Coming to Istanbul for a holiday is great. There’s so much to enjoy here. All the things to see, the history seeped into everything you look at. The interesting food you get to try out. The interesting culture you get to learn about. There’s bad stuff too though, pickpockets, overzealous salesman, fake goods, nobody speaking english, etc.
But living here… is something different. Yeah, you get all the above but the volume gets turned down and it’s like looking behind a curtain.
The lack of English becomes a real problem and you can’t go on living by Google Translate and Charades for ever, so tip No. 1 is… LEARN THE LANGUAGE. The simplest way is to use apps like Duolingo and Memrise. Also, the best Turkish/English dictionary app is called Sesli Sözlük. Google Translate is useful for quick things, but isn’t as accurate for the long term. Admin is the hardest, trying to get anything done when someone doesn’t speak the same language as you (and they generally lose interest in you and shoo you away, literally) is the most infuriating thing ever.
Pickpockets are something to look out for at all the tourist spots, but when you’re an expat and venture further out, you still stand out and you still get targeted. I’ve had friends and family experience theft of handbags, with wallets, passports, everything in posh, high end shopping malls like Zorlu, Mall of Istanbul, etc. with some very devious tricks. So Tip 2: Just be careful out there.
The food… is always fresh, but bland. The vegetables are amazing, I actually eat tomatoes raw here. Coming from a South African Indian background, the blandness is NOT a good thing. One week in and I was scouring the city for a good Indian restaurant… and there’s like 5. Not all that great though. Okay, I’ve recently found one decent one, but I digress…You can survive with the food here, but you’re gonna need to find some home-made food at some point, so Tip 3: bring your own spices to cook your own or do a better job than me at shopping for what you need. But, since you are going to eat out at some point, get on YemekSepeti, it has an app too. You can use Chrome web browser, it automatically translates the site into English for ease of use.
Next, Getting around the place. Public Transport is AMAZING here. Tip 4: Get an Istanbul Kart, it’s like an Oyster card in London, it’s cheaper than single tickets and works across busses, the metro and the ferries all over Istanbul. Next, Tip 5: Download Trafi, it’s an amazingly accurate public transport app which lets you know the fastest way to get where you need to go with Public transport. It’s like the Citymapper app in London and elsewhere, but specifically for Istanbul.
If you’re in a hurry and want to use a taxi cab, you can use the Bitaksi app, which you need to register with a Turkish mobile number. I would still recommend using Bitaksi anytime you require a taxi, simply becuase you’re far less likely to get ripped off. All details of the driver and their cars are stored in the app when they pick you up, plus they can get reviewed… and nobody wants a bad review because it means they will get less money.
UBER and CAREEM are also available. Pro-tip: Uber XL’s are the same price as taxi’s here… so you can luxuriously lounge in Mercedes Vito instead of a standard cab if you wish. Just avoid Uber going to the airport, it’s apparently “banned” and there’s fines for the driver and the passenger if caught out… but it works everywhere else in Istanbul with no problem at all. So Tip 6: Use Bitaksi, Uber and Careem whenever you can to have a more pleasant travel experience.
UPDATE (21/07/2018): Uber and Careem are now actually illegal in Istanbul, so while you still can use them, be careful, you could get fined.
You could hire a car, but I don’t recommend that. Driving in Istanbul majorly stressful if only because the drivers work with a margin of error this big –> ||. So, unless you’re planning a road trip across all of Turkey (which I do HIGHLY recommend you do), just get taxis.
UPDATE (21/07/2018): If you’re alone and don’t have any luggage (beyond a backpack), Scotty is like Uber and Careem but with motorcycles (vespas) and is 2/3 the price of a taxi and you skip a lot of traffic. It’s amazingly an amazingly quick alternative to getting around the city when you’re in a rush.
Making Friends… here’s a list of Facebook forums and groups you can join… Expats in Istanbul, Istanbul Expat Centre, Foreign Women of Istanbul, Expat Events in Istanbul, Istanbul Expats & Internationals Group, Expat @Savers and Cook’s Corner for Expats in Turkey. If you’re going to be doing the admin on your own, I recommend you make some Turkish friends fast that can help you out, otherwise it’s like navigating in the dark without a torch.
Lastly, if you need more than the tips above… My Merhaba.com, TimeOut Istanbul, yabangee.com, The Guide Istanbul. I’m sure they’re more detailed for anything I’ve missed out like great places to eat, what’s hot and happening, etc. etc.
That’s about all you need to get started 🙂 Enjoy Istanbul… all things taken into account… it is a beautiful city.