How to Do Business in Turkey
January 11, 2018
At the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East, Turkey offers a prime trading location for US businesses.
Turkish land is 95% in Asia and 5% in Europe, with the country bordering the Black Sea, Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Some of Turkey’s neighbors include Russia to the northeast, Bulgaria and Greece to the west, Syria and Iraq to the south, and Iran to the west.
It doesn’t end there either.
Turkey boasts a growing economy, an expanding middle class, and a young population (half of the population is under the age of 30).
In 1941, the 1st Geography Congress split Turkey into seven regions, based on climate, location, human habitat and transportation. Understanding each region’s specialty should be your first research topic before traveling to Turkey.
That’s worth the trip alone.
Along with the magnificent Blue Mosque, Istanbul is known as Turkey’s economic, cultural and historic capital.
Istanbul is one of the world’s most populous cities, and the largest city in Europe. Its commercial and historic centers are on the European side of Turkey, while a third of Istanbul’s population lives on the Asian side.
Istanbul is one of the world's most populous cities, and the largest city in Europe
More than a quarter of Turkey’s GDP comes from Istanbul, which has been declared one of the world’s fastest-growing metropolitan economies.
Considering Istanbul also holds 20% of the country’s industrial labor force, it’s easy to see how Istanbul businesses produced 57% and received 60% of Turkey’s exports and imports, respectively.
People who do business in Turkey look to Istanbul first. Can you blame them?
Ankara is the capital of Turkey, replacing Istanbul after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Although it’s mainly a government city, Ankara boasts important commercial and industrial sectors as well.
It’s located at the center of Turkey’s road and railway networks, which makes it a prime location for trade.
Ankara is known for its grape and wine production, as well as its indigenous pears and honey.
The OSTIM Industrial Zone is inhabited by 5,000 companies and 50,000 employees in eight main sectors, and is primarily focused on small to medium-sized businesses.
But that’s not all.
Ankara is the center of Turkey’s aerospace and defense industries as well. Plus, it hosts the OSTIM Industrial Zone, Turkey’s largest industrial park.
Ankara has plenty to offer small businesses, and could be an ideal location for trade.
Bursa was traditionally the largest center for silk trade in the Byzantine (later Ottoman) Empires, during the Silk Road period. Since then, it hasn’t stopped being an economic powerhouse.
Most of the Turkish automotive industry, textile and food sectors call Bursa home.
Bursa isn’t done with silk either. It remains a major player in Turkish textile trade, and hosts the Bursa International Textiles and Trade Centre.
Besides Istanbul and Ankara, Bursa has some of the highest tourist rates, and has the fourth-highest population in Turkey.
Turkey’s official currency is the lira (code: TRY), and is subdivided into 100 kuruş. The Turkish lira tends to be weaker than the US dollar. This benefits US importers because Turkish supplies will cost much less than domestic supplies, giving your business a competitive advantage when selling at home (and depending on the country, abroad).
The Turkish lira tends to be weaker than the US dollar. This benefits US importers because Turkish supplies will cost much less than domestic supplies, giving your business a competitive advantage when selling at home (and depending on the country, abroad).
Turkish is the official language of Turkey. Considering the country’s geographical split between Europe and Asia, there are many minority languages as well.
English, Arabic and Northern Kurdish (known as Kurmanji) are the most spoken foreign languages. However, they aren’t spoken by many Turkish people, especially in business environments. If you’re doing business in Turkey, you will likely need to use an interpreter.
Here are the national public holidays in Turkey:
|January 1||New Year's Day||Nationwide|
|April 23||National Sovereignty and Children's Day||Nationwide|
|May 1||Labor Day||Nationwide|
|May 19||Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth and Sports Day||Nationwide|
|June 26-28||Ramazan (also known as Ramadan)||Nationwide|
|July 15||Democracy and National Unity Day||Nationwide|
|August 30||Victory Day||Nationwide|
|September 1-4||Kurban Bayrami (also known as Eid al-Adha)||Nationwide|
|October 29||Republic Day||Nationwide|
|December 31||New Year's Eve||Nationwide|
Traveling to Turkey
All Americans must land in Turkey with a valid and physical Turkish visa. You can acquire one at Turkish Embassies and Consulates, in the US or abroad, for $30.
