Bringing Your Possessions to Turkey

When moving - especially when moving to another country - having your personal possessions with you can be comforting. Moreover, it can be less daunting to import your possessions than it is to sell or find storage for your stuff- and buy everything again!

Can a foreigner import possessions into Turkey?

Often. It depends upon their circumstances and what they want to import.

People may import their used possessions, that they have owned for at least six months, for their own personal (non-commercial) use, free of all import duties, provided that:

  • They have a current residence visa (and have lived outside Turkey for at least 24 months) or;
  • They are returning to Turkey having been posted away from Turkey on an international assignment or;
  • They are bringing an inheritanceinto Turkey or;
  • They own or have rented (for at least two years) a property in Turkey and;
  • They agree to remove the possessions or pay all the relevant import duties if any of the above conditions cease to apply and;
  • They complete the necessary paperwork (see below).

For EU citizens, since Turkey joined the Customs Union, things should be simple but, in practice, they are usually not. See “Importing Personal Property into Turkey” (a PDF download from Atlas International) or the DHL guide for some idea of the complexity. It even caught out John (the editor of Law Overseas) when he had to ship over the camera equipment to interview me, and he’s meant to know better! [Bah, humbug – Ed].

Whether you are an EU citizen or not, there are lots of detailed requirements and some restricted items.

Despite this, for most people who are going to live in Turkey, importing at least some of their possessions is a good idea. Remember you only get the opportunity to do this once.

You must apply for permission to import before you arrive in the country or within six months of your arrival.

There is lots of documentation required. It is best to use a specialist customs agent to help.

What should I import into Turkey?

There are a number of things you should take into account. We would suggest:

  • As far as “white goods” (domestic refrigerators, washing machines etc.) are concerned, choose items that are on sale in Turkey – or be prepared to throw them away when they break, as you probably won’t be able to get spare parts for them. This is less of an issue than it used to be as few people repair white goods these days; we’re used to living in a throwaway society!
  • Remember that some of your possessions will be ill-suited to your lifestyle in Turkey. For example, your heavy living room chairs will probably be far too warm for use in the warmer parts of Turkey.
  • Household items can be large. This means that they are expensive to transport. It can sometimes be cheaper to buy a replacement when you arrive. This could apply, for example, to beds and wardrobes.
  • Turkey’s domestic electricity supply operates on 230 volts at 50Hz. This is the same as the system in most European countries and Australasia, and very similar to that used in many parts of Africa (220 volts at 50Hz), so electrical items from these places should work without modification. However, if you are coming from a 120 volt at 60Hz country (such as the US and Canada), none of your appliances will work! You can buy adaptors (step down transformers) to convert the voltage. You need one per appliance. These cost about TRY100 (US$30) – TRY700 (US$200) each (depending on the power required), so it is often more sensible to replace the product.

Many people find that the most sensible arrangement is to take with them only valuable items (such as antiques) which they ‘can’t live without’, and which it may be difficult to replace; items of personal importance; clothing and small, expensive items.

How can a foreigner import possessions into Turkey?

The best way of doing this – by far – is to use a good removal company and customs agent. They will deal with all the paperwork on your behalf (they have systems for doing this which are different from those which you would have to follow) and they will have customs clearance to pass through any countries en route to Turkey.

An added reason to use a removal company is that they are far less likely to break your possessions in transit!

If you really don’t want to use a removal company, then you can import your possessions yourself. In this case, the person making the application, or somebody having Power of Attorney on their behalf – usually their lawyer or a customs agent – must attend the offices of the Turkish Department of Customs when the goods arrive.

Please be aware that there may be no, or few, members of staff at the Customs office who speak English. You will almost certainly turn up when those that do are at lunch or on leave, so it’s a good idea to have this done by someone who speaks Turkish!

Remember that most people coming to turkey overland will have to take their possessions through other countries in order to get to Turkey. You may need to produce paperwork for use when going through those countries in order to satisfy their customs officers. The advent of the Schengen agreement and an almost borderless Europe makes this problem a lot less serious than it used to be, but it can still be an issue.

Who can help?

As we have already said, go to a good removal company. Prices are surprisingly low.

If you are not going to use a removal company and you need help with the paperwork involved in importing your possessions, there are two main options:

  • Have a friend or neighbour make the application on your behalf. They will need a Powerof Attorney. This can be prepared by your lawyer. The typical cost of a suitable Power is TRY600 (US$170). They will also need to speak Turkish.
  • Employ a customs agent. These can be found by a Google search but it is much better to get a recommendation from your lawyer or the estate agentdealing with any property purchase on your behalf. The cost is likely to be about TRY1,200 (US$340).

