teaching English in Turkey

I loved living and working in Turkey.  It is a fascinating country that merges both Western and Eastern cultures which makes life there both more challenging and interesting.  I also enjoyed working in both Ankara and Istanbul which are very different from each other.

Ankara is the capital city of Turkey.  Most of the jobs for Turks there are civil jobs.  As such most people earn the same amount of money.  Maybe because of this and because of the type of person who is drawn to working for the government, Ankara even by its own citizens is described as “boring, but easy to live in”.  It has good public transportation that normally is not too over-crowded and the standard of living is good.  It’s also often possible to live within walking distance to your job.

Most English teaching jobs in Ankara will be in Kizilay.  Kizilay is considered the hub of Ankara.  It’s where the main bus stop and the subway merge.  It is also where quite a few of the government buildings are.  Kizilay is also where more of the night life is, so if you like being close to clubs and restaurants it is the place for you.  If you don’t want to be in the middle of everything then there are areas such as Dikmen, Kavaklidere, etc.  Also, as you look for apartments further away from Kizilay you will find cheaper places to live.

The Types of EFL Jobs in Turkey

As an English teacher there are basically two types of places you can work at in both Ankara and Istanbul depending on your qualifications.  If you have a Masters and sometimes a Bachelors in English (or related field) and some type of TEFL or TESOL certification you can look for a job in private universities.  Under government regulations public universities mostly hire Turkish teachers and professors.  It is not impossible to work for a public university, but it is much harder to work for one.  Luckily, in Ankara and Istanbul there are quite a few private universities you can apply to and with the government’s increased desire to promote learning English, there are an increasing amount of ESL positions in their universities.

The benefit of working for a university is that they will help you with getting your work permit and residency and will often pay for both.  Normally, with university positions you work fewer hours and work Monday through Friday around 8:00 to 5:00 or 6:00PM.  Most evenings and weekends you will not have to work.  Universities will sometimes either provide housing or give you a monthly stipend to go towards housing.  However, typically universities do not pay as well as private language schools.

To find a list of universities in Ankara you can search here. If the link does not work,  you can just type in “universities in Ankara” in Google and a list should come up.  To find a job at a university in Istanbul, you can search here. If that does not work, you can type in “universities in Istanbul” and a list should come up.

Language schools in Turkey are tricky.  A lot of language schools will promise many things before you start working for them.  Of course they will pay for your work permit and residency; of course you can have two days off a week, etc.  Yet, often they will want you to work for three months for a “probationary time”.  Please remember you are working illegally if you work and do not have a work permit.  These schools know that they are having you work illegally and basically any contract you sign with them is useless because you are working illegally.  A lot of these schools will then find different excuses to continue to not process your work permit and residency.  They figure if you quit there is however many more foreigners who are looking for a job with less scruples than you.  If you are someone who does not mind working illegally be forewarned that you can be deported if found to be working illegally.  A friend of mine from England worked for a private school (“dershane” in Turkish) for five years.  Then he had an argument with the wrong guy (whose father was a Minister in the Turkish government) and within a week he was deported out of Turkey.  Moral of the story: you may or may not be able to get away with working illegally for very long.

So when looking at dershanes/ English schools ask when they will start processing your work permit.  If they want to do it immediately then it is most likely a reputable school, if they want to do a probationary time be a little more cautious in accepting the position.  The other thing to think about is how many hours do they want you to work and is there a minimum and maximum amount of hours they want you to work?  Some dershanes will even try to have you work seven days a week from 9:00 or 10:00AM until 9:00 or 10:00PM!  You may make a whole lot of money doing this (especially if they pay you hourly), but you may not have any life outside of work.  So see also if the dershane pays hourly or by salary, and do not be afraid to negotiate hours and pay with a school.  To find a job at a dershane is a little trickier than working at a university.  I worked for two language schools in Ankara. The first I won’t mention because they never processed any of our paper work (I left after 5 months).  The other was Wall Street Institute in Kizilay.  I loved working at WSI.  Both my co-workers and students were great.  They immediately processed my paperwork and often will send a Turkish teacher with a newbie to start the process.  The only problem is that they don’t pay as well as some dershanes, but they do always pay on time and are very helpful.  If you aren’t in Ankara, you can visit reputable ESL job board sites.

The best way to find a teaching job at a language school in Turkey is to be in Turkey.  So many co-workers found their jobs by just walking off the street into the language school at just the right time.  Many supervisors are weary of trying to hire someone who is not in Turkey, because the person may never come.  Most language schools are always looking for a qualified, native teacher.  You do not have to have a Bachelors in English, but a related or semi-related degree, plus an ESL teaching certificate (preferably 120 hours) is a huge commodity in Turkey.

