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Explaining Turkey's Immigration Policy for Travelers

More and more expats are considering Turkey when they decide to relocate outside of their home country. After all, the country has good healthcare, is an inexpensive place to live, and offers access to rich historical treasures. 

People considering a move to Turkey should know how to immigrate and what to expect when they get there. That way, they can make educated and informed choices about how to proceed.

Immigrating to Turkey

When someone immigrates, they basically pick up their whole life and move it to a different country.

While they cannot move everything, like all of their family members, they generally commit to making a new life in their new location.

People immigrate for a number of reasons. Most of the time, the reason doesn’t matter as long as the individual or family is committed to the move.

They need to be ready to open new bank accounts, make new social and career connections, and even learn new languages.

Reasons to Immigrate to Turkey

There are a number of reasons why expats might choose to immigrate to Turkey. Different people will have different reasons for making the move. Some of the ones that people mention most often include: 

They get a job in Turkey. If someone is hired by a Turkish company or their current job asks them to work in Turkey, they will need to commit to immigrating to the country in order to fulfill those responsibilities.

They have family in Turkey. Some people move to Turkey to care for family members there, while others move to reunite with family they have not known well or have never met before.

They want to study in Turkey. Turkey offers a number of educational opportunities, from university classes to internships to language courses and more. Students will need to live in Turkey for the duration of their program.

They love history. Turkey has a massive number of historical and archaeological sites that are important to people around the world. Some choose to move to the country for better access to these or because of a site’s religious importance.

They aren’t safe at home. People who face persecution or poverty in their home country may choose to relocate to Turkey because it is safer and more secure than being at home.

How to Immigrate to Turkey

There are a few ways to immigrate to Turkey. The most popular of these are:

A student visa. Approved students may reside in Turkey for the duration of their studies. They will need several documents in order to apply for this visa, including a letter from the institution or program where they will be studying indicating their acceptance into an approved academic program.

A work visa. In Turkey, it is the employer’s responsibility to get permission to hire foreign workers and to get those workers a work permit. Once that permit has been granted, the employee can apply for a work visa for Turkey. They will need proof of a granted work permit in order to complete the application process.

An official visa. These are reserved for diplomats or other people traveling to or living in Turkey for official government purposes. Some people who are working on specific government projects will also be granted this type of visa.

Beyond these visas, Turkey offers a number of visas that may or may not allow for long-term stays, depending on the specific situation. These include visas for:

  • The research and filming of documentaries

  • Family reunification

  • Medical treatment

  • Archaeological purposes, including exploration and excavation

  • People accompanying those who are in the country for other legal purposes

  • Those entering the country to lead or design a tour, or those who work with an official tour company

Note that anyone who plans to live in Turkey for longer than 90 days will need to obtain a residence permit once they are there. This is in addition to their visa.

This application must be made in an Immigration office that is local to where the immigrant wants to reside. It requires proof of a place to live for at least a year (renting or owning), filling out a few forms, and paying a fee.

The exact laws surrounding the residence permit change regularly. Some expats choose to hire an experienced local to help them navigate the system, while others choose to do it themselves.

If there is a problem, though, there are usually trained people available to help, for a fee.

What does it Mean to Be an Immigrant in Turkey

Immigrants may find that they receive a mixed welcome in Turkey. While many Turks are hospitable and interested in other cultures, they may also be wary of Westerners. 

Turkey is a majority-muslim country and most of its citizens take their religion seriously. They may see the West, and people from the West, as threats to their values and their way of life.

People wanting to move to Turkey will need to know how to show honor to other religions before they move.

As a whole, Turkey put a high value on their military members and police. Foreigners need to make sure that they do not insult these institutions.

Women may find Turkey a difficult place to live. While women there are fighting for more rights, the current situation varies widely based on where a woman lives (city vs. rural) and how the members of her family view women.

It may be harder to get high-profile jobs in Turkey.

Many Turks love foreigners and want to welcome them into their country and their lives. Foreigners simply need to be sure that they are aware of the culture and values at work in Turkey before they choose to move there.

Long Term Visit Versus Moving Permanently

A basic Turkish tourist visa allows for stays of up to 90 days in the country. For people who are unsure whether they want to move to Turkey, or for those who want to get the lay of the land before they decide when, where, and how to move, this can be a great way to try out a move to Turkey.

Keep in mind, however, that people in the country on a tourist visa (and most other types of short-term visas) cannot work in Turkey. This can make it hard to get an apartment, see the country, etc.

Some types of long-term visas require application from outside the country. For others, foreigners can apply while they are in Turkey.

For people who visit and decide they want to stay, this is the perfect option.

Refugees in Turkey

The majority of the people who seek safety in Turkey come from Syria. Recent years have opened the floodgates and so many of these refugees have streamed in that it has put stress on Turkey and caused some upheaval for Turkish citizens.

People who are in Turkey and want asylum status will need to apply for it through the Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM).

The government will review the application and make any requests for documentation and/or interviews. Then, it will decide whether asylum status will be granted.

People coming in from Syria have a slightly different process. They will need to apply for temporary protection from the DGGM. Once this is granted, they will have certain rights and protections under Turkish law and will receive a Temporary Protection Identification Card. 

Turkey also offers citizenship by investment. People who plan to invest at least $250,000 in real estate will be eligible for citizenship, if they so desire it.

Being a Resident in Turkey

A residence permit is relatively easy to get in Turkey. If people own property in the country or are running a business there, they should be able to get this permission to stay. 

Once one person in a family has a residence permit, the rest of the family can apply for a family visa, which should allow them to stay for the duration of the residence permit.

This permit is valid for up to two years and is easy to renew, as long as the person still owns property, has enough money to support their family, and is running a business.

When a person has been a legal resident in Turkey for 8 years (under any visa program except for some of the refugee programs), they can apply for a Long-Term Residence Permit. This allows them to stay in Turkey indefinitely. 

To get a Long-Term Residence Permit, people must have a clean criminal record, have consistent and reliable financial resources, and not have been on public assistance for at least 3 years.

People who want to become citizens in Turkey will be eligible to apply after 5 years of residence there.

They must also have a clean criminal record, be free from serious disease, be able to consistently support themselves, and prove ties to Turkey. They must also prove, in an interview format, that they can speak Turkish.

Undocumented Immigrants in Turkey

The exact number of undocumented immigrants in Turkey is unknown. However, their ranks are not insignificant.

People usually find themselves with an undocumented status because their visa expired or because they entered the country as a refugee.

Turkey reserves the right to deport people who are in the country illegally. Despite this, many manage to live and work there under the radar.

However, the government does not recommend this and asks undocumented people to apply for legal status so they can enjoy the same rights and services as everyone else in the country.

Moving to Turkey?

People interested in moving to Turkey can start that process anytime. The sooner they start, the sooner they will have the paperwork and permissions necessary to make their move.

Before long, they could find themselves living in Turkey and enjoying everything the country has to offer.

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