They say nothing is certain except death and taxes, but most people would certainly not want to pay taxes for a service they do not receive.

The recently implemented registration fee for mobile phones brought to Turkey from abroad functions as a tax on both tourists and citizens and provides no real benefit to either. Furthermore, the registration fee inhibits tourism and forces visitors to Turkey to either navigate a system where they may not speak the language, or buy a phone from a local vender.

The cell phone registration law was introduced in 2005 as an amendment to the Radio Communication Act, and was intended to help curb the threat of terrorism and to ensure that imported cell phones were being brought into the country legally. While the initial law posed no real difficulty, as registration could be done at the airport and did not require any expensive fees, the changes to this law passed in June implemented a fee of TL 100, which as of now can only be paid at a tax office (none of which are located at the airport). Fortunately, things do not have to be quite so complicated. According to lawyer Berk Çektir, “the law does not specify where tax has to be paid and where the registration has to be done.” Given this, anyone who needs to register a mobile should be able to do it at the carrier’s office (as opposed to a tax office) without any delay. It should also be said that up until now, all three of our wireless providers have been lax in informing tourists of the registration requirement. At the very minimum, there should be a Revenue Administration office at the airport for anyone who

will be in the country for longer than the standard 14-day period.


According to Natasha Hay, a New Zealander expatriate who lives in Turkey and has lived and worked in many other places around the globe, the law makes little sense. Hay says she was not informed of the registration requirement on her foreign phone when she went to her local Avea store. When her phone was blocked two weeks later, Avea told her that there was nothing she could do except purchase a new phone. Not only do wireless carriers mislead customers (by not informing them of the law, and then when their phone is blocked forcing them to buy a new phone), but they then frequently charge exorbitant amounts for a new phone. Furthermore, government bureaucracy makes it difficult to reactivate a mobile once it has been blocked, though it is possible.

Furthermore, it is unclear whether or not the law is effective given that it was originally passed in order to not only restrict the import of cell phones, but to curb the threat of terrorism. According to a paper published by Gordon Gow, an associate professor of communications and expert on the subject at the University of Alberta, cell phone registration laws do little to combat the threat of terrorism because they cannot resolve the anonymity that the authorities claim is the problem — while a cell phone can be registered by anyone, that does not mean that they would continue to use it, or that they would not sell it. Authorities frequently argue that prepaid cell phones especially should be registered because they are typically used by terrorists. However, Gow says that while perhaps terrorists might use prepaid mobiles, they are also used by a large number of people for a variety of reasons, not least of all for the fact that they are less expensive and more convenient than the typical post-paid packages. Using the threat of terrorism as logic for registration merely marks everyone as a potential threat.

Streamlining the law

This said, the law does not necessarily have to be completely eliminated — the legal import of cell phones is an important issue. But perhaps this purpose would be better served if the law was not applicable to tourists, or at the very least streamlined. As it stands now, the process to register a cell phone requires a tourist to go to a Revenue Administration office, pay the fee, and then return to their wireless carrier in order to purchase a SIM card. For a tourist who may be unfamiliar with Turkey and may speak only very basic Turkish, this can be difficult. Furthermore, many tourists are not informed of the registration requirement, and mobile phone providers at the airport typically will not mention it to them. When I was trying to register my cell phone (and fortunately I knew about the requirement), the Avea office brushed aside my request and proceeded to sell me a SIM card without giving instructions on how to register the phone. This issue was resolved after a coworker informed me of the necessary steps. So based on this, there are several reforms that could make this process much simpler.

First, the law could give exemptions for tourists for a certain amount of time — as of now, a foreign tourist’s cell phone service can be disconnected at any time if the phone is not registered, though two weeks is the typical time. This could easily be extended to 90 days — the length of the typical tourist visa in Turkey. In this way, the average tourist would have no concern of their cell phone being disconnected during their stay in Turkey.

Second, the fee should be reduced, if not eliminated entirely. The TL 100 a tourist will pay serves no benefit to the tourist except to impose an unfair financial imposition on those who cannot afford to pay. Most visitors to Turkey come expecting to spend their money on things like seeing the sights and tourism — for them to pay this fee to the government with no return on investment is at best an inconvenience and at worst it takes away valuable income from businesses that benefit from tourism.

Third, a tourist should not be forced to go and find a tax office in order to pay the fee — they should be informed of these fees and the registration requirement at the airport and be able to pay there.

Fourth, the ministry should see if this process can be automated. As it stands now, many cell phone providers allow their users to text a phrase or a set of numbers to add services, such as data or SMS, to their phone. Why not do this for registration? It should not be difficult for a user to text their name and perhaps a passport number from their phone and have their phone be registered into the system instantly. Even if the Revenue Administration is truly insistent on charging a fee, it can come out of the prepaid balance on the phone to ensure that it is paid.

This law is nothing more than an inconvenience upon those who choose to visit Turkey. It should be reformed so that it is not one.

Source Zaman.

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