I’ve recently started seeing a lot of posts by Turks on Twitter who want to find out how to work abroad, especially after the elections that just happened. Considering I’ve been doing this for the past few years, I figured I’d share my experience with working abroad, and talk about what kind of things it entails.
I returned to Turkey with my mom and sisters at the start of the pandemic after living in the US for 4 years, and I’ve since been working for various American companies while living in different parts of Istanbul. I wanted to document my experience for expats in my situation or Turks who might be considering doing something similar. It’s been an interesting experience with a lot of ups and downs in my career and I thought it might help anyone else looking to work abroad, even for those not necessarily looking to live in Turkey.
Before we get into it, let me share a bit about myself for better context. Even though I’m a Turkish citizen, I’ve lived abroad most of my life in different countries, speaking English 24/7. I started learning programming in 2017, but I put off everything including any social life and school to focus on building things and learning programming all day every day despite working towards a computer science degree.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room, and the most important part
Finding a Remote Job
This is definitely the most difficult part of the journey. There’s obviously no one single formula for getting a job, remote or not. I want to list what I think are the most important points based off my personal experience, and a lot of what I’ve heard from people in the programming circles I’m in. This list is ordered by the importance I put on that category, but it can be different for every person depending on their circumstances.
It should come as no surprise that you’re gonna need to be an English speaker to work at a company where people speak English. But it’s even more important than what many think. Communication is one of the most important parts of teamwork, and unfortunately a lot of foreigners are biased towards candidates with near-native levels of fluency. You can be an incredibly competent developer, but without a good grasp of the language, most places will put you towards the bottom of the pile and might prefer to outsource their work to someone who isn’t a comfortable English speaker than hire one as a full-time contractor. Being able to crack jokes and comfortably communicate during an interview without a cold sweat running down your spine genuinely makes you stand out among other candidates. This might sound like something out of a bullshit selfhelp book, but the sad truth is a lot of companies and hiring managers find it easier to justify paying the big bucks for confident candidates they can communicate with as if they’re not hiring from overseas.
This isn’t to say you’re doomed if people don’t assume you’re an American as soon as you open your mouth, and part of it can definitely be compensated with confidence. But it deserves more attention than many people realize. If this is something you struggle with, I recommend joining an online community where you’re forced to speak English with others. Many of my Turkish friends who speak with near native fluency have told me that playing games, watching videos and interacting with people in English were by far the most important factors for getting comfortable with the language. Though many also said they did all that when they were kids, so getting a time machine could also go a long way.
One of the easiest paths to working —really anywhere but especially abroad— is to know someone who can get your resume to the top of the pile, and possibly even skip to the interview process directly. As unfair as it sounds, this is how the world works, and connections seem to rule the tech world. Getting a cold application through and ending up with an interview is much tougher as you get filtered by a dumb algorithm that didn’t like the way you formatted your resume, or racistly thought that people named Ahmed don’t perform very well. With connections, you often skip past all the noise and get to the people you need to be in contact with.
Every job I’ve worked and freelance contract I signed so far has been made possible because of a connection I made either in an online community (just Discord, really) or through the referral of a coworker. If you put yourself in the presence of other people in the industry and involve yourself in the community, it can lead to some surprisingly positive outcomes. It’s never gonna be a guarantee, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. You can try tech meetups in your area too if that’s a possibility for you. I know there are a handful here in Turkey, though some of the big ones are in really remote areas like Ordu. And I’ve never been to a tech conference to begin with.
Of course, connections is not just about “knowing a guy”. For example, if you’re someone I know from a programming community reading this who is knowledgeable, chances are I might have approached you with a job referral. But this is only something I do for people I can put my own reputation behind. There are plenty of people I love being around and spending time with whom I couldn’t, in good conscience, refer to work with me. And that leads us to the last important category.
Simply put, if you’re not good at what you do, it’s gonna be difficult to find a place to work in or have people vouch for you.
And to get those skills you just have to put the work in and practice. A mistake I see many beginners do in this field is watching a 1000 hour tutorial and expecting to improve. Based on my experience helping beginners, this tends to create a dependency on even more tutorials. I highly recommend finding projects that seem interesting to you and working through them without a start to finish guide.
DO OPEN SOURCE! Put all your code on GitHub. Don’t worry about whether your code is shitty, it probably is and so is 99% of everything I’ve ever built. Putting your work out there for people to see is a great way to start building a following and make your efforts visible. Nobody is gonna read your code past the Readme anyway. I was able to get in touch with the Product Manager of Cloudflare Workers to interview for a position at CF because one of my articles found its way to him on the Cloudflare Discord server and he was impressed by it. You never know how the stuff you put out to the world might come back to you, so just put it all out there.
If you’re interested in joining a group where you can meet other devs, I recommend The Programmers Hangout on Discord.
You've been invited to join a server
The Programmers Hangout
If you do get to start working abroad here, taxes —along with death— is something you will inevitably have to face with no matter where you live. Here in Turkey, income taxes for contractor salaries are seen as… optional… to say the least. The general consensus seems to be that if you don’t have a salary in the larger end of 6 figures in USD, you can just ignore income taxes. As they’re not taken out of your paycheck and the government doesn’t seem to dedicate the necessary resources to chase down small-scale tax evasion. That being said, I would never advocate for tax evasion. Taxes are an important part of a functioning modern democracy, and as a society we need the government to pool our taxpayer money to pay for services that benefit us all that we couldn’t otherwise. Like building bridges, presidential palaces, filing SLAPP suits against political dissidents, and imprisoning journalists.
