, whereas the inland Anatolia plateau has bitterly cold winters and hot summers.

Starting in the south, the Mediterranean coast of Turkey is championed for its hot summers and mild winters. Antalya is Turkey’s number one coastal holiday destination and often known as the Turkish Riviera. Due to the mountain ranges that skirt the south of Turkey, Antalya is protected from cold northerly winds. Summer temperatures average 28°C and there is barely any rainfall from June to September. January and February are the coldest months on the southern coast, dipping to around 10°C.

The Aegean region of Turkey is to the west and contains the popular city and destination of Izmir. With the Aegean Sea on the doorstep, the area benefits from hot summers, sunny autumns, warm winters, and fresh springs. Luckily, the sea breezes help the summers feel cooler than they are, and the Western Taurus mountains act as a protective shield from winds in the winter.

In contrast, South East and East Turkey have relentless winters with heavy snowfall. The average annual temperature is a chilly 9°C, with winter temperatures dipping to -13°C and summer peaking at only 17°C. However, there have been freak occurrences where summers have seen 38°C and winters have witnessed -43°C; the climate is not easy to read. In the deepest South Eastern Anatolian areas, winters are much less harsh, but are considerably wetter.

Central Anatolia (Central Turkey) suffers with drastic changes in season, similar to the unusual occurrences experienced in the South East. This is due to having a mix of continental and steppe climates, which are characterised by cold winters and warm summers, and also a great drop in temperature at night. Ankara, the nation’s capital, is located in this region and enjoys hot and dry summers, and snowy winters.

Heading to the North East of Turkey is the Marmara region. Home to Istanbul, this coastal region has slightly cooler (but very similar) weather to that of the Mediterranean area in the south. Summer in Marmara tends to run from June to September, with July providing the hottest temperatures, regularly reaching over 30°C. Winter really kicks in around mid-December, with temperatures getting to their lowest – at around 2°C – in January and February.

Lastly, the northern region of Turkey is home to 1700km of coastline and the Black Sea. It is visually different to the majority of Turkey; fertile, luscious, and green. The whole Black Sea region is very popular with holiday makers due to the miles of golden coastline and appealing summer temperatures around 28°C.

  Antalya Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days

JanFebMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug SepOctNov Dec
Temp °C101113162025282725201512
Rainy Days111098631126812

  Izmir Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days

JanFebMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug SepOctNov Dec
Temp °C8911151924262623181410
Rainy Days1211109647656913

Ankara Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days

JanFebMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug SepOctNov Dec
Temp °C-1151013172020171151
Rainy Days66912129545899

Istanbul Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days

JanFebMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug SepOctNov Dec
Temp °C66812162224242116128
Rainy Days1412131196348101317

Culture

turkeyAlthough Turkey declares itself as a secular state, the majority of its population are Muslim. This continues to cause problems as secularists and those who follow Islam argue over women’s rights and whether wearing the hijab, niqab, and burka should be banned

Generally, the Turkish people are warm and welcoming, and always ready to welcome expats and holidaymakers. Upon learning your name, you will notice that you are referred to as Sarah Hanim or Adam Bey. It is not considered rude to use the first name in Turkey and, when referring to somebody else, try to use the correct male or female suffix as a mark of respect.

You may find yourself invited to birthdays and weddings, but don’t be surprised if you are a guest at a circumcision celebration or two. They are a rite of passage for seven and eight-year-old boys in Turkey, who are dressed up as sultans and considered to be taking the first step from boyhood to manhood. You are invited to take the guest of honour a present, but do not be surprised if it gets put to one side, they tend not to be opened in front of guests and cash gifts are the norm if you are stumped for ideas.

If you are invited to a Turk’s house, it is best to say hos bulduk upon entering, to let them know that you feel welcomed. At this point, you will probably be given a pair of slippers as wearing shoes in the house is unacceptable. If invited for a meal, attend hungry! The Turkish love to feed their guests and, to show appreciation to the cook, state elinize saglik – this means health to your hands and is verbal appreciation of a good meal.