The Lifestyle in Turkey

If you want a more exciting nightlife, I would recommend living in Istanbul.  It’s famous for Taksim Square and Istiklal street.  In both cities you can find live music, night clubs, and theatre; however Istanbul has a vitality and sense of culture that is very much missing in Ankara.  Whether it is museums, live music, or historical sites Istanbul has whatever interests you.  Istanbul also has expat groups that you can join.

As a flat mate and I would joke – there is no direct route to your destination in Istanbul.  It may very well take a 15 minute walk, a ferry ride, bus and/or metro ride to get where you want to go.  With about 17 million people and divided by the Bosphorus Straight, Istanbul’s streets and side-walks are congested.  Walking is often the fastest method to get to some areas of the city.  If you cannot find a place to live within walking distance to your job, try to find an apartment on the metro-line.  Otherwise, every day you may be sitting in traffic longer than you would want.

I would say working as an ESL teacher in Turkey you live quite well.  Especially, as I built a reputation as an English teacher, at one point I was making almost as much with private students as working for a school.  One of my friends lived very well wholly by giving private lessons.  The cost of living in Ankara is cheaper than in Istanbul.  If the school provides housing, you can live comfortably in Ankara being paid about 2100tl/month.  In Istanbul, I lived well at 3500tl/month without housing.  Public transportation can be expensive, so make sure that you live close enough to your school that you are not spending too much on transportation services.

Arranging Work Visas

The good news for Americans is that it is just as easy to find a job in Turkey as a European.  So if you are wanting a country with at least some sense of a European feel, it may be a nice option.

The bad news is getting a work visa is very bureaucratic in Turkey.  In Ankara, I felt that the one English speaking official at the emniyet (where foreigners do all of their governmental paperwork) enjoyed telling me to come back the next day… every time I came there.  However, I felt after two years with the same official that I had built some sort of understanding with him.  So even though at first he was very difficult to work with, he eventually gave me a lot less trouble processing my paperwork.  Appointments are first come, first served; so please try to get to the emniyet as early as possible (8:00AM).

In Istanbul, there is a handy (hear my sarcasm please) on-line registration system to schedule your appointment with the emniyet.  The only problem is that in such a large city, the on-line system only allows a few people each day to set an appointment and the appointments are only available about 3 or 4 months out.  So try to get on-line and set the appointment as soon as you arrive in Istanbul.

At your first appointment at the emniyet you will need to extend your three month tourist visa to at least 6 more months.  You will need to show that you have enough money to live for the 6 months (remember you do not have a work visa and therefore are not supposed to be working during this period).  Once the paperwork for this is processed, you through your place of employment can apply for the work visa.  When you are approved for the work visa, you are also given a temporary residency based on your work visa.  Your residency is based on your work permit.

Things that make life easier in Turkey

Learn Turkish.  Although it is possible to live in Turkey without learning Turkish, it not only will make life easier, it shows Turkish people that you actually care about them and their culture.

If you’re a woman: don’t look strange men in the eye.  It is considered a come on.  Men at bus stops will purposely keep trying to stare at you, avoid looking back or very likely he’ll end up coming up to you and trying to talk to you.  If you have some sort of relationship with the man: i.e. he’s a student or waiter, then of course look him in the eye.

If you go to a pazaar: haggle the price.  It’s normal for merchants to raise the price when dealing with foreigners.  So if a price isn’t marked (and sometimes if it is) feel free to make a counter offer.  Worse case they will stand their ground.  Best case I have actually ended up with things for free just because the merchant enjoyed a foreigner (and maybe a woman) arguing the price with him.

Enjoy all that Turkey has to offer: It is an amazing country that has a lot to reveal.  Don’t assume that because it looks very Western that it is Western, it’s roots are in the East.  The inner culture, traditions, and family ties are very Eastern.  Family is central and hospitality is of key importance.

Be a repeat customer.  Turks are very warm and hospitable.  If you continue to come to a restaurant or shop, they will often favour you with better seating, free tea or sweets and better deals…and if you bring a friend to a shop you also have more bargaining power as both a shopper and a referrer.

Make Turkish friends.  They will show you the real Turkey. They can show you the best Turkish restaurants, clubs, historical and tourist sites.  Plus, they often will help you in dealing with the Turkish officials and landlords.  Some of my favourite experiences were being invited to friends’ homes during the holidays.  I enjoyed being welcomed and overly-fed by friends’ families.  When I left Turkey I felt closer to some of my Turkish friends of one or two years than I felt to U.S. American friends that I had known for years.

Plus go to: http://www.mymerhaba.com/ It’s a great website (in English) that gives advise on how to find an apartment, more detailed information on work permits, and even places to eat.

