There’s a lot of information out there regarding how to obtain a residence permit in Turkey. Most of it is written based on people’s personal experiences, and because the rules and regulations are always changing, and because there remain no official instructions on how to go about it, it’s very likely that you’ll hear a lot of different things. All I can really do is give you details about my own experience, and hope that it’s somewhat helpful. (Note that this article won’t cover the details about obtaining a work permit, which I’m not so sure about. A residence permit will only let you live here legally. Working here legally is something else.) Conveniently, Turkey doesn’t require foreigners to apply for a visa before entering the country. When you arrive at the airport, you pay $20 for a sticker and a stamp that are good for 90 days in a 180-day window. This means you can enter and exit Turkey as much as you want during these 180 days, provided the total amount of time you stay does not exceed 90 days. It also means that if, like me, you plan to have an extended stay, once you’ve stayed for 90 days, you must leave and are not able to reenter until another 90 days have passed.
This is important because it means that the convenience of border hopping no longer exists, so you can’t leave for a Grecian getaway after 90 days and expect to reenter Turkey on a new tourist visa. And in case you’re wondering how seriously the officials approach expired visas, the accounts vary, but it’s apparently not uncommon to get hauled away at the airport, fined several hundred lira, and added to a blacklist that bars entry for a certain number of years. You don’t want to try to dupe the system here. Instead, you need to collect some paperwork and make an appointment to obtain a proper residence permit so that you’re able to live here legally. (A work visa, like I said, is an entirely different story, but new legislation suggests that obtaining a work permit will automatically grant you a residence permit.) Everything you need can be easily obtained in an afternoon or two, but it does require some running around. What you’ll need for your permit is the following: 1. A printout of your appointment documents. Appointments can only be made online via this website. If you have access to a printer when you make your appointment, you can print it then, or you can save your reservation number to access it later at a print shop. You’ll need a color copy on A4 paper, so if your printer can’t manage that, just print it at a copy shop. You’ll probably have to visit one anyway.
2. A photocopy of your passport. You’ll need a copy of the photo page with expiration dates and the page with your last entry stamp and sticker. Again, in color on A4 paper. Any copy shop will be able to help you with this, especially since they’ve probably done it for countless other foreigners and they know the particular format the officials want. The shop I went to scanned both pages onto one piece of paper, and that seemed to be okay. 3. Four (4) passport photos. This one is actually kind of fun, because it’s a very different process than what I’m used to in the States. There are lots of photo studios scattered throughout the city, and they pretty much always know what foreigners want when they walk in. The photographer at the studio I went to took about 10 different photos for me to choose from, then airbrushed them so I could look my absolute, most unnatural best, which is common practice in Turkey. You should walk out with 4 glamor shots for about 10 lira.
4. Proof of sufficient funds. This amount varies from country to country, but US citizens need to show proof of at least $300 for each month they wish to stay in Turkey. So, if you want a year-long residence permit, you need to show officials that you have $3600 immediately at your disposal. Accepted forms of validation include either a statement from a Turkish bank (a statement from your country’s bank is not permissible) or an exchange slip showing you converted X amount of dollars into X amount of lira. The former is, ironically, almost impossible to obtain without a residence permit, so putting funds into a Turkish bank account is not really an option, plus most people don’t actually have the money needed. This takes us to the second option. Like print centers and photo studios, currency exchange offices are everywhere. If you have the funds required and are comfortable carrying $3600 worth of lira around, you can absolutely take the legal route and get a legitimate exchange slip. If not, many exchange offices will sell you one for the amount you require. In other reports I’ve read, you could get this for about 25 lira, but since then I think they’ve learned that they can charge more. I shelled out 50 lira for my exchange slip, which seemed relatively steep, but still reasonable given what I was getting from it. Make sure, though, that you get only ONE slip with the amount you want. There was a miscommunication with the office I went to and they ended up printing me a slip for only $3000. When I pointed it out, they printed another for $600 to meet the total I wanted, but the police office would only accept one. I was able to get a visa for 10 months, then, with the $3000 ticket, which is plenty for what I need, but if you want a full year, make sure your exchange ticket shows all the funds you need on one slip. Once you have these things, you have everything you need to deliver to the permit officials. The