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Digital nomads are taking advantage of Turkey’s new ‘lower cost of living’ remotely

As Turkey undergoes currency devaluation, it is becoming an attractive destination for location-independent workers, especially as it keeps its borders open during the pandemic while other countries shut down.

Digital nomads are taking advantage of Turkey’s new ‘lower cost of living’ remotely
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

When Covid-19 started affecting ease of travel back in 2020, it was a deciding factor for many digital nomads to visit Turkey for the first time. 

Digital nomads – the trendy term for location-independent remote workers, freelancers and entrepreneurs who can work from anywhere — have gotten used to going wherever they pleased so long as there is an internet connection available. Spending several months in one country before moving to the next destination was simple and straightforward until crushing travel restrictions resulted in very few countries maintaining open borders throughout the epidemic. 

Europe was notoriously closed off to non-Europeans for most of 2020, yet Turkey was accepting visitors from all over the world for the past two years without any restrictions. 

You’ll often hear the term “geoarbitrage” spoken within digital nomad circles. An idea introduced in Tim Ferris’ iconic 2007 book, The 4-Hour Workweek, is that taking advantage of geoarbitrage means moving to a location with a lower cost of living while keeping the same income level from back home. Being able to work remotely makes this not only worthwhile but also simple to accomplish, the only requirement is a stable internet connection.

While you can hardly live on $1,000 per month in the US or €1,000 per month in Western Europe, there are many countries where these are considered hefty sums of money, allowing those who earn Western wages while working remotely to achieve a lifestyle that would be impossible back home. But due to Turkey’s currency troubles, this is more than enough per month for a very relaxed lifestyle in a country with exceptionally high standards of organization, cleanliness and order. 

When the Turkish lira suffered a severe devaluation due to Turkey’s economic policies over the past few years, it signaled a disaster for some and an opportunity for others. If one US dollar was worth five Turkish liras back in 2018, it is now equivalent to 13 liras today. While the cost of living has risen for the local population, the country appears to be “on-sale” to digital nomads who are curious to try out a relatively unexplored destination for working remotely.

For most Israelis, this is not a country that’s usually at the top of our travel bucket list. A decade of anti-Israel sentiment within Turkish politics had resulted in tourism from Israel to Turkey grinding to a halt. What was once the favorite destination of Israelis back in the 90s had become a place one was told to avoid, where it was seemingly dangerous to be Israeli. 

But I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the only Israeli digital nomad who had decided to try Turkey for the first time — there were many already there, happy to trade lockdowns, restrictions and a high cost of living for a country where you can have a meal for as little as a dollar, and booking accommodation for an extended stay of one or two months was particularly good value as tourist numbers dwindled because of the pandemic. Sharing the same time zone is also another advantage for those who need to be available during Israeli work hours. 

“We are considering returning there for a year,” says Nick Ribal, an Israeli front-end developer who came to Turkey together with his wife and two kids. “The first question Turks ask you is ‘Where are you from?’ and never did we feel the need to hide the fact we’re from Israel. We got nothing but positive responses. Outside of very religious areas in Istanbul, we never felt even a hint of negativity or anything of that sort.”

The lira has kept losing value throughout this period until peaking recently: while $1 bought 4 liras in 2018, it was worth a whopping 16.50 liras last December. Sure, prices have increased, but that was hardly noticeable for those nomads who had decided to stay in Turkey.

A new batch of digital nomads will arrive in Turkey as spring approaches. Many will take advantage of Turkey’s simplified long-term residency program, the “İkamet”, a cheap and extendable residence permit that allows nearly anyone who wishes to stay in the country for an entire year. Coworking spaces, coffee houses and tea shops with free internet are spread everywhere, so finding a place to work won’t be an issue.

“It is as cheap as Vietnam and you practically feel rich there,” adds Ribal, “even though culturally, and in terms of infrastructure and services, it is much closer to European standards.” 

It appears a new digital nomad hotspot is in the making, ready to compete with Thailand and Mexico for those remote workers who want something closer to home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Toby Lior Carmel is a freelance writer and translator originally from Israel. Before pursuing the location-independent digital nomad lifestyle, he worked and studied in various cities around the world including Tel Aviv, Toronto, Auckland, Cork and Amsterdam. He has a bachelor's in linguistics from the University of Tel Aviv and master's in communication from the University of Southern Denmark. More

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