Istanbul is one of those cities that I just can’t get enough of. Every time I leave, I dream of going back. But every time I’m there, I tell myself “This is the last time I’m ever doing this”. Such are the challenges of living there, if you want to stay for a while, you should weigh the pros and cons of living in Istanbul

Istanbul serves as a bridge between East and West, a vibrant city where the past and the present blend together in fantastic, and occasionally frustrating ways. As Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul is home to a lively food scene, bustling bazaars, grand architectural wonders, and a dynamic energy that I think invigorates everyone who steps foot in it. For digital nomads, Istanbul presents a fascinating destination offering a blend of affordable living, scenic beauty, and rich cultural experiences. 

However, like any city, it has its share of challenges too. In this comprehensive guide, I explore 21 pros and cons of living in Istanbul, drawing on personal anecdotes, insights, and experiences to help you make an informed decision about calling this city your temporary new home.

11 Pros of Living in Istanbul

As you can tell, there’s a lot to like about living in Istanbul. I think what surprised me the most is just how relaxing and refreshing the public parks were. 

Don’t have time to read through everything? Here are the 11 pros of living in Istanbul in point form:

  1. Cultural Richness: 
  2. Affordable Cost of Living:
  3. Variety of Neighborhoods: 
  4. Friendliness and Hospitality
  5. Efficient Transportation
  6. Food Scene
  7. Scenic Views
  8. Historical Significance
  9. Bazaars and Shopping
  10. Strategic Location
  11. Cafes and Coworking

Cultural Riches

Istanbul’s cultural richness is a treasure trove for digital nomads seeking to immerse themselves in a foreign culture. To me, Istanbul is a city like no other.

Istanbul is mostly known for the Ottoman and Byzantine attractions from the district of Fatih and Beyoglu. But Istanbul is much more than this, and those districts only represent a fraction of the city. This is a city that doesn’t live in the past. It embraces the modern, from bustling business districts to contemporary art scenes.

You’ll find this rich history infused into everyday life, from the calls to prayer that reverberate across the city to the traditional tea gardens where locals enjoy a cup of cay. This blend of Eastern and Western cultures offers a stimulating and diverse environment for digital nomads, stimulating creativity and broadening perspectives.

Affordable Cost of Living

The cost of living in Istanbul is one of the major attractions for digital nomads. Your money stretches further here than in many Western cities. For example, a meal at a local restaurant can cost as little as 30 Turkish Lira (roughly $1.50). Or, you can pick up fresh produce and meat at relatively affordable prices. Though some things have gone up in price.

Local transportation is also very reasonable, with a ride on Istanbul’s efficient public transportation system costing about 3.5 Turkish Lira (less than a dollar). Despite the city’s sprawling nature, moving around won’t break the bank.

Plus, there’s the cost of entertainment. From enjoying traditional Turkish tea for a few pennies to exploring the wealth of historical and cultural attractions, many of which have minimal entry fees, Istanbul offers a wealth of experiences that offer great value for money. And let’s not forget the nightlife. Istanbul’s lively night scene provides affordable entertainment options from traditional bars to modern clubs.

Variety of Neighborhoods

If you’re looking for variety, Istanbul is the city for you. It offers a wide range of neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct character and charm. For instance, the upscale neighbourhood of Nisantasi offers a glimpse into Istanbul’s luxurious side. It’s renowned as a major destination for luxury shoppers and boasts an array of designer boutiques, fine-dining restaurants, and quaint cafes, not to mention beautiful streets and proximity to the lovely Macka Park.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Kadikoy, the “hipster” district. It’s a high-energy student quarter full of bars and eclectic shops. You can wander through its streets, stumble upon a vintage store, enjoy some live music at a local bar, or grab a bite at one of the many eateries offering everything from traditional Turkish food to international fare. It’s an environment pulsing with creative energy.

