Tip: Applying for an Indonesian Visa in Dili, East Timor

The procedure for getting an Indonesian visa in Dili has sped up somewhat, but is still an administrative ballache. Before I came here I was told that I could expect to wait 7-10 days unless I “knew someone” who could speed up the process. As such, I was looking at flying out directly to Bali and using the Visa on Arrival system at the airport – $25 and an hour in a bloody queue if the last trip was anything to go by. The main reason for not doing this is the standard flight price of around $240.

Getting a bus back to Kupang ($20), staying one night ($3) and flying from there ($40-$60) is much cheaper, even given the $20 additional rip-off fee for the visa.

The embassy hours for visa-related goings-on are officially 9am (but see below) till midday for handing your paperwork in, then 2pm to 4pm for retrieval of your passport.

Prior to heading to the embassy, I made sure I had everything I was told to bring:

  • $45 (and you only get the 30-day visa for that, not 60 as you used to [but see below***])
  • One passport photo with a RED background, just to be awkward. You can get these in town. Expect to pay $2 to $4 depending on what mood the store clerk is in. Theoretically it’s $4 same day and $2 next day. However I got mine on a Saturday and was told $4 same day or Monday – $2 for Tuesday
  • Printout of departing flight details from Indonesia
  • Photocopy of your passport
  • Black pen (fill the form in in any other colour and they’re throw it back at you)
  • Letter detailing why you want to go to Indonesia. Apparently ticking a box marked “Tourism” isn’t enough

Although they have a price up for transit visas ($20), it’s nigh on impossible to get one. If you want one, they say, fly into Bali from Denpasar. Basically what they’re saying is you can only get a transit visa if you fly into Indonesia. Whether one is available at other land borders or embassies, I don’t know.

Get there early. They start dealing with the applications at 8:30am (mornings only – collections in the afternoon), but the doors are open for you to put your name down on the list from very early on. Make sure your name goes into the book. We got there around 7:30 and were numbers 9 and 10 on the list. At this point they also hand you the application form though you can pick one up in advance. Note that you cannot get one form and photocopy it for your mates. Each one has a unique serial code at the top.

At 8:30 they start calling out names. A clerk checks your paperwork, staples your photo to the application form and hands you a plastic card with a number on. Despite being 9th and 10th in the book, we got numbers 2 and 3 so were seen pretty quickly.

Despite all the form-filling and the brief letter telling them my plans for the 16 days I have in Bali, and the flight confirmation of my departure I was still asked roughly what I was doing and when I expected to leave. Just be polite – as with any border guard or embassy staffer, it doesn’t pay to piss them off. Remember, they’re the ones with your travel plans in their hands.

Next step is to hand over the cash. When I handed my documents over, they pushed the dollars back at me. I assume therefore that if you fail the check at this point, at least you get to keep your $45. However, as they seemed satisfied that I wasn’t going to marry the first native I found and set up home on the island, they happily swapped my passport and money for a small sheet of paper and instructions to return on Wednesday afternoon.

On collection day,

Overall, apart from the ridiculous requirements, a pretty smooth application process.

***UPDATE: I have come across two people in the last day or so who got 60-day visas. One guy from Hungary (and two of his friends he told me about) and a German guy. Basically, be persuasive. If you can, make sure your letter (above) is typed, and includes some kind of itinerary which details roughly what your plans are that require a 60-day stay. Emphasise the inconvenience of doing a visa run and the fact you’ll be chucking a ton of money into their tourist industry. And make sure you have proof that you will be heading elsewhere withing the 60-day limit.

There is no extra charge for the 60-day visa. In fact, for $45 you should get it by default as the 30-day one has an official cost of $25.

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Kupang to Dili

Re"cycle"d chairs

Re"cycle"d chairs

I ended up getting out of bed at 1am to put earplugs in as the dogs over the road decided to have a conversation with everyone on the damn island. Other than that, I slept fine and was stood by the gate for my pickup. They took me to the Timor Tour and Travel office where I handed over my IDR185000 for a one-way, bottom-numbing, 13-hour ride.

The buses are fine – 12-seater minibuses with aircon, although the aircon is never switched on! The stereo is and I was regaled by everything from Indonesian classics to Bon Jovi at a vaguely tolerable level for most of the journey.

For those who get travel-sick it’s worth popping a couple of pills. The roads vary a lot on the journey from pretty decent to “why am I not in a Landrover?”. This is the case on both sides of the border.

We had a couple of rest stops, but I ate nothing at all as seems to be “normal” for me when I’m on long journeys. The final pause within Indonesia was in Atambua, the last town before the border. There, our immigration cards for East Timor were filled out for us by staff in the shop. I spotted a nice church down the road so went for a wander and took some photos.

