How to work in Turkey as a digital nomad or freelancer
Whether you seek more sun, beaches, or waves or are looking to experience a different culture to take advantage of working remotely, Turkey is a great place to start.
Becoming your boss via freelancing or transitioning into the digital nomad lifestyle is, without a doubt, very attractive in today's climate. Whether it is the lack of restrictions on your location or working times or the beauty of working from somewhere new with spectacular views instead of being crammed in a shoebox like an office, it is not hard to see why more people are pursuing digital and remote work.
Naturally, if you have toyed with the idea, you have done a bit of research. You come across this conclusion: it's possible, especially if you are earning in a foreign currency while working in a country whose domestic currency is not performing.
But why Turkey?
Turkey might have been among some of the countries on your list of beautiful destinations to work. There are many reasons to dive into the digital nomadic lifestyle here.
With its sandy beaches and turquoise waters, the Mediterranean coast has more sunny days per year than the average European country. Its multicultural history, breathtaking landscape, the amalgamation of European and Islamic culture, delicious cuisine. A relatively low cost of living (as little as $450 a month) is all reasons you may choose to live in Turkey to trial out a nomadic lifestyle. Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye, Kaş, Kalkan, Çeşme or Kuşadası should be enough to convince you.
Turkish people are also known for their friendly and hospitable demeanor, so you will indeed feel welcome.
But how does one work as a freelancer or digital nomad in Turkey and not get into trouble?
Read on to find out.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
To work as a foreign freelancer in Turkey, you will need a visa or a residence permit. It all depends on how long you intend to stay. If you are a digital nomad who won't be staying in one country for long, and by long, we mean no more than 90 days within the last 180 days, then a tourist visa will suffice for your stay in Turkey. (If you are worried about overstaying your ticket, here's how to calculate it.)
However, if you want to stay in Turkey for more extended and perhaps go exploring other parts of the country for 3+ months up to a year, you will need to apply for a short-term residence permit. Check out this post on how you can use for or renew one.
Warning: With a residence permit comes the requirement of having a rental contract and proving that you are financially able to live in Turkey. You will have to self-declare your individual income. Suppose you show your digital nomad income as proof. In that case, you may have to register as a self-employed freelancer, which will make you subject to taxes, therefore rendering useless your plan to become a digital nomad.
Apart from having your own work devices such as a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone, you will, of course, need internet.
According to download speeds, Turkeys' average is about 26.30 Mbps, while the median upload speed is around 9.05 Mbps, according to June 2020 figures reported by Speedtest. It puts Turkey at a lower rank than most northern Europe, but it still outperforms many other countries.
The best and fastest internet is in Istanbul, with Ankara and Izmir following closely behind. In vast cities such as Antalya and Muğla, it will primarily be dependent on your location within the town – but the closer to city centers, new developments, the better. Overall, the western parts of the country have faster internet and broader coverage compared to the east.
But is it legal to work as a freelancer in Turkey?
In short, yes and no.
You can register yourself as self-employed, which can be a rather stressful and costly process, and technically you cannot work on a tourist visa or short-term permit as you need a separate work permit. If you tried to apply for a work permit in Turkey, there are many hurdles as an entrepreneur when establishing a Turkish company. You would not be qualified to maintain one or get turned down.
One way to circumvent this is by having clients from abroad and making sure your payments go through to your bank account back at home. So, by law, you are not considered "working in Turkey."
However, things start to change when you work for a Turkish company or cut invoices and receive money for products and services inside the country. If you get paid by a local client while you do not have a work permit, your tourist visa and or residence permit revoked, and you run the risk of being deported.
The concept of coworking spaces, i.e., large offices or facilities you can share with other freelancers and working professionals without the burden of opening your own office, has seen a boom in recent years. Though still not as widespread as it is in the U.S. or Europe, there have been quite a few coworking spaces popping up around Turkey. Most have evolved into more than a virtual office, into a growing community, a space to network and socialize, and even become a creative platform for collaboration or events.
The most widely known and established ones are in Istanbul. Workington, Joint Idea, Habita, and Impact Hub are the most popular by a wide range of freelancers, while more creative professions favor Kolektif House ,and ATÖLYE. Plaza Cubes and eOfis are a few of the many options available in Ankara, while Coza, Origin and With Coworking are some of the most frequented shared offices in Izmir. Down south, Hipokampus in Fethiye might be the perfect balance between work and fun in the sun.