The cat is out of the bag. Almost everyone interested in travel knows that Istanbul is cheap. As such, many are questioning whether Istanbul can be considered “cheap” anymore. When compared to other major tourist hubs like Athens or Lisbon, Istanbul presents a competitive and affordable cost of living. 

Nobody can dispute that Istanbul offers great value, given that it’s a very safe megalopolis with an abundance of history. Plus, sophisticated and somewhat modern infrastructure makes the city quite liveable. That said, Istanbul is simply no longer as cheap as it once was. 

This article explores the cost of living in Istanbul, drawing from a broad spectrum of real-life experiences, including my own, providing a comprehensive and pragmatic view of the essentials, from rent to food, activities, and nightlife. Whether you’re a foreigner setting up a long-term home, or a digital nomad seeking a temporary abode, this guide aims to help you navigate the financial landscape of Istanbul.

Note that this cost of living analysis will use US dollar prices unless otherwise indicated.

Cost of living in Istanbul
Cost of living in Istanbul

How much does it cost to live in Istanbul?

The precise monthly cost in Istanbul can vary significantly depending on your lifestyle, preferences, and where you choose to live. You likely won’t be able to find cheaper neighbourhoods, but you can easily save money by avoiding alcohol and eating cheap street food or eating at home. For digital nomads, monthly costs can range from $1,500 to $2,500. This estimate includes rent, food, transportation, and leisure activities. 

Digital nomads often opt for Airbnb accommodations, which can cost around $1,100 per month for a one-bedroom apartment in a central neighbourhood.

Locals or long-term foreigners living in Istanbul, on the other hand, can manage their monthly costs to under $800. This includes rent (which can be lower when signing a long-term contract), groceries, utilities, transportation, and leisure activities. Of course, to get cheaper prices, you’ll have to settle for less inspiring accommodations in far-away neighbourhoods.

Dining predominantly on street food or at local restaurants, you may expect to spend between $2-$6 for a quick meal, and up to $30 for a three-course dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant. Whether you enjoy cooking at home or dining out, prefer the convenience of a taxi over public transportation, or wish to engage in various activities, these decisions will significantly influence your budget. It’s this flexible lifestyle, offering both luxury and affordability, that makes Istanbul an increasingly attractive destination for digital nomads and locals alike. Istanbul offers enough activities and options for you to never be bored, but those will all come at a price.

Average monthly rent in Istanbul 

Depending on your location and type of accommodation, you’ll pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars under a yearly rental contract all the way up to thousands of dollars a month for a short-term lease on a nice apartment in a nice neighbourhood. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center ranges from $484.70 to $1,211.75 for locals, while digital nomads utilizing Airbnb might pay around $1,000-$1,500 per month in desirable neighbourhoods.

The only problem is, apartments in Istanbul often have a quality issue. You have to pay well above the local rate to find one that is actually suitable for remote work, and livable for a months-long stay. 

Most rental sites have posed major problems for me, and I know I’m not alone. If you want a more consistent solution, we’re in the process of curating and vetting a large database of digital nomad apartments. Enter your name and email below to get access to them as soon as they’re released.

When it comes to finding a long-term place to stay in Istanbul, websites such as Sahibinden and Hurriyet Emlak are popular among locals. For digital nomads, platforms like Airbnb or Booking.com, and soon Big Nomads provide numerous options with reliable reviews.

That said, if you choose to go through any type of rental channel, including places like Booking.com and Airbnb, you will need to be extremely cautious. If you’re planning on renting from Facebook groups or Sahibinden, you should bring a local with you to talk to the landlord and negotiate your contract. And on AirBNB, check the reviews of your host and the names of the reviewers. If the reviews are overly positive or all the names sound Turkish, they likely paid for fake reviews. 

Neighbourhoods

The beauty of Istanbul lies in its variety, offering a unique blend of cultures, history, and modern conveniences. Most of the desirable neighbourhoods have similar costs, so as long as Istanbul suits your budget, you’ll likely find an agreeable neighbourhood with prices you can afford. I discuss the best neighbourhoods in Istanbul in greater detail elsewhere.

To understand the rental landscape better, let’s consider two featured neighbourhoods – Kadikoy and Besiktas. Prices have certainly skyrocketed in the last year though, especially for locals.

Kadikoy

Kadikoy is a favourite among budget-conscious locals and digital nomads. Rent in this neighbourhood starts at around $800 per month. With a reputation for offering some of the city’s most affordable street food, you can easily find meals for $2. The area is brimming with convenience – supermarkets, local markets, and stores are aplenty. Kadikoy also prides itself on its lifestyle amenities, including performing arts theatres, a waterfront promenade, and picnic areas in Kadıköy Moda Coast Park.

