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Living in Turkey - A Guide for Students

by Mark Bennett

What's it like to study abroad in Turkey?

As one of the world's most popular tourist destinations it's no surprise that Turkey also attracts large numbers of international students. With Mediterranean beaches, volcanic mountains and the cultural heritage of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilisations, you won't struggle to justify your decision to travel abroad to study for a Masters in Turkey (of course, the country's universities are also an important source of appeal).

Because most Turkish Masters degrees take around two years to complete, you should have plenty of time to explore the country's classical legacy, medieval Islamic architecture and astonishing biodiversity - whether for extra-curricular enjoyment or as fieldwork for studies in a range of disciplines.

Key facts for Masters students in Turkey

  • The academic year in Turkey usually runs from October to July.
  • Around 38,500 foreign students study at Turkish universities.
  • Turkey spends approximately 29% of GDP on education.
  • The language of Turkey is Turkish. English is also commonly taught in schools.
  • The Turkish term for a Masters degree is a 'yüksek lisans'.
  • The currency of Turkey is the Turkish Lira (TL).
  • Turkey has a population of just over 76 million, the majority of whom live in towns and cities. Its capital, Istanbul, is the largest city by population in Europe. Istanbul also has one of the most vibrant histories of any modern city having served successively as the capital of the Eastern Roman and Ottoman empires.
  • Turkey is governed as a parliamentary democracy, with an elected presidential head of state and a prime minister serving as the head of government.
  • Turkey has a rich heritage as the historic centre of the Muslim Ottoman Empire and the majority of its modern population are Islamic. However, the country is fully secular, with no official state faith and religious freedom constitutionally guaranteed for all.

Culture, leisure and everyday life for Masters students in Turkey

Turkish culture is a vibrant fusion of elements from all periods of the country's history. Many of its customs and festivals bear a strong Islamic influence and are a source of vibrant celebration for the large Muslim population. Participation is completely voluntary however and no restrictions are placed on dress or behaviour.

Public holidays

Turkey celebrates two religious festivals (or Bayram) as well as a number of public holidays commemorating important political anniversaries. The Şeker Bayramı ('holiday of sweets') and Kurban Bayramı ('sacrifice holiday') take place at set intervals after the Ramadan fasting period and involve feasting with family and friends. The Kurban Bayramı is named for the traditional sacrificial slaughter of livestock and the division of its meat between family, community and charity. This custom is still celebrated, but in some cases the killing of an animal is replaced by a charitable donation. As a foreign student in Turkey you will be welcome to enjoy the public celebrations that accompany these occasions, but participation in their associated religious practices is not obligatory.

Food and drink

You're probably familiar with a range of popular Turkish foods such as grilled kebab, sweet baklava or the aptly named Turkish delight. Many of these originate from dishes once served to the Ottoman sultans and their court. You may be in for a pleasant surprise if you're familiar with the cheap takeaway and mass-produced confectionary sold internationally; however, as Turkey's traditional dishes are often produced to a much higher standard in the country itself. The range of different varieties available is also extensive. You'll struggle to sample all the different types of kebab available in Turkey during your time as a Masters student and might have to stay on for a PhD! Vegetarian food is also readily available, with dolma (stuffed vine leaves) being particularly popular.

The most famous Turkish drink is probably Raki - an alcoholic aniseed aperitif similar to ouzo - but locally produced beers and wines are also popular.

Accommodation and living costs for Masters students in Turkey

Turkey is keen to welcome international students and this can extend to the provision of student accommodation to foreign postgraduates. Prices for these can be very cheap - as little as 63TL ($30) per month in some cases - but the facilities they offer may be limited. More expensive options with additional catering may cost around 630TL ($300), with various options priced in-between these points.

Private accommodation suitable for students will also be available in popular university cities such as Istanbul and Ankara. These will cost more than university dormitories and are best secured as a group, making them better options for your second year of study. They will usually cost between 420-1050TL ($200-500) per person per month, depending on location, facilities and the number of students sharing.

Groceries and dining

The most inexpensive source of regular groceries in Turkey will usually be your local street market. These are common and form a staple element of daily life in the country (Turkey is actually home to one of the largest covered markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul). A loaf of bread at a local market will usually cost 1TL ($0.5) and a litre of milk around 2.10TL ($1). The large number of different grocers at markets makes it relatively easy to shop around and, potentially, haggle for a better price.

Working whilst studying a Masters in Turkey

Because Turkey is not yet a member of the EU, you may not automatically be guaranteed the right to work as a foreign student. You may still be able to apply for a work permit, but this can be dependent upon the support of a prospective employer and your application won't necessarily be successful. Casual work can be available in tourist areas - particularly if you speak a foreign language - but you should ensure that any work you undertake is safe and legal. In some cases your university may provide employment opportunities for its students - you should be able to enquire about the possibility of this in advance.

Don't forget that you can also use PostgraduateFunding.com to search a comprehensive database of small grants available to all postgraduate students. These could be a great way of topping up your funding if you have difficulty finding work alongside your studies.

You can also use PostgraduateFunding.com to search a comprehensive database of small grants available to all postgraduate students. These can help top up your funding if you have any difficulty finding work alongside your studies.

Other useful information for Masters students in Turkey

You should now have a good idea of what to expect from your time studing a Masters in Turkey. Once you've sorted your accommodation needs and managed your budget, you'll be able to enjoy your time living and studying in one of the most vibrant and historic parts of Europe and Asia. There are a few other details you should probably check on before you travel though - click 'read more' for a quick guide to transport in Turkey, Turkish banking and healthcare for international students at Turkish universities.

Travel and transportation

Turkey is accessible by air, with several international airports and a range of airlines serving the country's busy tourist industry. Overland travel from Europe is also possible (and may sometimes be cheaper) but can be slow; of course, if you've time to spare then taking a coach or train into Turkey will offer an excellent opportunity for some sightseeing.

Travel within Turkey is possible using bus and train services, with metropolitan subways also operating in major cities. If taking short trips you can also make use of Turkey's dolmuş services. These are small minibuses that operate as shared taxis. They run across set routes, but will stop at any point to pick up additional passengers. This can lead to some quite busy services (the word dolmuş actually derives from the Turkish for 'stuffed'!) but dolmuş are nonetheless a safe and quite convenient way to get around Turkish cities or to travel to and from popular destinations such as airports.

Money and banking

Foreign students should have no difficulty opening a bank account in Turkey. Provided you can confirm your identity and address you should be able to complete the process in one visit to a local branch. Turkish banking offers a range of modern services, including online account-management, international balance transfers and automated cash machines in convenient locations. You should also be able to exchange currency at most banks, though the commission charges may be cheaper at dedicated exchange bureaus.


Universities in Turkey will usually offer a free medical service to students, providing initial consultations and basic treatment. Additional or more extensive care will incur a charge and you should therefore provide yourself with some form of health insurance. You can purchase a policy from the Turkish Social Security Institution (SGK) and this may be the option preferred by local authorities. You should be able to acquire advice on policies and obligations from your university's international office.

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