By Nicole Sharp

If you have any questions for Nicole or have worked in Turkey and would like to add some additional advice for prospective teachers please leave your reply in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

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31 comments on “A Guide to Living and Teaching English in Turkey

  1. travelbug

    Hi Nicole

    I have a BA degree in social science and I am planning to do the CELTA course soon.. l would love to teach in this country but have no classroom teaching experience. Will this dampen my chances??

    Reply
    1. Nicole Sharp

      Hello Travelbug,

      Not having classroom experience doesn’t effect getting a job in Turkey. I was actually offered a job while I was still in the U.S. working on my TOEFL certificate. I had no classroom experience as well. Unless you’ve worked with groups of children before, I would recommend looking for a job teaching English to adults however. Turkish children have a tendency to be somewhat disobedient in the classroom and if you haven’t developed classroom management skills it can be difficult being a new teacher and trying to figure how to get children to behavior… especially if you don’t speak any Turkish and the children don’t speak any English.

      Reply
  2. Kipenzi Chidinma

    Hi Nicole,

    I loved your article! I’m looking to move to Istanbul in June. I have my MBA and am wondering if I need to have my TOFEL too?

    Reply
    1. Nicole Sharp

      Hello Kipenzi,
      For any reputable teaching position, you should get some kind of teaching English as a foreign language certificate.

      Reply
  3. Natalie Bichard

    Hi Nicola,great article,fuels my passion more to pursue this dream..can you just advise me,for teaching English language In Turkey,is having the CELTA and/or TEFL enough along with a degree,and what course provider would you recommend?also I was getting confused as searching on Trinity College for TEFL course I kept getting TESOL or some acronym,but that’s not what I need is it?it’s CELTA or TEFL..also lastly,is CELTA only to teach adults?thank for your insight,very helpful and inspiring?

    Reply
    1. Nicole Sharp

      Hello Natalie,
      A CELTA and/ or TEFL should both work in getting a teaching job in Turkey. I got my certificate from ITTT but any reputable course provider should be fine. TESOL is a similar course. I may bee wrong but I think British schools offer TESOL more often and American schools offer TEFL certificates more often. You can use a CELTA certificate to teach English to children. CELTA is just a more reputable certificate to have especially if you’re wanting to teach at a university.

      Reply
  4. laura

    hi nicole
    also do you know what the term dates/times of the year you teach in turkey? or can you teach all year round?

    thanks
    laura

    Reply
    1. Nicole

      If you want to work at a school for children or a university they usually start hiring around August or September for the academic year. Also, some schools will look to hire around December or January for the Spring semester. However, language schools may hire throughout the year.

      Reply
  5. laura

    hi nicola
    your article was fantastic to read i have been considering teaching abroad for a while but wasnt sure how it all worked. could you give any advice on whether or not i can apply for a work visa from abroad or whether i need to actually be in the country first? i am from new zealand so i dont think i need a 3 month travel visa, just a working one..
    thanks very much.
    laura

    Reply
    1. Nicole

      When I lived and worked in Turkey, too get a work visa, you would have to already have a job to get a work visa. Unusually it was the employer that would apply for the work visa. So if you can get a job before going to Turkey then it’s possible to just get a work visa and then go. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s easier to get a job once you’re in Turkey. If this is the case, you’ll need to get a tourist visa to go to Turkey and then get the work visa after you get a job. I don’t know about Turkey’s and New Zealand’s immigration agreements, so you’ll need to check and see if there’s anything different from what I’ve written.

      Reply
  6. Sean

    Nicola – thank you some very useful information – do you know how I get a certificate of proficiency from the education ministry for my work permit and what is required?

    Thank you in advance sean

    Reply
    1. Nicole

      Usually, it’s your employer that does all the paperwork with the Turkish government. I never had to apply for any kind of certification from the Education Ministry

      Reply
  7. Shannon

    Nicole,
    Thank you so much for the wealth of information here! I am currently taking classes to obtain my TESOL certificate, and ideally would like to work in the Middle East. My biggest obstacle is that I don’t have a bachelor’s degree. What do you think is the likelihood of my finding legitimate employment as an ESL teacher in Turkey?
    I would be so grateful for any advice you can give me.
    Shannon

    Reply
    1. Nicole

      If you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, you could probably find a volunteer position teaching English to refugees in Turkey. But if you want to teach English to Turks, it’s probably not going to be legitimate position. You may find a job teaching English at a dershane ( language school), but they wouldn’t be able to get a work permit for you because you don’t have a degree from a university to teach English.

      Reply
  8. Joyce Sitjar

    Hi Nicole, thank God i found your blog! I have a job offer to teach at wall street english. Im not sure though if the offer is enough for me to live in turkey! What is the normal salary of a foreign teacher in wall street english in Turkey? Please help!

