Many of you don't know me personally, but I think it's fair to say that I am an upstanding, law-abiding citizen. I've never been arrested, I've never been inside an American police station, and I've only been inside a court of law for jury duty. So, much to my surprise, when I went to renew my residence permit three weeks ago, the officer told me I had broken the law by not declaring my change in marital status within 15 days of getting married.
Let me back up...To live in Turkey for any length of time, you have to apply for a residence visa (ikamet). For North Americans and Western Europeans, it's a straight-forward process -- in Istanbul, you make an appointment on the website and pay the money, which is about $160 for the first year (and it's only that expensive because the first time around, you have to buy a poorly constructed little blue visa book for $80). While you don't have the right to work with a residence permit, you don't have to do anything special (as a Westerner) to get one -- the Turkish government is happy to take your money and let you live here, and they don't care why you want to stay.
Getting a residence permit in Turkey is easy; getting an appointment to get a residency permit (or renew or change it) is another matter entirely. See, the online system doesn't work very well, and this is where our problems came in. We tried to make an appointment in August after we got married, but the website wasn't working. Cagatay went to the office in person, and the officer there at the time told him it was broken and that we just had to wait until it was fixed -- and no, he couldn't make an appointment in person. So we checked and checked again and around the beginning of October, we managed to get an appointment for mid-November. That was the day I was going home for Thanksgiving and since we weren't able to change the appointment (you couldn't then, maybe you can now), I just had to skip it. Back to square one.
When I got back to Istanbul at the end of November, I tried to make a new appointment. I checked the website for about three weeks and usually, it just looked like this:
The website always lists just three appointment dates, and they're always full. I was starting to panic because my residency permit expired at the beginning of February, and as you can see from today's screenshot, the appointments are for months later. [In fairness, you just have to make the appointment before your ikamet expires -- they accept your reservation date as "the" date, though I don't think you would be able to leave the country in the in-between period.] Anyway, after about three weeks of checking the website, I finally managed to get an appointment for the end of February.
So, here we are, present time. We went to the appointment as scheduled, and our intention was to renew my residence permit and to update my marital status. Cagatay explained to the officer why we hadn't come earlier, but the guy really didn't care. So the website was broken? Not his problem. So it's nearly impossible to get an appointment? Also not his problem. [Oh, btw, I also contacted the American Consulate in December about this issue, and guess what? Not their problem either.] The officer said that they release 100 appointments a month (per branch, I'm assuming) and that all the private companies that organize your paperwork for a fee know when the appointments are released and snap them up. Which explains why it's so f'ing difficult to get an appointment -- but hey, not his problem.
So, despite our objections, he told us we had to pay a fine. It wasn't actually that bad (about $78), but we were annoyed in principle. But we couldn't pay the fine then -- first, he had to organize the paperwork and then we would have to go to our local police station about a week later. So, the next week, we did that. The police officer there was very understanding, but he said since it was in the system, there was nothing anyone could do. We spent about an hour there and in the end, I signed some paper in Turkish attesting to my "guilt." This officer said that he would give the paperwork to a supervisor and in 10 days, we could go back to the municipality office to actually pay the fine. So, we did that -- about 10 days later, we paid the fine in one office and showed our receipt to the residency permit guy in a building down the street. Once we showed the receipt, he gave us the residency permit paperwork, and we went to the tax office (by cab) in another area of Istanbul to actually pay for the renewal. Then we went back to the municipality office to show that receipt. He said we could come back to pick up the residency permit in about a week. That's today -- three weeks later.
If you've followed along through all this, I'm sure you've realized what the moral of the story is. If not, here it is in brief: Start early for anything involving a Turkish residency permit. Start months earlier than you think you need to. Trust me on this.