I Just Wanna Be Legal

In my post of Rule #1 Befriend a Turk I summarized my “thrilling” evening of fun at the foreigner’s police station in my first attempt to get my application submitted for a long term residency/renew my current but expired residence permit that I got while in Ankara. Now I thought that was a long night of waiting around but my second time of going to the station (and this time solo) took the whole dang cake. It was an all-afternoon adventure, 7 hours to be exact. Sheesh do these people not think we have lives? Well maybe I don’t really have a life, but there are plenty of other things I know I could have been doing with that time like drinking çay and using any of the numerous café’s internet to do research where I seem to have taken up residency this past week with my connection still a hit or a miss at my apartment.

I felt like I was being kicked from one line to the next with no police officer wanting to take any pity on my soul. Now you might be wondering why I had to go for a second round of waiting torture and well I will tell you why because in hindsight it is a pretty hilarious story, but it has taken me a week’s time to get to the laughing stage.

The first time I went I had all of the required documents except there was a little fact that didn’t appeal to the police. There is always something. Now being an American and residing in the US and with most of my life back in the US it is not a stretch to assume that I in fact have a US bank account. Well the police wouldn’t take my bank statement from the US showing that I had sufficient funds to get by for 6 months in Turkey. By sufficient I mean $300 a month – that just covers my rent – no way a student can live off that in Istanbul, but I guess I won’t complain because thankfully for me the amount was low balling as I would soon realize my feat in proving I indeed had sufficient funds. So there I am with my US bank statement and the police telling my Turkish friend – sorry no can do. This lead me on my wild goose chase last Wednesday of getting a tax number (what does that even mean????? à still wondering myself besides it letting me open a bank account) and then proceeding to open a Turkish bank account.

Now in a huff and puff and lacking sleep I made my way to my parents hotel on Wednesday – you better believe I wasn’t fashionably late – I was rudely late, but thankfully they are my parents and they would rather have me legal than illegal. FPU (father parental unit) wouldn’t be too keen on trying to get my butt out of a Turkish prison – I hear they are quite the scary place to land. So, in the hotel lobby I am trying to find where the closest tax office is so that I can get a tax number. I found one about a half mile away so my parents and I set out to find it. Naturally, with my luck of the draw, I choose the one office that happens to be under construction (in reality others probably are too since there is always construction going on in this city) and in fact has been moved. Getting super frustrated on the street and looking like a complete fool by pulling out my laptop to see the screenshot of the map again to get my bearings, I asked a few people where the office was only to be re-directed numerous times to the point that I just said forget it I am going to find the other office. At this point I parted ways with my parents and I took off for the tax office by the grand bazaar. Yes, the grand bazaar as the largest in the world – this is a super important fact. Upon getting to the tax office which could be one of the more shady buildings I have ever been in (I wouldn’t want to see that place at night) I got in line with my on the verge of death phone and waited my turn. Upon asking for a tax number I was told to press some random number/symbol sequence into my phone. I was able to write the number down right before my phone decides to die. But, I still needed my phone. So at this point you better believe that I found myself handing my phone and phone charger over the counter to the laughing man and woman so that I could get my phone charged.  Now this is where the Grand Bazaar fact is important – most of the people who come to this tax office are from either Africa or the Arab speaking world and predominantly male since they tend to be vendors. I am far from the profile and maybe it was a good thing because the man and woman working the desk took pity on this poor American girl who couldn’t even keep a charge on her phone. Not to mention they gave me high fives when they found out I was American (the whole show your passport wherever you go thing). Finally I got my number and with a one bar charged phone I set off for the nearest Garanti bank to open an account.

I chose Garanti because they are suppose to have an English speaker at each branch.  LIES. I went to a huge branch and somehow not one of the 20+ people on the staff spoke English. Must I mention that I have never opened a bank account in the US solo (gotta love parents) and I sure as heck don’t know a lot of the proper lingo in English, let alone Turkish. So there I am sweating buckets – literally because I had run across town and I have found myself in a pickle. I had the girl not following that I had just gotten a tax number nor the fact that she didn’t want to let me open an account because I needed a valid residence permit while I am trying to say that I need the bank account to get the residence permit. Oy vey. Catch 22 like no other. By some saving grace the customer representative who was trying to help me had a friend visit on a social call. Said friend happened to speak English and basically told the representative that yes I know I need a residence permit to open an account but that I am not gonna do anything but prove my financial standing so just give me the account. It worked. I had another glitch with the phone which resulted in the customer representative having to charge my phone for me too – THIS WAS JUST MY DAY FOR MY PHONE TO BE LOW ON POWER. Why did my phone need to work at the bank – because they like to text you all your bank account info – I think I received 10+ texts from the bank while I was there.

An hour and a half and 60+ signatures later (no that is not an exaggeration – I was handed a packet of all the guidelines and had to sign EVERY page) I had myself a Turkish bank account. I dashed back to my parents hotel with the good news. Now it was just a matter of getting money into the account. Yes, normally an online transaction is easy but with international and US routing numbers, it wasn’t straight-forward so instead I went the route of pulling my max limit on withdrawals a day until I had enough.

On Tuesday morning I had enough funds withdrawn and I set out for Garanti to make the BIG deposit. I certainly felt like a high roller and also scared out of my chonies that I would get jumped in the short 10 minute walk to the bank. I made it though – explained my situation, got my money deposited and left smiling to the moon and back because I had finally gotten a Turkish bank statement. Yes this Garanti did have an English speaker – many in fact so that was quite nice, but I still had to pay a small fee for the services – what happened to the days when services came as part of being one of the bank’s customers?? Whatever I won’t complain because I was getting closer to my end goal.

Tuesday afternoon is when I went on my 7 hour adventure to the police station only to find out that I would have to come back on Wednesday. What do a Hungarian couple, Italian , New Yorker and poor little college student have in common? A hatred of the visa system – boy oh boy oh boy. Let me just say that compared to the Italian man I definitely kept my cool and next to the Hungarian couple my case should have seemed like a breeze. Not to mention a man with an unknown nationality and really sweet ponytail gave me valuable information that I wish I had known at the beginning of the process (the fee I would have to pay as the second to last step in the process could only be paid before 3pm because the cashier office closed then). Well that was just wonderful news – have sarcastic because really I was glad that someone who had to go through it all could give me a definitive answer.

Oh did I mention the cop with the hickey was back but her love necklace had healed (;

So finally Mustafa set me square and I finally parted ways only to know I would be returning in less than 24 hours. On Wednesday I dashed out of class and headed straight to the bus station because I was on a mission. Once I got to the station there was a huge line for the cashier’s office but thankfully it moved quickly. I paid my fee, went upstairs stood in a line that I shouldn’t have because I was directed wrong (again – no surprise there) to finally hand over my application and in return get my slip for retrieval!!! I think that was one of the happiest moments of my life regarding bureaucracy. That little slip of paper lifted so much weight off my shoulders. What a nightmare of an experience that would have been a heck of a lot easier if a clear outline of the process could be found somewhere – anywhere!

So here I am elated that next Friday I can pick up my renewed residence permit and go back to living a legal lifestyle here in the beautiful country of Turkey.

This definitely is one of those tears of frustration and laughter all mixed into one.

So now I am just waiting for my bank card to arrive and hopefully soon otherwise I am looking at figuring out another option of how to access the money in my new Turkish account….hmmmmm….the daily challenges of living abroad (:




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