25 August 2017

Lulu Witt - Expat in Turkey

Lulu Witt - Expat in Turkey

We’ve had the chance to talk to Lulu Witt, 57, an Australian expat who has moved to Turkey with her husband. Mrs. Witt who has been living there on and off for 19 years, now works as a blogger. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Australia.


Q: What made you move out of Australia?

A: I started travelling in 1983 and as many Australians do, just kept on going.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I live near Fethiye, Turkey. I was employed by a UK sailing company and sent to Turkey in 1984 and fell in love with the country. I was then sent for a year each to Greece and Yugoslavia, but my heart had been lost to Turkey and I returned after that.


Q: How long have you been living in Turkey?

A: On and off for 19 years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my husband. He also loves it here. Previously he was living in Cyprus and before that Malta so he also has experienced an Expat Lifestyle before.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I love returning for short visits to see my friends and family but I have never suffered from homesickness and I love my expat life.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I have travelled to 46 countries and lived in 10 countries and I think they are one of the friendliest and kindest races I’ve ever met. My opinion on Turks was instant and has never waivered. That is why I chose to live here.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Turkey? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: Actually I have always tried to make friends with the locals and have never teamed up heavily with expats. However, I think this is unusual. I chose Turkey because of the people and that is why I came here. So I have tried very hard to blend in, understand their culture and take part in their way of life. Of course, I do meet up with some expat friends and it’s always great to see them but I do not participate in many expat community functions. I have a lovely circle of Turkish friends who I catch up with regularly. I joined an art group which meets up 3 times a week. They are a lovely, fun, supportive collection of Turkish ladies and I have learnt an enormous amount about Turkish culture from spending time with them. I feel that if you have a hobby and have the opportunity to join a group, you will be greatly surprised how warm and inclusive the members will be. It is a very important part of the Turkish culture to make people feel they are an appreciated guest and nothing is too much trouble for them.


Q: How does the cost of living in Turkey compare to your home?


  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: $2.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: $8.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: $45.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: $8 wine, $3.50 cigarettes.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Turkey?

A: After trying many banks, we ended up choosing the least popular bank we could find because no matter when you go, there is a queue. Since computers were introduced, the banking system seems to take twice as long and the simplest transaction can take half an hour. Going to the bank can be a whole afternoon exercise. We have no idea why our bank is not so popular but it isn’t. It has handy ATMs around the town which is important. It is backed by the Qatari government which we felt was a safe bet in these troubled times. Most expats go for Garanti bank and from what I have learned, they honestly choose it because they know what the word means and can pronounce it. There are never less than a dozen people standing around with tickets waiting to be called. (That means 90 mins waiting minimum!)


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: It is necessary to have someone around who speaks Turkish. Without the language, you can get very tangled up. Many things can be done online these days but often the system does not work properly and everything comes unstuck. As for work permits, it is not easy at all to get a work permit in Turkey although I have heard that they may be relaxing the laws slightly. It is still tricky and everything must be done by the book. If one ever has to visit a Notary for legal paperwork, if just one letter of your name or your father’s name etc. is misspelt, it can take days to sort it out and often a 300km return trip will be required up to the capital of the province, in our case Mu─čla. You have to always check all paperwork and make sure nothing at all has a fault. No matter who made the mistake, it will always be up to you to sort it out and pay whatever has to be paid to straighten the issue out. My paperwork had my father’s surname missing the last letter but my mother’s was correct. This was clearly the mistake of the person typing in my details and getting my family name wrong. It took me two trips to Mugla and around $90 to sort it out.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Turkey is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: That’s a tough question. The State Hospital can be hit and miss. Sometimes exceptionally good value (for say, MRIs etc.) but then you may also be misdiagnosed. Some people swear by the private hospitals and have experienced superb treatment but then others will have horrendous horror stories after paying thousands to end up having to fly home, dead or alive. Generally, good physicians are available and the medical service has improved enormously but still many will choose to go back to the UK or wherever when the going gets tough.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in Australia or Turkey?  What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: To get a resident’s permit, you must buy Turkish health insurance. However, due to it being so hit and miss, many of us buy the absolute cheapest policy possible and then use the State Hospital if they need to and if things are really bad, fly back home. Last year I had to have a bunion operation and I enquired endlessly for a decent orthopaedic surgeon with no success. I was happy to go up to Istanbul if need be, to sort it out but in the end, I flew back to Australia for the operation. My husband had kidney cancer two years ago and he flew back to Denmark to be treated as we did not have in it faith here.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Turkey? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: We drove ourselves with our animals from the island Cyprus by ferry and road and had a truck follow us with our goods. We had a very difficult time finding someone to help us, as we lived on the Greek side of Cyprus and the Greek truck drivers would not cross over to Turkey. The Turkish drivers were not allowed to come down to us in the Greek side. It was hell to sort out and cost us a complete fortune. Next time, looking back, we should have sold everything and just driven ourselves and bought all new stuff all over again. Having said that, I believe the laws may be more relaxed between the two sides of Cyprus now.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: I am not a new expat so I will answer for my husband who is.  The biggest challenge has been the language which is not an easy one. He is progressing now and life gets so much easier when you speak the language. Turks like most nationals, respond so well to those who try to speak their language. They are very grateful. In our little village where we live, no one speaks English so it has been of the utmost importance to learn Turkish.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Turkey?

