You’re thinking of moving to Istanbul and you have no idea where to begin your search for an apartment? You’ve browsed through hundreds of Internet sites and forced rounds of interrogation upon your Turkish friends, but still the options seem lost in a cloud? If you’ve reached a point of extreme frustration, you’re not alone. For expats in Istanbul, the language, vast size of the city, and simply the different way of doing things all make the apartment hunt seem finished before it’s even begun.
Unlike other European cities, where room sharing and apartment buying are eased by numerous comprehensive search websites, Istanbul doesn’t offer too many well-known search options. Nevertheless, finding an apartment is possible for foreigners, as demonstrated by the large number of expatriates moving to the city and successfully building new lives for themselves. Whether you’re traveling alone and looking for the excitement of a bustling neighborhood, or settling down with a family and seeking neighborhoods that are safe and convenient, Istanbul has something to offer.
The following is a List of Resources that will lead you to your new home:
Personal recommendations: For the single traveler, the most common resource for finding a room is through other expats. Many expats have, during their time living in Istanbul, developed an extensive network of friends, acquaintances, and previous roommates. Within your personal network, scour for friends or friends of friends living in Istanbul and ask if they know of someone with an available room. Another option is to contact a language school in Istanbul, where many expats work as English teachers. They may be able to provide helpful advice.
Craigslist: If personal contacts lead nowhere, the next best option is to search Craigslist, which is also a resourceful website for families. While Craigslist is not as common in Istanbul as it is in American or European cities, the website does offer surprisingly good results for apartment searches in Istanbul. You can either respond to apartment listings or create your own posting to find your perfect dwelling in Istanbul. A self-made posting for a room in Kadıköy recently led this author to over 20 responses with senders’ descriptions of their available rooms.
Real estate websites: For families looking for an apartment, real estate websites are the best bet. Hürriyet Emlak, for instance, lists homes and apartments for rent and sale all throughout the city. With English and Turkish options, Hürriyet Emlak and Sahibinden allow you to refine your search by selecting your apartment criteria.
If you want to make your transition to Istanbul as smooth as possible, we suggest you get in touch with Bedel Relocation, a relocation firm that offers a variety of services (such as finding an apartment for your family or the right school for your children).
Where Should You Live? As the only city in the world spanning two continents, Istanbul presents several options for expats but budgetary restrictions, spatial preferences, as well as a need for mobility in a city notorious for its traffic, will narrow one’s neighborhood options down quite a bit.
Before walking around Istanbul’s many neighborhoods,helpful may be an understanding of the country’s geographical organization. Turkey is divided intoprovinces called il, which are further divided into “cities” called ilçe. Ilçe’s are then divided into districts called semt. (For anyone familiar with New York City, the city of New York would be an il, the five boroughs would be ilçe’s, and Astoria and Jackson Heights semt’s.) While we often consider Istanbul a city, it is technically an il, and its various neighborhoods Beşiktaş, Beyoğlu, Eminönü, and Kadıköy ilçe’s. The semt’s of Istanbul would be Cihangir, Levent, Nişantaşı, Galatasaray, and Etiler. (Note that sometimes the names of ilçe’s and semt’s can overlap, like in Beşiktaş and Kadıköy.) The neighborhoods of Istanbul—both ilçe’s and semt’s—are extraordinarily diverse, not only in their history and architecture but also in their local activities and pace of life. In the list below, you will find the neighborhoods most popular among Istanbul’s expats.
Beşiktaş: Populated by both students and families, Beşiktaş is a bustling and central neighborhood with great access to public transportation. It is close to many Boshprous neighborhoods (like Bebek, Arnavutköy, and Ortaköy) as well as Nişantaşı and Beyoğlu. Chaos floods the streets, which are also lined with tacky restaurants and shops. But in the neighborhood’s chaos many foreign residents have found, in addition to low-priced apartments, a certain charm. Buildings are generally new, offering renovated rooms with large windows and wide space.