    Reply
    1. Nicole Sharp

      I worked at Wall Street for over a year. The pay wasn’t great, but they are a reputable school. They helped me to get my work visa in a quick manner and they paid on time. Living off what they paid was workable. I also supplemented my income by offering private tutoring/ English classes. You can make a sizable extra income by offering private lessons.

      Reply
  9. bloemie

    Dear Nicole,

    I am Dutch, unfortunately I am not a native speaker of English, I graduated cum laude in linguistics however and I am a certified teacher of Dutch as a second language. I have 13 years of experience teaching. I am considering moving to Istanbul and doing the CELTA course there. Do you think I would have a chance of finding a job there? I would move to Turkey to get married. I want to work only legally, with a work permit.

    Thank you very much in advance,

    Bloemie

    Reply
    1. Nicole Sharp

      It may be more difficult to find a job being Dutch. A lot of schools look for “native English teachers”, however I did meet several people from countries whose primary language was not English. Especially private schools can have more freedom in hiring whomever they like. Just beware of schools who want to wait to start helping you apply for your ekomet (spelling?) (Work permit).

      Reply
  10. Jimmy

    It is already January 7th, 2016 and I am on the fence between going to Turkey to find work this winter and returning to China (where I worked last fall) foar a contract starting in late February. Is it now too late in the semester to find a good job in Turkey? Perhaps I should have arrived in late Decemeber. My game plan is to leave China and end up in Turkey long term. I like the religion and culture and history of Istanbul, however, being able to put some money aside is also a concern. Maybe I should go to Ankara for the winter semester, and then move to Istanbul in August? Any advice?

    Reply
  11. Gulshat

    Hi Nicola,

    Thank you for such a helpful article, there is a lot of useful information here! I have a question that may be you can help me with. How is it possible to apply for a teaching position at the universities in Istanbul? There is no any information about careers at the universities on their websites, so I am interested how people get their work there.

    Thank you,

    Gulshat

    Reply
  12. Sara

    Hi Nicole,
    What you’ve shared with us was so helpful. Do you any specific information whether I can find a job with a BA in English Literature, MA in philosophy of arts and a CELTA certificate at a university? I also need to add the fact that I’m not a native English speaker.
    Thanks a heap

    Reply
  13. Yousuf Farooquee

    HI Nicole,

    Could you please let me know how I can find apartments for rent. Are there any apartment sites? Do I need a real estate agent. If so, can you please refer one to me. I need to move to Turkey from the US for a few years.
    Thank you

    Reply
  14. Amy

    Hello, this article was helpful however I still have one question. I’m a native English speaker, I am a fully qualified teacher in the UK as an RE teacher. I am speaking to some schools however someone said I need two full years teaching experience in the UK to get a work permit. I did 1 year teacher training, then worked one year full time as an NQT and then 1 term as an RQT. Any idea? Thanks

    Reply
  15. Lou

    Hi Nicole, your article is really informative, but one thing I’m trying to find out is if a language school will apply for a work visa for me inside Turkey and if I am here on a tourist or Tomer visa, can I stay in Turkey during that time even if I can’t work?
    Do I have to make my application from my home country at the Turkish consulate? If so, can I come back to Turkey and stay here as a tourist during the processing time?

    Any information would be really helpful, thanks very much!

    Reply
  16. Nicola

    John,

    I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Either Istanbul or Ankara would have the most job opportunities for you. It just depends on what you are looking for in a city. Istanbul is much more interesting and you would have more foreigners living there. However, it is much more expensive rental wise and transportation wise. So you would actually have more money at the end of the month in Ankara, but a quieter (duller)life as well.

    Reply
  17. John Bligh

    Hi Nicola,

    I liked your article. I am an experienced English teacher (EU passport) who has worked in Asia for the last four years. I have all the qualifications and experience needed to get work there. Would Istanbul be the best place for work as I’m thinking of going there in the next few weeks to look for work?

    Reply
  18. Caroline

    Hi Nicola…

    Really enjoyed your piece on Turkey…can I ask how would someone fare with just 120 hour TEFL and A levels only??

    Reply
    1. Nicola

      Caroline,

      The 120 hour TEFL certificate should be fine, I have the same concerning TEFL teaching. However, having just A levels may be more of a challenge. If you want to work legally in Turkey, you would have to show how having A levels qualifies you to teach English. Did you have a lot of English classes? Any prep classes for teaching? The other thing is that there is a shortage of native English teachers in Turkey and a lot of the schools are pushed by the students (or students’ parents) to hire native English teachers. So you could most likely find a job, but I am not sure if the school would be able to get your work permit. In the past, it was not so tricky to work illegally in Turkey. The government has recently been cracking down more, but schools still work around the Turkish governments stricter regulations.

      Reply

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