Out of place, but rather quaint

Out of place, but rather quaint

The longest break is the journey was, not surprisingly, the border. Exiting Indonesia was fine and I even had two soldiers offering me a seat as they checked my passport. Huge smiles and handshakes – I guess they don’t see too many foreigners making the land crossing.

Checking into East Timor was pretty easy also. There are five classes of visa and I ended up with a “Class II” at $30. Given I may only be in the country for a week I could possibly have managed on a “Class I” as I think that may be the transit visa ($20). However, I wasn’t taking the risk. A quick luggage check by the security guys and we re-loaded and continued on our bumpy way.

I’d slept on and off for the ride, but my bottom was genuinely going numb by the time we arrived in Dili. I was also the last person to be dropped off so managed to experience some of the hairiest minibus driving ever. Some of the roads weren’t much better than the ones I went up in the Cameron Highlands and I was in a huge 4×4 on that trip.

Exit Indonesia...

Exit Indonesia...

The Dili Backpackers welcomed me in. After a quick luggage dump, the first thing I did was book some dives for the next day. Randomly I picked a guy called Andrew who was advertising on a new poster. $30 is the best rate I’d heard of here and being a 1-man operation, it was more likely to be a small group. As it happened, I was going to be diving with two Australian girls on their 3rd and 4th dives as they went through their Open Water with him.

A meal was called for as I hadn’t eaten in almost a day. I picked an Indian over the road and enjoyed a very decent chicken madras. With a naan and a drink, it came to an even $5. Very nice and just the right sized portion for my shrunken stomach.

...enter East Timor

...enter East Timor

Dili – in fact East Timor on the whole – is fairly pricey. Bars charge around $5 upwards for a beer (though you can get an ice cold tinnie from the street vendors for $1.50) and for $10 in Bali I’d be living in a flat of my own. It’s affordable, but more than you’d expect for a fledgling country. MInd, they’re trying to make all they can off the “visiting” UN staff who are on seemingly endless budgets so who can blame them.

A stroll east took me to a park which was lit up and from where I could hear live music. I had to pop in and look, and watched a few local performers playing covers and their own tracks. A young guy called Nevis struck up a conversation with me and we whiled away half an hour or so talking about Timor-Leste, politics, the UN, music and football. Nice guy.

Flying the flag

Flying the flag

On the way back to the hostel I did a quick email check at the “slow” place ($2 per hour and plenty fast enough for everything I needed to do). I then got back “home” to find it all locked up… Nobody told me about that! I managed to get one of the chaps from the attached restaurant to open a door for me, had a chinwag with my two roomies (Jean from Portugal and Christine from the States) and then nodded off around midnight.

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Bali to Kupang

Welcome to Kupang

Welcome to Kupang

The flight was pleasant enough with a small meal provided and we landed more or less on time in Kupang on the island of Timor. I got talking to a Fin and a couple of Aussies and ended up sharing a cab with them into town which saved a bit of cash.

The Lavalon hostel is about as basic as basic gets, but it fits in with my minor provisos. They do have dorms at IDR30,000 per night, but you can’t book these through Hostelbookers, so I ended up with a room to myself for IDR40,000. I’d have had the dorm to myself anyway as there was nobody else around.

I took a very short walk over the road to the bar, which is about as open air as you can get and still have a roof. The view west is over the beach where kids were playing football and behind me was the sea. I sat and enjoyed a couple of beers with an Aussie from the “other” Newcastle who went by the name of Bugger. I kid you not.

He’s been coming to Kupang for months at a time to catch the surf on one of the islands offshore. After a while, we were joined by more Aussies including the ones I’d been talking to earlier.

View from the Lavalon

View from the Lavalon

Lavalon serves very cold Bintang in big bottles for IDR25000 a pop. They also have free wi-fi which works at a decent speed. I ended up eating elsewhere, though, as another chap walked me onto the next main road up to a small shop specialising in satay. For IDR15000 (about a pound) I had 8 sticks of chicken satay, a portion of rice, a bowl of rather nice soup and an iced tea. Can’t complain!

One more beer at the bar and I headed back to read for a bit and crash out. My bus to Dili was booked for the next morning and I had a 5am pickup. Also, the owner of Lavalon is on good terms with the Dili Backpackers so he text messaged them for me. After all the hassle trying to sort out a booking, that was all it took!

