Working Illegally in Turkey

Working illegally in Turkey is, as we have said in many of our guides, widespread. As we have also said, it is dangerous as well.

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 Turkish people.

At the moment, illegal workers can be found in almost every field of activity. There are (2015) only 64,547 foreign workers who hold work permits to work in Turkey. It is likely that there are many times more than this working illegally. 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.

The legal requirements for working in Turkey

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 for details of what is required and how to obtain a permit.

Once you have your work permit, you need to comply with the requirements of Turkish employment law. See our Guide to Employment Law in Turkey.

Why do people work illegally?

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 may want to come to live in Turkey and need to work in order to do so, but cannot qualify for any of the categories of work permitthat 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 in some other capacity.
  • 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 visawhen 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 jobopportunities available which can supplement their income. They might work, for example, as gardeners or ferrying people to and from the airport.

The dangers of working illegally in Turkey

The main dangers of working illegally in Turkey are:

  • You will probably be offered a very poor rate of pay.
  • You may not be paid at all!
  • Many of the people seeking illegal employment are vulnerable in one way or another and they are often subject to physical, sexual, or other abuse by their employer.

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 Schengen 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

This means that there’s nothing to protect you if you fall ill or are injured and no entitlement to use the medical system.


If caught, you may face a large bill for back taxes and back social security  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, though this is uncommon.

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