Cell phones, like everywhere else in the world, are a staple of communication in Turkey. Service stores in Istanbul are literally every block or so, and plans and prepaid options are relatively inexpensive, so keeping in touch, even internationally, is easy. Cell phones themselves, though, especially ones that do more than just call and text, are pretty pricey here, which leads to a lot of residents and visitors attempting to bypass the cost by purchasing phones in other countries and then bringing them into Turkey.
To dissuade people from doing this, the government has imposed a registration fee that must be applied to all foreign mobiles, so, unfortunately, simply popping a Turkish SIM card into your foreign phone isn’t an option. If you start to use a Turkish SIM without paying this fee, after a week or so, authorities somewhere somehow will cancel your service and shut off your phone, and once you finally do register, it will take several days for your device to be reactivated. For short-term tourists and visitors, a few days might be all you need, but for anyone with a foreign phone staying for a longer haul, you’ll need to register your device with the government if you want to use a Turkish carrier, and the process will be smoother if you do it before getting a SIM.
First you’ll need to find a tax office. There are many throughout the city, and you don’t need an appointment to be seen. Be sure to have your cell phone and your passport with you, and when you arrive, just mention “tax numara” or show someone your phone and they can direct you to the appropriate floor.
You’ll need to get a tax number first, which will be tied to your passport and which you’ll use for many other things, like paying your residence permit fee, opening a bank account, etc. The tax number is free, and all you need for this is your passport and an address. The only thing you’ll get as confirmation is a little piece of paper with a hand-written number on it. You don’t need to save the paper, but make sure you have the tax number saved elsewhere, because you will need it later!
You may have to go to a different floor or desk to actually register your cell phone, and you can even do the registration on a different day if you want. You’ll need your passport, tax number, and your phone’s IMEI code. Take note that you are allowed to register only one phone per passport per year, so you can’t double up on foreign phones or help your foreign friends out with theirs, and if you somehow lose your phone, you’ll have to buy a Turkish one. The cost for registration is 115TL, which is a small price to pay to be able to use your smartphone here. You’ll be given a receipt indicating that your phone has been officially registered, and then you can head to a cellphone store of your choice (Turkcell and Vodafone are the most popular and common).
When you walk in, try to find someone sitting at a computer, as they tend to be the ones who set up new accounts. You’ll give them your passport, cell phone, and registration receipt, and they’ll have you pick out a phone number before setting everything up for you. Prices might vary based on what provider you choose, but it should cost about 20TL to register your phone with their company, and then an additional 35TL for the SIM card, which comes preloaded with a generous amount of credit to get you started.
After that, you should be all set up. Happy texting!