Cell Phone Tax Woes at the Ministry of Frustration
I returned from Portugal with a very disturbing “No Service” message on my cell phone. No worries, I thought, I’ll just restart the phone again. I’ve learned a few things about gadgets over the years – Number 1, before getting frustrated, always try the old O-N, O-F-F switch. In the Navy, we actually spell out the letters when asking somebody if they’ve tried that troubleshooting method yet.
Sadly, my iphone powered back up with the same No Service message. Then I tried resetting the SIM card, which I’ve learned to do after a few international trips around Europe. Nope, still no service.
Racking my brain, I remembered a note I received a while back about the requirement to pay a tax to use foreign-purchased cell phones in Turkey. When I got home, I retrieved this note from my email – yeah, the tax must be paid within 30 days of arrival or the phone would be cut off. Oops!
Okay, Bahrain friends, Turkey is another territory in “the land of not quite right.” I have been here for about two and half months now, and foolishly thought that since they hadn’t cut off my service, I was somehow exempt or wouldn’t have to pay up.
No, they were just a little slower to get to my account. I dug up some more emails about how to register and headed to pay all of my taxes the next morning.
The first confusing part – there are several tax offices in buildings next to each other, and it definitely wasn’t clear to an intermediate Turkish speaker which was the right one to pay my particular tax. Another life lesson that applied here – Just Ask! So I started random Turks until somebody pointed me in the right direction. Of course, as with all ministry buildings, the locals are just as confused as the foreigners, and it took a couple of knowledgeable Turks until one pointed me in the actual right direction.
At cell phone tax counter, I flashed my various identifications and residency permits, all of which are unusual and rarely encountered by anybody but the Immigration Officers at the airport. The generic Turkish identity card is called a kimlik, and if you have one, that’s all you need. A long way back, however, somebody decided that for military personnel in Turkey on NATO orders, instead of simply issuing a kimlik card, fourteen other documents would be issued, and all would be required for simple government exchanges, like registering a car or paying taxes. I am now used to the looks of bewilderment on the poor administrator’s faces and have even learned some of the Turkish words for commands they can enter on their computers to override the kimlik requirement.
This time, though, that wasn’t enough, because as generally happens when you’re trying to get something done, the system shut down. Then, during the hours it takes to restore the system, the director who needs to override the system in order for it to accept a foreigner’s tax is coming in and out of the office, and we are quickly approaching the witching hour – lunch. Lunch, when you’re a Turkish bureaucrat, can take 2-3 hours, and they don’t seem to care whether or not people are waiting on you – I started debating whether I needed a phone at all during my stay in Turkey.
Miraculously, the system was restored and the director was there and I started a mental happy dance. Then they asked me for my phone’s IMEI. What’s an IMEI? That’s what she said. And I couldn’t look at my phone, because I am the one rule-abiding idiot who actually followed the sign on the door and didn’t bring my cellphone into the office – in fact, I left it in my car, back at the Embassy parking lot. For the record, the IMEI is an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. If you’re curious, you can type *#06# on your phone and find yours too!
So, I schlepped back to my car then found a kebab place – I knew I was now past office hours and would have to wait for the post-lunch reopening. When I did finally get back to the neighborhood tax office, almost the exact same chain of events occurred. I went through the spiel about my weird identification status, they had to find the director, the system broke down, it had to be restarted several times, and then…I actually paid my tax!
But of course that didn’t turn my phone back on. Instead, that provided me with a receipt, which I was then instructed to take back to a Vodafone office, and then they would turn my phone back on.
So I trekked to my usual Vodafone shop, which apparently doesn’t handle tax registrations. They recommended that I go to the office in Kizilay, which is kind of like the Times Square of Ankara (kind of painful to get to and around for a quick errand). I hopped a bus and got to the second shop, where the person who usually handles this kind of thing left for the day. They didn’t know if he’d be working over the weekend. At shop #3, their computer system was down. Finally, I found a guy at shop #4 who was willing to accept my tax receipt, and then make copies of all of the identifications that I had already shown at the tax office. Then I had to pay another 5 TL (about $2.75). I asked how long it would take to reactivate – oh, up to a WEEK he said! Wow. The cell carrier had to send all the documentation, and my receipts, to another government ministry (something with Telecom in its name, but I totally forgot it).
For a few days I got really used to not having a phone, or at least one that didn’t work without wifi. Frankly, it’s pretty nice. I still had wifi and skype, so if I needed, I could contact other people, but I was free of the leash. I even considered just going phone-less, although I’m sure the safety people who are always coming up with issues about my housing would also freak out about my being phone-less.
End of story: 2 days after hitting up the right Vodafone shop, my phone once again had service. Although I’m still not in love with talking on the phone, I’m happy to have data whenever/wherever I want it again.