Because of that, I do all my taxes by the book with the help of an accountant. I bet this process is different for foreigners, so I can only offer advice for Turks in this situation. If you’re gonna be working remote with a decent salary, especially in the software field, my (non-legally binding) advice is to find an accountant ASAP (I might be able to get you in touch with a good one if you contact me on Twitter) and start a limited company to benefit from reduced taxes and further deductions. As of 2023, software developers earning foreign currencies benefit from a 50% tax reduction on foreign income. This is absolutely huge considering you’ll be earning money at a much higher leverage due to the exchange rate that won’t be going down any time soon, thanks to bad economic policies most Turks voted to keep around this year.
If you’re familiar with the American tax system, there, income declaration is based on the W8 or 1099 forms you sign with an employer depending on whether you’re a contractor. But in Turkey, things are done through invoices you submit to the Turkish equivalent of the IRS. They’re filed monthly through a government website called IVD (Interaktif Vergi Dairesi - Interactive Tax Office) based on the monthly amount on your contract. You generally pay your taxes at the end of every season, 4 times a year, (depending on the type of taxes you’re liable for) and they get calculated based on the invoices you’ve submitted, after deducting any business expenses. Although in your case an accountant should be doing most of this for you.
Business expenses are crucial here, since as a sole proprietor magically turning keystrokes into money, you will most likely not be paying any salaries other than your own or purchasing any raw materials other than good old çay and kahve. Which means you will get hit with the biggest taxes you could possibly pay with nothing deducted from your net salary. You will need to pull quite a few expenses out of a hat to avoid singlehandedly funding a golden toilet in the presidential bathroom. A golden toilet in your own bathroom might be a valid expense to deduct from your taxes, for example. Although you would need to consult your account before making that purchase. As the proud owner of Just Myself Ltd., everything you purchase, from a cup of coffee to a mini fridge, becomes a matter of deductable expenses you have to think about.
There are 2 systems companies use for doing their taxes here, e-arşiv (electronic archive) and e-fatura (electronic invoice). The former is based around an archaic jsp app where everything is a manual process, and the latter is the more modern system with slightly more automation (or so I’ve heard). You’re required to switch to the new version if you’re making upwards of ~$150k/year, and the switch involves some fun trips to the notary. I don’t make that much money and I’m a lazy boy so I decided to stick with e-arşiv and automate the entire invoice flow with playwright instead. You can submit invoices through a GitHub action [here] too if you can’t even be bothered to spend 3 minutes of your day on a single form once a month like me. Normally, 2 Turkish companies doing business with each other will require that one bill the other and send that invoice, but American companies will never ask for this. Partly because most Americans don’t even know what an invoice is or why you’d need one for full time work. Unfortunately you’re still required to fill these out every month for tax purposes even if you’re not actually sending them to the company you’re working for.
Forms and Payment
Because you’re a foreign contractor residing in a country that the US has a double taxation agreement with (this applies to more countries than Turkiye!), you’ll also have to fill out a W-8BEN form. This is good because it means you’re not required to pay US taxes and the IRS won’t be all 🤨 when they realize they’re not taking a cut out of your paycheck, but it’s also kind of a pain to do for the first time. If you’re billing your employer as a legal entity, you should make sure they send you a W-8BEN-E form instead!
You’re likely going to be paid with a wire transfer, or if you’re contracting hourly it might be through an app like Gusto or Wise. Although I can only speak for 2 Turkish banks, Wire transfers seem to take a fair but non-negligible rate of commission of ~$3-10 per $1000 of transfer. Different companies, especially startups, might choose to do things differently. Make sure you’re on the same page before you accept an offer.
If you have the option to expense stuff to your company like a laptop, office supplies like a monitor, or a chair and what not. Definitely don’t shy out and reach out to HR for it. You’ll be spending local currency and likely be getting getting the dollar equivalent added to your paycheck.
Overall, it’s been an alright experience living here, the savings have certainly helped. But I’ve definitely come to realize that I don’t feel at home culturally in Turkey anymore. I’m looking to relocate to The Netherlands in a couple years if all goes well, and to do this entire process all over again but creating a Dutch B.V. company instead. I’ve lived there for a year before and visited many cities and feel like it would be a much better fit for me and my girlfriend.
The US is also an option but life is absolutely brutal for immigrants who aren’t very well off. Healthcare is also a top priority for us due to chronic medication too and that’s just not something I wanna deal with in America. Though I might reconsider for an offer of like $250k total comp.
At the end of the day, if you’re not in Turkey, you may want to come work from home here if:
- You’re interested in exploring this beautiful country with its rich history and gorgeous geography
- You want to increase your purchasing power multiple fold and make even more money doing nothing while corruption collapses the economy around you in real time
- Women’s rights is not something you often find yourself thinking about
- You maybe have half a million dollars to buy a house here and get instant citizenship
- You’ve never heard of the Global Freedom Index
Feel free to follow or reach out to me on Twitter 1 before it dies and I have to move to a different Twitter.
Building a robust permissions system in TypeScript
Making it impossible to forget permission checks.
Golang is not a good language
And its creators don't think you're a good developer.
Building a scalable scraper
My Rust project for (politely) checking thousands of social media pages every day