This page is mainly for those seeking to work in Turkey as their next destination. It offers a lot of advice on how to go about finding a job and what to look for in a school. If you are already working in Turkey, this page won’t be of much use.
So You Want to Work in Turkey
Working in Turkey is quite easy. Most nationalities can enter Turkey on a tourist visa that can be obtained at the airport/border upon arrival. It costs 20 US dollars. To legally work in Turkey you need a work visa, which can be obtained before or after arriving in the country. To obtain it before, you need to secure a job first and then contact the Turkish consulate nearest you. To obtain it after arriving is incredibly difficult and must be done through your place of employment. This will take a minimum of 7 months and will cost over 1000 Turkish Lira. Your school will need to be willing to help you out by providing forms, translations, and signed documents.
Despite the requirements of legally obtaining a work visa, the vast majority of foreign teachers work illegally. Many teachers have worked here for 5 or more years and never obtained a work visa, although a residency visa would be advisable. If a residency visa is not obtained you will have to make border runs every 3 months to renew your tourist visa. A word of warning: the Ministry of Education does conduct occasional raids on English schools and if you don’t have a work visa when they come you will most likely be expelled from the country, unable to ever return.
Update July 2010: The government is trying to pass some new laws related to tourist visas which would not allow foreigners to come in and out on a tourist visa. Instead you would have to get a residency visa. More can be found at Visas, They are A-changin.
Turkey is a fantastic country with incredible amounts of history and a large number of diverse cultures. The people are very hospitable to guests, if not always to each other. I have traveled to almost every region of Turkey and biked around the country for two months as well. Everywhere you go there is something amazing to see and different people to meet. There are many distinct cultures and lifestyles in every region and talking to all the different people is a real treat. To truly see everything the country has to offer would take a minimum of three months travel time. For me, the least interesting places are the resort cities of the Southwest, but those are always there too.
One of the greatest things about working here is being able to travel the country. Travel is incredibly easy here and very cheap. I generally take a 1 to 2-week vacation every 3 months and that is rarely a problem with the schools. There’s always someone willing to cover your classes for a week. There are places to mountain climb, azure blue seas to swim in, ancient ruins to visit, caves to explore, ancient Christian and Islamic historical sites to visit. Turkey truly has a little of something for everyone.
Turkey is also where Europe and the Middle East meet. Not only can you see the changes that the connection has made, but you can also witness the deep rifts that have grown within the society because of it. Turkey offers a unique vantage point from which to witness globalization in action. Here, the old world mixes with the new and there’s always something waiting to be discovered around every corner.
Along with Indonesia, Turkey is probably the easiest Muslim country to find a job in, which may be a draw for some people. Even though it may appear modern in some places, Turkey is still a developing country. Things like brown outs and water shortages are simply facts of life here, although they rarely interfere enough will daily life to cause much of a stir. Most people don’t even notice them. The big cities are very loud and noisy, especially Istanbul or Ankara. If you don’t like big cities, stay away from these places.
Turkey can be a very interesting place to live, but it still remains very conservative by Western standards. Don’t let the bikini clad girls of the southwestern tourist cities fool you. Even in Istanbul it is frowned upon (to say the least) for a woman to walk alone at night, have sex before marriage, wear short skirts or low cut tops, or live with a boyfriend before marriage. As a woman, getting respect in the classroom is much more difficult than for men, especially from older men. Being an atheist or irreligious are viewed very negatively here and it’s not advisable to inform your students of such beliefs. They won’t say anything, but they will think much much less of you.
Although Turkey is quite conservative, the average foreign teacher rarely notices it. Much of Turkey’s present mindset is comparable to 1950’s America or the current Deep South with it’s overzealous nationalism and conservative religious views. Most foreign teachers develop friendships with other foreigners and the small percentage of Turks that hold more Western beliefs. Also, on the surface, Turkey appears modern, but, as anyone who has really made headways into the culture knows, appearances in Turkey are incredibly deceiving. If you only plan to stay for a year or two you probably won’t even notice the deep cultural differences. If you plan to settle down here and surround yourself with Turkish friends be ready for some surprises.