Then, for a more laid-back vibe, there’s Uskudar. Particularly the neighbourhoods of Icadiye and Kuzguncuk. Here, you can relax in a tranquil atmosphere, explore peaceful parks, and take in stunning views along the Bosphorus promenade.

Ultimately, Istanbul’s diverse neighbourhoods cater to different lifestyles and preferences. As a digital nomad, you can find a place that aligns with your lifestyle and work needs – be it a bustling urban hub or a tranquil retreat. Learn more about Istanbul’s best neighbourhoods in the linked guide.

Friendly and Hospitable People

One of the greatest aspects of Istanbul, and indeed Turkey in general, is the warmth and hospitality of its people. Turkish hospitality is a cultural cornerstone and one that leaves an indelible mark on all who visit.

At shops, you might be invited for a sip of tea after you make a purchase. In restaurants, you might be treated to extra servings or free desserts, and in neighbourhoods, you can expect friendly greetings from locals.

Efficient Transportation

A lot of people – both residents and foreigners – will complain about the public transit here. I think they’re out of their minds to complain. Istanbul is a massive and complicated place, it’s miraculous that they’ve been able to expand their transportation network as much as they have.

Getting around Istanbul is relatively easy and affordable, thanks to its extensive public transportation network. This is an invaluable asset for a digital nomad. You might live in the trendy district of Kadikoy but want to work in a chic café in Nisantasi, or perhaps you fancy a change of scene and decide to spend the day working overlooking the Bosphorus.

Buses, trams, metro, ferries, and even the nostalgic funicular and tramway lines connect different parts of the city, making commuting across the city. There’s something particularly magical about taking a ferry across the Bosphorus, not only for the efficiency but also for the breathtaking views of Istanbul’s skyline. Plus, with the Istanbulkart, a rechargeable travel card, you can easily hop from one mode of transport to another.

Remember, this is a city that spans two continents. How many places in the world can you boast about taking a ferry to work, crossing from Europe to Asia?

Food Scene

Istanbul is a gastronomical paradise. The city is renowned for its culinary diversity, a reflection of its rich cultural history. As a digital nomad, you won’t just be working in this city, you’ll be savouring it, one bite at a time.

You could start your day with a traditional Turkish breakfast, a spread of fresh bread, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, and perhaps a boiled egg, enjoyed in a charming café by the Bosphorus. Lunch could be a doner from some street vendor, succulent and aromatic. And dinner? Perhaps you’ll indulge in some fresh fish and meze at a restaurant in Kadikoy.

But it’s not just about traditional Turkish cuisine. Istanbul’s food scene is diverse. From trendy vegan spots in Cihangir to contemporary fusion restaurants in Karakoy, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

And let’s not forget Turkish tea and coffee. As a digital nomad, you’ll likely spend many hours in Istanbul’s cafés. The ritual of sipping Turkish tea served in small, tulip-shaped glasses, or enjoying a strong Turkish coffee, could become an integral part of your day, a moment of pause in your busy digital life. After all, what’s work without a little indulgence?

Scenic Views

As a digital nomad in Istanbul, one thing is for sure – you’re never far from a breathtaking view. Straddling the Bosphorus strait, Istanbul’s geography is a tapestry of captivating sights and offers ample opportunities for outdoor activities.

Istanbul is a hilly city, which means that if you ever find yourself at the top of a hill, you’ll usually see something that takes your breath away. From Camlica Camii on the Asian side to Yildiz Park on the European side, there are dozens of venues where you can take in the incredible scenery.

If you find yourself on a ferry ride, surrounded by the awe-inspiring view of the Bosphorus strait adorned by the city’s landmarks, you might ask yourself if there is any city in the world that compares. And if you love views of the Bosphorus, jogging along the Bosphorus or cycling on one of the city’s bike paths can become a regular pastime.

Historical Significance

Where else can you find a city that straddles two continents, Asia and Europe, and once served as the capital of two of history’s most powerful empires, the Byzantine and Ottoman?

