We did some research before we arrived in Turkey about the process, so we had an idea of what it would entail. But in situations like this, complications are always bound to arise. I forgot to mention that the particular Vodafone we were headed to was probably our fourth cell phone store of the day. The previous stops were unsuccessful due to our mutual language barrier — neither our Turkish nor their English was adequate enough to do a not-so-simple-in-Turkey transaction. We figured (or better, hoped) the workers in the Istiklal location would have better English than the other stores. We were mostly right, and the most English proficient employee sent us to the other end of the long avenue to a Vergi Dairesi, or Turkish tax office.
At the tax office, we had to show our passports and phones' ID numbers and shell out 120 lira (about 60 bucks) to get our foreign phones registered with the Turkish government. Pleased with the relative ease of our success with this step, we trekked back to Vodafone in the afternoon heat to hand over our documents. Now we were able to get SIM cards with crazy Turkish numbers we picked out. We paid 100 TL for each, and were hit with another complication: the visa stamps on our passport were not clear enough. In order to prove we legally arrived in Turkey, we would have to go down to the police station, which had already closed for the day (at "four-and-a-half," as we were told).
Day two of this mission started later in the day, as we spent the morning visiting the apartment we would eventually choose to live in. We followed the guide of a pre-loaded Google map to a slightly obscure area near the tax office and found no police station in sight. Locals affirmed that there were no "polis" around here. This wasn't the first time Google Maps led us astray here, and with our phones unable to get online, we were forced to find our way with our less-than-basic Turkish.
After lots of walking in the heat, we finally reached our destination. We handed over photocopies of our passports — another unexpected errand — filled out a form in Turkish and were told to return at 1:30 the next day. We weren't told why we had to come back, and when we prodded we were offered one response: "Come back tomorrow at 1:30." Discouraged that this would take yet another day, we did what anyone else in the world would do on a bad day — order pizza and beer.
We finally made it and got a Turkish document we could not read to deliver to Vodafone. I have no idea what exactly the paper was, but it pleased the phone company enough to activate our SIMs, which took about an hour and cost 50 TL each. The bureaucracy of dealing with this seemingly simple task was laughably ridiculous — Clay even considered it "cute." We made it home that day drenched in sweat but carrying functioning cell phones. It's almost disturbing how tremendous the peace of mind I felt was after knowing I carried a device in my pocket that could connect me with the rest of the world. I hope I'll be able to eventually wean myself off of my reliance on it.
Our host Tulay says the reason for this loophole-laden process is to combat foreign phone theft, which was apparently a big problem here because electronics are very expensive in Turkey. Thieves would snag a tourist's cell phone, pop out his or her SIM, replace it with a Turkish card and call it a day. So, maybe that is why. Or maybe it has to do with the government's increasing desire for control. It's likely both. I honestly don't know what the documents were that I had to sign in order to have a functioning phone, but it certainly seemed worth it.
All in all, the day was surely a victorious one. After a three-day affair, we finally had working phones and a nice apartment we can move into in a week. I guess all the hoop-jumping made the success a little bit sweeter. Oh, and the ordeal resulted in us getting an awesome pizza, so there's that, too.