Language

Unlike many countries around the world which utilise countless languages, things are relatively simply in Turkey. The official language is Turkish, which is the mother tongue of approximately 85% of the entire population. Minority languages of Turkey include Kurdish, Arabic, and Zazaki. Interestingly, up until 2013, it was prohibited to teach any other language to Turkish children in schools. Today, however, learning Kurdish, Laz, Abkhaz, or Adyghe is an option for children in the fifth year and onwards.

Luckily, despite a number of grammar rules that can be a little tricky to master, Turkish is mostly a phonetic language. In the larger cities, you will regularly hear English, German, French, and Italian. The majority of city-dwellers are some level of multi-lingual, which is extremely helpful. However, if you want to start the ball rolling with picking up some basic Turkish terms, check them out below.

British PhraseTurkish Phrase
HelloMerhaba
How are you?Nasilsin?
I am fine, thankyouIyiyim
YesEvet
NoYok hayir
PleaseLutfen
ThankyouTesekkur ederim
GoodbyeGule gule

We have included the translation for the word “no”, but you will rarely hear it in Turkey. Turkish people do not like saying no, it is part of their culture. Instead, they will have a roundabout way of saying it, without ever actually saying it. However, there is a gesture for no. If you see anybody flicking their head upwards and clicking their tongue, this means no.

Transportation

Expats are more than welcome to purchase or hire a car when living in Turkey and the road network is extensive and well maintained, with plenty of signs to follow. There are also countless petrol stations, most of which are 24 hour, but gas is incredibly expensive due to tax rates. Furthermore, foreigners are warned that Turkish drivers are infamously reckless and drive by their own rules, which results in the country having one of the world’s highest road traffic accident rates. Utilising public transport is often the safest and most purse-friendly option for expats.

Those living in the cities of Ankara, Burse, Izmir, or Istanbul will benefit from access to underground metro systems. To ride, you need to purchase a jeton (transport token) for 2 lira, which is equal to around 41p. You simply insert it into the ticket barrier and use one of the many route maps dotted about in each station.

There are also eleven towns and cities in Turkey with tram systems. The first opened in Istanbul in 19992. Due to its success, they began being added to towns and cities throughout the country. Despite being relatively new, ticket prices are similar to that of the metro and public buses.

Buses are also a popular mode of transport in Turkey, but tickets (bilet) must be purchased in advance from special ticket kiosks and cost around 2 lira. You will be able to find ticket kiosks at bus terminals and interchange points, and sometimes in shops near bus stops. The buses in Turkey tend to be of a similar standard as European public buses.

Dolmus are minibuses or large shared taxis which run around cities, or between towns and villages in more rural areas. They are often more comfortable and quicker than public buses but are slightly more expensive. You will be able to find dolmus stops in cities by finding signs with ‘D’ written on them. Outside of the cities, you simply hail one down and inform the driver of when you want to get off. Saying inecek var indicates to the drive that somebody wants to get out.

Taxis are available throughout the towns and cities of Turkey and they are all fitted with digital meters. You should always make sure that your driver starts his meter before setting off. If he fails to do so, get out of the taxi and find another. The only exception is when a taxi firm runs a flat fee, such as to an airport or popular tourist destination. For this journey you will agree upon a price beforehand and the meter will remain off. If you ever have any issues with taxi drivers in Turkey (there have been cases of abuse against foreigners) try and take the number plate of the vehicle and report the incident to the police.

Healthcare

Public healthcare in Turkey was once substandard compared to that in Europe and North America. However, to try and keep up with fantastic private facilities, the private sector has begun the improvement process. However, some public clinics and hospitals still leave little to be desired, especially in the more rural areas of Turkey. For this reason, the vast majority of expats go to private medical facilities.

