Getting Married In Turkey During the Pandemic: Turkish Bureaucracy – This is the first part of a two part series detailing my experiences with bureaucracy in Turkey during the first year. You can read part two here!
I have lived in Ankara, Turkey since August 2020. I came to this fascinating country and married my wife as the COVID-19 pandemic was in its most confusing and terrifying stages. Since arriving, I have been greeted warmly by nearly everyone I’ve met. The people have always been helpful and understanding as communication troubles arise, even in the most casual and fleeting of situations. Beyond that, I’ve been able to experience many parts of a country that’s full of rich history, cuisine, and endless invitations to sit and have some tea.
Despite the hospitality, my wife and I have constantly struggled with outdated bureaucratic practices, lethargic employees, and incorrect instructions since my immigration to Turkey. Although she is a Turkish citizen and I am entitled to a permanent residency with a track to citizenship through naturalization, it has been an uphill battle in every step of the process. I experienced similar bureaucratic struggles during my student visa process in Czechia in 2012.
Turkey has many amazing advantages for expats, though it’s often fallen beneath the radar of the international expat community. So many parts of the country, especially the west coast on the Aegean Sea, are ideal places for expats to set down for a while. Larger cities such as the massive metropolis of Istanbul and the capital Ankara have become increasingly cosmopolitan in recent years. Frustrating obstacles on the path to residency shouldn’t blight anyone’s time in such a great country. I hope that my experiences will provide some valuable lessons for every expat that considers what Turkey has to offer.
A Complete Pivot: How the Pandemic Brought Me To Turkey
December 2019 was, in many ways, the end of an era in my lifetime. My wife and I started dating and quickly realized that our relationship was going to be committed. She was spending a year in the US to get a flavor for life there. I was one of the chefs of a large and popular restaurant.
Then, March 2020 arrived, and everyone quickly began to realize that this virus was going to be much more deadly and last longer than initially imagined. With elderly parents and a lack of good health insurance in the US, my wife had to fly back to Turkey. On March 16th, 2020, restaurants were ordered to close in Denver. The same day and just a few hours later, my wife boarded a plane and we had our tearful goodbye. Without being able to process any of it, I lost two of the most important things in my life.
The summer of 2020 was rough for both of us despite the fact that we were physically healthy throughout. To keep ourselves busy and try to use our resources, the restaurant started making thousands of lunches for the children that rely on school for their meals. The restaurant eventually opened up again in a limited take-out and delivery capacity that we had never attempted before. We had to reconfigure the entire flow of our massive restaurant and try to keep the business alive. Meanwhile, my wife transitioned into a caretaker position for her parents as curfews and lockdowns started in Ankara. Before long, my future father-in-law started to complain of abdominal pain and was soon diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.
With both of us drowning in confusion and despair, I started to think about dropping everything and going to Turkey to be with her. I put in my notice at work in late July and bought a one-way plane ticket.
Love and Tragedy: My First Steps in Turkey
What should have been a joyful reunion between me and my future wife was marred by tragedy. Sadly, my future father-in-law passed away only nine days before I arrived. Even though there weren’t explicit quarantine requirements in Turkey at this time, I couldn’t even meet my future wife and her family until I passed my PCR test after arriving. I didn’t want to risk passing the virus on to her family, so I spent five days total holed up in a hotel. When we finally reunited, it was a surreal, metaphysical experience. As she closed a chapter in her life, I did my best to support my wife in starting a new one.
Through my E-Visa, I was afforded 90 days in the country before having to apply for a new long-stay visa. That meant that we had an important decision to make. We realized that, in order to stay together, we needed to get married. It was already on both of our minds anyway, so we started to get our things in order for our civil marriage.
We sent our documents to a translator to be notarized. In the meantime, we scheduled mandatory health checks for both of us and started to apply for the marriage license. We waited in line at the marriage bureau in the central district of Ankara, Çankaya. They told us that we would need to do the registration and civil ceremony only in the jurisdiction of her home address. So, we tried again at the marriage bureau of Sincan, a small city that has been absorbed into the Ankara metro and the home of my future mother-in-law.
One of the documents that I had to obtain was a letter from the US Embassy in Ankara that confirmed my marital status. Everything was completely accurate from the document and we already had it translated and notarized, yet the manager of the Sincan marriage bureau called us a few days after we delivered everything and he said that he was unable to verify it. We canceled our plans for the day and sped over to the office. The document from the US showed my date of birth in the typical US format MM/DD/YYYY. Turkey, like most of the rest of the world, uses the DD/MM/YYYY format. He was completely oblivious to this fact and, despite members of his office confirming what we said was true, he refused to fix the “error.” He eventually relented after I showed him several forms of ID and we ended up paying a clerical fee to add a document confirming the alteration.
From there on out, our marriage went off without a hitch. We scheduled our date to tie the knot on 10/10/2020. We managed to have some family members, including my mother who flew in, attend the short civil ceremony and live-streamed it for those that couldn’t make it back in the States. We found a new apartment in the hills of Çankaya, just south of the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (TBMM) campus – Turkey’s national parliament. Things were finally beginning to look stable for us!
Enjoying Your Time Abroad: Assistance from Experienced Expats
In my almost two years in Turkey, I’ve been through many great experiences despite the occasional challenges. By and large, this has been a great place to live both during the worst days of the pandemic and in a new marriage. We have been able to travel throughout the country and take part in the rich culture.
Between the reluctance to update and adapt to government bureaucracy, apathetic workers, and a lack of clear steps to take, there have been a few headaches along the way, to say the least. Though I know the order of the events in my Turkish experience is unique, many of the things I have been through are not. I wish I had the knowledge that I do now as it would have surely saved plenty of valuable time and money.
I joined Expat Empire in 2020 to leverage my experiences in helping others achieve their dreams of moving abroad. Even though I have lived abroad for several years in different countries, I am still constantly learning new ways to adapt to expat life. We have developed a series of consulting services that will be customized to your unique situation. Wherever, whenever, and however you choose to move abroad, we’re ready to help!
Read the second part of my experiences with Turkish bureaucracy here!