Some Turks also harbor animosities against Jews, Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, Greeks, Americans, and Gays. The biggest issue here would be homosexuality. While progress is being made, some Turks are strongly opposed to homosexuality. It would not be advisable to make your sexual orientation known. In spite of this, both Ankara and Istanbul have underground gay communities that are not too difficult to find. As for the other nationalities or ethnic groups, Turks generally make a distinction between the people and a government or political movement. Also, all these ethnic groups reside in Turkey and everybody lives side by side. It’s not like they are outcast and there are those who don’t harbor prejudices, but it really depends on the city you live in. As with everything here, people may appear to get along, but suspicions run deep, trust is rare, and what lies under the surface is always another story. As long as you are friendly and stay away from controversial political topics you will be accepted warmly regardless of your ethnicity or religious views. Few foreign teachers ever encounter serious conflict while here.
The last thing to look at is probably nightlife. Outside of the European side of Istanbul, the college town of Eskisehir, and the tourist hotspots on the Southwestern coast, the nightlife in Turkey is very low-key. The evening’s entertainment generally consists of going to a café, perhaps playing foosball, bowling, or ping-pong, or wandering aimlessly around the city. If you are looking for a typical western style nightlife with clubs and bars you will need to live on the European side of Istanbul near Taksim. Otherwise Turkey is more amenable to a rather quiet and laidback lifestyle.
The salary here is generally quite good. Since the economic crisis the value of the lira has dropped to about 1 dollar to 1.5 Turkish lira. Before the crisis I could save about 1000 US a month. Now I save maybe 500. A lot also depends on your lifestyle and city of residence. Both Ankara and Istanbul are very expensive places to live and many people find it hard to save money in either city. Including housing allowance, the average salary is probably about 2000 – 2500 TL a month depending on experience. This is the same whether you work at a university, K-12 school, or private language school. The highest paying places to work (and the one’s with the most demanding standards) would probably be Sabanci University in Istanbul – about 5000 TL a month, Teriyaki Vakfi K-12 in Istanbul – about 4000 a month, and British Side in Istanbul – over 30 TL per hour.
Health & Safety
Basic recommendations for vaccinations are Heptatis A & B, Typhoid, Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR), and Tetanus-diptheria.
Health insurance is strongly recommended while living in Turkey. If you obtain a work visa you will be covered under the government social security (SSK), but the health care is not very good and it takes a long time to get this. It is advisable to seek private insurance. Most schools offer some kind of discounted health insurance. It will probably cost you about 600-800 TL a year. Private health care in Turkey is excellent. Doctors are knowledgeable and hospitals have state-of-the-art equipment. The same cannot be said of public health care. You could go to three different doctors and get three different diagnoses and probably a lot of shots for no discernable reason.
Most prescription drugs are cheap and available without a prescription. A strep-throat antibiotic that cost me 225 US only cost 3 US in Turkey.
Turkey still remains a very safe place to live. While there used to be a coup every 10 years Turkey has been stable for the past 20 years and stands to remain so. There are a number of terrorist groups that operate in Turkey, mainly the PKK, but bombings are rare occurrences and foreigners are rarely the targets of violence. Terrorism aside, crime, especially violent crime, is much less of a problem than in most Western countries (http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1046.html). Despite the fact that most Turks believe Turkey to be an extremely crime ridden and dangerous place, the exact opposite is true. Even in the city of Istanbul violent crime is extremely rare. The most common crime is theft, but this rarely results in violence.
The First Step – Finding a Job
Truly there are a plethora of English Teaching jobs available in Turkey. You can find a job in almost any decent sized city in Turkey, but the city of choice for most foreigners is, of course, Istanbul. Istanbul has by far the greatest number of schools both on the European and the Asian sides. Otherwise you can easily find work in Ankara, Izmir, Diyarbakir, or even Alanya.
Many private schools in Turkey have fairly low standards when it comes to hiring. Often you can get a job over the phone with a five minute interview. The current economic crisis has changed things a bit, but it’s still possible. Many schools have been known to hire anyone that speaks English, but the better schools will require a university degree and a TEFL certificate. I highly suggest you obtain both as it will greatly increase your chances of landing a job and you’ll have a shot at working at a more qualified school that will pay you on time and not jerk you around. As always, many of the bigger schools that hire newbies post ads on sites like Dave’s ESL Cafe or TEFL.com.
