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Digital nomadism is more than a trend; it is a movement that redefines how and where we travel.
Since 2020, the number of digital nomads has skyrocketed, largely due to new fully-remote options for traditional jobs that were pre-pandemic 9-to-5 office roles.
With more than 35 million digital nomads worldwide, online work that facilitates travel is attracting adventurers to visit or even live in so-called « digital nomad hotspots » around the world.
At the crossroads between Europe and Asia lies one such popular destination for digital nomads: the legendary Istanbul.
Here, east meets west and tradition meets modernity. Digital nomads flock to Istanbul in search of the depth of culture amid modern conveniences.
With so many unique neighborhoods and an endless list of amazing things to see, many location-independent travelers choose to spend more time in this Turkish megacity.
Remote work powered by Turkish coffee overlooking the Bosphorus sounds spectacular; but does reality live up to expectations?
In a way, Istanbul is a digital nomad mecca. However, there are some serious drawbacks that make it less than ideal for remote work.
These are the pros and cons of traveling to Istanbul as a digital nomad:
The Turkish version of coffee culture
We’ve all heard of the national obsession with Turkish tea, but that doesn’t stop Istanbul from boasting one of the best coffee cultures in the world.
Trendy neighborhoods like Moda and Cihangir are home to three to 10 coffee shops per block, most of which are great for work.
Here are some great Istanbul cafes for digital nomads:
- Walter’s Cafe – TO breaking bad-themed cafe designed for remote work, with outlets at every table and great third wave coffee. Don’t leave without one of their decadent brownies, either!
- travel lounge – Journey’s second floor for a hidden work area is ideal for a long day at work, as their menu from breakfast to dinner is spectacular.
- Kava Coffee Home and Kava Coffee Roasting – This modern, light-filled space has individual work-friendly seating in modern two-story spaces in both locations. Try a Chemex and buttery treats from their bakery.
- Only – The light and airy interior has many spacious and sturdy tables, very suitable for working.
- History Coffee and food – A top choice for a work brunch and seasonal specialty lattes.
- Tiyop – This plant-filled oasis has a spacious communal table in the back that’s perfect for connecting. Also, it is conveniently located near the main tourist sites in Galata.
- Curcuma curve – A hidden gem with wi-fi as strong as your espresso, but limited seating.
Cafes in Istanbul are hubs for the thriving young professional and creative scene. Most of the cafeterias are open from morning until almost midnight, as going out for coffee and tea is a fundamental component of the local social fabric.
There are so many amazing cafes to work for in the city that it almost makes up for the meager profits from coworking spaces in the short term, but not quite.
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Limited short-term coworking options
Unfortunately, most Istanbul coworking spaces only offer monthly or yearly memberships and lack entry fees, making it nearly impossible to get into an office space on a shorter remote work trip here.
If digital nomads plan to stay longer than a month, they may have better luck. But even on a longer-term membership, many slots, eg IDEA Kadikoy, require an application process with a waiting period and appear to be limited to most venues in the tech industry.
Digital nomads are limited to a 90-day tourist visa to see the entire country, so it could be tricky to stay in Istanbul long enough for these extended coworking memberships. Türkiye currently does not offer a digital nomad visa. Since the beginning of 2023, the temporary residence visa has also become almost impossible for online workers to acquire or renew.
The two main exceptions to the long-term membership coworking requirement are Impact Hub, which offers packages from 1 to 10 days, and Daire, which charges $5 per hour for a pre-booked hot desk.
Both are located about 30 minutes north of Galata by metro, which means up to an hour’s journey with changes for digital nomads staying in Kadiköy, Fatih, or other popular neighborhoods.
The fingers of the Bosphorus divide the city into three main zones and make getting around a hassle.
This so-called “Golden Horn” separates Beyoğlu (including Karaköy and Galata) in the north from Fatih and Eminonü in the south. It also draws the line between Europe and Asia, with Kadıköy and Üsküdar to the east.
While traveling by ferry seems cinematic, it’s also super slow. Most of the time, getting around Istanbul means an hour underground on the subway, without enjoying the sea or wandering the spice-filled streets.
The metro also doesn’t connect very well to the Asian side, which means you’re either waiting on vintage trams to ride over the hills to get somewhere near your destination or taking city buses through epic traffic.
On the plus side, public transportation is very affordable in Istanbul. Ferry, subway, bus and trolley rides cost less than $0.80. A rechargeable Istanbulkart can be purchased at all metro and ferry stations and some bus stops for around $2.
While it can be a drag getting around Istanbul, the downside is that the city is so big and diverse that you will always have something to see.
Digital nomads could spend weeks in Istanbul visiting a different neighborhood and working from a different cafe every day.
Explore the Hagia Sophia on your lunch break or take a Bosphorus cruise after work. There is a lot of amazing culture and historical placesso you will definitely never get bored traveling and working online in Istanbul.
Digital nomads value staying connected while away from home. Cellular data also often doubles as backup Wi-Fi for critical work tasks.
Unfortunately, SIM card prices in Istanbul have tripled in recent years. A short-term tourist SIM card currently starts on 5-20G plans for $40-55. This means that a remote worker visiting Istanbul for a few days will pay the same price for data as someone staying for a few weeks.
Turkish operators also often throttle data speeds, even on ‘unlimited’ packages. On the plus side, unlimited Whatsapp messages are usually included.
Great international access
A key feature of a large digital nomad city is convenient international access.
With Istanbul’s mega hub airport, remote workers can get around Europe and Asia without breaking a sweat. The city’s new airport metro stops also make getting to and from your flight easier than ever.
Nomads can get flights to European destinations like Venice, Budapest, Paris, Barcelona and Athens for $50-100. Trips to Gulf destinations like Dubai are dirt cheap, while popular Asian destinations like Thailand and the Maldives can be reached for less than $200.
Istanbul also offers an overnight express train to Sofia, Bulgaria. From there, travelers can connect to the European rail network.
While business travelers may base themselves in a hotel, long-term digital nomads often prefer to rent an apartment for a week or a month. Unfortunately, that’s tricky in Istanbul these days.
First, Booking.com is blocked inside Turkey, so anyone trying to book accommodation after arriving in the country will need to use a VPN.
Second, Airbnb prices have skyrocketed to reflect the housing shortage in the city these days. Rental sites offer very few complete apartments and list mostly private rooms in shared apartments. (Note that some Airbnb hosts in Istanbul sleep in the apartment’s living room and omit this information from the listing.)
As of summer 2023, digital nomads can expect to pay $150-$200 per week or $500-$600 per month for a room, and roughly double that for a private apartment. While it may not seem expensive compared to US prices, rents are out of proportion to the overall cost of living.
Inflation, currency instability, an influx of Russian renters, and a rapidly changing housing market mean that the accommodation situation in Istanbul is subject to frequent change, making travel to Istanbul a little less predictable for digital nomads.
It is true that Istanbul has some problems to solve for remote workers. While it may not live up to expectations, this Turkish megacity remains a must-see for travelers and digital nomads alike.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com