A: It is a stunning country with so much to see. As I am Australian, I love the proximity to Europe whereas I feel quite isolated when in Australia. The cost of living is very low in comparison to first world countries, the weather is superb and the natives are so hospitable. The food is fantastic, the fresh produce is unbeatable. The red tape can be difficult to cope with. There are certain laws that make living here difficult such as to have a residence permit, one must stay minimum 8 months in a year here or lose the permit. However, as a tourist one cannot stay more than 3 months in 6 months. So you have to choose how you are going to stay here and then stick to that. Before expats bought a lovely summer house and spent 6 months here, 6 months back home but with the staying law, you would lose your residence permit if you went back home to work for too long. It became increasingly difficult. However, I do think these laws are changing. The difficulty in being allowed to work here is very disappointing and puts a lot of people off, of course. There are so many business opportunities that you can see here, but it is impossible to try to set anything up. Buying land here can be a nightmare. It is so important to make sure all the Title Deeds are in order and the building is totally legal. Paying a native person up front for all the work to be taken on, (be it agency work, purchase price, order for goods etc.) can be a huge mistake. Many have been known to do a runner and it is very hard to ever get that money back. The legal system is ridiculously slow and cumbersome and I have not often heard of a foreigner recovering their money or being justly served.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Trekking is very popular, riding rapids, paragliding, sailing, kite surfing, mountain climbing. Take a Turkish bath in a hamam. Get scrubbed down till your skin peels off. Book a day trip on one of the gulet cruise boats. I would recommend booking on a Sunday, the Turks day out. If you really want to see how they enjoy themselves, how high they can get without having a drop of alcohol, then here is your chance. They will be up dancing on the top deck after a couple of glasses of tea. Experience the wonderful Turkish breakfast culture or the wonderful restaurant gardens where you buy the meat from the restaurant and they supply the hot coals and barbecue and deliver it all to your table. You cook the meal in a lovely setting and have waiters running up to your beck and call. It’s like having a barbecue but you only do the fun part. Visit the fish market where you choose your fish, then the restaurant cooks it to your liking. It is a fabulous experience and a superb setting. Our area has hundreds of stunning forests, waterfalls, rivers and more and there is always something to do.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: We would like to stay here for as long as possible. We will have to see as the political climate is heating up and nothing is for certain anymore.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Try to blend in with the Turkish people and give their culture a go. The culture here is so rich and there is so much to discover and learn.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Turkey?

A: I tend to use Facebook to keep in touch with what is going on here. Our local area has many Facebook pages including Expat Zone, many animal aid pages, cooking pages, second-hand market pages by the dozen etc. Of course, I would like to suggest my website. This mainly covers food but has a few different posts about markets and general life in Turkey. Shortly there will be more posts regarding life in our area. www.seasonalcookinturkey.com.