In some districts, living in Istanbul is akin to residing within a living museum. This ancient city has been the capital of three grand empires – Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman – each leaving an indelible mark on the city’s landscape.

Imagine this: after a day’s work, you take a leisurely walk through Sultanahmet, the historic heart of Istanbul. There, the grandeur of Hagia Sophia, once a cathedral, later a mosque, then a museum, and now a mosque once again always leaves me spellbound. 

Your weekends could be spent exploring the opulent palaces that were constructed during the Ottoman era. In addition, you could take a step back in time to the Byzantine Empire and visit the majestic city walls of Constantinople. Each of these experiences will make you feel more connected to the city’s past and make your stay in Istanbul uniquely enriching.

Pros and cons of living in Istanbul
Pros and cons of living in Istanbul

Bazaars and Shopping

No conversation about Istanbul would be complete without mentioning its bazaars. The Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, is a labyrinth of more than 3,000 shops where you can find everything from antique jewelry and colourful ceramics to Turkish carpets and leather goods. As long as you don’t get sucked into any shop owner’s tricks, it’s a marvellous experience.

Picture yourself meandering through its bustling alleys, haggling over prices, and soaking up the unique atmosphere. The Spice Bazaar is my favourite, where the heady aroma of spices, herbs, and Turkish delight fills the air.

But Istanbul’s shopping scene is not limited to bazaars. Modern shopping malls, high-end boutiques, and designer stores abound, particularly in areas like Nisantasi and Bagdat Street. Whether it’s vintage clothing you’re after in Cukurcuma or unique local designer pieces in Nisantasi, Istanbul caters to all tastes and budgets.

Strategic Location

Istanbul, the city where East meets West, stands uniquely astride two continents – Europe and Asia. This geographic vantage point lends Istanbul a strategic edge, offering a gateway to multiple cultures, markets, and global destinations.

Consider this: on one hand, you’re connected to the robust and diverse European markets, and on the other, you have access to the dynamic and emerging Asian economies. This positioning can be a game-changer, especially if your work involves dealing with international clients.

Istanbul’s two international airports – Istanbul Airport on the European side and Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side – serve numerous global destinations, providing a wealth of travel options. Got a client meeting in London or Berlin? No problem. Need to attend a conference in Dubai or Shanghai? You’re just a flight away. You can reach most of Europe, Asia, and Africa from here, and most major cities in North and South America are a direct flight away too.

This convenience of international connectivity makes Istanbul an attractive base for digital nomads who frequently travel for work or leisure.

Cafes and Co-working Spaces

Istanbul has many delightful cafes. Particularly in neighbourhoods like Cihangir and Besiktas. You can sip on a cup of traditional Turkish tea or a robust Turkish coffee while working on your laptop amidst the energetic hum of the city.

The city’s café culture offers a variety of atmospheres – from modern and minimalist to eclectic and artsy, catering to different moods and work styles. And it’s not just about the coffee; these cafes often serve a variety of mouth-watering pastries and snacks, perfect for when you need a work break.

But what if you crave a more formal, dedicated workspace? This is where Istanbul’s burgeoning co-working spaces come in. These spaces offer not just a desk and internet connection, but a community of like-minded professionals, opportunities for networking, and often, a calendar full of interesting events and workshops. The only issue is, there isn’t a particularly high density of these spaces.

However, it’s important to consider commute times in a city as large as Istanbul. In choosing a place to live, consider proximity to your preferred cafes or coworking spaces. After all, your time in Istanbul should be spent savouring the city, not stuck in traffic!