Packing

You can either pack your goods yourself or you can have your possessions packed by an international removal company. Obviously, there is a cost associated with this service. However, it’s probably money well spent. They are experts and are likely to pack things in such a way that they don’t break. Not only are your goods more likely to reach the destination in one piece but, if they don’t, there is far less likely to be an argument with your insurance company over who is responsible for the damage.

How long does it take?

If you’re using a removal company, the length of time will depend upon whether or not you have a full load (or are prepared to pay a full load price). This is quite a lot of possessions; far more than most people wish to bring with them to Turkey. If you do have a full load, the process can be remarkably quick. Clearly, the time will depend upon the distance, the next sailing of a boat and the availability of trucks and drivers at either end. If you are coming from across the ocean – say, from the US or Singapore – the time factor will be greater. For example, Singapore and New York are each about 25 days sailing time from Istanbul. In these cases, you will probably want to put all your goods into a standard container – for most people a 20ft container is more than sufficient – and ship it as a private shipment to you alone. This is the most secure solution.

A very useful quick reckoner of the shipping time (and cost) between many cities in the world can be found at www.searates.com. This takes account of both the charges at the origin of the trip (getting the goods and container to the docks), the ocean or on-board charges (the actual cost of shipping the goods from Port A to Port B) and the charges at the destination (the cost of transportation from the docks to the final destination).

If you do not have a full load, then most removal companies will gather together shipments from several customers and transport them all, as a full load, at the same time. They might make such a trip to Turkey weekly or, more likely, monthly. It is worth checking with the company you intend to use how long it is likely to be before your load would be shipped.

Of course, you can also ship by air freight but this is many times more expensive as well as many times quicker.

Once your goods have arrived, you’ve assembled all the necessary documents and presented them to the Customs Department, the customs process will typically take just a few hours. If you are bringing the goods yourself, by car or van, it is better to obtain the paperwork before you arrive with your van, but it can be done upon arrival. Once your application has been approved you will be issued with an import permit, which is presented to the docks when you arrive with your possessions.

How much does it cost?

This depends on how you choose to do the work. See above.

There are three main ways of shipping your goods to Turkey as a conventional shipment (rather than bringing them yourself).

Full container load (“FCL”)

The first is to send them, by sea, as a full container load.

From ToPrice
LondonIstanbulUS$730
New YorkIstanbulUS$1,400
SingaporeIstanbulUS$900

These prices are just the ocean freight or on-board charges.

On top of these charges you will or may face additional costs:

  • Transporting the goods to the port of exit
  • Port or terminal handling charges at the post of exit
  • Documentation charges
  • Customs clearance at your port of exit
  • Charges for security at the port of exit
  • A “bunker adjustment” – a surcharge to reflect current fuel costs
  • A “currency adjustment” – a surcharge to reflect changes in exchange rates
  • Handling charges at the destination port
  • Documentation fees at the destination port
  • Customs fees at the destination port
  • Security at the destination port
  • Taxes and customs duties at the destination port
  • Transportation of the goods from the destination port to their final destination.

To make matters worse, different companies quote for shipping work in different – and inconsistent – ways.

Part load / Less than container load (“LCL”) / Groupage shipping

The second method would be to ship – again, by sea – as a part consignment. This means that you would leave your goods with the shippers or removal company, who would keep them until they received other goods from other people sufficient to make up a full load, or until their next scheduled shipment. This can be quite a lot cheaper but, of course, it could be quite some time before you receive your possessions.

This type of shipping is usually charged on a “weight or measure” basis: a charge per cubic metre or per 1,000kilos.

With this type of shipping you need to know that latest arrival date for your goods. It is not acceptable to leave them “until we have a full load”.

Air

The fourth method is to ship the goods as an urgent shipment by air. This is considerably more expensive but sometimes not as ridiculously expensive as you might first expect. This is particularly so if you can take advantage of last-minute availability.

However, if you can’t get some sort of discount, you could expect to pay about TRY50 (US$14) per kg from the UK and TRY70 (US$20) per kg for a shipment from the US – both of which would also be subject to limits on the weight per cubic metre which, for air travel, is more important than the physical size of the package.

Remember that you will still face handling charges etc. and the cost of getting the goods to and from your airports of choice.

Conclusions

This is all a bit complicated and it is work that, generally, needs to be done when you are busy doing other things. Keep things simple by leaving shipping to the experts and by using one company to take charge of the operation “from door to door”. This is less likely to go wrong and it is often also cheaper.

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