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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TIP – Indonesian visas

Some of this will be repetition from the post where I arrived at Jakarta airport, but there’s some more to add hence the extra article.

The basics, as of the date above:

There are a handful of visa types, the most common being the 7-day transit and the 30-day tourist visas. The latter is US$25 and they’re strict about the limit. Overstay and it’s US$20 per day and a risk of jail if you go over even by a moderate amount.

I got the 30-day tourist visa at Jakarta airport and paid in Malaysian Ringgit. The cost was a standard MR100, and I assume they also take Indonesian Rupiah if you already have some, though I don’t know the exact amount. I also can’t promise that other airports accept Ringgit.

One major point of note is that at Jakarta and Denpasar (Bali) airports, there are no ATMs within the arrivals area. In both cases you have to pass security and immigration to get to a cashpoint. However, if you need to get cash to pay for the visa then they will let you just walk out to get it. It’s up to you whether you decide to go back in and collect the visa, I suppose, but I’d recommend you do!

Your entry stamp and the big sticker both state that the visa is non-extendable. If you want to add to the thirty days, you have to leave the country and re-enter. From Sumatra, Borneo, and to some extent Java this isn’t too difficult or expensive as various parts of Malaysia are nearby. In Timor you can enter East Timor (more about this later) and in Papua you can get to Papua New Guinea.

However, from the likes of Bali, Lombok, Flores and the popular holiday destinations it is a long and expensive trip to any border. I have seen one sign up advertising visa extensions and the staff at my hotel have told me they can organise it with three days’ notice. However, it’s not cheap at IDR1.5million – around £90, nine times the cost of the original visa. If you want to stay on you’ll just have to balance the cost against how much it’ll save you in transportation.

If you head into East Timor, there is no visa on arrival for your return if you go back by land. You’ll have to send your passport to the Indonesian embassy in Dili, or visit personally, to get a new visa at a cost of US$35. Note that flights from East Timor are quite infrequent and expensive.

Papua New Guinea I hear isn’t too easy to get into either, and I’m not sure of the procedures exiting it by land – you may be in the same situation as in East Timor.

Personally, I think Indonesia needs to get it’s backside in gear and offer either a longer tourist visa or make renewals cheaper and more “above board”. It’s a huge country and anyone really wanting to explore it will need far longer than a month. Given the reaction Maria and I got in Java, not many tourists go there so perhaps the visas were geared toward the holidaying brigade who regularly invade the beaches for a couple of weeks. With backpacking and more adventurous travel becoming more common, it would benefit Indonesia itself to allow longer stays.

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TIP – the Thai / Cambodia border

Information published elsewhere, but I thought it worthwhile to give this a space of its own as the other stuff’s spread across a couple of posts.

Crossing is easy – that’s the first thing. Don’t sweat it. We went from Bangkok to Siem Reap with an overnight stop, but if you can be bothered with an early start it’s easily achievable in a single day.

Stage one is to get to the border. A train is the cheapest and easiest way – you want the service from Bangkok’s Hualamphong station to Aranyaprathet which at the time of writing was 48 Baht. A superb resource for train journeys all over the place is The Man In Seat 61.

There are two services a day – 5.55am and 13:05pm. Taking the first, you can get to Siem Reap no problem. With the second I’d recommend an overnight in Aranyaprathet rather than over the border in Poipet, though the latter would be cheaper from what I hear. Maybe. I gather it’s not so safe, though.

Either way, you’ll have a 4 1/2 hour train ride with some great scenery (and no air conditioning). On arrival at Aranyaprathet you will of course be greeted by tuk-tuks prepared to take you to the border or to a (“cheap”) hotel.

Also either way you will end up at the border at some point. If you already have a visa then head straight for the crossing. Otherwise you’ll have to go to a separate office elsewhere (tuk-tuks know where) at which point you will be fleeced for the visa fee.

Right now, a Cambodian visa is $20. You will pay this in Hanoi, Bangkok, Saigon, Auckland, London… $20. Yup, it might take 2-3 days, but that is the visa fee. You’ll also pay $20 if you land at either airport in Cambodia and pay the fee on entry. $20 and they put the big paper stamp in your passport.

However, get it at a land border… at Aranyaprathet they ask for 1000 Thai Baht. At the current rate of exchange, this is $33. You can “save” $3 by saying you don’t have any Baht, and they’ll let you pay in US currency at a fee of $30. The “excuse” is that the $10 is an express fee, though they don’t offer a means of paying $20 and waiting 2 days. It also doesn’t explain the immediate visa at the airports without such a fee. The presence of overseeing government officials at the airport, however, does.

Short version – $30 at land borders so the staff can line their pockets.

A short tuk-tuk ride away is the border crossing itself. You disembark and a Thai will likely assist you through. There’s no real need for this, but they’re not pushy and slightly helpful. Of course, they expect a tip afterwards for this non-requested and non-essential service. Stamp out of Thailand and into Cambodia (after filling in one of those annoying immigration slips), then walk out into Cambodia proper.

There you will be herded onto a tourist bus which will drive you over the incredibly potholed road to an office where you will be sold a taxi or bus. Taxi is $60 to Siem Reap (around 2 1/2 hours with the new roads), bus is $10 and around 4 hours. The roads are much better than you’ll have heard about historically and work is still being done on them. The little bit up to the tourist office is by far the worst you’ll experience.

Now you can get a cheaper taxi, but it’s difficult. You’ll be actively discouraged (harassed) if you try to barter outside the monopoly system. The driver gets $25, the monopoly some money and the government (apparently) some more of the $60 fee. So theoretically, you should be able to find a private driver for $25. Good luck. I did meet some guys in Siem Reap who’d got one for $45 by refusing to board the tourist bus – just say you’re going to check the casinos or something.

Good luck, however you do it. It’s not a difficult crossing, and the experience isn’t bad. Quite an adventure, really!

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