Starting a Business in Turkey

Turkey is very welcoming when it comes to people wanting to set up new businesses. They realise that new business boosts the economy and creates local employment - and they also recognise that, for historical reasons, Turkey lacks some of the skills required by innovative businesses in the 21st Century.

Many foreigners want to start a business in Turkey. They fall into three groups.

There are international entrepreneurs, who simply see business opportunities in Turkey. They see that there are some areas of activity where Turkey is much less developed than in the country where they live or work. They see the rapid modernisation of Turkey, its growing population, the population’s increasing wealth and Turkey’s increased integration into Europe. All seem like opportunities for rapid business growth, with good levels of profit. They may also see Turkey as a good stepping-off point for getting involved in business in the wider region.

Then there are the people who visit Turkey, fall in love with it and want to find a way of being able to stay there. For many of these people, there are few job opportunities and those that exist tend to be low paid. So it seems to make sense to start a business.

The third group is people who might normally have wished to operate as self-employed, without any formal business structure, but who find that it is very difficult to do that legally in Turkey.

Are there restrictions on what businesses I can set up in Turkey?

Turkey, as I said, is generally very welcoming.

However, certain sectors of the Turkish economy restrict the involvement of foreigners. For example, you cannot, as a foreign-owned business, start a school; be a dentist or involved in patient care; be a vet, pharmacist, hospital director, lawyer, notary or security guard; be engaged in fishing, or be a customs agent or a tourist guide.

In Turkey, there are also quite a large number of activities where a professional qualification is required. These include many activities which may not be restricted in other countries. For instance:

  • Estate agent
  • Hairdresser
  • Pharmacist’s assistant
  • Tailor
  • Beauty parlour staff

Despite this, in recent years there has been quite a lot of government activity to encourage foreigners to set up businesses. For example:

  • Foreigners have the right to own Turkish companies and, when they do, they are (with one or two exceptions) subject to exactly the same rules as would apply to a Turkish person owning the company
  • There are certain exemptions to taxand social security contributions
  • Imports of certain equipment are now exempt from customs duty and other taxesand restrictions

However, also for historical reasons (now long-since irrelevant but preserved in legislation that no government has seen fit to remove), there are several main areas of business activity which are specifically closed to businesses run by foreigners unless you obtain special permission from the government.

There is no central list of these restrictions published by the government. Instead, they’re to be found on the websites of the various Turkish ministries – the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Agriculture, etc.

In Turkey, although there are a number of professions where you will need a qualification (for example, as a lawyer), there are rarely legal barriers to working within the same professional area (for example, as a legal consultant or paralegal).

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