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Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey

HOW TO BECOME TURKISH IN NINE EASY LESSONS

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flagWhile in İstanbul recently I got chatting to a woman who had been married to a Turk for more than 40 years. Like many foreigners she had been happy to rub along over the years with a regularly renewed residency permit. Like many other foreigners, though, she was reconsidering her situation as obtaining residency becomes ever trickier. Now, belatedly, she has started down the path to acquiring Turkish citizenship.

“They said I’d have to get a new marriage certificate as mine was too old,” she told me. “Plus they didn’t like my mother’s double-barrelled surname. We only want ONE name,” they said.

Welcome to the world of applying for Turkish citizenship with all its myriad surprises and tripwires!

The time has certainly come for many long-term residents to start thinking about the possibility. First the gate was slammed shut on the old expat trick of living in Turkey on a regularly renewed tourist visa obtained by going in and out of the country again every three months.  Now a tourist can only stay here for three months in every six, completely ruling out that option.

Now acquiring and renewing residency is getting tougher too. Not only can you only get it for one year at a time (unless you’re married) but all the paperwork now has to be sent to Ankara and then posted back to the applicant’s home address. It goes without saying that this is already leading to problems as in the case of a friend whose postman delivered her new ikamet teskeresi (residency permit) to the wrong address whence it proved impossible to retrieve it.

“You’ll just have to start again,” said the official at the Emniyet Müdürlüğü. “You can claim the costs back from the post office.”

Well, good luck with that!

In the latest turn of the screw the income that applicants must have in their Turkish bank account in order to qualify for residency has been upped to $1000 a month, twice what was required last year. It’s hard to argue with this since it’s almost impossible to see how anyone could live in today’s Turkey – especially in İstanbul – on less that that. However, the Catch 22 is that since most residents are prohibited from working, unless they have a private income or a large enough pension it’s hard to see how they can comply. Even someone on a basic state pension from the UK might struggle to meet the requirement.

So – citizenship. You know it makes sense. But how to go about acquiring it?

Having been lucky enough to become Turkish, I thought it might be helpful to describe the procedure as it applied in my particular case. Bear in mind, though, that rules do change and seem to be applied in different ways in different settings. I live in Nevşehir province where applicants are relatively few. For those having to deal with over-stretched İstanbul it’s bound to be harder.

Apologies that this is a long post but I thought that preferable to breaking it into pieces.

1 Preparing to apply

Take a deep breath – you’re going to need lots of patience to deal with all the toing and froing.

Ready?

Then the first step is to make absolutely sure that you are actually eligible to apply for citizenship. To do so you must have been legally resident in the country for five years preceding the date of your application. There must be no gaps in that residency which means absolutely no renewing it days late or going out of the country and returning as a tourist before reapplying for residency.

More importantly, in that five-year period you cannot have been out of the country for more than 180 days IN TOTAL. Don’t believe anyone who says you can have a gap of 180 days. That’s wrong!

Having been out of the country for too long is the commonest reason I know of for people’s applications being rejected especially as it can be hard to tot up out exactly how many days you have been away from old and heavily stamped passports. The police will not make the calculation for you until AFTER you have made a formal application which means that you may run up some provisional costs before discovering that you are not eligible to apply anyway.

Certain that you are eligible? Then set about assembling all your official documentation (passport(s), ikamet, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc). Almost all of it will have to be translated into Turkish by an official translator (tercüman) and then notarized to confirm its validity, a job you can start on immediately. Fortunately official translators can usually be found in offices close to those of the notary public (nöter).

You will also need to get an official statement from your bank showing how much money you have in Turkey but it’s best to get this as close to the date of your actual application as possible. If you have property in Turkey you should also dig out your tapu (title deed) to prove it. I was not asked to show any evidence of my education.

Next, go through all the paperwork with a fine toothcomb. A common reason not so much for refusal of an application as for a delay in obtaining it is that the paperwork contains discrepancies, especially when it comes to the spelling of non-Turkish names. My own mother, for example, was recorded in my ikamet teskeresi as Eleen instead of Eileen, something I had not bothered to query when it was first issued.

