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Turkey is a fantastic country with incredible amounts of history and a large number of diverse cultures. The people are very hospitable to guests, if not always to each other. There are many distinct cultures and lifestyles in every region and talking to all the different people is a real treat. Travel is incredibly easy here and very cheap. There are places to mountain climb, azure blue seas to swim in, ancient ruins to visit, caves to explore, ancient Christian and Islamic historical sites to visit. Turkey truly has a little of something for everyone.
One of the greatest things about working here is being able to travel the country. Turkey is also where Europe and the Middle East meet. Not only can you see the changes that the connection has made, but you can also witness the deep rifts that have grown within the society because of it. Turkey offers a unique vantage point from which to witness globalization in action. Here, the old world mixes with the new and there's always something waiting to be discovered around every corner.
You can find a job in almost any decent sized city in Turkey, but the city of choice for most foreigners is, of course, Istanbul. Istanbul has by far the greatest number of schools both on the European and the Asian sides. Otherwise you can easily find work in Ankara, Izmir, Diyarbakir, or even Antalya.
Many private language schools in Turkey have fairly low standards when it comes to hiring. You can often get a job over the phone with a five minute interview. The economic crisis changed things a bit, but it's still possible. Many schools have been known to hire anyone that speaks English, but the better schools will require a university degree and a TEFL certificate (preferably a full month course, not an online cert). I highly suggest you obtain both as it will greatly increase your chances of landing a job and you'll have a shot at working at a more qualified school that will pay you on time and not jerk you around.
While getting a job over the phone is possible, the best way to get a job in Turkey is still applying in person. Turks put a lot of stock in face-to-face personal relations and even foreign managers are much more willing to hire somebody already here. It's often the case that an applicant will apply from overseas and never show up, so many schools don't like to waste time or resources on teachers who are not already in Turkey. Additionally, you should come prepared with your CV and original copies of your TEFL Certificate and University Diploma. Another recommendation is to bring a portfolio of lessons you've created. This is impressive and shows that you are prepared and gives the manager a chance to see what it is that you do in the class.
From personal experience, and that of friends and co-workers, it generally takes one to two weeks to secure a job. Again, Istanbul is probably the easiest, but this can be done in practically any city in Turkey. It's also possible to work at a dershane which is like a university prep school, but these places often tend to pay less, have few if any English speaking staff, and no experience working with foreigners. The best times to apply are the end of August beginning of September and end of December beginning of January (although many managers go on holiday, so you might not hear anything for a week or two). These are the times when most new classes start up or when teachers go home for vacation and don't come back.
To legally work in Turkey you need a Turkish work visa. Most respectable schools will pay for your residency visa, but few will cover your work visa due to the large amounts of time and money it takes to get one. (Most nationalities can enter Turkey on a tourist visa that can be obtained at the airport/border upon arrival).
To obtain a work visa before arriving, you need to secure a job first, and then contact the Turkish consulate in your home country. Obtaining a visa after arrival must be done through your place of employment. This will take a minimum of 7 months, and will cost over $1000 Turkish Lira. Your school will need to be willing to help you out by providing the forms, translations, and signed documents. Even if your school is willing to get you a work visa, they take about 7 months to get, and you will be working illegally until you have it, no matter what your school tells you.
Please also note that border runs are no longer possible. The Turkish tourist visa allows you to stay in Turkey for any three months within the six months after you receive it. If you stay for the first three months then you cannot re-enter Turkey for another three months. Most schools now help teachers with Residence Permits, since they don't want to hire new teachers every few months, but very few offer any assistance with work permits.
Depending on the schools relationship with government officials, your school can also get raided by the Ministry of Education. If you do not have a work visa when this happens you will most likely get booted from the country or given a severe warning. If you get off with a warning I do not suggest trying your luck again. Raids happen maybe once a year and generally only at bigger schools.
There are many factors that should go into choosing a school: Salary, management competence, standard of education, location, hours worked, opportunities for advancement, contracts (Unless your school has provided you with a work visa, contracts are legally worthless.
Not only are you not bound to them, but your school also could care less. Many schools have been known to ignore contracts signed with teachers. If your school does get you a work visa, you must follow the terms of the contract. If a teacher breaks their contract, schools will pursue you legally and the result is usually expulsion from the country. You have been warned.), etc. These factors can vary greatly from school to school.
Salaries range from $12 YTL an hour to over $30, depending on your experience. Anything less than $12 an hour is unacceptable in any city in Turkey. Some schools offer a stable monthly salary while others offer an hourly rate. If you are a new teacher, a monthly salary is probably preferable as you will be much more likely to get lots of classes and more experience.
It is often the case that new hires are put on the back shelf and only given one or maybe two classes for their first 1-3 months. This can make it really difficult to support yourself.If you are an experienced teacher, you will be put on a full load of classes and you'll often be working 30+ hours a week.
Schools will tell you that you won't always work a full load, but from September to May that is almost never the case. Salaried jobs are probably not the best option for an experienced teacher unless the salary is substantial. An advantage to salaried positions is that you can count on the money coming in. During the summer, or perhaps if a school has too many teachers, you may find yourself in a position with low hours, especially as a new hire. If you are on an hourly rate this could really affect your earnings. In the end, both options have their pros and cons. Decide which might be best for you.
