It is in our nature to follow rules. We are so conditioned to the idea that by breaking them, we will get punished. Rules are made to keep people in line, to avoid chaos and to have more control. And that's not a bad thing. Imagine how chaotic the world would be if there wouldn't be any laws. It would be one mad chaotic place – although, whenever we read the news, it already looks like a mad world out there...
I'm a good girl. Seriously, I am. I don't like breaking rules and laws. Well, not the big ones and definitely not the ones with severe consequences. I actually don't need rules that tell me I can't kill somebody or I can't steal or … it's not in my nature to do such things. But every once in a while I do break a law. Like recently, when I overstayed my Turkish tourist visa by six months.
It wasn't my intention nor Niko's to stay longer than the allowed period of 90 days in Turkey. We had the plan to hitchhike and visit this country for three months and then move on to the next destination. But during those three months so many great and unique opportunities came on our path, like house sitting in a luxurious resort and teaching on a summer camp - just to name a few – that we couldn't do otherwise but stay. More than following a plan, we follow our intuition. And when our gut feeling is telling us to seize an opportunity, we will do it. Even if it means overstaying our visa. So it wasn't really an impulsive decision but more like living in the moment.
You might judge us now and think “Hey you, hippies, who do you think you are to make such a poor decision?” We don't see ourselves as people who are above the law and can do whatever we want to do. We do see ourselves as people who follow the flow and we strongly believe that if something feels like the right thing to do, we will do it. We're not impulsive but we like to live in the moment. And if that moment throws us lemons, we'll definitely make a nice lemonade! We also believe that if you do something with the right intentions, the outcome will also turn out well.
LEGAL WAYS TO EXTEND THE VISA
Before deciding to overstay our visa, we wanted to know if there wasn't another way to stay longer in Turkey. Extending or renewing the visa wasn't possible, unless we would leave the country for three months and then return. By then that little open window to house-sit and teach would have closed and we really wanted to crawl through that window!
Another possibility was applying for a residence visa. We couldn't provide the required documents, such as a bank statement showing a balance of at least TL 10,000 or €3000 (unfortunately we didn't have that much money), a Turkish tax number and a place of residence certificate (don't think they would have accepted an address with 'the green tent on the beach').
CONSEQUENCES ACCORDING TO THE OFFICIAL GUIDELINES
The last option of staying longer in Turkey was overstaying our visa. Of course we did some research about that too. We both love new adventures and having new experiences but being locked up in prison isn't exactly on our bucket list. Luckily this wouldn't be one of the penalties. We discovered that the Turkish government deals with overstays with either a fine and/or a ban from re-entering Turkey, depending on the length of the overstay.
Determining how much we would have to pay or how long we would get banned for, was harder to figure out. In practice these guidelines vary wildly and depend on your nationality. Various websites showed us various prices but in general the fine would be a minimum of $50 plus $0.40 (for European citizens) and $1 (for Canadian citizens) per day of overstay. If you would overstay more than 15 days, a ban to re-enter the country could be carried out and varies from 90 days up until 5 years.
We also read that we could refuse to pay the fine, which would automatically result in a ban from re-entering Turkey. But mostly the consequences would depend on the mood of the immigration officials on our day of exit.
REAL LIFE CONSEQUENCES
We had such a wonderful time in Turkey (watch our videos here to see all the good things that happened to us) that we eventually overstayed by nearly six months. During that time we didn't worry about it too much.
But on the day we left the country I was very nervous. I felt butterflies in my stomach when we reached Sarpi, the border village between Turkey and Georgia. My heart was pounding in my chest when the Turkish migration officials examined our passports at the border control. I wasn't surprised that we were ordered to step aside and follow one of the officials to a small office. What did surprise us was that we weren't alone there. Since the coup happened, there have been restrictions for the Turkish citizens who work for the government (teachers, bank employees,...). If they want to leave Turkey, they have to go through certain procedures. There were many people present and everybody was very occupied with the paperwork. This was in our advantage as nobody wanted to spend a lot of time on our case.
After a few minutes of waiting outside the office I was called in first. When I entered the room, the woman behind the desk asked me if I had already paid my fine. When I told her I hadn't, she showed me a little note on which the amount of the fine was written. It was 170 Turkish Lira, the equivalent of €55!! I couldn't believe it! I expected to pay more than €200 and I was already preparing myself to tell her I couldn't pay that. But €55? Hell yeah! The only problem was that I only had TL50 cash on me so I asked if I could pay with my bank card. She shook her head, stamped my passport and just let me go without saying another word. I think she just wanted to get on with the rest of her work.
When Niko entered the office, the official didn't even tell him how much he had to pay. She asked him if he had cash and when Niko showed her the bank card instead, she also just stamped his passport. He was also free to go.
We couldn't believe that it was it. Nobody even told us if we were banned from the country. We double checked the stamp on our passport but it looked like a normal one. I think we will only find out the day we want to apply for a new tourist visa for Turkey. But that won't be anytime soon as Turkey isn't on our route for the coming years.
So we got very lucky! This doesn't mean that everybody will be that lucky. Please don't overstay your Turkish visa now. Recently a friend told us that she was charged $200 at the airport in Istanbul for overstaying just one day. A lot depends on where you cross the border, who you are dealing with and how busy they are!
So if you ever (un)intentionally overstay your visa, always double check the regulations and hope for the best. We are now moving towards countries that wouldn't be so relaxed about it so we'll do our best to follow the rules again!
You can watch our border crossing in this video: