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Is Freelancing Legal in Turkey?

Freelance work stands on a par with regular employment in an office or entrepreneurship, which means that freelance activities cannot be banned in any democratic country. As for Turkey, it turns out that freelancers’ way of earning a living is not just legal but even desirable if you are a foreigner. And here are some reasons to prove the point:

Freelance in Turkey
  • It is almost impossible for immigrants who haven’t mastered Turkish to find a job.
  • Turkish authorities are happy to welcome foreigners who can contribute to the local economy by earning money abroad and spending it locally.
  • If foreigners intend to obtain or extend a residence permit in Turkey, they will have to prove to the migration service that they can support themselves by confirming a source of income that they have on a more or less regular basis. Earning your living by doing freelance work is good proof of financial independence.

There are about 2 million freelance workers in Turkey (which shows how attractive the country is), and this is an ever-increasing number as people discover the freedom of roaming the world more and more.

In this article, we are going to focus on the following points: 

  • How can a freelance worker stay in the country legally?
  • How comfortable is a freelancer’s life in Turkey? 
  • What conditions are offered to digital nomads who want to live and work in the country? 
  • Do freelancers pay taxes?

Why Work from Turkey as a Freelancer?

Let’s mention just a few facts that make the country an attractive place for digital nomads:

  • Enjoy the rich mix of European and Islamic cultures and traditions
  • It offers really convenient conditions for entrepreneurs from abroad
  • Really delicious local cuisine
  • Easy family and company relocation
  • Immigration laws are not too strict

All of this seems to say “you are welcome” to any visitors, and it is no wonder Turkey is one of the most popular destinations for tourists from all over the world.

Legalize your Stay in Turkey: Tips for Foreign Freelancers

If foreigners want to stay in Turkey for more than 90 days, they will need to obtain a residence permit (also referred to as a short-term residence permit or Ikamet). Turkey does not offer any separate residence permit for freelancers (known as a digital nomad visa in other countries), but you can freely apply for a residence permit for “tourist purposes”.

And here is an important nuance regarding the primary tourist residence permit re-registration: 

  • Citizens of the European Union, Slovenia and China have the right to renew their Ikamet an infinite number of times. However, this privilege has its drawbacks: they will not be considered tax residents or be entitled to get a Turkish passport unless they get an Ikamet on other grounds. 
  • Citizens of other countries will be able to obtain a tourist residence permit only once without the right to renew it. 

The short-term residence permit is valid for a minimum of six months and up to two years, which depends on the decision made by the migration service.

In the majority of cases, the tourist Ikamet is issued for a period of 1 year, after which you will need to find another basis for a legal stay in Turkey: for example, buying real estate could be a good option. Depending on the cost of housing, you may have the right to apply for a residence permit with the possibility of an extension or immediately get a passport (by using the citizenship-by-investment opportunity).

Freelancer’s Life in Turkey: How Comfortable Is It? 

Let’s look at four conditions important for a digital nomad that can either boost or ruin your productivity:

1. Easy procedure of renting housing (which is also used as a workplace). 

Turkish legislation does impose some restrictions on foreigners when it comes to the rental of real estate (however, keep in mind that an immigrant will have to present a notarized lease agreement to obtain a tourist residence permit). 

In addition, more than 1,000 districts in large Turkish cities are considered closed to foreigners. It practically means that you will not receive a residence permit if you rent or buy an apartment in the “wrong” quarter. 

The list of closed areas is published and constantly updated on the website of the Ministry of the Interior of Turkey.

2. Speed of Internet connection. 

Turkish cable and mobile Internet providers offer a fairly good download speed: it is slower than in Europe but faster than in Africa or Central Asia. Users typically do not complain about the speed issues, and the only stumbling block is how to arrange for an Internet connection in the accommodation you rent.

If you need really fast Internet, settle down in Istanbul (or Ankara and Izmir which are running up). If you decide to live in any other large city, Internet speed will depend on your location: the closer to the downtown area, the higher the speed. 

A freelancer settling in his new home should be prepared to find out that no Wi-Fi is automatically available. Each new resident will have to draw up a contract with the Internet provider on his own behalf, and the provider will request documents to confirm the new client’s identity. A passport will suffice in most cases, but sometimes they require an Ikamet card, which is issued for at least a month. 

On the whole, be ready to work using 4G networks for some time before you make home Internet arrangements. However, the use of mobile communication in Turkey has its own nuances. Follow the above link to find out the right procedure for buying a SIM card in Turkey to stay connected all the time.