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KL to Bali and on…

Bed for the night at Denpasar Airport, Bali #lp
Not exactly five star…

Right now I’m in Bali again, and last night decided just to sleep at the Ngurah Rai Airport International Departures area. It’s a little loud (the tanoy announcements are disjointed bits of separately recorded phrases and some are yelled out), but the hassle of getting into Kuta and finding somewhere only to get a few hours’ sleep, turn round and come back just didn’t seem worth it.

KL was the usual – too many McDonald’s and cheap accommodation. I saw State of Play (decent adaptation of the BBC series) and Ice Age 3 (far better than the second one) at the cinema (not in 3D regrettably as the times of the performances didn’t suit), and sorted out my US currency for East Timor.

This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as the ATMs in the city decided to refuse to serve me at the time I was planning on withdrawing the cash. Checking my balance was fine, but forget getting money out. No idea why it happened, but I was able to “buy” the cash at the bank using my debit card so it worked out OK.

Leah turned up safe, sound and teary-eyed on the night of the 7th without any luggage. Due to a security scare at Edinburgh, she was delayed four hours and missed her long-haul from Heathrow. She was shoehorned onto a QANTAS replacement (and upgraded) but her bags didn’t make it.

Fortunately, they were at the airport when she went back on the 8th for her flight to Perth. Let’s just hope they make it to Oz on the same plane as her.

Immigration in Bali was a slow, painful nightmare. The one good thing was a complete lack of interrogation over my choice of 7-day visa. It’s $10 rather than $25 which suits me as I’ll be in Indonesia for at most three nights. I was expecting to have to show travel plans and tickets and stuff, but no need. The queues, however, were abysmally slow. From touchdown to reaching the luggage carousel was about an hour.

I dodged the taxi drivers and the “cheap hotel” merchants (the cheapest on offer was 120,000 Rupiah when I was paying less than half that last year) and found myself a nice bench. For a brief period I had free wifi on my mobile, but not the laptop. Hopefully some of you will have caught the Twitter posts. I have since discovered (and am using) a wifi simply labelled “3com” over near the domestic departures. There’s also a lounge nearby (Indosat) which is offering free wifi.

Of note is that the ATM to the right of the exit (as you walk out) from International Arrivals charges for both balance checks and withdrawals (2000 and 3900 Rupiah respectively). Not a lot compared to the extortionate new Thai fees, but you can dodge it by using another machine. The one just outside International Departures charges no fee.

I’m not as tired as I expected though how people sleep on hard wooden surfaces all the time is beyond me. My check-in is in around 90 minutes, and battery on my netbook down to 2 hours. Time to grab some breakfast I think. With luck I should be at my guesthouse in Kupang by 5pm.

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I hate airlines

I’m trying to fill the gaps in for my schedule in July. Thanks to Matt, I have some info regarding flights from Bali to East Timor and this is causing me some bellyache.

I just booked Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar at a time that won’t suit Leah. Thing is, while I was waiting for her to get back to me I was watching the Air Asia flight prices rise before my eyes. So I just went for it. This means I’m leaving KL about 5-6 hours before her, but it’s still half the price of flying the next day. Then take into account accommodation and the loss of an entire day until the next flight and I didn’t have a choice.

The problem is that I land in Denpasar at 22:00. I don’t expect the Merpati or Garuda ticket offices to be open at the airport at that time. From what I gather, Merpati have a flight out at breakfast time to Dili, which I’d be interested in… but does their ticket office open early enough to book a seat on that flight in the morning? I can’t book online as their web site is still under construction.

Garuda’s page is more functional and tells me I can get a flight to Kupang from where I know I can get a bus to Dili. The downsides: the flight’s in the afternoon so I’d likely have to stay in Kupang for a night and get the bus the next day (it’s a 12-hour journey)… and you can only book online with Garuda if your credit card was issued in Indonesia. Therefore by the time I get to Indonesia where I can book over the counter with them, all of the cheaper seats (and they are cheap) will almost certainly have gone.

Earlier in the trip I have a flight landing at Ko Samui airport at 10:45 in the morning. Ideally I want to get a ferry from Samui to Ko Tao. There are two companies (Lomprayah and Seatran Discovery) with boats at suitable times and both around 550 Baht each way for a 1½ hour journey. Lomprayah offer a free bus transfer from the airport, but this bus leaves at 11:00. Do I have time to get off the flight, grab my luggage and be on that bus? I don’t know, so I emailed them a day ago to ask… and haven’t had a reply yet.

Alternatively, Seatran’s boat leaves a couple of hours later but I’d have to make my own way down to the port… and I can’t find out which one of the several ports I’d need to get to!

You know, I much prefered traveling when I just turned up in places and winged it. I hate being on a schedule.

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