Digital Nomad destination: Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey, the only city that sits on two continents, has been my home for 2 years. My current work involves consulting for startups and other companies in the areas of marketing and content. I originally moved here for a job, and my employer allowed me to work remotely, enabling it to be my nomadic base to travel to a number of destinations in Europe and further afield. The lira’s decline against stronger currencies means the city is even more affordable now, so it’s a great time to come visit! At time of writing, 1 dollar = 2.90 Turkish lira and 1 euro = 3.30 liras.

The advantages for digital nomads include the cost of living, moderate weather, historical and architectural value, and accessibility. Few people know that Turkish Airlines is the largest carrier in the world, and the Middle East, Europe and Asia are easily reachable from the city’s two airports.

My favorite thing to do here has to be to sit anywhere with a view of the Bosporus. The perspective you enjoy here can get lost in a city as crowded and hectic as Istanbul, and the water is a great place to recharge.

I do wish it were easier to do business here. Dodgy practices and arbitrarily enforced laws make it difficult to be sure that your investments or deals with local companies are protected. The lack of general English knowledge is also a shock when trying to do business. Compared to the rest of Europe, decision-making moves at a slower speed and the cultural differences affect how negotiation is done.

But, “Is it safe?” I hear this question a lot, and it would be silly to pretend the city is without its safety issues.

A number of terror incidents in Turkey’s largest metropolis over the past few months means you should be careful, although not any more so than other large cities. Stay alert and check in with local and international news for any current problems. After living in Istanbul for a while, a spontaneous street protest seems as normal to me as the call to prayer five times a day. Street harassment is also an issue — especially for women who are visibly non-Turkish — and visitors are seen as easy targets for scams and overcharging. The tourist police can be a great help, as can being assertive in the face of any unwanted advances.

Cost of living:

General costs in the city can be kept down by staying outside the center and living like a local. Remember on nights out that alcohol is highly taxed. However, compared to other cities in Europe Istanbul is still on the lower end of the scale.

Rent can range from 750 lira ($260) for a room in a shared flat or 1,500 lira ($520) for an entire apartment. Private flats in popular central areas are the most expensive, often being quoted in euros and dollars, and average around 3,000 liras ($1,000) including utilities. Short term accommodation is plentiful but not always great quality. My area, Galata, has a number of Airbnb options. For those on a budget, I’d recommend the hostel Stay Inn Taksim.

If you want to work at a coworking space, as an example Workinton charges 549 lira ($190) per month for unlimited use and 320 lira ($110) for a 40 hour package.

The cost of food can vary widely, but a good average is 500–700 liras ($170–240) needed depending on how much you eat out. Transport can be approximately 100 lira ($35) a month, but if you live centrally this will be reduced. Each trip is 2.30 lira ($0.80), with reduced price transfers within 2 hours of your first trip.

Best places to work from:

Free libraries Ataturk Library in Taksim and SALT Galata both have amazing architecture without the noise of most cafes in the city. If you choose to work from these, you’ll be mostly surrounded by college students, and for night owls and early risers Ataturk is open 24 hours a day. SALT has the added advantage of being full of English language books you can check out when you’re not working, a rare find in Istanbul. The laid back atmosphere of bar/restaurants Journey Lounge in Cihangir and The Allis at Soho House make these my favorite for work, meetings, and drinks in the evening (sometimes all three in one day!). For a more official space, I like coworking chain Workinton’s Sishane and Galata branches, with the former offering an unbeatable view of the Golden Horn. Day passes can be had for 40 lira ($14). I wrote about coworking in Turkey for COWORKIES here: http://blog.coworkies.com/post/143522867018/cool-people-and-places-in-the-istanbul-coworking

One thing about Turkey though, you can sit in any cafe for hours with a cup of tea and won’t be harassed — I’ve seen work sessions stretch into midnight and beyond.
Journey Lounge, Cihangir, Istanbul

Five neighborhoods that shouldn’t be missed:

Super trendy hipster areas Karakoy and Cihangir, the the pastel Ottoman wooden mansions of Arnavutkoy and the Asian side neighborhoods of Kadikoy and Caddebostan.

Karakoy streets.
A house in Arnavutkoy.

My favorite cheap street foods:

Of course you can stick to the doner kebab Turkey is known for the world over, but why not live a little?

Turkey is an interesting place to be a vegetarian, and while it can be hard, some of the best street food here is vegetarian or vegan. Take çiğ köfte, a spicy vegan wrap made of bulgur and walnuts, best accompanied by the salty yogurt drink ayran. Lokma, a super sweet dessert, is another. Turkish kumpir are loaded baked potatoes as big as your head, and of course, the humble and ubiquitous borek is a good breakfast and all-day meal.

Resources you’ll need:

My partner always jokes WiFi is the first thing I look for anywhere I go. In a pinch, find your nearest Starbucks. Most places are happy to give you their WiFi code, so you’ll always be connected. If you’ll be on the go, mobile WiFi is a hassle from the local telecommunications companies, but for shorter trips, Rent N Connect may be worth a try. For transport an Istanbulkart, the re-loadable transport card for the city, is worth the 10 lira ($0.35) deposit. To avoid taxi scams, download the BiTaksi app.

How to be Turkish:

Go further and spend a weekend among the fairytale, air balloon cave region of Cappadocia, or Izmir, the modern, laid back but forward looking second city of Turkey.

Make friends with the street cats! I’m no expert, but from the looks of the streets and cafes there must be at least one cat or dog per person, so take advantage of that. Turkish people’s love for the street animals is exceeded only by their love for small children.

If you’ll be staying a while, learning even a small amount of the language helps a lot, try Duolingo to start. Don’t bother with Google Translate, Tureng works much better but only does one word at a time. Visit your neighborhood’s weekly market (pazar) for fresh fruit and vegetables and a taste of local life.

Author: Fana Harper-Tyson of IstanbulStartupGirl.com

Current Location: Oslo

Twitter iststartupgirl

Facebook fb.me/fffht

On the web at: about.me/fanaht

I originally published this on Digital Nomad Girls here: digitalnomadgirls.com/istanbul-for-digital-nomad-girls-destination-month

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