It's been a while since our last Ask the Expat post, but I've got a vexing question from Viviana today about whether she should move to Istanbul or Izmir:
Dear Barbara, My name is Viviana, I am from Italy, but I live in China (Shanghai). My husband and I are moving from China to Turkey in a few weeks! Nevertheless I write to you because we are still indecisive between living in Istanbul or in Izmir. The main doubt is about the job opportunities that are available. My husband is a lawyer with expertise in commercial-international law and has good experience in different European markets and in China (he has lived in Shanghai for 5 years). He speaks German (his mother tongue) and fluent Italian, English and Chinese. Unfortunately he still doesn’t speak Turkish! Here in China I teach economics in an American Business School. I had previously 5 years of experience in an Italian consulting company. I speak Italian (mother tongue) and fluent English and Spanish. Again...I don't speak Turkish yet!
The reason why we decided to move to Turkey can sound “strange”, but reading your interview I felt good and I thought you could maybe understand us. After a long time in China we really need to get closer to Europe, to our culture and tastes…like good Mediterranean food!! Nevertheless, we wouldn’t like to go back home, but we prefer to experience a new culture and to enjoy the beauty of wonderful Turkey! We are also considering to have children in the near future and from this point of view I would consider Izmir much more suitable than Istanbul! Then…it is a great DILEMMA! If we knew that in Izmir we could have more job opportunities, I think we would choose it… We are going to commit ourselves very much in our job research, but we know it will take a lot of patience and time! Can you give me your opinion? Thank you very much! Your help to foreigners approaching beautiful Turkey is PRECIOUS!
That is indeed a dilemma, Viviana! A few considerations stand out to me after reading your letter: 1) that you both are looking for work; 2) that you are interested in Mediterranean food (and, I am assuming, a Mediterranean lifestyle); and 3) that you would like to have children in the near future.
As for number 1, Istanbul is your best bet, hands down. The majority of working foreigners in Turkey find jobs in Istanbul as the country's other cities simply don't offer the same kinds of job opportunities for foreigners who don't speak Turkish. That said, if your husband wishes to continue practicing as a lawyer, the only way he can practice law in Turkey is by learning Turkish and then passing the bar exam in the city in which he wishes to practise. This is a pretty big feat to accomplish in and of itself, and because there is already a ready supply of qualified Turkish lawyers in the economy, law firms tend not to hire foreigners with little experience of the Turkish legal system. (UPDATE: Check the comments for more info on how to be a legal "consultant" in Turkey!)
As for you, being a teacher makes your job prospects much easier. It is not necessary for you to teach in Turkish as long as you can find a school that uses English as its predominant teaching language. I'm sure you already know about the Chronicle of Higher Education, but you can check there for job opportunities available in Turkey and to research various schools here. You can find some more information about finding work in Turkey here.
Of course, that's not to say that finding a job outside of Istanbul is impossible! I know plenty of foreigners who live outside of the city who have jobs; you just have to be a bit more creative to find them.
As for Mediterranean food lifestyle, Izmir's certainly got that -- plenty of fresh food, easy access to numerous coastal towns and beaches in summer, a very chill laid-back vibe. However, the city is far from being an international and cosmopolitan one. I've written before about Izmir's lack of an international air; then again, I've also written about how much I love my neighborhood.
If what you're looking for is a city where lots of different people speak lots of different languages, Istanbul is where you need to be. The vibrancy of Istanbul simply cannot be matched anywhere else in Turkey. On the other hand, if you're looking for good Mediterranean food, want to have children and are maybe looking for a more laid back life-style, Izmir's probably where you want to be.
It's a tough decision for you to make, Viviana, and I don't envy you for having to make it, that's for sure! I've lived in both places now, and my answer has always been Istanbul over Izmir, even though that's where I live now. The more I stay in Izmir, the fonder I grow of it, but I love Istanbul much more, I consider it home, and I would choose it any day over Izmir. Best of luck with your decision, and let us know what you decide!
Readers, what advice or suggestions do you have for Viviana?