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The expat guide to Ankara, Turkey The expat guide to Ankara, Turkey
by Joseph Gatt
2019-07-05 09:10:31
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Everything you wanted to know about Ankara but did not dare to ask.

The basics

Ankara, Turkey. Turkey, the Middle East. The Middle East, hot desertic weather and conservative Muslims. Wrong.

ankar01_400Ankara has 4 seasons. Cold, snowy winters, cool, breezy fall and spring, and warm summers, although not too hot.

Ankara is modern by all means. You have alleys, entire streets full of pubs. You have Ulus market which sells the cheapest clothing. You have Karum mall where all the major fashion brands are present. You have several nice shops in the Kizilay district. The Kizilay district also has a large concentration of pubs and night clubs.

Ankara also has a large concentration of restaurants, anything from typical Turkish to fast-food joints to European food. There are a couple of Chinese and Indian restaurants, and the trend is for chefs to make fusion food, so they'll mix Indian with Turkish or British with Turkish, and the blend is really nice.

The Bilkent district has a high concentration of English speakers, a couple of shopping centers and an all-English university. Otherwise you'll find English speakers hanging out in the Tunali district, where there's a high concentration of billiards halls and fast-food joints, along with several British-style pubs.

Ankara is safe. There's an enormous concentration of taxi drivers, and apart from the Kizilay and Ulus districts, traffic is fluid. Some find Ankara boring, but to me, it's fun.


Several options. The Bilkent, Beysukent, Beseveler and Bahçelievler districts have American-style houses with backyards and all that, which are reasonably priced. Expats with large families tend to opt for housing there.

Many opt for GaziOsmanPasa or Cankaya, which is where most of the embassies are located and most expats live. Then you have the Or-An area where there has been a ton of construction, most buildings are empty, it's safe, cheap, and you have a few shops, and it's not far from the city center.

Most Turkish apartments tend to be ergonomic. If you want to do things the Turkish way, most Turkish people have two living rooms: a large living room and a dining room which they tend to reserve for guests, a “family living room” for close friends and family, where all the board games, TV and family stuff is kept. Then you have the bedrooms and most apartments have two bathrooms and include a large bathroom with a makeup room for women.

Some people like to opt for big balconies, and you have Cinnah Avenue for that. Most penthouse apartments on Cinnah Avenue have very large balconies, are cheap, and are useful for those who like to have barbecues or those who like large balconies.


You don't really need a car in Ankara unless you have a large family. There's an oversupply of taxis and you'll catch one in three minutes, and taxis tend to be cheap, and very few taxis will cheat you. If you're a man, always take the front seat. If you're a woman, take the backseat.

If you're trying to save money, the bus system is excellent. You have public busses and private busses (called Dolmus) and they're both rather cheap, and cover most of the city. Private busses run 24 hours a day, but you want to check which ones.

You have the subway which only connects the city center to the suburbs. So you'll only be using the subway if you're headed to the suburbs.

Some of my friends chose cheap but huge mansions in the middle of nowhere. They are very modern European-style mansions, very safe, but for that you'll need a car for sure.


You have three English-curriculum schools: Bilkent and George C. Marshall School and the Pakistan Study Group. There's also a British school which only covers Elementary school. There's also a French school and a German school.

Bikent University teaches most of its classes in English, and METU (the Middle Eastern Technical University) teaches most of its classes in English as well. Both have excellent reputations in Turkey, some would say in the Middle East.

If you want to send your children to Turkish schools, the education system's not great, but it's free. Most teachers will confess that they are friendly, that the students love them, but that they have zero-grasp of the subject they are teaching. Except for math teachers, and Turkey has excellent math teachers. Science will be taught seriously, but history, Turkish, English and other subjects will be a joke.


If you're working in Ankara, you're probably working for an embassy, or perhaps are a student, or perhaps have some kind of obscure business, or maybe an expat teacher. Turkish employees tend to be reliable, their language skills are good but they're not native speakers.

Turkish workers tend to work hard and be reliable, but men tend to be a little bit too easygoing sometimes and women tend to put pressure on themselves even when there's no need to put pressure. If you put too much pressure at work Turkish workers tend to “blow up.” That is they are going to trash the office, yell all kinds of profanity, threaten to call the police or to shoot themselves, and then quit the job and never come back. Then they'll come back for a visit three months later and say they're doing fine at their new job. Doesn't happen with every worker, but can happen with a lot of workers.

