Matt and Cath both have excellent questions regarding banking and money transfers that a lot of newcomers to Turkey may also be facing. Here is what Matt has to say:
"I have been reading your blog for about six months now, as long as I have known I would be moving to Istanbul. My girlfriend and I leave to teach English there in early September. We have been dutifully preparing and getting all our ducks in a row, but are having some trouble with one aspect of our move: banking. We were wondering what the best way to bank in Istanbul is for expats. Ideally we would like to keep a US account (I have student loans that still need to be paid), and get an account in Istanbul for payday. The only banks we seem to find that can do both require exceptionally large account minimums. We'd like to minimize fees and charges for conversion and transfers. Any advice would be greatly appreciated."
Cath has a very similar question:
"Do I need to set up a Turkish bank account before I move there? I have spoken with my bank briefly to inform them I will be leaving. Is it best to close my current account and just re-open another one in Turkey and when is the best time to do this?"
Jeff and I spent a lot of time trying to figure this out for ourselves when we moved here two years ago. Here is what we have learned:
Under no circumstances should you close your home country bank account before you move to Turkey. Talk to your bank about your impending move. Tell them that you are moving to Turkey and give them your new address, if you have it. If you don't have a new address, make sure the bank has an address on file where any mail they send you will go somewhere safe (a parent's or a friend's house, perhaps). Once you have an international address, update it with your bank. (One reason you need to tell your bank about your move is that international credit/debit card activity could cause your bank to temporarily shut down bank access if they think the card has been stolen.)
On your end, find out if your bank accepts international money transfers and can make them. Most banks do this online and you can find this out simply by logging into your online account and doing some searching under "transfers". However, if you are a member of a credit union, the rules will likely be different; my credit union, for example, does not accept nor make international transfers. If this is the case for you as well, open an account with a large bank like Citibank or HSBC that will allow you to do this. Even if you don't think you will be regularly sending money back to your home country, it's still an option you want to have on hand.
Once you arrive in Turkey, the first thing you should know is that unlike in the US, you don't necessarily get to choose which bank you want to work with here. The majority of employers choose one bank to work with, and their employees must open accounts in that bank to receive their paychecks. Every employer I have heard of that hires foreigners chooses Garanti Bank for this, the reason being that Garanti is the only bank in Turkey that makes even the remotest effort to cater to the needs of expatriates. (Not that it does a very good job, but that's another post entirely.)
Opening a Garanti account has gotten slightly more complicated in the past year or so. Before, you simply had to show your passport and a tax number to open an account. (Getting a tax number is incredibly easy in this country and only requires that you show your passport at the local tax office.) Now, sometimes, the bank also wants to see your residence permit. If you don't have a residence permit, you can sometimes still open an account, but that seems to depend on the bank and who happens to be working at the time, as far as I can tell from other friends' experiences.
Once you get a Garanti account, things run pretty smoothly. You can open as many foreign currency accounts as you want within the same account number. For example, you can have a lira, US dollar, and euro account all under your name. When you log into online banking, you'd see all three accounts there. You'll be given a debit card, which you can only use to withdraw money from your Turkish lira account; you cannot withdraw money from a euro or dollar account.
Making an international money transfer from Garanti is fairly simple and can be done online. To be allowed to make money transfers, you need to fill out a sheet at the bank and specify what you want your daily transfer limits to be. You can set limits for international, Garanti bank, and other bank transfers. You cannot make any transfers at all unless you do this first. The cost for an international transfer is 30 lira and takes about 3 to 4 business days.
There are, of course, other ways to transfer money overseas: You can open an HSBC or Citibank account in Turkey, then link it to your respective account at home. Of course, this only works if you get your paycheck deposited into the Turkish HSBC or Citibank account. Otherwise, you're likely going to have to transfer money from Garanti to your Turkish Citibank/HSBC account, when you might as well just transfer to your foreign account.
Whew! That was a lot of info! I hope that helps! If anyone else has any other advice or suggestions, leave them in the comments!