The most important two here are assistance with housing and residency visas. As a foreigner, it can be extremely difficult to find a place and well as impossible to get your residency visa on your own. If your school does not offer housing assistance, I would definitely look somewhere else.
The amount of hours expected and hours of operation are other issues that you won't have much control over. Turks often work 45+ hours a week and many work 6 days a week. As an English teacher, you will be expected to work a minimum of 25 teaching hours a week and many schools work their teachers 30+ on average with little to no overtime pay. As for work hours, most private schools have to work around their students' schedules. That means that you will be working mostly nights and weekends. There is also a strong possibility of split shifts, which can be a huge pain if you don't live close to the school. You might have a 6-hour break between your morning and evening classes.
Another matter to think about is the number of days off. Most schools will give you two days off a week, but many schools don't make these consecutive and you will never get weekends off. If you want to work a 9-5 job you will either have to work at a university or a private K-12 school. Those jobs are much harder to find and often require university degrees in a relevant field or previous experience as a university professor or K-12 teacher, although exceptions will always be made if the school is in need.
The last thing to consider is location. In big cities like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, transportation can be a nightmare. A one-hour travel time between work and school is not uncommon. You should find out where the school is located and where their housing is. Is the housing on a main transportation route? Is it close to or far from the school?
The salary here is generally quite good. At the date of writing this article (December, 2011) the value of the lira has dropped to about 1 dollar to 1.9 Turkish lira. Before the economic crisis you could save about $1000 USD a month. Now you can save maybe $300. A lot also depends on your lifestyle and city of residence. Both Ankara and Istanbul are very expensive places to live and many people find it hard to save money in either city. Including housing allowance, the average salary is probably about $2000 - $2500 TL a month, depending on experience. This is the same whether you work at a university, K-12 school, or private language school. The highest paying places to work (and the one's with the most demanding standards) would probably be Sabanci University in Istanbul - about $5000 TL a month, Teriyaki Vakfi K-12 in Istanbul - about $4000 a month, and British Side in Istanbul - over $30 TL per hour.
Along with Indonesia, Turkey is probably the easiest Muslim country to find a job in, which may be a draw for some people. Even though it may appear modern in some places, Turkey is still a developing country. Things like brown outs and water shortages are simply facts of life here, although they rarely interfere enough will daily life to cause much of a stir. Most people don't even notice them. The big cities are very loud and noisy, especially Istanbul or Ankara. If you don't like big cities, stay away from these places.
Turkey can be a very interesting place to live, but it still remains very conservative by Western standards. This is often at odds with what many people see when they first arrive, but in Turkey, things are never as simple as they seem. As a woman, getting respect in the classroom is much more difficult than for men, especially from older men. Being an atheist or irreligious are viewed very negatively here and it's not advisable to inform your students of such beliefs. They won't say anything, but they will think much much less of you. Despite the fact that Turkey is quite conservative, the average foreign teacher rarely notices it. Most foreign teachers develop friendships with other foreigners and the small percentage of Turks that hold more Western beliefs. If you only plan to stay for a year or two you probably won't even notice the deep cultural differences. If you plan to settle down here and surround yourself with Turkish friends, be ready for some surprises.
Health insurance is strongly recommended while living in Turkey. If you obtain a work visa, you will be covered under the government social security (SSK), but the health care is not very good and it takes a long time to get this. It is advisable to seek private insurance. Most schools offer some kind of discounted health insurance. It will probably cost you about $600-$800 TL a year. Private health care in Turkey is excellent. Doctors are knowledgeable and hospitals have state-of-the-art equipment. The same cannot be said of public health care. You could go to three different doctors and get three different diagnoses and probably a lot of shots for no discernible reason.Most prescription drugs are cheap and available without a prescription.
Turkey still remains a very safe place to live. While there used to be a coup every 10 years, Turkey has been stable for the past 30 years and stands to remain so. There are a number of terrorist groups that operate in Turkey, mainly the PKK, but bombings are rare occurrences and foreigners are rarely the targets of violence. Terrorism aside, crime, especially violent crime, is much less of a problem than in most Western countries. Despite the fact that most Turks believe Turkey to be an extremely crime ridden and dangerous place, the exact opposite is true. Even in the city of Istanbul violent crime is extremely rare. The most common crime is theft, but this rarely results in violence.
Despite the requirements of legally obtaining a work visa, the vast majority of foreign teachers work illegally. Many teachers have worked here for 5 or more years and never obtained a work visa, although a residency visa would be advisable. If a residency visa is not obtained you will have to make border runs every 3 months to renew your tourist visa. A word of warning: the Ministry of Education does conduct occasional raids on English schools and if you don't have a work visa when they come you will generally be given a warning and then, if caught again, expelled from the country, unable to ever return.
In the end, Turkey is a very easy place to find a job, although finding a quality position can be a bit of a challenge, especially for newer teachers. It is definitely a place to experience.
Nick Jaworski is currently a Language Learning Director in Shanghai, China where he lives with his beautiful wife Hande. Before that, he spent 4 years in Turkey as a teacher, teacher trainer, and director of studies. He also blogs about ELT in Turkey & China at Turkish TEFL.
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