When talking to your employees, either call them by their first name, or their first name followed by “bey” for men and “hanim” for women. Don't ever use their last name for anything, don't even write their last name on gift cards or on envelopes.

Always greet your staff in the morning with “gün aydin” (good morning). Even the most arrogant Turkish bosses always greet.

Going out

Ankara has many social clubs and almost everyone's a member of some kind of social club. For rich people, you have the Lion's Club, Leo's Club or Rotary international, which are relatively easy to get in in Ankara compared to other cities. Then you have several associations, some which include foreign members. Some pubs cater almost exclusively to expats. Some health clubs also almost exclusively cater to expats, and include social clubs and lounges.

Lots of Turkish and non-Turkish Ankaraites have an “open-door” policy to their home. Welcome anytime policy. They'll leave their door open, and even if they're not home you'll usually find someone. Or you could check in and be alone and at one point someone else is going to show up. You can check into their homes uninvited, help yourself with the fridge, take a nap on their bed, make yourself at home.

Ankaraites tend to hang out in groups, usually groups of six to twelve. Some like to play tennis, some like to skate, some like to play billiards, some like to go to clubs.

One of the complaints many expats, especially Western expats, have about Ankaraites is “they never leave you alone!” Someone's always going to call. There will always be a party somewhere, and you will be expected to show up. You're often going to get three or four invitations you'll have to choose from. And many times, you'll end up in the home of someone you've never met.

Perhaps Westerners also complain that there's no “structure” to a lot of good events. There are lots of football tournaments, but no leagues. Lots of bowling tournaments, but no leagues. Lots of table tennis tournaments but no leagues. Beware that Turkish people are phenomenal competitors when it comes to tournaments, and will use every dirty trick in the book to get you to lose. My table tennis opponent kept sticking his tongue out and kept taking too much time to serve, and I lost it.

In sum, never, ever a boring city.

Cultural notes

Be careful what you display at your house. When Turkish people will visit as guests, they'll look at your stuff, and if they like it, they'll ask you if they can have it. As in “oh I really wanted to read this book, can I have it?” or “oh, I really like this statue, can I have it?” They could ask to take your spoons, forks, plates, or any small item. And it's considered rude to say “no, you can't have it.”

Most dinner parties are improvised buffets, and something like 30 to 100 people could be invited. It's always polite to bring either of the following:

-A couple of bottles of raki (a local anis-based alcoholic drink) or a few bottles of wine (again, 100 people will be attending).

-A couple of cartons of beer (there's always need for more beer, so the more you bring, the better).

-Or a huge plate of something (could be a platter of desserts or a platter of food or a huge salad or something).

They won't expect you to bring something, but the more food or drinks you bring, the more you will be appreciated. And people tend to gossip about who brought what.

-If you get invited for a charity event, or for an environmental event like cleaning up a forest or park, and you don't show up, you will have a really bad name. At the charity event try to think about some kind of performance for disabled kids or orphans (either sing a song, perform a dance, tell a few jokes, perform a magic trick, anything) and help set up tables and/or cook food. If you're cleaning up the forest, clean it diligently, people will be counting how many bags of trash you picked up. And, oh, in some cases, you will be FORCED to donate money.

-Turkish people are incredibly patriotic. Turkey has the best everything. End of discussion. Don't argue with that. The best beer, the best food, the best football team, the best music, the best everything. Don't try to be that wise guy.

-If invited to several parties on the same day, it's always polite to hop from party to party. Show up at the first, excuse yourself, go to the second, excuse yourself, go to the third and so on. You'll find you're not the only one who was invited to all three parties.

-Dating could ruin your social life. Your boyfriend or girlfriend could have rivalries and end up avoiding a lot of social hangouts. Make sure you date someone who gets along with pretty much everyone.

-Greet both men and women with a kiss on both cheeks, starting from your left (in Europe it's usually starting from your right). Greet them with a kiss on both cheeks when you meet and when you separate.

-Expect Turkish men and women to be in tears if Turkey wins big at football. Or loses big at football. If they lose big, they are mourning, so don't try to brighten up their mood.

-Finally, small cultural note: if you're going to take a shower and there are guests at home (there will be so many guests that will happen a lot) you want to either completely dry your hair or put a towel on your hair and cover your hair until it's completely dry. For some reason, Turkish people believe it's rude to show your hair when it's not completely dry.

-A final tip: you're going to need a few good mixtapes for parties. Ankaraites almost always play music during parties.


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