Galata: Once a quiet neighborhood with artisan shops, Galata has since undergone gentrification, leading to a steep hike in rental rates. Still, expats flock here for its history and beauty. Several art galleries have also popped up in recent years, leading to a vibrant art scene. In Galata, residents are close to Istanbul’s nightlife in the nearby Şişhane neighborhood, Asmalımescit, and Tünel, and the greater İstiklal Caddesi surrounds. Galata's history is reflected in old buildings with ornate wall moldings, wooden flooring, and chandeliers. Rooms are also spacious with high ceilings and great wall-to-wall width. Even though you won't find supermarkets around Galata, the small markets will offer a variety of expat-friendly products, like lime and coconut milk. Due to its proximity to public transportation (especially the subway line), this area serves as a practical area for those without a car. Keep in mind, however, that the area is quite hilly.
Cihangir: Similar to Galata, Cihangir is a popular destination for Istanbul’s art set. Quiet and residential with sometimes stunning views of the sea, Cihangir has attracted some of Istanbul’s most well-known artists, including soap opera stars, novelists, and painters. But expats, too, have called Cihangir home, leading to an interesting mix of crowds in local restaurants and bars. While Cihangir has long undergone gentrification and therefore seen some very high rents, with the right amount of luck one can find a good deal in this area. And if you’re really lucky, you may even find an apartment in a historical building with seaside windows and balconies offering stunning views. Even if you can't, the bustling social scene, the great restaurants, and the proximity to Taksim Square will be enough.
Kadıköy: Quieter and slower in pace, Kadıköy is often seen as a break from the chaotic European side. Though largely residential, small cafes and restaurants lining the neighborhood streets give some feeling of bustle to this Asian Side neighborhood. With apartments at low rental rates and diverse offerings in room size—many with great wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling space—Kadıköy is certainly the neighborhood that gives residents the most bang for their buck. Apartments with front- and back-side gardens add to residents’ feeling of living in a quainter, more residential Istanbul. The area is very close to ferry stops and other public transport, which makes it quite easy to access the rest of Istanbul.
Etiler: Etiler is one of Istanbul’s most modern neighborhoods, boasting the perks of many Western cities with its malls, sports clubs, and modern apartment buildings. For this reason, Etiler is also one of the priciest areas to live in. Situated close to Levent, Istanbul’s business district, Etiler makes itself a sensible option for anyone on business in Istanbul. The area’s new apartment buildings offer its residents large spaces and the proximity to a wide variety of restaurants and businesses.
Zekeriyaköy: A quiet and greener area located on Istanbul’s northern seacoast, Zekeriyaköy makes itself a great location for anyone seeking a more suburban-like environment. With the arrival of modern villas next to the old town, Zekeriyaköy has become home to both celebrities and well-known businessmen alike. Several popular restaurants, including Fincan and Tike, in addition to a weekly bazaar selling local produce, can be found in Zekeriyaköy. With its spacious rooms and picturesque scenery, Zekeriyaköy’s primeness will certainly show in its housing prices.
Kemerburgaz: Located approximately 30 minutes away from central Istanbul, Kemerburgaz is Istanbul’s first neighborhood with an American suburbia-like environment. After the establishment of Kemer Country (the first of the many modern suburban complexes in Kemerburgaz) in the early 2000s, the area has grown and turned into a full-blown suburban town with a wide range of cafes, restaurants, and sports facilities that makes Kemer a self-sufficient and highly attractive area, especially for young families.
In all the neighborhoods on our list, you can expect to find a two-bedroom apartment for rent for approximately 2,000TL (plus or minus 500 TL). The quality of the apartment for this price, however, will differ greatly from one neighborhood to another. For example, a 2,000TL apartment in Galata is highly likely to be quite small and old, whereas the same price will get you a clean, modern, and spacious apartment in Beşiktaş or Kadıköy. In most neighborhoods (especially Cihangir, Galata, Etiler, and Kemerburgaz), you’ll witness prices skyrocket when a fantastic view is included in the apartment, and you’ll see the pricing change from TL to Euro or Dollar.