While getting a job over the phone is possible, the best way to get a job in Turkey is still applying in person. Turks put a lot of stock in face to face personal relations and even foreign managers are much more willing to hire somebody already here. It’s often the case that an applicant will apply from overseas and never show up, so many schools don’t like to waste time or resources on teachers who are not already in Turkey. Additionally, you should come prepared with your CV and original copies of your TEFL Certificate and University Diploma. Another recommendation is to bring a portfolio of lessons you’ve created. This is impressive and shows that you are prepared and gives the manager a chance to see what it is that you do in the class. From personal experience and that of friends and co-workers, it generally takes one to two weeks to secure a job. Again, Istanbul is probably the easiest, but this can be done in practically any city in Turkey. Just do a google search for English schools (Ingilizce Kurslari in Turkish) and pop on in. It’s also possible to work at a dershane which is like a university prep school, but these places often tend to pay less, have few if any English speaking staff, and no experience working with foreigners. The best times to apply are the end of August beginning of September and end of December beginning of January (although many managers go on holiday, so you might not hear anything for a week or two). These are the times when most new classes start up or when teachers go home for vacation and don’t come back.
Another issue to worry about is Residency and Work Permits. Most respectable schools will pay for your residency visa, but few will cover your work visa due to the large amounts of time and money it takes to get. If your school does not get you a residency permit you will have to do border runs every 3 months to renew your tourist visa. Depending on the schools relationship with government officials or the number of bribes they give, your school can also get raided by the Ministry of Education. If you do not have a work visa when this happens you will most likely get booted from the country or given a severe warning. If you get off with a warning I do not suggest trying your luck again. Raids happen maybe once a year and generally only at bigger schools. Even if your school is willing to get you a work visa they take about 7 months to get and you will be working illegally until you have it no matter what your school tells you. It is possible to get a work visa upon arrival in the country, but this must be applied for at a Turkish consulate in your HOME country. Also, I know of no school willing to do this and most will deny it’s even a possibility for reasons mentioned above.
That should be enough to get you started.
Choosing a School
There are many factors that should go into choosing a school: salary, management competence, standard of education, location, hours worked, opportunities for advancement, contracts (Unless your school has provided you with a work visa, contracts are legally worthless. Not only are you not bound to them, but your school also could care less. Many schools have been known to ignore contracts signed with teachers. If your school does get you a work visa, you must follow the terms of the contract. If a teacher breaks their contract, schools will pursue you legally and the result is usually expulsion from the country. You have been warned.), etc. These factors can vary greatly from school to school.
Salaries range from 15 YTL an hour to over 30 depending on your experience. Anything less than 15 an hour is unacceptable in any city in Turkey. Some schools offer a stable monthly salary while others offer an hourly rate. If you are a new teacher a monthly salary is probably preferable as you will be much more likely to get lots of classes and more experience. It is often the case that new hires are put on the back shelf and only given one or maybe two classes for their first 1-3 months. This can make it really difficult to support yourself. If you are an experienced teacher you will be put on a full load of classes and you’ll often be working 30+ hours a week. Schools will tell you that you won’t always work a full load, but from September to May that is almost never the case. Salaried jobs are probably not the best option for an experienced teacher unless the salary is substantial. Working a 30-hour workweek at English Time I averaged around 3500 TL a month, which is quite a bit more than most salaried positions. An advantage to salaried positions is that you can count on the money coming in. During the summer or perhaps if a school has too many teachers you may find yourself in a position with low hours, especially as a new hire. If you are on an hourly rate this could really affect your earnings. In the end, both options have their pros and cons. Decide which might be best for you.
In addition to the pay most schools offer some kind of bonus. Many schools will pay for your return flight home, give you a housing allowance, pay for your residency visa and maybe your work visa, and provide paid vacation time. The most important two here are assistance with housing and residency visas. As a foreigner it can be extremely difficult to find a place and well nigh impossible to get your residency visa on your own. If your school does not offer housing assistance I would definitely look somewhere else. If they don’t help with a residency visa you will have to make border runs every three months. From Istanbul this isn’t so bad, but from another city it will be very costly and difficult.
Management competence is a serious issue in Turkey. Often who your manager is is much more important than what school you work at. Time and time again I’ve heard stories from people at one branch of a school that find it just awful while people at another branch are very happy. This is because each branch of a school has a lot of autonomy. Things like trainings given, management style, and management availability will change from branch to branch.