10 Cons of Living in Istanbul

If you don’t want to read through every negative of living in Istanbul, this is the shorter version: 

  1. Finding Housing
  2. Inconsistent Housing Quality
  3. Weak Internet Speed
  4. Language Barrier
  5. Noise Levels
  6. Risk of Scams
  7. Hilly Terrain
  8. Political Instability
  9. Traffic Congestion
  10. Air Quality

Housing Challenges

Finding suitable housing in a foreign city is seldom a straightforward task, and Istanbul is no exception. The city’s rise as a digital nomad hotspot has led to a surge in demand for good-quality housing, leading to a tight rental market. Apartments in the popular districts of Istanbul can be pricier and book up quickly, especially in the peak tourist seasons.

Imagine scrolling through rental listings only to find that the dream apartment you saw last week is no longer available, or the prices have unexpectedly skyrocketed. The housing market in Istanbul can sometimes feel like a real-life game of musical chairs!

Moreover, the reality may not always meet expectations when it comes to renting apartments. Based on some Airbnb reviews, there can be instances where the quality doesn’t justify the price. It’s not unusual to find a luxurious-looking apartment online, only to arrive and discover it’s not as glamorous as the pictures suggested.

Inconsistent Housing Quality

Consistency in housing quality is another concern. It’s no secret that in Istanbul, the quality of housing can vary greatly from one neighbourhood to another, or even from one building to the next.

Perhaps you’ve secured an apartment in your ideal neighbourhood, only to discover that there’s no hot water in the bathroom or the plumbing system leaves much to be desired. Unreliable amenities can quickly turn your dream of living in this culturally rich city into a daily hassle.

Most rental sites in Istanbul and even elsewhere 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 a large database of digital nomad apartments. We’re vetting them to ensure that they are actually suitable for remote work, and livable for a months-long stay. Enter your name and email below to get access to them as soon as they’re released.

Lacking Internet Speed

When you’re a digital nomad, reliable, high-speed internet isn’t just a luxury; it’s an absolute necessity. Istanbul’s internet speed is generally adequate for routine tasks, but it may not always meet the high-speed standards that digital nomads accustomed to other cities might expect.

Visualize yourself on a crucial video call with a client or on a deadline to send a heavy file, and suddenly, your internet starts to lag. It’s a digital nomad’s nightmare! While such instances may not be the norm, they can occur, potentially affecting your work and productivity.

In the end, it’s essential to be aware of these potential pitfalls while planning your move to Istanbul. Adequate research, booking in advance, and managing expectations can help mitigate these challenges and ensure a rewarding experience in this vibrant city.

Language Barrier

While English is spoken by some, it’s mainly limited to university circles and tourist-centric areas. Turkish people are helpful, but their help might only go as far as Google Translate can take the two of you. It’s not anybody’s fault, I don’t go to places expecting people to speak English, but in Istanbul more than any other major city I know of, you’ll need to learn a few local words to get by.

Getting invited to a local get-together is an excellent opportunity to socialize, make new friends, and experience authentic Turkish culture. But language barriers could make this a frustrating rather than enjoyable experience. Be prepared to play charades. Communication, after all, is key to building relationships, and if you’re unable to interact freely with locals due to language differences, it might make your stay in Istanbul less fulfilling.

Noise Levels

For some, the lively atmosphere of Istanbul is part of its charm. The crowded streets, the busy markets, the lively cafés, and the animated nightlife – it’s an adrenaline rush. But for others, especially digital nomads who need quiet to concentrate on their work or value tranquillity after a day’s work, the noise levels can become a significant concern.

Consider living in Besiktas, a neighbourhood known for its exuberant nightlife. It’s Friday night, and you’re trying to wrap up your work, but the sounds of music, laughter, and chit-chat from the local bars have already erupted and are now seeping through your windows. Or you’re hoping for a peaceful night’s sleep, only to be kept awake by the sounds of revelry outside. A dream for some can be a nightmare for others!

Risk of Scams

When it comes to living in a new city, safety is of paramount importance. Istanbul is generally safe, but like any large city, it has its share of issues. Certain neighbourhoods have reported problems with pickpocketing and scams, which may make residents and visitors feel uneasy.

