Today was my first official day in Turkey - navigating the bureaucracy to set-up a new life in this beautiful country. Forewarned by several sources that the processes would seem cumbersome and illogical, I gave myself a pep talk before leaving the apartment so I'd face the day with a positive, Zen-like attitude.
Getting an official Tax Number
My Turkish friend arrives at my apartment about 9:30AM and we head to the Tax Office, which is conveniently located across the street from my tiny Turkish apartment. I need to accomplish two things at the Tax Office - get an official Tax Number in order to apply for a bank account in Turkey, and pay an import tax for the cell phone I brought from Canada.
We enter the building. There is a long line-up. My friend ignores the line-up, approaches an official looking man behind an official looking counter, butts in, and has a brief, but unintelligible, conversation with him. We need to go to the third floor, he says, so we climb the stairs to the third floor. We wander down a corridor and find another line-up of people waiting to see an official looking man behind an official looking counter.
This time, the line-up is very short, so we wait for a few minutes until the official looking man is available to help us. My friend has a brief, unintelligible conversation with the official looking man and then explains, we need to get a photocopy of your passport. So we descend three flights of stairs, exit the building and go to the restaurant next door, where an unofficial-looking man behind a bar photocopies my passport for 0.50TL (about 25 cents).
Armed with the photocopy, we return to the Tax Office, climb to the third floor, wait in line for a few more minutes to see the official looking man behind the official looking counter.
When we get to the official looking counter, another brief, unintelligible conversation ensues and the official looking man hands me a form for completion. I copy my name, citizenship, date of birth, gender, passport number, date of arrival in the country, etc. from my passport and hand it back to the official looking man.
We are instructed to sit on a bench while my application is processed. A few minutes later the official looking man calls us back to the official looking counter and hands me a decidedly UN-official looking scrap of paper with some numbers written on it. This is my official tax number document.
Registering an imported phone
First task complete, we start on the next - paying the import tax on my iPhone. (If this tax is not paid, service to the phone will be interrupted after an indeterminate period and it's virtually impossible to get it restored.)
We return to the first floor of the Tax Office to discover that the once-long line has tripled in size. I join the line-up, my friend heads back to the restaurant to get another photocopy of my passport just in case.
Just as he returns, a second teller opens a second queue and we hustle into the new line-up. Our wait is less than a minute. Allah must be smiling on me today!
More unintelligible conversation, more forms, a quick inspection of my telephone, payment of 115TL (about $57), an official looking receipt and we are done.
We leave the Tax Office - two tasks complete. I am confident in my ability to deal with Turkish bureaucracy.
Applying for a Turkish bank account
Now that I have a Tax Number, I can apply for a Turkish bank account.
We wander towards downtown Fethiye and visit a few banks. My criteria for a bank is very specific - I can't rely on a translator for all of my banking transactions - so someone in the bank must speak English. We visit ING bank. No English speaking staff. We visit HSBC bank. No English speaking staff. We visit a few banks that I've never heard of before. No English speaking staff.
Practically everyone I've met in Turkey speaks English. Why don't they work in banks? Allah is giggling. The search for a bank continues...
Visiting the Passport Polis
Feeling a little blue that the banking solution didn't pan out as easily as the Tax Office tasks, I shift my attention to the matter of a residency permit. I am visiting Turkey on a tourist visa, which allows me to stay in the country for 90 days. To stay longer and follow through with my plan, I need to apply for residency.
This journey begins at the Passport Polis office. We reach the tiny Passport Polis office just after lunch and there is a line-up out onto the sidewalk. After waiting a few minutes outside, we are able to enter the tiny building.
The line-up moves fairly quickly until the couple in front of me approaches the official looking Passport Polis-man at the official looking counter. They talk, quietly at first, then louder and louder. I understand most of the conversation. Either my Turkish is improving very quickly, or the official looking Passport Polis-man has a good command of the English language. I am feeling happy!
The official looking Passport Polis-man chastises the couple for not reporting a change in address within the required timelines. He then assesses them a hefty fine of 420TL (about $210) each. Yikes! The couple grumbles loudly as they leave the office.
My friend and I approach the official looking Passport Polis-man at the official looking counter. Fortunately, the Passport Polis-man's English is very good and I only need a bit of assistance from my Turkish pal.
The Passport Polis-man gives me a photocopied list of all of the things I need to do before I can get a residence permit, and gives me a stern warning about timelines. Everything must be done within 90 days of my arrival in Turkey. Given the size of the penalty I heard him assess on the previous couple, I vow to get everything done in a timely manner. List in hand, we bid the official looking Passport Polis-man farewell, say "teşekkür ederim" and leave the office.
My confidence in being able to deal with Turkish bureaucracy is restored. Allah must be smiling on me today!
The first of many forms
Crossing the road, we enter a small shop called Captain's Yachting.
The couple from the Passport Polis office is being served, and we wait a few minutes until they are done. They are still grumbling about the fines.
When they leave, we sit at a desk piled with papers and the man behind the desk gives me a form to complete. Now, this isn't an official, pre-printed form. This is a piece of paper on which he has hand-written name, citizenship, date of birth, gender, passport number, date of arrival in the country, etc. I copy all the requisite data from my passport onto the sheet of paper and hand it to him with my passport. He enters the information into his computer and prints a copy. This is my Declaration for Residence Permit. I pay him 15TL (about $7.50) and we leave the storefront shop.
The first of many signatures
Next, we head to the Municipality building, one of the largest buildings in downtown Fethiye. I have already completed another form which also identifies my name, citizenship, date of birth, gender, passport number, date of arrival in the country, etc., and now require a signature from the head official of the district.
We wander around the building in search of him / her and come upon the disgruntled couple from the Passport Polis office. I apologize for stalking them. They have located the head official and also require a signature.
We all enter the office together, feeling much like Dorothy et al visiting the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. The woman with the authority to sign our forms is in an animated discussion with two other women. She pauses for only a moment to sign the couple forms and then refuses to sign my form. What??? Allah is LOL.
I accidentally left my Turkish address field blank and she sends me into the hallway to complete the missing information. (I really need to memorize my Turkish address!)
Form complete and feeling like a complete dork, I re-enter the room, re-interrupt her conversation and get the requisite signature.
The first of many folders
My Zen-like composure is fading fast as we leave the Municipal building and head to a stationary shop to purchase a plastic folder for all my paperwork and get another (coloured) copy of my passport. (The copy from the restaurant beside the Tax Office is black and white, and not sufficient for the residency application.)
The photocopy is easily done, and the bill for the copy and the plastic folder comes to 8TL ($4). I hand over a 20TL bill, but the salesman has no change. He sends his son (about 10 years old) out of the shop to find change for a 20TL note.
We wait. It is warm in the shop due to several photocopy machines running at full capacity. We wait some more. The temperature in the shop increases. We wait some more. I remove my jacket. We wait some more. The temperature in the shop increases to about a million degrees. We wait some more. I consider removing my t-shirt, but decide against it because I am a visitor in a Muslim country. We wait some more. I consider the possible implications of getting arrested for public nudity in a Muslim country. We wait some more. Just before I whip my shirt off to avoid heat exhaustion, the kid returns with my change. We leave the shop.
I am done with bureaucracy for the day. My calm is gone. My Zen is not Zen-like anymore. And my positive attitude has been replaced by tired, cranky, sweaty, and desperate for a cold drink. However, we have one more task that needs to be accomplished before day end. I must advise the cell phone carrier that I have paid the import tax on my cell phone to avoid service cancellation.
Telephone provider woes - a global phenomena
When I first arrived in Turkey, I bought a one-month tourist phone service package from a company called Vodaphone. After doing some research, I learned that Vodaphone coverage is not reliable at sea and that TurkCell coverage is a better option for me. So, we head to the nearest TurkCell store.
Like all cell-phone salespeople, the young woman we deal with assures us that TurkCell can offer me a perfect solution. (Notice I say "us". In actual fact, my Turkish buddy did all the talking because the Turkcell woman doesn't speak English and I don't speak Turkish.) All I have to do is purchase a new SIM card, pick appropriate talk and data plans, and VOILA, we're done.
So I pay my money and she starts typing Allah-knows what into the computer. Hmmm! Confusion spreads across her face. Oh oh! Appears she was a bit off-base about "VOILA, we're done". Apparently, changing cell phone providers in Turkey is as difficult as it is in Canada.
She communicates (via my Turkish translator) that I'm out of luck. I'm stuck with Vodaphone as a provider. "No problem," I say. "Refund my money for the SIM card and I'll go to Vodaphone."
"Refunds on SIM cards are prohibited," she says (via my friend).
"ARE YOU KIDDING ME???" Nope, she is not kidding. Not even close!
Suffice to say, long, heated, unintelligible discussions take place over the next few HOURS before we finally leave the shop. I'm not even involved in most of the conversation but I feel like crying. My friend is shouting at the Turkcell woman. She is pointing at me and screeching. Everyone in the store weighs in on the matter, including other customers! Some are for the policy, some are against it, Allah is ROFL.
I'm still not sure what happened in the end, or who my cell phone carrier is, but know that my phone is working right now. If you ever move to Turkey, take my advice and buy your phone here!
Broken by bureaucracy
Exhausted, we wrap up the day by going to a nearby ice cream shop for dessert and to plan our next steps. My friend is returning to his home in Demre tomorrow, and I'm going to address the remaining items on the residency list on my own. It will be an interesting to see how things go without my personal translator and tour guide!
But first, I'll give myself a pep talk so I face the day with a positive, Zen-like attitude.
What bureaucratic hurdles have you faced as an expat? I'd love to hear your stories, comments and feedback. Feel free to send me an e-mail to connect. And, if you enjoyed this article about Expat Life in Turkey, please consider sharing it on social media!