Accommodation Options for Expats in Istanbul and Turkey
If you have decided to relocate to Istanbul, one of the major decisions will be in which district you will live? Istanbul has 39 Districts spread over the European and Asian sides of the city. Which one will suit you best?
Next is the arduous task of finding a suitable apartment and not being charged ‘tourist prices’. Unfortunately, in most of Turkey, it is a common occurrence for homeowners and emlaks to exploit newcomers. This guide will help you avoid these traps and find the most suitable neighborhood for you.
Most popular neighborhoods for ex-pats
Cihangir is a popular neighborhood for ex-pats. Its location in the Beyoğlu district on the European side is very close to Taksim, the entertainment hub of Istanbul. Traditionally the home of artists and intellects, digital nomads have embraced the fun, bohemian vibe with narrow lanes and a wide selection of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. There are many apartment blocks, traditional and modern, that offer a comfortable lifestyle in an attractive part of town. Cihangir might be slightly more expensive than other neighborhoods because it does have a lot to offer.
Beşiktaş is also home to a growing number of ex-pats, especially English teachers. It offers more affordable rents but with an equally thriving restaurant and coffee shop scene.
The northern end of the Bosphorus Strait is a more suitable choice for families. Neighborhoods of Arnavutköy to Sariyer offer a more relaxed lifestyle with pedestrian paths and parks along the Bosphorus and a wealth of fish restaurants. This area also has easy access to Levant district, Istanbul’s business and financial center.
Moda and Yeldeğirmeni in the Kadıköy district on the Asian side of Istanbul is also a popular ex-pat haven with grassy parks and pathways along the waterfront. Here you will find a wealth of offbeat shops and boutiques and the famous Bagdat Caddesi, lined with designer shops and upscale residential buildings.
Atasehiris located on the Asian side of Istanbul and has mostly new high-rise buildings and a well-maintained road network. Many ex-pats prefer to live here for comfortable, modern housing at a reasonable price.
Finding an apartment
Now the fun starts. Now is when you need to be alert and extremely cautious if you want to avoid being taken advantage of.
Do you want fully furnished or will you furnish yourself? Do you want a short term apartment for a couple of months to test the waters? Are you ready to take on a long term lease? Do you choose to share a flat? Do you want the entire place to yourself?
An excellent starting point is to check out the websites www.sahibinden.com and www.hurriyetemlak.com. You can view these sites in English and look at adverts from both real-estate agents as well as private homeowners. Another website for short term furnished apartments and an alternative to Airbnb is Blueground.
Renting through an emlak
Real estate agents or emlaks are numerous through any city in Turkey. This is because there is no formal qualification and anyone can set up an office. So, it’s imperative to find a good one. This is where networking with other ex-pats in Istanbul can help you avoid the traps.
Whilst emlaks have a large selection to show you, they also demand a high fee usually equivalent to a month’s rent. So that, plus a month or two deposit can quickly add up. Also, there is a language issue, as not many emlaks speak English.
Renting directly from the owner
This can be a more positive experience, simpler and friendlier. You might hit the jackpot and find a landlord who brings you veggies and eggs from their garden as well as invites you to dinner. Alternatively, they could be a complete sticky-beak interested in how foreigners live and watching your every move.
Dealing directly with the owner still means signing a contract and try to keep these dealings as formal as possible. Insist on paying your rent into a bank account as opposed to cash-in-hand which they may request. As language may be a problem, make sure to have a friend that speaks Turkish accompany you on the final dealings.
In Turkey, everything is negotiable. At the emlak’s office, the first price quoted is at the highest end of the scale and you can negotiate a better deal. Similarly, if you are going to rent directly through the owner, generally speaking, he will quote you higher rent because you are foreign. Be aware of what others are paying in that neighborhood and bargain till you arrive at a suitable agreement.
It is advisable to try an area before you commit to a year-long lease. There are many short-term rentals to be had and these are usually furnished quite modern and comfortable but be aware that you will be paying a premium for these. Sites like Blueground cater mostly for the foreign visitor and the prices may not seem high compared to US and Canada, but for Turkey are quite expensive. This may be OK for a month or two whilst you find your feet. Airbnb is also available but not all apartments will be as modern. You can also find short-term rentals on Sahibinden that may be more affordable.
Furnished or Unfurnished
In your search for a suitable apartment in Istanbul, you might find that the majority are unfurnished and the furnished ones may be from a Turkish grandmother’s style. So, what do you do?
Bringing furniture with you from abroad is probably more costly than buying new stuff in Turkey. Prices for furniture and the basics are very affordable. Buying locally may also save you a lot of stress.
Whilst looking to start your new life in Istanbul, it is imperative that you use common sense and thoroughly research the neighborhood that you have chosen. Make sure you discuss all the features of your rental agreement, whose name will be on the utilities, and whether there are any extras such as community fees? If possible, take a friend with you to witness all transactions. Moving-in day, take photos of any defects in the flat and ask the landlord to sign the back of each picture. Taking these precautions now may be helpful in the future when you are trying to get your deposit back.