Imagine walking down Istiklal Street, one of the most popular streets in Istanbul. It’s crowded, and you’re admiring the historical buildings when suddenly you feel a hand in your pocket. Or perhaps you’re caught in a scam that leaves you feeling cheated and distrustful.

While these scenarios don’t define the overall Istanbul experience, they do serve as a reminder that it’s essential to stay aware, and vigilant, and take precautions to ensure your safety in the city.

Hilly Terrain

Istanbul, with its mesmerizing skyline, offers a stunning panorama from many vantage points. But this beautiful vista comes with a caveat – hilly terrain. Neighbourhoods like Cihangir, Galata, and Karakoy are popular choices among digital nomads, but they come with the challenge of navigating their steep slopes. Not everyone wants to go hiking every day.

You could step out of your apartment for a casual stroll in the lively Cihangir neighbourhood, only to find yourself huffing and puffing up the steep inclines. Or you’ve just had a long day of work and want to explore Uskudar, but the hilly landscape seems daunting. You might need to build up some calf muscles while living here!

Political Instability

Living in a foreign city can be an exciting adventure, but it can also bring its share of anxieties. One such concern for potential digital nomads considering Istanbul might be the country’s political landscape. Turkey has faced some political instability and occasional security concerns in recent years, which can make living there feel uncertain.

It’s not enjoyable to scroll through the news and read about the latest political upheaval or security concern in the city you now call home. You look out the window, hoping for a peaceful day, but there’s a nagging worry at the back of your mind. The political uncertainty might not directly impact your day-to-day life, but it’s a shadow that can loom large over your Istanbul experience. 

I was there during the November 2022 attacks on Istikal Street. I try not to think about what happened, but I was in the exact spot where the explosions went off the day before the attack. I suppose my family worries about such risks constantly.

Traffic Congestion

It’s the end of your workday. You’ve closed your laptop, ready to explore the wonders of Istanbul. You step outside, only to be greeted by an orchestra of honking horns and a sea of brake lights. Welcome to the reality of Istanbul’s infamous traffic congestion.

Even though the city offers a range of public transportation options like buses, trams, and ferries, they too are not immune to the grip of heavy traffic. During peak hours, it feels like the entire city is on the move, turning roads into parking lots. This can make commuting within the city not just time-consuming, but also frustrating. Your travel times may double, or even triple, putting a damper on your plans for the day.

Air Quality

Living in Istanbul, you might wake up to views of the sun rising over the Bosphorus, the sky changing colours over the minarets of countless mosques, and the city skyline bathed in the soft morning light. But this picturesque scene comes with a less-pleasant side effect: air pollution.

Like many large cities around the world, Istanbul grapples with air quality issues. Car exhausts, industrial emissions, and dust particles hanging in the air are not uncommon sights in the city. On some days, a hazy smog might curtain your view of the otherwise beautiful cityscape. This can be a concern, especially for those who are sensitive to air quality or have respiratory issues. Your morning runs along the Bosphorus may become less appealing when each breath brings in not just the salty sea air, but also the sting of pollution.

Despite all the beauty and charm Istanbul offers, these are real challenges that one needs to consider before taking the plunge and moving to this iconic city.

The Final Word: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Living in Istanbul

In the final analysis, Istanbul is a city of contrasts and contradictions. On one hand, its historical richness, scenic beauty, strategic location, and hospitable people make it an attractive destination for digital nomads. On the other hand, issues like finding housing, language barriers, political instability, and traffic congestion are aspects that one should consider before deciding to settle in this city. Ultimately, your decision will depend on what you value most in your chosen destination.

Do the city’s dynamic energy, cultural richness, and stunning beauty outweigh its downsides? Only you can answer that. Hopefully, we’ve offered a comprehensive view of what living in Istanbul truly entails. 

If you want to learn more about the city, I’ve compiled a full guide for digital nomads in Istanbul that will help you plan the logistics of your trip.

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