It was written on 24 June 2017. The law and practice in Turkey change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.
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This guide is about working illegally in Turkey. It defines "illegal work" and sets out the consequences.
Working illegally in Turkey is widespread.
It is also dangerous.
Unfortunately for those involved in this activity, or thinking about getting involved, the authorities are getting a lot more efficient at catching illegal workers and they are now highly motivated to do so because of the high levels of unemployment amongst native Turks.
At the moment, illegal workers can be found in almost every field of activity. There are 8,000 foreign workers who hold work permits to work in Turkey. There are no reliable estimates of the number working illegally but it is certainly substantial, especially in Istanbul and the coastal regions. In addition to the ‘regular’ illegal workers in Turkey, there is now a massive influx of refugees – especially from Syria – adding to the illegal workforce. In late 2015, the Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies suggested that there were probably about 250,000 illegal Syrian workers in Turkey. The number has almost certainly grown since.
It is worth repeating that, for a foreigner to work legally in Turkey, they require a work permit. See our Guide to Coming to Turkey to Work.
Once she has her work permit she needs to comply with the requirements of Turkish employment law. See our Guide to Employment Law in Turkey.
There are many reasons why people start working illegally in Turkey:
People, often but not always young people, will come to Turkey, like it and want to stay on. Unfortunately, they will seldom have the qualifications required to obtain a legal work permit.
People want to come to live in Turkey and need to work to do so but cannot qualify for any of the categories of work permit that are available.
People come to Turkey to work, legally, as a seasonal worker within the tourist industry but find they can earn more money working illegally.
People come to work as seasonal workers and then stay on, illegally, at the end of their legitimate period of employment. Such people will often leave the country by travelling to the Greek island of Kos and then return, applying for a three-month tourist visa when they do so. They will then repeat the trip to Kos as often as is necessary. This, of course, does not comply either with the rules for working in Turkey or for visiting Turkey as a tourist. Increasingly, they are being stopped at the border when they try to return to Turkey: something possible because of the increased efficiency and computerisation of Turkey’s border systems.
People retire to Turkey but find that there are job opportunities available which can supplement their income. They might work, for example, as gardeners or ferrying people to and from the airport.
The main dangers of working illegally in Turkey are:
Arrest and deportation
If you are caught working illegally you will almost certainly be detained and deported. Not only will this mean that you cannot come back to Turkey, it will also often mean that you will not be admitted to any other country. If you live within the European Union (EU), you will probably be able to travel within the EU area but not elsewhere.
How will the immigration authorities in another country know that you have been deported from Turkey? There will be a great big stamp in your passport saying so.
You will have no social security benefits
This means that there’s nothing to protect you if you fall ill or are injured and no entitlement to use the hospital system.
You'll be made to pay
If caught, you will face a large bill for back taxes and back social security payments. Any assets you have in Turkey will be seized until this bill is paid.
You could also be pursued overseas for this bill after you have been deported.
Employers will probably not pay you well
You will probably be offered a very poor rate of pay
Employers may not treat you well
Many of the people seeking illegal employment are vulnerable in one way or another and they are often subject to physical and sexual abuse by their employer.
I'm a lawyer, so obviously I'm going to say this, but don't work illegally in Turkey. The downsides and risks are simply not worth any benefits. There are lots of legal options for work in Turkey, so read our other guides - or contact me - and find the best route for you!
|Turkey Country Guide
Essential facts and figures about Turkey
|Finding Work in Turkey
Getting a job in Turkey
|Employment Law in Turkey
Rights and responsibilities of employers and employees
I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.Başak Yıldız Orkun 24 June 2017
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