Registering a foreign phone in Istanbul

Register phone in TurkeyChances are whenever the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy are released you’ll want to get your hands on one as soon as possible. But, when you’re living in Turkey, the cost of an unlocked handset for these state-of-the-art babies is likely to blow the budget. Chances are you’ll be buying them duty-free or asking a friend to bring one back from America where the prices are considerably less.

However you procure the phone, you’ll find the unlocked device becomes locked and unusable within days or weeks of putting a Turkish sim card in it and switching it on. Turning it on and off again, won’t solve the problem this time.

To avoid this inconvenience, you’ll need to register the mobile phone within 120 days (as of October 2015) of entering the realm of Turkish telecommunications. It will cost you approximately 165 – 205TL to do so depending on your telecom provider.

So what do you need to do to register a phone? Read on to find out..

1. Decide which telecom provider is for you

Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea are the dealers to choose from to get a pre-paid sim card for your unlocked foreign mobile phone (CEP) in Turkey. They all offer promotional packages (kampanyalar) throughout the year with calls, sms and 3G for as low as 35TL per month. Just shop around to get the best deal. Make sure you get a package with 3G – you’ll need it to GPS your way through the maze of Istanbul streets and to keep in contact with friends when you’re stuck in Istanbul traffic!

I use Avea and for 28TL a month I get 2GB of internet use, 5000 sms and 500 minutes of calls. I got it on a promotional deal three years ago and never use up the credit. Other friends have Vodafone or Turkcell and pay more per month so shop around to find the right package for you.

Know that, whilst the telecom provider websites are not in English, most stores have English speakers. So you don’t need to use their websites to add credit to your pre-paid sim card. After you buy your sim you can top-up credit at stores, or buy “top-up” (kontrol) cards at confectionery kiosks around the city, add credit via your Turkish bank account through internet banking and even (my favourite) add credit to your phone at Garanti Bank ATM/cash machines around the city without needing a TC number (Turkish citizen identification number).

2. Ask the telecom provider for the price to process the registration of your phone

When deciding your telecom provider, ask them how much they charge to process the registration of your foreign phone. In 2014, when I went through this process, Avea charged 35TL, whereas Turkcell has been reported to charge up to 70TL. You don’t pay this until after a trip to the Tax Office. This fee is in addition to the actual registration fee charged by a Tax Office.

3. Visit a Tax Office to register your phone

To register your new foreign phone you need to go to a Vergi Dairesi (Tax Offıce) with your passport and pay 135TL (price as of May 2015) over the counter. If you have an ikamet take that with you. I believe you can also visit Ziraat Bank to register your phone too.  Four things to be aware of at this stage:
1. Your date of entry to Turkey in your passport must be within the last 120 days to be able to register a cell phone bought overseas. If your arrival date is beyond 120 days you cannot register your phone and will have to wait to re-enter Turkey again to complete the registration process.
2. You can only register one foreign mobile phone every two years.
3. If you’re a tourist (i.e. you have no ikamet/resident permit) registering your phone will keep the sim/phone unlocked for six months. If you’re a resident or citizen registering gives you access indefinitely on that handset and sim.
4. The handset is registered to that sim. You can’t easily change telecom providers/sim cards after registration.

You can find the address for your nearest tax office by Googling, ‘Vergi Dairesi adres’ and your district.  Avoid visiting them at lunchtime as they close usually from noon to 1pm.

When you pay the tax office the 135TL they will also take the IMEI number of your phone. Dial *#06# to get this. The Tax Office will give you a receipt / Certificate of Registration to present to your telecom provider. Keep this somewhere safe.

4. Go back to your telecom provider

Once paid up at the Tax Office, go to a store of your telecom provider. It doesn’t need to be the same one you bought your sim card from. The store may say they can’t process the registration for you, but ask for the address of their nearest store that has the authority to do so.

When you find yourself in the authorised store, give them your receipt from the Tax Office or PPT or Ziraat Bank and your passport so they can take a copy of your last entry stamp. Finally, pay the fee they charge for processing the registration for you.

