Gaahhhhhgrrrrrnnnnghhhh!!! Or, “How I feel about bureaucracy: an illustrative tale.”

I have despaired on many occasions about the frustrating, maddening  process that is dealing with all the red tape bullshit when moving to a foreign country. I almost gave up before I even left for Korea, so irritated was I by the mystery shrouding the exact nature of the documents required for my visa. In the Czech Republic, the process of gathering all the necessary documentation lasted for weeks – sometimes involving me waiting in one building for hours on end, for something that ended up taking no more than a couple of minutes once my number was actually called.

Never have I experienced anything like today though. My main gripe with bureaucracy is all the unnecessary faffing around. I become more and more frustrated when no one ever seems to be able to tell me exactly what is required of me – and really, that’s all I want. I’ll pay what needs to be paid, I’ll go where I need to go, I’ll get the forms I need to get, and I’ll apply for all the permits I need to apply for. But surely if they are so strict about what they need from me, they should at least be fecking prepared to fecking tell me what they fecking need from me?! As I said in my annoyed pre-Korea post:

If someone would just tell me, “you need document X, which you can get from Y by sending a cheque for Z to this address”, that would be fine. It would be wonderful. But no. I am floundering around knee-deep in bureaucracy, and I still have no idea what I’m looking for.

Thus, today.

In order to be able to use my foreign phone in Turkey, I have to ‘register’ it with the government. I think this is because phones are really expensive here, so they want to discourage foreigners from bringing their cheaper phones from abroad. They do this by (a) demanding that we pay a registration fee of 115 lira (about 30 GBP) within a month of our arrival, or else our phones will be locked, never again to be used in Turkey, and then  (b) making it so utterly fecking impossible to get all the paperwork necessary for making said payment that we will just crumple in self-loathing despair and defeat, and buy an expensive Turkish phone after all.

I knew before I set out that it was going to be a nightmare, from reading about other people’s experiences, and from being completely unable to find any official instructions whatsoever. Apparently the rules change often in this country; a little quirk which I may one day see as endearing, but which today put me as close  as I have ever been to “murderous” on the anger scale.

I set out to the tax office mentioned by several expats in their blog posts about this wild goose chase of an experience. I found it easily enough, and showed my phone and my passport to the girl at the desk, who looked at me like I had two heads. Like the reliable Boy Scout, I was prepared for such an event, and had written down the Turkish phrase for what I needed – which, when shown to the girl, was then passed all around the office, garnering an impresssive collection of shrugs and blank looks. This is not where you do this, said the girl, as if I must be completely insane to have thought such a thing (despite the fact that it was where many foreigners before me had successfully done so, before the rules were evidently changed once more). You need to go to İş Bank.

I left, somewhat uncertainly as I was pretty sure that I needed some sort of paperwork from the tax office before I could make a payment to the bank, but deciding to let optimism reign. Sure wasn’t it a nice sunny day and wasn’t I getting in a lot of lovely walking around Istanbul? I found an İş Bank and presented my phone-waving self at a counter. We can do this, said the bank girl. Hurrah! Do you have your passport? Check! Do you have your IMEI number? Check! Do you have residence permit? No, it takes weeks and I only just – Do you have your foreign identity  number? Errrr…

Some time and confusion later, with many helpful suggestions and much added confusion from various bank staff members, I left clutching a piece of paper on which there was scribbled a bunch of illegible Turkish words and an address for a civil registration office. I wandered around in a clueless search for a taxi, as I had no idea how to get there, but it turned out that the taxi driver I asked had no idea either. He did, however, direct me to a bus for the general area. A helpful man at the bus stop saw me squinting hopelessly at the list of buses, and ushered me on to the right one – bless him, he then beckoned to me when we reached the right stop, got out with me, and accompanied me down a maze of streets before pointing me in the right direction along a long, straight road and telling me to walk for about 10 minutes. Thank you! I said earnestly and confusedly in three languages before finally remembering the Turkish word.

I thought he said 10 minutes, but it was nearly an hour later when I stumbled up to a police station on that long, empty road, wandered around helplessly in the maze of corridors, and finally asked a policeman if this was where I was meant to be. He looked at my paper and said I was almost there – another hundred metres down the road, says he.

There is clearly a serious problem with judging distance here, but anyway, half an hour later I reached the elusive civil registry office, spent another half hour bumbling around in the empty corridors, and then reached the room I was apparently supposed to be in. No one here spoke any English, and my current small bank of Turkish vocab simply wasn’t going to cut it. The girl at the desk phoned her friend to translate, and passed me the phone. She say you cannot get the foreign identity number until you have document from police saying you are in Turkey, said the cheery voice on the other end.

But I’m sitting right here, she can see me! I groaned in disbelief, and he laughed. It’s OK – there is police station very near you now… you go there and get document, then you bring back. 

For feck sake!!! Back to the police station I trudged. By now I was fecking starving, and my feet were killing me, and I had basically spent the entire day thus far going from one location to the next and accumulating scraps of paper containing directions to yet another place, like some kind of confused and increasingly miserable Anneka Rice. I was absolutely no further forward than I had been when I left the flat, and was instead moving backwards along the necessary chain of events in order to discover where the start might be.

wild goose chase

I finally got back to the police station and spent a good 15 minutes trying to find out where one might go to obtain a document to prove one’s existence. I dare you to try to convey that without the existence of a shared language. I finally ended up being given a form by an uninterested officer who was clearly winding down for the day and didn’t want to do any more work.

I looked at the form.

It was all in Turkish.

A kind stranger, perhaps seeing the life seeping out of me, offered to help me fill in my form when he was finished with his. Before he left, he told me to give it back to the police officer, with my passport, and I would then be given the mysterious, unknown piece of paper I possibly wanted.

The police officer, sadly, berated me in Turkish. It took me a few minutes of confused questions in extremely broken Turkish, but I finally worked out that she need a photocopy of my passport. Even though I had my passport in my hand. And she was standing right next to a photocopier. What. The actual. Feck.

Casting my mind back over the long and empty road I had walked to reach this place, I knew there was no way I would find a photocopying place and be back before the office closed. Tomorrow, she kept saying impatiently, the only word I could pick out in the otherwise impossible torrent of words, putting on her coat and waving me away.

I turned and left, my fists clenched, and tears of utter frustration sliding down my cheeks. A man outside looked distressed and tried to help me, but I was through with humanity by that stage, and my anger and frustration and tiredness were multiplied by gnawing hunger and the realisation that I had no idea how to get back to an area I recognised. And as my phone won’t fecking work, I no longer have the luxury of search engines and Google Maps when I’m lost.


I am no further forward. I need to get a passport photocopy and take it to the police station, to get a paper to take to the registry office, to get a number to take to the bank, to make a payment to get a certificate, to take to the phone shop to register my phone…

Nope. It is not worth it. I shall have to go back to life without a smartphone.

It will be like a daring recreation of prehistoric life.


One thought on “Gaahhhhhgrrrrrnnnnghhhh!!! Or, “How I feel about bureaucracy: an illustrative tale.”

  1. Oh, dear lord. Hang in there. You have to go to an İş Bank now? Ugh. If they’re saying you need a Residence Permit to register your phone then you’re hosed. But if this is some new other “required document” I’m not surprised either. The Turkish government does not want anyone, even Turks, buying phones cheaper in another country and then using them here. The government wants the money from the very large tariffs they put on foreign-made electronic devices.

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