Private hospitals are making a name for themselves in Turkey, with many flocking to the country for cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and fertility treatment. Making an appointment is very easy as most staff in private facilities speak English. Expats will notice that, as well as excellent standards of care, private hospitals are considerably cheaper in Turkey than elsewhere in Europe.

Most expats will also have access to a 24-hour pharmacy (eczane) where a lot of prescription medicines can be administered over the counter by a pharmacist, and are cheap to buy.

Expats who have lived in Turkey for over a year, and have paid taxes, are entitled to public healthcare. However, most tend to opt for an international healthcare insurance policy so that they can attend private facilities instead.

Money

The official currency of Turkey is the Turkish Lira which is often represented as TRY or ₺. Each lira is divided into 100 kurus. Lira notes come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 2000. There are also 1 lira coins and kurus available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50.

Turkey has a strong banking system and expats can choose from a number of international and local banks. However, expats moving to Turkey on an employment package will not be able to choose their own bank as employers expect expats to open a bank account with the same company so that everything remains with one bank.

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One of the most popular banks amongst expats in Turkey is Garanti. It offers a full range of services for expats and is also championed for having staff who speak a wide range of languages. Expats relocating from EU countries may benefit from banking with Isbank and Akbank are another popular option as they also provide an extensive range of expat banking services.

However, there are a number of foreign banks in Turkey including HSBC, Citibank, and Deutsche Bank.

Schooling

Education is compulsory for children in Turkey aged between six and thirteen. Both primary and secondary facilities are funded by the government so children (both Turkish and foreign) can benefit from a free education before going on to attend university if they wish.

Primary schools operate very similarly to those throughout Europe. Classes run from Monday to Friday and days are split into a morning and afternoon session, split by lunch. High school is very much the same, but children can attend a general, vocational, or technical school. Children in state secondary schools will be awarded the Lise Diplomasi Diploma, which entitles them to take part in nationwide exams for university entry.

Although the state education facilities are similar to those throughout Europe, there are disparities in the standard of teaching between schools. Furthermore, the language of instruction in all classes is Turkish, which can be incredibly daunting for children who have no experience with the language. In some government funded schools, teachers and children are bilingual, but most parents tend to send their children to private or international schools so that they are comfortable and their progress isn’t halted.

Parents sending their children to private schools in Turkey will have to pay fees, but these are much less than those of international schools. Foreign children will need to take a general exam to determine whether they are allowed to study at the school. However, parents must be aware that their children will be taught in Turkish and following the Turkish national curriculum.

Foreign children will undoubtedly pick up the Turkish language overtime but many parents choose to send their children to international schools so that they can follow the curriculum of their home country and be taught in a language they understand. At most international schools, Turkish language and culture lessons will be commonplace, so children will be able to integrate into society. Fees for international schools are very expensive but, in Turkey, it is the best option for foreign children who do not know the language.

Food & Drink

Before discussing the culinary offerings of Turkey, expats need to know that Turks covet their beverages. It is completely normal for citizens to drink over 10 cups of black tea per day. Ayran is a cold alternative (yoghurt with water and salt) and, of course, you cannot move for Turkish coffee.

Turkish cuisine takes influences from different cooking styles of Jewish and Greek citizens, to those from Central Asia and the Middle East. Each region of Turkey has its own way of doing things but you will often see meals containing rice, kofte, kebab, aubergines, yoghurt, and salad strewn with olives and cheese.

Turkish people love to eat home cooking, so do not be surprised to be invited to many meals when you move to the country. Often you will experience an array of hot and cold meze. Essentially the table will be strewn with countless dishes containing main dishes, rice, dips, breads, and salads. Sometimes it is used as a main meal, or an appetiser. Some popular meze dishes include sigara borek (deep-fried cheese-stuffed pastries), marinated hamsi (anchovies), zeytinygali (vegetables in olive oil), and salatasi (smoked aubergine puree).