5. Use your phone

The telecom provider will process the registration and usually within a few days your Turkish sim is activated so you’ll be whatsapping and Facebooking again from your new handheld device.

Please note, there’s rumors that the system is changing. If I get any confirmed reports on this I will update the information above which leads to the final point…

6. Know the process can change!

Like any country in the world – bureaucratic systems are prone to change, but in Turkey it can mean a process that works for one person might not work for the other. So please use this information as a guide only. Anyone with a different experience is welcome to leave comments below.

JUNE 2015 UPDATE (WORTH READING):  Many people (who have resident permits) can go directly to PTT and obtain an e-devlet password (cost is 2TL). With this password you can log on to https://www.turkiye.gov.tr pay the tax fee online with a credit card and register the phone as easy as a click. Take your residence permit and passport to the PTT to do this. This also avoids any extra service fees the provider might require.

June update provided by the wonderful and knowledgeable people at oitheblog.com

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR TOURISTS:

Those travelling to Turkey as a short-term tourist need not worry about this process if they keep your foreign phone and foreign sim card on international roaming. It however becomes a problem the moment you put a Turkish sim card in a handset bought outside Turkey. My advice to tourists here on a short stay visas is soak up the free wifi everywhere and communicate for free with people back home via wifi-based apps like Skype, What’sApp, Viber, Voxer and FaceTime. Facebook also now allows you to call friends too via their app or send a voice recording to more than one person. Go to your Facebook inbox and send a voice recording to friends by selecting the friends you wish to message and press the microphone icon at the bottom of the message screen.

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12 thoughts on “Registering a foreign phone in Istanbul

  1. hi dear
    iam in istanbul my phone was lock it mean emergency call only galaxy s5 g900f
    can i solbve this problem with samsung software repair boxes like z3x octapus
    if you can take answare me plz becouse i know some software engineer they told it could to repair i want my self repiar my mobile
    sorry for my luanguage

      • ok dear no problem iam engineer of mobile phone to software but before come to turkish i can open all cell phone like samsung iphone etc ..
        but in turkish my program didnt work
        ok thanks dear i will do that

  2. I am coming for short visit to turkey for 18 days! And need a local sim to get in touch with my parents in Dubai! Can you please advise if I can use sim without going through with sim registration process.

    Thanks

    • How often do you need to contact them? Have you thought about getting you and your folks on whatsapp or skype? You can connect to the free wifi that is available in hotels, restaurants around the country and call them that way…for free.

  3. hello
    thank you for this useful advises. but i think i have a special case, I live in Istanbul since one year and I didn’t leave it, and my parents came for visit and brought me this cool galaxy s6. so the entry date on my passport is much much more than 120 days … my question is if I have “Ikamet izin” is it also necessary to have entry date of 120 days to make this online registration?
    thank you.

    • Yes, sadly I believe you still need the entry date on your passport (less than 120 days ago). I had this same issue last year. I had to wait until I left the country again to register my phone. Because the rules always change do re-confirm this with a phone company.

  4. Selam, my ikamet is expired and I couldn’t take any appointment to renew it but the entry date on my passeport hasn’t been 120 days yet. Do you think there is any possibility to register a phone ?

      • Well, looks like l would never use any smartphone is this country. It happened once, the phone got locked bc I didn’t know all about this and now I got a new one that I like and I’m not gonna be able to use it. Thank you so much though!

  5. Hi this is the most informative website I have been on but also I am a bit confused… bought my turkish partner an iPhone 6 as they’re so much cheaper at home and will give it to him in Feb… But he doesn’t have a passport to be able to register this phone and obviously my passport will only allow the phone to work for 6 months…. Any ideas?
    My friend advised me that her turkish partner had used his friends passport and all was well…. but my partner doesn’t know anyone with a passport apart from his brother who works in marmaris and we won’t see him until May!

    • Hummmm, your boyfriend is probably best to troubleshoot this with local phone operators in Turkey. But as far as I know you’ll need a passport of an expat with residency or a citizen to register it for long-term use. Good luck.

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