02 May 2014
Chris and I unintentionally overstayed our Turkish travel visas in 2013. We purchased a 90 day multiple entry visa when we arrived in April and then another one when we came back in early September. We didn't know that you can only purchase one of these in a 365 day period and we learned that lesson the hard way after enduring a 14-hour delay when trying to clear out of the Istanbul airport last November. They were happy to sell us the second visa in September, but it wasn't any good and we ended up paying a fine of about $200USD each for staying here too long.
The solution for 2014? Purchase a 1-year residence permit. Sounds simple, right? Only if your definition of simple includes spending two days navigating the streets of a foreign city trying to hunt down various officials with documents or stamps that we needed. And this was the streamlined and simplified process which just went into affect on April 9th, intended to ease the burden on foreigners seeking residence status in Turkey. Here are the steps we had to take:
We arrived at the Police Station in Fethiye at 9AM on Monday, April 21st. The official there gave us a list (available only in Turkish at the time) of the documents that were required. It included the following:
- Copies of our passports, signed and stamped by a Turkish notary
- Proof of residence, either a rental agreement or, as in our case, an annual contract with a marina.
- Turkish Tax ID #'s for each of us
- Proof of health insurance, translated into Turkish
- Copies of bank statement
- 5 color passport photos
- Application form stamped by the local "Muhtar" in the town or municipality where we intended to reside.
- Multiple color copies of the above
After a few hours of walking around Fethiye trying to gather the items on our scavenger hunt checklist, we were introduced to Yakup, an english-speaking translator and notary. Yakup makes a nice living helping foreigners like us navigate the Turkish bureaucratic maze. Where do we get tax id #s? How do we prove that we have health insurance? What is a Muhtar and where do we find him or her? Yakup provided excellent advice on these questions and more! (He can be reached at +90 539 835 1922.)
My ride on the back of Yakup's scooter to the Tax Office was "exciting" to say the least. Once there, we had to pay 170TL (about $85) per person for our Tax ID #s, along with another 50TL each for the Residence Permits. And like every good bureaucracy, it took four people to do the work of one: Person A provided the Tax ID #s, Person B entered the info for our Residence Permits, Person C tallied up the bill and accepted my money and Person D issued the receipt. Since none of these people spoke english, I would probably still be there today without Yakup's help.
After that it was off to purchase health insurance. Of course, we already HAVE perfectly good international health insurance but since Blue Cross / Blue Shield doesn't issue policies written in Turkish, our option was to either pay a translator to translate our BCBS policy or just purchase a cheap Turkish policy. We took the path of least resistance and shelled out another 90TL for the Turkish policy. I have NO CLUE what kind of coverage it offers (how much can you really buy for $45USD?) but I now have a 1" thick policy binder written in Turkish that will satisfy the faceless bureaucrat who reviews all of this.
Our last step in this little adventure was to have the local "Muhtar" sign and stamp our application documents. The Muhtar is an elected official who represents the city or municipality at the provincial (regional) level of government. Since we were in Fethiye we assumed that the Muhtar there could perform this function. But when we returned to the Police Station on Tuesday morning to present all of our documents, we were told that we had to see the Muhtar from Gocek because that's where our "residence" is. (Our contract with the marina is in Gocek.) Gocek is 90 minutes (each way) by boat from Fethiye but we didn't have any choice so off we went. Two hours later we were anchored back in Gocek and hopped in the dingy to go find the Muhtar. We arrived to find his office empty but a helpful colleague reached him by cellphone and told us he was in ... (drumroll please) .. Fethiye, of course! With a few hours to kill until his return, we headed off in search of lunch and a glass of wine! When we returned later that afternoon we found the Muhtar in his office furnished with a small desk, a cot (which probably gets more use than the desk) and a barber chair (shave and a haircut anyone?) On the wall was the obligatory framed photo of Ataturk (Founder of the Turkish Republic) and a nice four-color campaign poster of our man Mr. Muhtar. His english was limited (but still better than our Turkish) and he apologetically explained that he didn't have the stamp that we needed on our documents. Apparently he was just recently elected and someone from the Ministry of Official Stamps hadn't issued his just yet! So he signed our documents and sent us off to make three copies and take them to the local Gendarme who actually HAD a stamp. The Gendarme's office is surrounded by iron gates and guarded by machine-gun toting young men dressed in military garb. After being ushered upstairs and waiting for a few minutes, we presented our papers to the man who appeared and they were promptly stamped! Yeah!! It was now around 2:30 pm and we had to get back to Fethiye before 5:00 pm because government offices were closed the following day for a national holiday.
We made it back to Fethiye by 4:15pm and had arranged to meet Yakup at the Police Station by 4:30 to present our paperwork. But as luck would have it, the Turkish Coast Guard came alongside just then and asked to inspect our boat. I was beginning to think we were cursed because this was the first time in four years of cruising the Med that we've been inspected! Thankfully, all of our paperwork was in order and their visit took less than 10 minutes once I explained our 5pm deadline.
So now we wait. Our applications have been accepted by the police in Fethiye and have been sent off to Istanbul or Ankara for further review and processing. Once approved, the Residence Permits will be mailed to us at the marina in Gocek. I have NO copies of any of these materials and am trying not to even think about we'll do if our application or the permits get lost in transit somewhere.