Cut in two by the Bosphorus Strait - connecting the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea - Istanbul essentially embraces two continents. The city itself is a maze that can sometimes both overwhelm and wow the foreign visitor all at the same time.
A cultural and religious melting-pot, Istanbul has it all. The majority of the population is Muslim, but then there is the patriarchate of Constantinople (central for Eastern Orthodox Christians) and myriad places to worship for Christian denominations as well as 26 active synagogues.
However, the city that sports such a cosmopolitan atmosphere can lead many of its inhabitants to learn English, or at least a smattering of it. But if you are planning to live in Istanbul for longer than six months, we strongly suggest taking Turkish lessons, and consider committing to a full-time study program for a month at least.
If you are not being sent to Istanbul by your company, and you are moving there on your own free will, brace yourself: due to the high unemployment rate, even the locals are increasingly becoming self-employed, starting up their own businesses (which is, unfortunately, a bureaucratic nightmare for foreigners). Again: as much as there are websites in English that can help you find your way in the city, a Turkish language class will prove vital.
If you are moving to the city with your family and are interested in international schools, you are in luck as the city offers it all. The majority of these schools hold classes in English, of course, but they are also prepared to welcome children from every part of the world, helping them improve their English, when necessary.
Many expats choose to live in Sites (pronounced seet-ay) or housing estates, being a very common concept in Istanbul, suiting every budget and taste. They range from large villas with private gardens and swimming pools to apartments with communal pools, gyms and gardens. Since traffic and cars are one of the biggest problems of the city, you should consider the distance to your workplace, to schools and shops when house-hunting. Plus, if you have your own car, remember that parking facilities come at a premium price and can skyrocket your rent.
Both expats and foreigners live throughout the city depending on their budget, but the two main areas of choice are Beyoglu and Sariyer, since they offer everything: lively nightlife, schools, amenities and public services. If you are considering a move to the Asian side of the Bosphorus, bear in mind that it is a rather residential area, and you will likely have to cross the Strait on a daily basis to commute. A toll has to be paid each time you use one of the bridges or ferry boats plus traffic during rush hour can also be quite a challenge.
All in all, an experience, however long or short, in one of the world’s most historically fascinating cities will certainly not disappoint.