All such discrepancies are going to have to be ironed out and the sooner you do this the better. In my case it proved enough to have the correction written into the back of the ikamet and stamped by all the necessary officials in the Emniyet Müdürlüğü. In some cases, though, you may have to get documents amended legally and then notarized, an additional cost.

Particular problems arise from the fact that Turkish has two different “i”s which are often used incorrectly in non-Turkish names. Some people may also experience problems if they were forced to use a slightly altered version of their name in their ikamet to get round the past ban on the use of the letters “Q”, “W” and “X”. That ban has now been lifted but that won’t help you if your name appears as Blackwood on your birth certificate and Blackvood in your ikamet.

The longer you have lived in Turkey the more likely it is that there will be discrepancies arising from the days when paperwork was typed by officials using two fingers!

While you’re sorting out the paperwork get a dozen or so head-and-shoulder photographs taken as you will need plenty of them along the way. Usually you will find a photographic studio near the offices of the Emniyet Müdürlügü (Security Management) and the Nüfüs Dairesi (Population Department), the two departments that will handle your application. The photographers will be familiar with the size and appearance required for official documents. All the pictures should be identical. 

Citizenship applicants whose Turkish is less than perfect are sometimes advised to employ a lawyer to help them. I did use one to start with but it turned out to be a mistake since his presence upset some of the officials on whom I was dependent. Obviously using a lawyer will also bump up the cost of your application considerably. I found the process to be fiddly rather than difficult. Provided your Turkish is reasonably functional or you have friends or a partner ready to help you will probably manage perfectly well on your own.

I spent about TL700 in total on preparing my application.

2 Application forms

To start the ball rolling you will need to print out and complete an application form to give to the Nüfüs Dairesi, the first port of call for citizenship applications. This used to be easy to find online but not any more sadly. If you can’t find it ask the manager of the Nüfüs Dairesi to point you in the right direction. Since the form is in English as well as Turkish I found it easy to complete.

It’s at this point that you can if you wish ask to take on a Turkish name although there is no longer any legal requirement to do so.

Should you fill in the box marked “Religion” if you don’t have one? I succumbed to cowardice and wrote “Christian”. I know of at least one person who left the box blank. Her citizenship came through faster than mine!

The Nüfüs department will forward your application to the officials in the Yabancı Şubesi (Foreigners Department) of the Emniyet Müdürlüğü, the same people who will have handled your residency permit.

3 Special case applications

There is an alternative application form that can be filled out if you wish to be considered as a special case on the grounds that you have made a significant contribution to Turkey. This form has to be sent direct to Ankara rather than to the local administrators. Apparently exceptional applicants only have to submit a couple of pieces of paper proving their identity. The waiting time for a response is said to be about one year.

4 Birth certificate

Aside from the ikamet that will prove that you are legally resident in Turkey, the Emniyet will also want to see your birth certificate together with an apostille certificate, a form of international notarization. The UK Legalisation Office will no longer accept face-to-face applications for this certificate. Instead you will have to send your birth certificate to Milton Keynes along with the cost of having it returned by Fedex. Embassy websites will explain the procedure for other nationalities.

My birth certificate had to be Fedexed back to Turkey. Unfortunately Milton Keynes had valued the package at 100 euros, which meant that it was detained by Customs in İstanbul who charged more than TL200 to release it. Fortunately the Legalisation Office later refunded this fee. However, resolving the problem resulted in a six-week delay.

Try to sort out anything like this while holidaying in your home country so that mistakes can be resolved more quickly.

5 Marital status

If you are married you are going to have to show your marriage certificate. If you are married to a Turk you will also have to show your Aile Cuzdanı with details of your Turkish family. I’m not married so have little more to say about this. Sorry.

If you are single you will have to get a document from your Embassy to certify that fact. I went to the British Consulate in İstanbul and made a sworn statement in front of a witness. It was quick and painless although there was a substantial fee.

I had been told on several occasions that I would not be given citizenship merely because I was single. The cases cited to prove this often turned out, on closer inspection, to involve applicants who had been out of Turkey for more than 180 days in the five years before they made their applications. The fact that I am now Turkish proves this to be an urban myth.

