A Guide to Living and 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.