The Internet service contract is typically valid for 2 years, and early termination may result in fines.

3. Easy money transfer from abroad. 

Freelancers usually get paid for their work through various channels, including electronic wallets, a bank card in their home country, an account opened in a foreign bank, or cryptosystems. After migration to a new country, a freelancer needs to find out how to cash out funds, how legal it is to transfer money from abroad, or whether he can rely on the cards issued by foreign banks. 

Here is some useful information to consider:

  • In Turkey, the exchange and cashing of cryptocurrencies is put on stream, so there should be no problems with that.
  • You can freely use popular e-wallets (don’t get discouraged if you hear that PayPal is banned in Turkey: it is true only for Turkish citizens, not foreigners).
  • Opening an account with a Turkish bank is not difficult for a foreigner, and it allows you to freely transfer money from abroad.
  • Foreign bank cards can be used in Turkey without restrictions.

4. Use of various Internet services and software products. 

Turkish users do not experience inconvenience due to any restrictions. If a freelancer works honestly and transparently, for example, develops his blog on Instagram or uses freelance exchanges like Upwork, he will face no problems whatsoever.

To sum up, Turkey offers fairly good conditions for digital nomads.

What About Coworking Spaces?

You can work from home, and this may be the best place for you. However, sometimes you feel like changing the landscape – especially when you get stuck doing a difficult project. And in this case, you can try Turkish cafes or coworking spaces.

As for cafes, you can try your luck at finding a quiet one suitable for work – and if you spot such a place, you’d better stick to it as cafes in Turkey may get pretty loud (and sometimes it may even be quite noisy in your apartment as too many loud things are happening around).

If you need silence, explore Turkish coworking spaces that are growing like mushrooms, sometimes turning into social and networking hubs. Anyway, you will always be able to find a quiet office (maybe shared with other freelancers who appreciate the absence of noise just as much as you do).

Social Security

If this aspect is important for you, you will need to find out whether your country is a party to the European Convention on social security or has a relevant agreement with Turkey.

  • If the answer is “Yes”, you will not have to pay for social security in Turkey as you pay for it back in your country
  • If the answer is “No”, you will have to start making your contributions upon expiration of the initial three months of stay

Do foreign freelancers pay taxes in Turkey?

Well, some of them do and some of them don’t: it depends on whether the foreigner is a tax resident in Turkey. 

To be considered a Turkish taxpayer, an immigrant will have to reside in the country for more than 183 days per year, regardless of citizenship. However, there are some exceptions to this rule: foreigners who come to Turkey for recreation or travel do not become taxpayers, regardless of the length of stay (Art. 5 of the Income Tax Law in Turkey). 

It turns out that a foreign freelancer who lives in Turkey with a tourist residence permit incurs no obligation to pay taxes to the Turkish treasury, especially on foreign income. 

It practically means that you can freely transfer your savings to Turkish banks. If the client is not a tax resident, there will be no questions about the origin of foreign money.

In what cases is it profitable for a foreign freelancer to pay taxes in Turkey?

  • Well, first of all, it would be a logical (and mandatory!) step if you work for local customers – companies or individuals. In this case, you will need to get a work permit and pay taxes on a general basis.
  • If a foreigner is not satisfied with the tax system of his native country and is planning to change his residence, becoming a Turkish tax resident also seems reasonable. In this case, a freelancer should legalize his professional activities: become an individual entrepreneur or register a legal entity. 
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It should be borne in mind that absolutely any income is subject to taxation in Turkey, no matter whether it is derived from local sources or foreign ones.

However, you can be considered a taxpayer in Turkey and still not pay taxes on income from foreign sources if a double taxation treaty (DTT) is in effect:

  • If the Turkish government concluded a DTT with the country from which your income originates, and taxes on these earnings have been paid abroad, you can safely transfer funds to a Turkish bank and dispose of them in any way without thinking of any tax obligations looming on the horizon. 
  • If there is no DTT and you are considered a tax resident (for example, as a property owner), it is better to keep your earnings in a foreign bank.

By way of conclusion

It is advisable for a foreign freelancer to be a tax resident of Turkey if he has come to stay for a long time, has some plans for the future in the country, and intends to obtain citizenship after 8 years of continuous residence.

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If you are a freelancer, it may be enough for you to simply maneuver between different tax jurisdictions, receive income from different countries and live in a comfortable environment. If that’s true, you can book a session with International Wealth experts to make an impeccable financial plan and get more benefits from your profession.

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