6 Police checks

The police will run background checks to make sure that you have no criminal record. Provided you’ve stayed on the right side of the law both in Turkey and your country of birth there should be nothing to worry about although it was during this process that a friend of mine discovered a note in her file saying that she had been denounced as a PKK sympathizer! Bang went her chance of citizenship since there was nothing she could do to prove that this wasn’t true.

At some point the police or the local gendarmerie will call on you to check that you live where you say you do. I believe that they sometimes talk to neighbours too to ensure there are no problems. In my case I wasn’t home when they arrived but word soon reached me through the local grapevine and someone offered to accompany me on a return visit. With him beside me it was painless. Alone I might have found it more stressful.

Along the way I also had my fingerprints and mugshot taken. It was the full turn left, go to the middle, turn right business that you see in American cop shows and I have to admit that this was the only occasion when my inner British soul rebelled. Why, I wondered, did applying for citizenship mean that I had to be treated like a criminal? Of course I kept all such thoughts to myself and just regretted that I hadn’t known the Turkish for fingerprints (parmak izi).

7 Medical checks

I was also sent to the local state hospital with a form that required me to get six different doctors ranging from an optician to a psychiatrist to confirm that I was in good health. Note that ONLY state hospitals can carry out these checks so resign yourself to it taking a long time.

In my case few of the doctors did anything more than ask one or two quick questions, then sign the form. I wasn’t even weighed or asked about my smoking or drinking habits. However, it’s probably safe to assume that different hospitals will have different ways of handling things.

Since few foreigners will know the names for the different medical departments this is one of the few occasions when I would strongly recommend that all but the truly bilingual take a native Turkish-speaker along with them. In uncrowded Nevşehir people were happy to guide me to the right rooms. In overstretched İstanbul it’s likely to be much harder.

At the Nevşehir Devlet Hastanesi the Sağlık Raporu, the final certificate confirming that all is well, can only be issued on one day in the week, necessitating a return trip to the hospital. That may well be true elsewhere as well. Make sure you arrive at the hospital with several photographs and a copy of your passport and/or ikamet to avoid yet another visit.

8 Language test

For many applicants the most daunting part of the application process is likely to be the Turkish language test. This is especially the case since there is no formal examination, leaving you at the mercy of whoever is testing you. If you’re married to a Turk or have Turkish children and you can manage a few basic phrases the examiner is almost certainly going to find in your favour. Otherwise I suspect that the test can be as hard or as simple as the person carrying it out wants it to be.

The set-up of the actual test can be rather intimidating and I know of at least one person for whom it brought on a panic attack. I was shown into a room with the Vali’s deputy sitting behind a desk at one end. In front of it were four other men, one of them the head of the police department dealing with foreigners, another an interpreter in case one was needed. I was seated at the other end of the room facing them. The fact that I was the only woman present could also have been rather daunting except that everyone tried hard to make me feel at ease.

The Vali’s deputy asked me some predictable questions about when and why I’d come to Cappadocia along with others about how often I returned to the UK. Luckily for me he had spent a happy nine months there himself and was happier to talk about that than to interrogate me too closely. After no more than 20 minutes a form was handed round, everyone signed it and I was ushered out of the room again.

I was not asked to recite or sing the Turkish national anthem although officially I believe we are required to learn at least the first two verses of the İstiklal Marşı (Independence March). In İstanbul I have even heard of some people being asked to recite it starting with the second verse. Again, I suspect that this has to do with whether or not they are predisposed to grant your application - and there’s little you can do about that.

As for the stress of the situation, you could try taking some sort of sedative if you are particularly prone to anxiety although what that would do to your spoken Turkish I don’t know.

9 Afterwards

After you’ve jumped through all the hoops your application will be sent to Ankara for final approval, which normally means a wait of about six months. Hopefully you will then get a phone call asking you to return to the Nüfüs Dairesi to collect the necessary paperwork so that the Defterdarlık can issue you with a kimlik (identity card). I waited two years for a reply because of an official mistake in my paperwork but that seems to be unusual these days.

Should you be rejected but feel that you should not have been, don’t despair. It’s possible to apply again and I have certainly heard of people who have been successful second time round.

And that’s it. Easy! May 2015 be the year you too become Turkish.



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