Make sure you spend all your money on those Turkish delights (supplies too!) during your stay. There’s a currency restriction of 25,000 Turkish lira ($6542) upon exiting Turkey.
Tourist and business visas are good for up to 90 days, and require your signed passport (valid for 6 months beyond stay).
Turkey has 36 million active internet users, with internet penetration being close to 50%.
Internet has become an integral tool of our lives, especially if we’re trying to communicate with a potential Turkish supplier.
Almost every hotel and restaurant has free wifi in Turkey, but it caps the amount of users that can access the internet.
You should keep an eye on your wifi at all times. One woman was handed a $16,000 bill when her Turkish hotel wifi cut out and was replaced by her foreign mobile data provider.
Another option is to purchase a mobile hotspot (also known as Mi-Fi or Pocket Wi-Fi). There are many different providers of this service, which costs around $7 per day for unlimited data. Some will even deliver the device to your hotel room on your arrival day
Another option is to purchase a mobile hotspot (also known as Mi-Fi or Pocket Wi-Fi). There are many different providers of this service, which costs around $7 per day for unlimited data. Some will even deliver the device to your hotel room on your arrival day. One example provider is Istanbul-based company Rent ‘n Connect.
Turkey has one of the fastest growing ecommerce markets in the world, with a market size of $2.9 billion in 2015, and a projected turnover of $41 billion in 2019.
If Turkey frequently buys from foreign suppliers, they’re probably likely to sell their goods to overseas businesses as well.
Ecommerce is an important statistic to know as a foreign business, as it shows a country's technological capability as well as its willingness to trade with foreign countries. In Turkey's case, Turks spent $1.5 billion on foreign websites in 2015, which is a positive sign.
If you’re going to do business in Turkey, you’re going to need a phone. Turkey’s smartphone penetration hovers around 30%, and is expected to rise to 47% by 2020. There are three cellular providers in Turkey: Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea.
You should buy a SIM card from Turkcell. Although all Turkish SIM cards are on the pricey side, Turkcell has the best network coverage and the lowest prices. The standard option for a foreigner in Turkey is 3GB of data, 500 calling minutes and 1000 text for 80 TRY.
Try to avoid purchasing SIM cards in Turkish airports (this applies in other countries as well). The same Turkcell deal mentioned above can be found at airport kiosks for 95 TRY.
Purchasing a SIM card requires a copy of your passport. If you’re staying in Turkey for longer than a month, you will need to register your phone and pay tax as well.
Finding a Supplier in Turkey
Turkey’s economy is increasingly driven by its exports to foreign countries. As a result, it has invested in providing foreign businesses with resources to help them find Turkish suppliers.
Go 4 World Business
Go 4 World Business isn’t a Turkish resource, but is an excellent tool to find buyers and suppliers worldwide. It’s been operating for 20 years, and assists all businesses in expanding globally.
Turkish Business Platform
It’s a B2B e-business website that connects foreign buyers with Turkish sellers. With a product and company list, as well as a search option, Turkish Business Platform can help you find the perfect supplier for your business.
This website helps foreign buyers find Turkish exporters. A government-supported website, it has over 60 staff and many different agencies across Turkey. Along with its supplier database, Turkish Exporter has an information database on Turkey’s exports that is worth checking out.
Major Trade Shows and Events
Another way to find your Turkish supplier is through major trade shows.
|Adana Construction Fair||Adana||Winter||Building equipment, construction technologies and construction works machinery fair|
|SMM Istanbul||Istanbul||Winter Every Two Years||Ship building, machinery and marine technology international trade fair|
|REW Istanbul||Istanbul||Spring||International recycling, environmental technologies & waste management trade fair|
|Global Oil and Gas Turkey||Ankara||Spring||Turkish international oil & gas conference|
|Modef Expo||Bursa||Spring & Summer Twice a Year||Furniture and decoration fair|
|CPHI Istanbul||Istanbul||Spring||International exhibition on pharmaceutical ingredients and intermediates|
|Automotive Meetings Bursa||Bursa||Fall||International business convention for the automotive industry|
Turkish business culture is very similar to the other countries resting along the Mediterranean Sea like Greece and Italy. It’s built on trust and familiarity, with personal relationships playing a vital role in securing business deals. You will not only be judged based on your business proposal, but also on your personal characteristics.
Many Turkish businesses are hierarchical and family-owned. Decisions are usually made at the senior level, but you won't find yourself involved with senior management until late in the game.
Turks tend to work long and hard hours, and appreciate others who have a similar work ethic.
You should arrange business appointments well in advance (even before you arrive in Turkey). Sending a personal introduction letter to your Turkish business partner could help build your relationship, and could inch you closer to sealing the deal.
A Turkish Phone Call
Turks prefer direct communication, as it’s intimate and reveals much more about your character. This means that if you’re not meeting your Turkish business clients in-person, you should reach for the phone instead of the paper.
When you’re calling a Turkish business partner, it’s common to use “Mr.” and “Mrs./Ms.” Bey (pronounced bay) means “Mr.” and Hanim (hunum) refers to “Mrs./Ms.” These should be used after a first name.
For example, if you were calling Mr. Ali Edrogan, you’d say Ali Bey on the phone.
Turkish people answer phone calls in a few different ways. You may hear them say “Alo?”, which is an informal Turkish word only used on the phone. Another answer is “Efendim” which is more formal, meaning “my master.” Less common, “Buyurun” means “at your service.”
When you're calling a Turkish business partner, it's common to use “Mr.” and “Mrs./Ms.” Bey (pronounced bay) means “Mr.” and Hanim (hunum) refers to “Mrs./Ms.” These should be used after a first name. For example, if you were calling Mr. Ali Edrogan, you'd say Ali Bey on the phone.
Turks appreciate when foreigners try to learn some Turkish as it shows appreciation for their culture and dedication to business negotiations. Answering the phone like a Turk is an encouraging sign that you’re trying to be involved in their culture.
It’s important to greet your Turkish business partner with a firm handshake and eye contact. Men should make sure to wait for women to extend their hand for a handshake, especially in eastern Turkey where business is more conservative. Some greet by kissing on both cheeks (common in Europe), but this is usually saved for closer business relationships.
Standing close to the person you’re talking to in Turkey is much more common than it is in the US. If you step back, in fear of being close, your Turkish partner may consider you to be unfriendly.
When an elderly person enters a room in Turkey, you’ll often see everyone stand to greet them. Seniors are treated with great respect in Turkey, so be sure to follow suit. If not, you may attract some unwanted attention from your Turkish business partners.
Although Turkish culture shares some similarities with other Mediterranean cultures, there are some cultural mistakes that you should try to avoid during your visit to Turkey.
- Don’t offer expensive gifts. Giving gifting isn’t a predominant feature of Turkish business, but a Turkish business part will certainly appreciate it.
- Don’t give Turks alcohol unless you know they drink. Around 98% of Turkey’s population follow Islam, which strictly prohibits drinking alcohol.
- Don’t use deadlines to further business negotiations. Although senior business managers have the final decision in Turkey, they make sure to speak with all employees to get a collective opinion. This could take time, so it’s important that you are patient with the process.
- Don’t try to make a fashion statement. Turkish business dress code varies by region, but tends to be conservative. Men should wear a suit and tie, while women should avoid short skirts and blouses.
- Don’t be late. Traffic jams are common in Turkey’s major cities, but that doesn’t mean Turks are lenient on punctuality. Give yourself enough travel time to arrive on time for every business meeting.
