Kicked off the Grid

I’d always thought I was so slick for having bought an unlocked iPhone that could be used anywhere in the world, but little did I know, that phone would later become the most expensive paperweight ever within Turkey’s borders.  The day I’d landed in Istanbul was the day the clock began ticking; I’d only had 4 months to register the foreign device before it would be blocked on any and all telecommunication services. Uninformed and already overwhelmed with every other aspect of moving to a foreign country, it wasn’t hard to overlook trivial issues like tariffs and censorship measures as I’d instead focused on researching the amazing things to see and do in my new home.

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Fuck tariffs, visit mosques

Like clockwork, exactly 120 days from my first day in Istanbul and in the middle of a phone conversation, one evening in May my phone suddenly lost all service whatsoever. No service found was displayed at the top corner of my screen where bars normally would’ve been, and every attempt to log into my city’s public Wi-Fi had failed without explanation. Restarting my phone had had no effect either, and after almost an hour of frustration, I’d given up and set out for the nearest Turk Telekom shop.

The clerk kept asking me whether or not my phone was foreign, and I kept telling her it didn’t matter as I’d insisted on just adding more money to my account. The manager spoke decent English, and it was only once he’d gotten involved that I’d realized this wasn’t a problem I could just throw money at. He explained to me that foreign phones get blocked after 120 days, and that if I’d known this in advance, I could’ve paid a tax and registered it. The damage was done he told me, because if my phone was already useless, it would stay that way. At least I hadn’t been too late to get in on whatever sale they’d been having on domestic phones that week, but I wasn’t about to so readily trust a guy who would make commission off of my negligence. A visit to the tax office the next day confirmed that I really was too late though, as they’d pointed at the entry stamp in my passport and yet again mentioned 120 days. I’d left empty handed, with a past due passport and a 600 dollar brick in my pocket.

Inconvenienced to the point of asking everybody I could and revisiting both the tax office and several other Turk Telekom branches, I eventually came up with several options. The most obvious option was to buy a domestic phone, while the most inconvenient was to leave the country in order to get a fresh entry stamp in my passport and reset the 120 day clock. The shadier options were paying a friend who had recently returned to Turkey to register the phone under their name, giving it to some agency in order to reset the IME and essentially make it a fresh phone, or hiring one of the Russian students that a Turk Telekom manager happened to know for just such an occasion in order to register a locked phone. I still find it really weird that he’d felt the need to explicitly mention they were Russian during his pitch. Gotta love jingoism.

None of these options came without a price, and while beggars can’t choosers, each would be inconvenient in its own way. Any friend who might register the phone on my behalf would no longer be able to register another for 2 years, agencies that reset IME numbers have a sordid reputation for swapping out parts or overall fucking up a phone permanently, and hiring one of the Russian shills would have cost me close to a quarter of my monthly salary. Eventually though, I was able to find a friend who was both able and willing to help out. And all it ended up costing me was a steak plus several rounds of Tuborg beers. After almost a week of hassle, I was back on the grid.

What you need to register your phone

  • An entry stamp dated within 120 days
  • Your phone’s IME number
  • Roughly 140 Turkish Lira
  • A Turkish residency permit (your kimlik card)
  • Foresight

Steps for registering a phone purchased abroad

  1. Buy a SIM card at any Turkish telecom company, which you’ll need your passport for
  2. Wait for your employer to finish your residency permit and give you your kimlik card
  3. Go to your local Turkish government tax office (Vergi Dairesi) with the phone, your passport, and your kimlik card
  4. Pay the fee in order to register your sim card to your kimlik card, and receive a print out of the receipt that includes an important identification number for your SIM card
  5. Pay a minor registration fee at any post office to make that identification number viable
  6. Either go to the website of the Office of Information Technologies and Communications Organization (BTİ), or call them directly at 0 312 294 94 94, to officially register your SIM card’s identification number
  7. Viola, you’re all set

If you used this guide to register your phone instead of just laugh at my negligence, let me know how these directions worked out for you in the comment section!

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