trickiest part, really, is setting up the appointment you need to see them. This is the website you need to visit to make your appointment, or randevu. This can only be done online, and you can only make an appointment at the police branch in the district in which you live. Whether you’re renting a flat, living with friends, or staying in a hotel, the district on your address needs to match the district where you’re making your appointment. When I was at my randevu, another expat was turned away because her residence and the police station were not in the same district. She’d made her appointment and had all the necessary paperwork, but they wouldn’t help her. The officials at the randevu will also need confirmation of this address in the form of a letter from the hotel, a copy of the lease agreement, or a copy of the property’s tapu (ownership papers). This may be something else you need to acquire, because they do need to see proof that you live where you say you live. It is also important that this information, in addition to all the other information you fill out when you make your appointment, is accurate and up-to-date, as they will verify everything, from your phone number to your father’s name. The website will walk you through the necessary steps to create an appointment (mercifully in English), but don’t be surprised if spaces are so limited that it takes several tries over a several-day period to find an opening. I’ve heard many other foreigners talk about how their appointment date often falls outside the window of their visa or current permit, and that there are wait lists many months long for some stations. My situation was nothing like this, and I’m not sure if it was by a fortunate fluke or if everyone else is doing it wrong. I was able to get an appointment within a week at my local branch in Sisli. I recommend visiting the website in the early morning when appointment times might be new and unreserved. It did take me a several days and many attempts before I found a slot, but with some persistence it shouldn’t be too difficult. Don’t worry, though, if you can’t get an appointment that falls within your visa’s timeframe. The only necessity is that you have the appointment made to show that you are in the process of obtaining a legal permit. If you leave Turkey, for example, without a residence permit and after your visa has expired, showing officials the copy of your appointment form should reprieve you from any fine or punishment. Once you’re able to access open slots on the randevu site, select an appointment time. Early morning is best and might even be your only option, as it was for me. There will be a checklist of items that you need to bring, the same I’ve detailed above. To move on to the form you’ll need to check the boxes even if you don’t have everything. Next you’ll fill out the form that needs to be printed, with your contact information (including a required Turkish phone number) and parents’ names, etc. Copy your reservation number in case you need to access the form again. At this point, really, the hard part is over. Print out the appointment form, collect your passport, photocopies, pictures, exchange slip, and and lease agreement (or its equivalent), and go to your specific branch on the day of your randevu. If you walk in looking wide-eyed and lost, or if you show someone at the door your appointment form, they will help direct you to where you need to go, but following signs for yabancilar (foreigners) will also lead you in the right direction. You may have to wait. When your turn comes, hand over all documents and your passport, and let them work their magic. They’ll confirm your information and ask a few questions and then – hooray! – you get to pay them. You’ll have to pay for two things: the processing fee for the permit and for the permit itself. I think the permit may be a little more expensive now than other guides have reported, and I paid almost 200TL for mine. As for the processing fee, that price depends on how long you want to stay. The first month is $25, and every month after that is $5, so, for a year, you’d pay an $80 fee (about 150TL). In my case, a ten-month visa cost me $70, or about 130TL. These fees are paid to different cashiers, and while I’m not certain about other branches, my local branch in Sisli actually sent me to the tax office a couple miles away to pay the processing fee. Other branches may have these offices conveniently combined into one building, but this was not so in my case. I paid 200TL for the booklet to the officer helping me, then took a walk to the tax office to pay for the processing fee. To pay the fee there, you’ll need a tax number, which you can get then or beforehand. The officer at the police station will write the amount you owe on your appointment form, so, again, just show this to the attendants at the tax office and they’ll know where to send you. You’ll pay the fee, collect your receipt, and return to the police station. They’ll do some more magic, give you a confirmation paper, and tell you to return next week to pick up your booklet. When you return for your permit, go to the same office where you applied. There will likely be other people there and the officers will likely be busy, but don’t be shy. Get someone’s attention and show them your confirmation paper. They’ll retrieve your booklet, have you sign a couple things, and send you on your merry way.
After that, you’re done and legal. Finally. Congratulations!