- Don’t schedule any appointments during the month of Ramadan. This is the Islamic month of fasting followed by Muslims.
- Don’t say “no” by shaking your head from side to side. That means that you don’t understand the question. A Turkish “no” is indicated by raising your eyebrows, and is sometimes accompanied by looking up.
- Don’t forget clean socks. You will be stepping foot in mosques and homes often, where taking off your shoes is the cultural norm. Your Turkish business partners are going to see your socks, so make sure that they are clean.
The most important part of business negotiations in Turkey would be patience. You may have multiple coffees and teas with Turkish business clients before even getting to the topic of business.
It’s crucial that you stay the course and answer all of the questions about your family and your hobbies, as they are key to negotiations.
When negotiating in Turkey, it's important that you know your bottom-line figure. You can increase this number by a certain percentage, which your Turkish business partners will expect you to compromise on.
If you have a Turkish agent or representative, you can use them to your advantage. Turkish business clients will be delighted to see that you’re taking negotiations seriously by hiring an agent, and will likely give you better rates because of it.
Regulations, Permits and Tariffs
Turkish exports must be declared at customs, accompanied with the original invoice and value declaration form.
The Value-Added Tax (VAT) rate on Turkish exports varies between 1%, 8% and 18%.
There are four product groups that are subject to Special Consumption Tax (SCT) at different rates:
- petroleum products and natural gas
- automobiles and other vehicles
- tobacco and tobacco products
- luxury products
Certain products, such as agriculture and textiles, are subject to standardization and commercial quality controls that are parallel to the UN standards. If they pass quality control, the exporter is given a Control Certificate, which is required to legally export products from Turkey.
Turkish exporters can ignore these inspections if they have a Certificate of Competence on Commercial Quality Inspection, which basically means that the exporter is trusted enough to perfForm the inspections themselves. Finding a certified exporter may be a wise move for your business, so you can avoid surprise delays.
Turkey has many incentives to promote its export-focused economy. These subsidies range from 5% to 20%, and are granted to agricultural product categories in the form of tax credits and debt forgiveness.
Turkey’s economy has a lot to offer US businesses, but there are some trade barriers to expect. As a semi-developed country, Turkey is guilty of unpredictable bureaucracy, along with inconsistent and unclear document requirements.
Your business can avoid these potential pitfalls through careful planning and patience; two traits that will be extremely useful in Turkish business negotiations as well.
Corruption is said to be improving in Turkey; however, it can still be found in certain sectors of Turkish business. It comes in different shapes and sizes, including giving expensive gifts and selling government contracts to the highest bidder.
Hiring a local Turkish trade agent greatly lowers your risk of being involved with corruption, along with having an inside track to supply networks.
Turkish businesses have traditionally used the banking industry to send B2B payments. However, considering Turkey’s growing needs and the country’s limited internal resources, importers are expected to provide financing methods for their imports.
This is where you can tell your Turkish supplier about Veem, the connected payments platform that makes B2B payments as simple as sending an email.
With Veem‘s unique payment system, both parties will be notified when money is being transferred and how much is being sent. It takes the guesswork out of B2B payments, leaving you to worry about the important things.
The Key to Successful Business in Turkey
Personal relationships are essential to successful business in Turkey. US business clients are known in Turkey to rush negotiations and try to skip the small talk. If you want to seal the deal in Turkey, you’re going to have to change this stereotype.
The trick is to take the business negotiations slow. It may take one meeting over coffee or twenty, the point is that the deal is likely worth investing your time in.
It’s also important that you do your research. From culture to customs, there’s significant differences between Turkey and the US that you have to acknowledge.
Knowing which region in Turkey offers the most to your business, who to address first during business negotiations and the date of Ramadan are crucial to successful business in Turkey.
The US Embassy and Consulates in Turkey could provide the answers to these questions, and should be referenced a few times during your trip. They have all the resources that your business needs to successfully strike a deal in Turkey.
Here is a list of resources that can provide more information on doing business in Turkey: