Nelle is a Belgian/French expat living in Turkey. She is married to a Turkish man, and after living in London for a number of years, they moved to Istanbul, where they own a real estate and travel agency specialising in Turkish properties. Nelle shares more of her expat experiences on her blog, Expatdream.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in Belgium but I lived all my childhood in France where my mum comes from.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I live in Istanbul, Turkey
Q: When did you move here?
A: We arrived in Istanbul in July 2013
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved from London with my husband and my two sons
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband is Turkish and we came to Istanbul for work. We work together, we own a real estate agency and a travel agency specialised in Turkish properties.
Living in Turkey
Q: What do you enjoy most about Istanbul? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I enjoy the people and the fact that you can expect anything to happen at any time! I feel like comparing Istanbul to London because I spent the past 10 years there. Istanbul is busy, very busy and it can be hectic but life is somehow easier. There are more services in Turkey. If you are pregnant or have children you will easily find places that will deliver your food to your home or people to help you pack. The food is fantastic and you can eat pretty much at any time which is great.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The traffic is really bad and it is a bit hard as a newcomer to get used to driving here.
What I miss the most about where I used to live is the parks, the city is very dense but we have the Bosphorus here and it is really beautiful.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Turkey? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The biggest adjustment was to have to rely on my husband who speaks Turkish for most things. I am very independent and this was hard at the beginning. I did not experience a real culture shock because being married to a Turkish man I knew what to expect. But of course everyday little things are happening and you realise it’s a totally different culture.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: I come from the south of France which is very expensive so here is good. For example you can get a blow dry for 15 TL which is about 5 euros! You will never find those prices in France or in England! Food is cheaper also for better quality. Restaurants are cheaper too. The down side is the petrol and the car prices, which are very expensive.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Istanbul? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: There are different options, mini buses, metro, boat and taxi. You can easily get anywhere you want without a car.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Istanbul? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Healthcare is good; we took out extra insurance as we have two kids. From personal experience I would recommend being careful though as it seems that you are getting referred to a lot of specialists. In the UK before you see a specialist it is a minimum of six weeks wait but here I saw three different surgeons for a hernia.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Istanbul? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I have not faced any issues yet but like any big city you can have problems in some areas.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Istanbul? What different options are available for expats?
A: Housing is quite good, you find all prices in Istanbul.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Expat usually prefer the European side of Istanbul but as a family we believe the Asian is better, greener and quieter. We live in Acibadem because it is close to our son’s school, this is something to consider if you are relocating with children as traffic is very bad and you really don’t want them to travel two hours daily to go to school. I would advise the Caddebostan, Bagdad caddessi area; it is really beautiful and close to the sea.
Meeting people and making friends in Istanbul
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: I never experienced problems and I have local friends. It is quite open but I wouldn’t go in a very conservative part of the city with a mini skirt of course.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I joined the International Woman of Istanbul and the Istanbul Accueil (for French speakers). I started to join the mum’s club but there are a lot of activities. If you put yourself out there you can make friends.
Working in Istanbul
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Turkey?
A: I don’t have this problem as I am married to a Turkish citizen
Q: How does the work culture in Istanbul differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Turkey?
A: I am the owner of my own company, we have a real estate business and a travel agency specialised in luxury villa rentals. I found it hard at the beginning that people would not meet the deadlines, in France or in UK we are very specific but here it is a bit different!
Family and children
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: My six-year-old settled quite well but we had some moments where he was a bit confused and scarred. You really need to be attentive and listen to their feelings; it is hard for them to leave their friends, home, habits. After the first month at school he was perfectly ok. We are very careful and we communicate a lot, we also enrolled him in a local basketball club so he can make local friends.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: The Asian side is great but there are fewer choices in terms of international schools than in the European side of Istanbul. Schools can be pricey and fees can go up to 22,000 TL per year. We decided to go for an international school because our boy was already fluent and we wanted him to keep studying in English. Also, from a personal point of view, we really like the fact that our son is in a school with children like him. Everyone is a third culture child and we think this is a great opportunity for him to learn about the world and to be open minded. Bear in mind, if you have to make decisions about schools, that international schools are different from strictly British schools where you will have exclusively British teachers and more British kids. In my son’s class (grade 2) there are 19 students and they are all from different countries (Finland, Pakistan, Poland, Mexico, Spain, England…)
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Be positive, it is hard, there are low moments especially if you are a stay at home mum as you meet less people. I work for myself as well so I don’t have a lot of new faces around to socialise with. Always seek new things and enjoy the experience. It is a chance for us expats to discover a different culture and we should keep that in mind. I started a blog to be able to express myself and that helps. Good luck to all!
~ Interviewed October 2013