Kebabs are big business in Turkey, but are far from the greasy offering we have in the UK. The adana (spicy) and urfa (not spicy) are both made with hand-minced meat mixed with chili and cooked on a metal skewer. Another popular option is the iskender kebab; long strips of lamb cooked in tomato sauce and served over rice and pita bread with yoghurt. Chicken kebabs (tavuk cis) and doner sandwiches are also favourites and served with vegetables.

One of the most famous dishes aside from kebabs and kofte is manti. What looks like filled ravioli is actually small dumplings filled with flavoursome minced meat. Heaped steaming into a bowl, the manti is traditionally topped with yoghurt, melted butter, and spices.

After a meal, you are likely to be faced with one of a few sweet treats. The famous baklava (layers of crispy pastry laden with pistachio paste and sugar syrup) is cooked throughout households and restaurants the length and breadth of Turkey.

There are some popular milk based deserts that grace many dinner tables. Muhallebi and sutlac are both types of rice pudding, whereas tavuk gogsu is a thick creamy pudding to which (somewhat questionably) chicken breast is added to give it a chewy texture. If nothing pleases your palette, why not try one of the hundreds of varieties of Turkish delight available in shops throughout the towns and cities?

Safety

Bordered by both Syria and Iraq, it is unsurprising that there is a high threat of terrorism imposed upon the country. Travel within 10km of the borders of both neighbouring countries, in the south east of Turkey, is not advised.  There have been attacks in Ankara and Istanbul in recent years and, although the Turkish state are the target, innocent locals, expats, and holidaymakers have been caught up in the chaos.

Although travel to Turkey is not prohibited, expats and holidaymakers should be incredibly vigilant and avoid travelling to the likes of Sirnak, Mardin, Salinurfa, Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Kilis, and Hatay provinces.

Crime rates in Turkey are relatively low and expats remain largely unaffected. Like any popular tourist areas in countries around the world, muggings and pickpocketing are commonplace and foreigners should take normal precautions to protect themselves.

Expats and visitors alike will notice that the Turkish people are extremely welcoming. However, at times this can be taken too far when it comes to some Turkish men and their interactions with foreign women. The majority of Turkish men are respectful to women but some believe that Western women are promiscuous and throw lewd comments at them. There have been a number of reports of sexual harassment against foreign women in Turkey so it is best to avoid going out alone, especially in the dark.

Places to Visit

With magnificent cities, golden coastline, ancient relics, and incredible food, there is little that Turkey is lacking. Whatever you want to experience, there will be a location in the country that can offer it to you, from the quiet beaches in the north to the Mediterranean bliss of the south.

Ankara

If living in Turkey, you must pay a visit to the capital city of Ankara. It is a modern city, home to foreign embassies and commercial businesses, and yet the architecture echoes the past. It is rich with museums, including the popular Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, and is a fantastic location for foreigners to learn about Turkey’s history.

Istanbul

The largest city in Turkey and the only one in the world to straddle two continents, Istanbul is impressive. It has everything that a modern metropolis should, from historic sites and palpable nightlife, to designer shopping and magnificent period architecture. However, Istanbul does retain much of its heritage in what is known as The Old City.

The Black Sea Region

Aside from a few seaside towns, much of Northern Turkey’s Black Sea coastline remains untouched. Between July and August you will undoubtedly see a handful of holidaymakers but the craggy shores remain relatively empty, and visitors can explore the ancient sites with ease.

Cappadocia

Located in Central Anatolia, the other-worldly Cappadocia resembles a landscape out of a Jurassic Park movie. The hills and valleys are distorted with peculiarly shaped pinnacles of rock which are a result of millions of years of erosion. Byzantine churches, shops, and homes are nestled into the valleys but, the best way to witness Cappadocia is from a hot air balloon.

The South Aegean

Holidaymakers swarm to the likes of Marmaris, Kusadasi, and Bodrum in the summer months, lapping up the rays on Turkey’s Aegean coast. However, aside from being a fantastic location for sun, sea, and sand, the region has historical relics, such as Ephesus, which date back hundreds of thousands of years.

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