The good news: it is perfectly possible to work legitimately in Turkey; you just need a work visa. The bad news: they are hard to get. There are many restrictions and regulations to get your head around. Some foolish people don’t bother. There are too many examples of foreign nationals who either don’t understand the rules or bend them to suit their own circumstances.
The coastal resorts of the south-east are littered with instances of British and other nationals who worked illegally in bars, restaurants or other small businesses and who were fined or deported when they were caught. It’s a dangerous game to play. It’s not surprising that the authorities take a dim view of people who flout the Law. Half of the population of 70 million is under 30 and, with too few jobs to go around, many Turks are either underemployed (in seasonal work, for example) or unemployed altogether.
There are a ton of controls on the types of work foreign nationals can undertake. There is a long list of occupations which are simply unavailable. These include doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, vets, pharmacists, opticians, judges, lawyers, security guards, notaries and most other ‘professional’ activities. Working as an executive director in a travel agency is also out, as is anything to do with diving, maritime navigation or working on ships. The Turkish Consulate maintains an up-to-date list of all prohibited occupations and the Ministry of Labour has information about regulations within each of the employment sectors.
There are other conditions which need to be met when a foreign national intends to work in Turkey, some of them relating to quotas for employing Turkish nationals in the same business. For example:
“At the workplace for which work permit is requested, at least five persons who are citizens of the Republic of Turkey must be employed.”
“For foreigners to be employed by firms operating in the entertainment sector as well as tourism…there will not be a separate quota application provided that at least 10 persons who are citizens of the Republic of Turkey are employed in these firms.”
Expect your application to take around two months to be processed. Once you get the all clear, you will be asked to visit your consulate to obtain the all-important work visa stamp. If you are in any doubt about your eligibility to work, always get advice before you start. For advice on work permits, read the post on Entry Requirements and Visas in Turkey.
Turkish employers tend to favour applications from Turkish nationals although there are some obvious exceptions, particularly when English is required. Most people find work before they move to Turkey although it is possible to find vacancies by trawling online job listings, English language newspapers, college websites and classified ads.
Major international companies who trade in Turkey often look for foreigners to join their overseas workforce and are particularly persuaded by applications from graduates. For example, Unilever, Microsoft, Intel, and BP all operate in Turkey, as do a number of large clothing retailers such as Hennes, Marks and Spencer and Next. Online trade directories can be useful when it comes to finding suitable employers and the membership directory on the British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey website is a useful source.
There are two obvious employment sectors for foreign nationals to consider: teaching English and working within the tourism sector.
When it comes to teaching English (privately or in the education sector) you will increase your chances of getting a job, especially a relatively well-paid one, if you have an appropriate qualification such as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). These days, many teaching jobs are advertised on websites like http://www.tefl.com and http://tefl-jobs.co.uk.
As far as tourism goes, life can be precarious. Many bar and restaurant jobs are seasonal with long hours and poor rates of pay. And you’re unlikely to get a regular day off. You may be expected to ‘live-in’ and, as board and lodgings are often provided free, some employers exploit this by paying wages late or delaying until the end of the season (and there are some instances when staff aren’t paid at all). Employers are also responsible for paying your social security contributions (once again, some unscrupulous employers may not even when they say they are). To work legally, both you and your employer will need to apply for the necessary permissions and must meet all of the conditions required. Don’t be tempted to take the word of your employer; insist on having a legal work permit. An easier and usually better paid option is to work as a holiday rep for one of the major tour operators. If you follow this route, your employer will help you get the necessary visa and accompanying paperwork.
If you are thinking about setting up your own business in Turkey, you must do your homework first. Despite various moves by the Turkish Government to make the process simpler, the paperwork, visa regulations and restrictions on what foreign nationals can and cannot do, make the whole process a daunting prospect. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but you will need to get some good advice, preferably from a Turkish speaking expert. Factors to consider include which type of company to set up, investment costs, tax liabilities, regulations about employing Turkish nationals and restrictions on what you personally can do. If in doubt, speak to someone who has already done it (legally) or contact the Turkish British Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Foreign Investors' Association: http://www.yased.org.tr/webportal/English/Pages/MainPage.aspx
Foreign Economic Relations Board: http://www.deik.org.tr/
Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen Association: http://www.tusiad.org/
If you are determined to work in Turkey, a good track record (including relevant work experience) coupled with the ability to speak Turkish will increase your chances. Good luck.
By Jack Scott, author of Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey, a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy recalling the first year of a gay couple in a Muslim land.