Back in the day, we moved to Istanbul because it was a convenient, reasonably cheap, convivial place to base oneself while one conducted one's professional activities in Greater Crapistan. Whether that is still the case is subject to debate, best left for another post. One of the few things that had, surprisngly, become more convenient over time was renewing one's residence permit (ikamet).
Our first ikamet experience, in 2007, took place on an unsigned floor at the giant police station in Aksaray, where one proceeded through a heaving mass of non-queuing foreigners to obtain stamps allocated at 6 or 7 unmarked windows. It was impossible to know what documents were needed (we remember having to obtain three or four typewritten sentences at a copy shop around the corner. We can't remember what that document was called or what it communicated to whom).
Gradually, over time the system improved. Because we believe in positive reinforcement, we recognized this and applauded it in 2009. In response, we received an email from someone claiming to be from the Yabancı Şubesi asking for more constructive criticism, which we were thrilled to provide. By last year, the process had improved to the point where it was mildly annoying but not particularly onerous to renew your ikamet.
Those days seem to be over.
People who care more can look up the details but late last year, the government decided, with the degree of careful study and forethought that typically characterizes official actions in Turkey, to revamp the foreigner registration process. We've read this, we have no idea if it's accurate. Could be. Why the hell not?
Because we believe in public service, we are going to explain what happened when we renewed this week. HUGE CAVEATS FOLLOW. If these do not apply to you, your experience may differ, possibly substantially. Everything seems aribtrary right now. I won't know the answer to your specific situation.
- I am American and I live in Beyoğlu. Every ilce has its own demands. I went to the same police station on Zambak Sokak, between Tarlabaşı and İstiklal, as last year.
- I am a regular person, not a journalist.
- I have always been completely legal in Turkey, with a residence permit from the day I moved here. I've never overstayed a visa or used the old visa run strategy that used to work;
- My last entry to Turkey was three weeks ago, using my unexpired residence permit;
- I have a Turkish bank account, Turkish health insurance and a tax number
- The information in my residence permit (ie my address) is completely accurate.
This is what I did to renew:
- Started trying to get an appointment six weeks before my ikamet expired, I spent an hour or so each morning at 9 am, when new appointments opened up, trying to book on one of the worst websites invented by humans. After it crashed or timed out 1000 times, I changed browsers. That did the trick and I got an appointment ten days after my permit expired, the limit before you have to apply for a new permit entirely. Avoid this scenario at all costs.
- Collected the documents stipulated on the Yabancı Şubesi (YS) website. Other than still having to print the application in color, (you can't ever print the Turkish flag in black and white, dummy) these have no basis in reality -- you need these and more. One guy there speaks enough English to tell you what you don't have. What you need in Beyoglu follows:
- Bank Documents: Because I bank with an obscure bank (it's called HSBC, have you heard of it?), I already knew I had to obtain its İmza Sirküleri -- they've demanded it for the last couple years. This is a photocopy of the bank's official registration document which proves you aren't using some fake bank you just made up, you sneaky yabancı, to show you have the required amount of money in your account. I've never heard of anyone else having to provide this, but I keep a copy of it in my files so I don't have to keep asking the bank for it and having them stare blankly at me. I have yet to figure out what account document to ask the bank for that satisfies the YS. Some years I get the right one the first try. It has to show, I think, 450 TL for each month you want a permit (it's increased).
- A Notarized Copy of Your Lease: This new demand is nowhere on the YS website. It's not a big deal. Take your lease to a noter (make sure your name is on it, the address matches your current ikamet and I would make sure it's got at least a year on it, if that's how long your want your permit for), pay him/her 65 TL. In my experience, she copies it, places a thousand stamps on it and does not scrutinize it in any way or ask you any questions. Do with that information as you wish.
- Health Insurance: This is new. I would assume it has to be Turkish insurance (documents in any language other than Turkish tend not to be recognized by YS). I do not know what level of coverage is required -- my policy (in a document provided by my agent, but not stamped or notarized) was adequate, but the YS scrutinized it very closely and I've heard rumors they demand certain level of coverage. That's bad. This is worse: Your policy has to cover the entire period of your ikamet renewal. For example, my insurance policy expires in November. It's May. Therefore I only get an ikamet renewal until November. I get to DO THIS AGAIN IN SIX MONTHS. This information is rock solid. My insurance agent spoke on the phone to the polis guy when I was standing there and there's nothing to be done to extend the policy until it expires, according to my agent.
So, you've got the documents, as required on 13 May 2014 by the Beyoğlu Yabancı Şubesi, and you submit them. Once you have everything, it's not complicated; the same as the last year or two. To their credit, they give you 15 days to collect the new documents and come back without making another appointment. That's appreciated. You can just show up, and, if the right guy happens to be there, they'll accept them, collate/stamp them and send you out to pay the fees.
- PAY PAY PAY: There's a new level of payment demanded --50 TL "for the book," which I already have so why do I need another there comes a point when you just shut up and take it -- which you have to pay for on the third floor of the Beyoğlu legal building on İstiklal, near Galatasaray. No signs, go to the end of the long hall past all the public health offices (??!!) where there's an unfriendly old Vezne guy behind bars. Give him the documents and 50 TL; he gives you a receipt. Annoying, but easy. Then make your way to the Vergi Dairesi in Şişhane -- same as the last few years -- go upstairs to get a printout, take it downstairs, go to whatever payment window will take you and give them 115 TL (for an American, six months renewal). They give you a receipt. I have always found the Vergi Dairesi to be friendly and cooperative with the occasional helpful English speaker. That's sounds counterintuitive, but it's a fact.
You thought there were no more surprises, right? Wrong. Deliver your documents and receipts back to the police.
CB "So, when can I pick it up?
YS: You don't. It goes to Ankara and they mail it back to you."
CB: "Mail? Really? When will they do that?"
YS: "I don't know. You can call them and ask."
I have found my ikamet confers few meaningful benefits, other than allowing me to enter and leave the country without hassle, which I do frequently and I have a low tolerance for airport hassle. What happens when I don't have that ikamet and I want to leave the country? Stand by! We'll find out on Friday morning.
Trust that the internet will be the first to know.