Bestikas

On the other hand, Besiktas attracts those willing to pay a little more for the diverse cultural experience it offers. Rent starts at around $1,000 per month. The food scene in Besiktas is varied and slightly more expensive than in Kadikoy, with numerous restaurants serving dishes from around the world. The neighbourhood provides a mix of modern amenities, historical attractions, and a warm, welcoming community.

Cost of food in Istanbul 

One of the biggest pros of living in Istanbul is how well you can eat at an affordable price. Food in Istanbul is an enticing blend of tradition and variety, and the cost reflects this diversity. For locals and digital nomads alike, affordable meal options abound. Street food such as kebabs or borek might cost around $2-4, while an inexpensive meal at a restaurant could range from $4 to $12. A more extravagant three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant might set you back around $20 to $70.

Grocery shopping is another economical choice. The prices of basic food items are quite reasonable. A loaf of fresh white bread is around $0.40, a litre of milk costs approximately $1.21, and fruits, vegetables and eggs are also cheap. However, if you eat meat, even a kilogram of chicken is about $10 -15. For those who like to cook, purchasing groceries could significantly reduce food expenses, but you’ll still need to be mindful of your diet. You could keep food expenses under $200 if you’re mindful of your choices though.

Comparatively, digital nomads might lean towards eating out more often, relishing the street food scene or dining in inexpensive restaurants. However, the availability of diverse food choices allows both locals and digital nomads to strike a balance that suits their budgets and lifestyle.

Cost of transportation in Istanbul

Navigating Istanbul can be quite simple and cost-effective, thanks to the city’s well-structured public transportation system. A one-way ticket on local transport is only about $0.48, though some buses and trains cost more. Not to mention, they limit foreigners’ cards to spending 500 Turkish Liras per month, which is about $25 at the time of writing.

Taxis start at approximately $0.63, with each subsequent kilometre costing around $0.41. However, you should try to avoid taxis as a foreigner, but they can be cheap if you speak Turkish and agree on a price estimate ahead of time.

For digital nomads, using public transit or taxis could be the most cost-effective and reliable method of getting around the city. While renting a car is an option, the price of the rental (usually $50 per day or more) and the potential difficulties of finding parking in crowded areas could be deterrents.

Which Transportation Should You Use?

On the whole, the public transit system in Istanbul is reliable and efficient. It includes buses, trams, metro lines, and ferries, covering almost all areas of the city. For most locals and digital nomads, this might be the preferred transportation method due to its affordability and accessibility. For shorter distances, taxis are also an excellent option as they are readily available across the city. Especially in the middle of the night when the metro lines stop running and buses are far less frequent.

Cost of activities in Istanbul

Istanbul is a city that never sleeps, teeming with an array of activities that cater to different tastes and budgets. Tourist sights in Istanbul usually charge entrance fees, which can range from a few dollars to around $30, depending on the site. For instance, the iconic Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace are among the must-visit attractions with the latter being at the higher end of the spectrum. However, mosques are always free to enter, and given their elegant beauty, it only makes sense to frequent them even if they were to charge a fee.

Fitness enthusiasts might find gym memberships quite affordable, with the monthly fee for an adult ranging from $20 at local gyms to $70 at elite gyms like MacFit. The local gyms will often have fewer amenities but are also usually less crowded. As for the nightlife, the cost can vary widely. 

On the other hand, alcohol is always a bit pricy in Turkey compared to nearby countries. Local pubs and bars sell domestic beer for about $3 per 0.5-litre draught, while imported beer might cost around $4 per 0.33-litre bottle.

The activities’ cost can be relatively similar for both locals and digital nomads, but how frequently one partakes in these activities can affect the monthly budget. For example, a digital nomad might visit tourist sights more often than a local one, leading to increased activity costs.

The Bottom Line

Istanbul can be just about as cheap as you could want it to be. However, you will be sacrificing a lot of typical comforts if you opt for the cheapest accommodation. Not to mention, some luxuries that you might be accustomed to can come at a higher price – for instance, not every apartment allows you to flush toilet paper down the toilet.

That said, few cities offer you the same degree of variety at this price. You can find all sorts of culinary delights for only a few dollars, and live in a gigantic city of 16 million people for a very low price to boot.

All in all, there are plenty of strategies you can employ to save money: eating vegetarian, visiting mosques, commuting by foot or on public transport. You can still have a relatively happy life while doing all these things too. On the other hand, certain things here just cost more. Especially being away from the crowds. And that can get to you after a while. 

If you want a comfortable life in Istanbul, I recommend you spend a bit extra. I discuss what makes Istanbul a digital nomad destination like no other in the linked article, and part of it has to do with money.

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