One of the first questions to ask is, “Is your manager a foreigner or a Turk?” This will make a big difference, as Turkish management styles are very different from Western management styles. Turkish managers often lack communication skills, have unreasonable expectations, and tend to be less approachable. They also will certainly have less knowledge about ELT and how classes should be run. Exceptions to this would be Turkish managers that have extensive experience abroad or working with foreigners. A Turkish manager will be much more focused on the business side of things while a foreign manager will hopefully be more worried about educational standards. However, it is often the case that managers who have worked in Turkey too long develop poor management habits.
Many managers in Turkey are in the position simply because they are one of the rare few that has stayed at the school for an extended period of time. This does not mean they have any management experience or are even an experienced and knowledgeable teacher. Like fast food restaurants back in the States, they got the position simply because they were there. It’s a good idea to ask your manager about things like amount of experience, teaching methodology at the school, the number of training workshops given, the frequency of observations, what support exists for new teachers, and what they expect from teachers in the class. If the manager can answer these questions satisfactorily you have probably found a good school or at least a good branch. If the answers are short and unfocused I’d check somewhere else.
The most important issue for me at any given school is the standard of education. This is often extremely low in Turkey. The person that owns the school is invariably Turkish and has little to no knowledge of how to teach a language. Even if competent managers are hired there is often no teacher support, no resources, and no training. This means that a teacher who started teaching at the school 3 years ago has probably improved very little over those 3 years. Time and time again I’ve observed teachers with 5 to even 12 years experience teaching at the same school and they make mistakes even a TEFL trainee would know are wrong. Not even just little mistakes are made. Basic flaws in their approach to teaching are often obvious. Just like your students, if teachers are not observed and given guidance, they often won’t improve, especially because the only training they’ve had is a one-month crash course in the bare essentials of TEFL teaching. To decide on quality of education I would talk to the manager first and get their ideas on teaching. Training and teacher development are also essentials. Does the school do monthly or bi-monthly workshops? Do they provide monetary assistance for teachers willing to get their DELTA? You should also observe a few classes at any school before deciding on a position there. If the teachers are competent and knowledgeable it will be immediately evident from their lessons. You’ll be able to see the caliber of teachers employed and have some good insight into what the school expects in their classroom. Also talk to the teachers there. What are their experiences with the school? How does it compare to other schools they’ve worked at?
There is always a teaching culture that exists at a school. If a lot is expected from the teachers and they are treated fairly you will find happy and capable teachers. If the opposite is true, teachers will appear lackluster and unmotivated. Even schools with primarily teachers fresh off a TEFL course can have a culture of professionalism and a motivation to improve if the school encourages it. Believe me, I’ve seen it.
The amount of hours expected and hours of operation are other issues that you won’t have much control over. Turks often work 45+ hours a week and many work 6 days a week. As an English teacher you will be expected to work a minimum of 25 hours a week and many schools work their teachers 30+ on average with little to no overtime pay. As for work hours, most private schools have to work around their students’ schedules. That means that you will be working mostly nights and weekends. There is also a strong possibility of split shifts, which can be a huge pain if you don’t live close to the school. You might have a 6-hour break between your morning and evening classes.
Another matter to think about is the number of days off. Most schools will give you two days off a week, but many schools don’t make these consecutive and you will never get weekends off. If you want to work a 9-5 job you will either have to work at a university or a private K-12 school. Those jobs are much harder to find and often require university degrees in a relevant field or previous experience as a university professor or K-12 teacher, although exceptions will always be made if the school is in need.
The last thing to consider is location. In big cities like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, transportation can be a nightmare. A one-hour travel time between work and school is not uncommon. You should find out where the school is located and where their housing is. Is the housing on a main transportation route? Is it close to or far from the school?
There are a ton of schools in Turkey and the vast majority of them are poorly run with low standards. As a new teacher you may get stuck at one of these places so you can build up your experience and move on to something better. If you are an experienced teacher looking for a quality school, I suggest doing your research and really making an informed decision. Working at low quality schools is exhausting and frustrating and it’s best to avoid such positions. Good luck out there.
Other Useful Reads: