A few weeks ago I renewed my visa in Bali. This post is coming out later because I caught Typhus and delayed writing it. The visa situation in Indonesia sucks. I’d heard stuff about it long before I had ever considered coming to Bali - Aiden talked about it in Chiang Mai and mentioned how complicated and annoying it was. I’m here to tell you that he wasn’t wrong.
In Indonesia, you can get a free 30 day Visa on Arrival when you land at the airport. Sounds great right? Well, sure, but you can’t extend it if you want to stay for more than 30 days. Instead, you can pay $35 at the airport to buy a 30 day Visa on Arrival that can be extended for an additional 30 days. This really isn’t made clear to you, and I suspect that some people who would have wanted to extend weren’t able to because they got the free Visa on Arrival. I’m fortunate that I came with my friend who knew more than I did.
I wish they’d call the two schemes ($35 Visa on Arrival vs Free Visa on Arrival) something different as it’s a little confusing. The immigration offical (a very friendly young muslim lady in my case) peels a little sticker into your passport and then stamps it, and then gives you another little ticket to keep. The ticket says “Visa On Arrival Receipt. US 35 DOLLARS. For thirty days stay in Indonesia.”, which gave me the impression that I had already paid for the second set of 30 days and that I just needed to show proof by going to the immigration office to get a stamp. It was only later that I found out that you’re actually paying for the first 30 days, so that you earn the permission to pay to extend another 30 days. Hmm.
For some frustrating reason, you have to make three trips to the immigration office to extend your visa. Also frustratingly, there aren’t immigration offices in tourist destinations like Canggu or Ubud; no, you have to travel to Denpasar (15km from Canggu) or Jimbaran (25km from Canggu), or an office further afield. For our purposes Denpasar and Jimbaran are the only relevant ones. From what I read on travel blogs, you can choose to go to whichever office is convenient for you, but you MUST start the process at least 7 working days before your initial 30 days expire. Fine, okay.
Oh, and they take your passport from you on the first visit and give it back on the third. I hate the idea of this for so many reasons; you never know when you might need to fly home urgently, I feel uncomfortable not having my passport, and I don’t like the idea that the officials could lose it or steal it. Also, it’s really inconvenient as so many services require your passport to use; telecommunication providers want it, hotels need it to check you in, and things like running events want to see it too.
I figured that I’d go to the visa office with my friend, as we arrived on the same day so would have the same timeframe to visit. Going together would mean that we could split the costs of transport too. I got affirmative indications for that plan when we first talked about the visa situation here. After a day or two in Bali, I asked my friend if he wanted to go to the immigration office soon; I thought it was better to start early so that it was out of the way, but he rejected me because we had only just arrived, and that he was busy. I asked a couple more times over the next two weeks, only to be told that he had already started the process with an agent.
I had heard about the visa agents but hadn’t considered it a viable alternative. These agents (not government officials, just some random people) will take your details, passport, etc, and do the first and last visit for you. They collect passports from foreigners in bulk and hand them all in at once. This means the foreigner only has to make the trip once, and they don’t have the mess around getting their passport travelled. You pay them somewhere in the region of $50 for the convenience of only having to go once.
It sounds convenient, but I’m not sure I like the idea of it. You’re entrusting your passport to a middleman who could lose it, damage it, or even sell it. I also wouldn’t trust someone else not to make a mistake on the visa application - especially not somebody who fills out these forms several times a day and so isn’t paying much attention to mine. The whole thing seems like a sketchy, risky business to use. The fact that it only exists because of unnecessarily cumbersome protocols makes the conspiracy-paranoid part of my mind think that perhaps these visa agents had a hand in the design of the extension processes! This suspicion was heightened when I read that the visa agents have ‘relationships’ with the immigration officials that help them get their clients through faster. I saw a few Balinese men with stacks of papers who were wearing civilian clothing at the immigration office whom I suspected to be visa agents; they dumped their stuff on the desk, skipping the ticket system, and seemed like they were being quite rude.
Acquiring The Necessary Documentation
I was actually sick when I needed to go to the immigration office. I’d had a virus all week, and had been alternating between shivering and sweating, and my body was very very hot to the touch. I had felt terrible and it was painful moving my body. Additionally, I felt so terrible that I feared that if I tried to travel go to the Doctor, I might pass out and fall off the back of the motorcycle; I was too delirious to realise that I could get a home-visit or use a grab-car. I was really hoping that the virus would clear up quickly because I knew that I needed to go to the immigration office. One day, I realised that things were more urgent than I had realised and that I needed to go the very next day; otherwise, I’d be too late to start the process. If I went the next day, I would be arriving with 7 days to spare before my visa expired.
You need a few documents before you go to the immigration office; two photocopies of the picture page of your passport, two copies of the printout of your flight ticket, and two photocopies of the Visa Stamp page in your passport with the Visa On Arrival $35 Receipt. This posed a problem for me because I hadn’t decided where I wanted to fly yet. I was feeling incredibly bad so decided to book a ticket to Kuala Lumpur again rather than spend time researching to find a location I didn’t know that I’d like to visit.
I had a colour scan of my picture page of my passport, so I sent both the ticket I just booked and the scan of my passport to Ni - my Balinese girlfriend - who would be able to print it at her workplace. She had been being very kind to me by bringing me food and water whilst I was ill, and once I explained the problem, she told me that she would be able to take me to the Immigration office, no problem.
I still needed to get the photocopy of the stamp page, and Ni offered to take me to get that done too. Drowsy, I held on to her limply as we spend along through the night; I kept panicking that we’d get to the photocopiers after it closed and begged her to stop at an open one I saw by the side of the road. We paid the minimum spend - 2000 rupiah (11p, €0.13, 14¢) - and got way more photocopies than we needed, but I felt relieved.
Incidentally, Ni then took me to see a doctor. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Indonesian, so Ni translated for us. I pulled up a picture on my phone of lymph nodes (as mine were incredibly swollen and Ni didn’t know the word), whilst Ni described the rest of my ailments from memory. The doctor told me that my temperature was 38C (and Ni believed that I had cooled down significantly because of the night motorbike ride) and that my blood pressure was normal. He gave me anti-fever and anti-viral medication and told me that if I didn’t recover within 3 days, then I might have Dengue Fever.
Ni promised that she would take me to the Denpasar immigration office in the morning before she went to work, which made things easier. That night, I was sleeping in her room in Tabanan. I was still sweating terribly - in part because of the virus, but also because the room was not air conditioned. Shortly before she came in to sleep, I must have rolled over to the other side of the bed, because when she got into bed, she exclaimed in a surprised tone “What! It’s wet! You sweat all over my bed!”.
Denpasar Immigration Office.
We arrived to the Denpasar office fairly early; Ni has to get to work at 9AM so it must have been earlier than that. The medication had worked fairly well; I had lost my fever and most of my body didn’t hurt anymore, but I still felt tired and sluggish, and I had a painful headache.
Ni helped me by talking to the people at the information desk and pointing us in the right direction. Almost everything you see when you enter is for the local Balinese - foreigners have to go all the way to the right to this one small room.
There was a stand that was meant to offer numbered ticket, but it had bluescreened and needed to be restarted. Again, Ni helpfully went and told the greeter about the problem, who went and told somebody else to fix it. I waited by the ticket machine, and made sure to stand to one side so that I didn’t block the hallway. Whilst I was waiting, I saw another foreigner - a girl - see that the ticket machine wasn’t working. She then proceeded to interrupt the greeter - currently talking to a technician - to (presumably) tell her that the machine wasn’t working. She then proceeded to form a queue in front of the machine, blocking the path.
When the ticket machine came back online, I took my ticket and sat, waiting for my number to be called. Ni left to go to work. After waiting for a while, I saw the foreigner girl go to the desk after her number was called. She talked to the clerk for a short while before being given a form to fill in. I was called up next. I gave her my passport and photocopies and told her I was here to extend my visa. She looked through my documents and asked where I was staying. When I told her ‘Canggu’, she gave me a business card sized sheet of paper with a list of the addresses of the immigration offices and told me I needed to go the the Jimbaran office.
What?! I didn’t read anything about this online! I read you can go anywhere?!
The Jimbaran Immigration Office (Officially called the Ngurah Rai Immigration Office) is 20km away from the Denpasar Immigration office. I’m already ill, always feel stressed by dealings like this, and now I have to go somewhere else? I just want to sleep. I tried looking for a Grab to take me, but I must have mistyped the address because I couldn’t find it. I felt really overwhelmed and just wanted to sleep. Ni had only really just left the immigration office, so she offered to take me to Jimbaran and told her work that she’d take the day off. Such a sweet girl. Ni manis!
Whilst I waited for Ni, the foreigner girl came out. Recognising me, she asked where she needed to go to pay. I explained that they had told me I needed to go elsewhere because I was staying in Canggu. She told me that she was staying in Ubud, and wished me the best of luck.
Jimbaran Immigration Office
To get to the Jimbaran Immigration Office, we travelled across the Bali Mandara Toll Road, a vast 12.7km long bridge spanning the Gulf of Benoa. As ill as I felt, I enjoying feeling the wind and the breeze in my helmet as we sped across it. It was definitely faster than travelling by land roads as we didn’t have to stop for traffic. On the horizon, the enormous Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue loomed. I had always seen it from the beach in Canggu as a vast blocky object sticking out of earth. Now I was much closer, so I could make out some of the details, though I couldn’t see the base of the statue. Intrigued, and knowing very little about it, Ni and I agreed that we would visit after I had been to the immigration office, assuming everything went well.
The process at the Jimbaran office appeared straightforward. There was a very conspicuous sign labelled ‘Foreigner go here’ pointing to another ticket machine. This one was working fine, so I took a ticket and sat down. The machine made some reference to ‘having all necessary documents’, which I obviously I had - my passport, scans, ticket, etc.
After much waiting, my ticket number was called. The clerk looked through my documents, circling this and that, but then rejected me for not having a filled-in application form. He explained that I should get one from the information desk, fill that in, then come back. Argh! In the Denpasar office, you take the ticket to get the form (and presumably to hand it in too) - here, you take the ticket to hand in the completed form!
More frustratingly, there was now a queue in front of the information desk that hadn’t been there when I picked up my ticket the first time around.
The form was fairly straight forward, though did require a little bit of translation help from Ni as some of the English was ambiguous. As I neared the end of the form, Ni went and grabbed a ticket so that we potentially wouldn’t have to wait as long.
This time, the clerk accepted everything. He put everything inside a red folder and asked me to fill in a few details on the front, and then go back to him. After I had done that, he gave me a slip of paper, stamped it, and told me that I needed to go outside ‘to the orange truck’ to pay, and that after I had done that I’d need to come back on the 21st March - a week later. I thought I misheard him about the ‘orange truck’ - perhaps his accent was an obstacle? I asked him to repeat himself; each time he seemingly said ‘the orange truck outside’ to the point that I stopped asking and I felt confused.
I hadn’t misheard him. There was a bright orange van in the courtyard with a payment machine inside. I’m not sure why the payment machine is in a van and not inside a building; maybe to make transporting the money to the bank easier.
Unfortunately, the payment machine wasn’t working. Ni just said “Okay, let’s go to the bank. There’s one nearby.” I didn’t think this would work; inside the immigration office was a big roll-up banner saying which banks they accept transfer from (mostly Indonesian banks, but also including some British ones like HSBC) - but mine wasn’t there. I actually dragged Ni back inside to show her the poster, but she told me not to worry and that we’d sort things out.
We went to the bank; Ni knew exactly what she was doing, bypassing the downstairs area and ascending directly. She presented the teller with the form that the immigration officer had requested, who took my money - 355,000 rupiah (£19.15, €22.26, $25.08) - and made the transfer, stapling a receipt to the form before returning it to me. At this point, I was incredibly glad that Ni was with me. I would have been clueless and thought it was impossible.
And that was that for the first visit. Having to go between two different offices and then a bank was very annoying, and that ’21st March’ return date was troubling. For one, it was a day after my visa expires and I was worried that they might try to fine me. My other concern was that the stamp on the form said I had to be there between 8AM-11AM… That really didn’t seem feasible if I was going to be travelling from where I was staying in Canggu - it’s 25km from Jimbaran and it can be difficult to find a Grab driver who will travel long distances, especially in the morning. I’d miss the 8AM-11AM cutoff! I couldn’t even ask Ni to take me (even part way) because she would be taking a holiday to Thailand for several days around that date.
I decided that I would stay in Jimbaran for the duration that Ni was in Thailand - my residency expired in Canggu soon anyway, and it wasn’t like Jimbaran wouldn’t be a nice place to stay anyway.
Moving to Jimbaran
Now, unfortunately Jimbaran is located near the ‘High Class’ resort area Nusa Dua, which means that most of the places were far outside of the price range I’d consider paying ‘just to be close to the Immigration centre’. However, there were a few hostels and guest houses dotted about if you looked closely. I picked one a short walk from the Imigration office, and chose to stay in a private room for 6 nights for 810,000 rupiah (£43.83, €50.80, $57.24), which seemed like a fair price - cheaper per night than I had in Canggu but with less facilities.
Ni took me there from her workplace the night before she would leave for Thailand. We arrived fairly late - in part because Ni and I had errands to run, in part because she misplaced her phone - so it was very dark outside. It was also raining and the road was poorly lit. There was no obvious advertising for the guesthouse, so we were peering up and down the road, comparing dark building to the daytime pictures on my phone.
I let myself in and introduced myself, though Ni somehow took over the talking, despite the owner speaking fluent English. The owner told me that the bulb wasn’t working in my room and that she hadn’t had the chance to change it, and that she would be too busy in the morning to change it too. Harrumph!
Ni told me she didn’t like the look of the place at all, and that she felt ashamed as she came in here, as it was worse than her house. For me, the only thing immediately wrong was the lightbulb and the way the member of staff had acted. Ni left promptly, leaving me to spend the evening sitting in my room in the dark. And also sweating, as when I arrived in my room I couldn’t see the air-conditioning remote control, so unpacked my bag instead. When I was done I went to ask the staff about the air-conditioning, but I couldn’t find them.
I found out the next day that the air-conditioning controls are stored outside the room as the control every unit in the building. It also became apparent that this guesthouse was more of a hostel; particularly, the kind where you’re living with the family of the owner and hence the children are running around and being noisy.
Later in the week, we tried to change the bulb in my room, but changing it didn’t help, as something was wrong with the connection. An ‘electrician’ came to fix it; he carried no tools, and merely fiddled with the switch for a while - predictably, nothing changed.
Needless to say, my stay at this guest house - which I won’t name - wasn’t particularly fun.
Jimbaran Immigration Office
The second day involves having your photo taken and having an interview. This time, rather than assuming anything, I asked directly at reception about what I needed to do. Apparently, you need to go to the desk where you handed in the form the previous week and grab a ticket from there. I presented the clerk - the exact same one as last week - with my form and receipt; a brief glance and a few key-presses on his computer later, and the machine spits me out a ticket.
My number is called relatively quickly and the automated announcer tells me to go to Photo Room 1. I go there and knock, and receive no answer. I knock again, and nothing. So I just open it, and it turns out that this isn’t a private room at all, and that there are 4 desks here each with computers and cameras and fingerprint scanners; 3 other tourists are already here. I go to the unoccupied desk, present my ticket to the clerk, and sit down. We say hello to each other and he asked me to confirm my name and date of birth. He then confirms some of the details I entered on the form last week, including where I was staying, and the reason for my stay. He takes my picture, then gets me to scan each of my fingers in turn.
He stamped my form again with another date mark - this time to pick up my passport on the 28th March, 2-3PM - a week later. Then he tells me I’m done and I can go.
This trip was relatively smooth, and I believe it’s the only one you have to do if you go for the agent route. Still, having to wait yet another week to be able to pick up my passport is annoying, as I’ll have checked out of my awful guesthouse, and it would have been more convenient to do both remaining days whilst I was there. A week between the first visit and the second visit and another week between the second visit and the third visit is a far cry from the ‘typically around 3 days later’ and ‘typically the next day or two’ that I had read.
Ni told me that she could take me with her to Kuta when she went to work, but that she wouldn’t be able to take me all the way to the immigration office. Fine with me, I can get a Grab there. I’ve visited Kuta before so I know that I hate being in Kuta; so I just hang around in Ni’s workplace for a bit charging my phone and using the Wi-Fi whilst I wait for the hours to tick closer to 1PM when I’ll go over to the immigration office.
Eventually, Ni and I go to get food from the nearby Beachwalk Mall, and my eye catches on a sign I hadn’t noticed before:
I’ve seen similar signs all around Canggu and I took Grabs all the same, but maybe things are different in Kuta? I’ve heard the enforcement by the Taxi Mafia can be different from place to place, and Kuta certainly seems like somewhere that enforcement would be high; I see the bluebird taxis everywhere, and the streets that are local to Ni’s workplace all have dozens of local Balinese hawkers who could be ‘on the in’ with the Taxi Mafia and who could cause trouble, and I get a little worried as I don’t want to miss my immigration time slot.
I ask Ni if she has ever taken a Grab from Kuta before, and she hasn’t - she has only ever been dropped off here. I might have a problem.
Beachwalk has this problem where all of the exists look identical to me; the whole ground floor is split with a courtyard in the middle, and the shopping mall curves around. It’s shaped sort of like this: ⊃ (<- this symbol here) with a north side and a south side, and the road to the west. Both the ‘north gate’ and the ‘south gate’ look identical to me.
When it’s time to book the Grab, the app recognises me as being at the ‘north gate’. I find a driver very quickly - thank goodness I am still able to get them from here - and I tell him I’ll meet him at the ‘north gate’. I look around and head towards the nearest gate - except I realise that this is the south gate! So we start to rush towards the north gate. Then I get a message from him telling me he won’t meet me at the north gate. I stop dead in my tracks. “Meet me at the pickup spot in front of the management office in the carpark” he says. Okay, I guess this is how things work here; Grab drivers will pick you up so long as you go to some covert location. Got it.
Luckily, you can get to the carpark easily from both the north and south gates as it’s directly beneath the whole of the main structure. The pickup spot is very visible with a lit sign. I take a picture of it and send it to the driver to make sure we mean the same place, and as I do, his car rushes up beside me and he leans out “Jet Holt?”. I get in and we chat on the way to Jimbaran. He’s a nice guy; a Christian from Java who moved to Bali because he prefers the lifestyle, job, people, and work opportunities. The journey goes by quickly and I’m at Jimbaran about half an hour earlier than I was expecting to be. I tip the driver and get out.
Jimbaran Immigration Office
I’m half an hour early, and the stamp on my form clearly states that I should be here between 2-3PM, so I sit down and wait. Pull out my phone, browse a little; nothing much interesting that I didn’t already see.
Gonna be a while.
Eventually that 2PM rolls around, so I go up to the information desk, who point me towards a room in the corner to the right. I give the clerk in that room my form (I’ve been carrying this same form for two weeks now…) and he takes it, asks me a few questions, and then tells me to go and sit in the main room and wait for my name to be called.
So I sit. And I sit. And I watch as more foreigners arrive, and the waiting room turns from around 50-50 Balinese-Western split to a Mostly Westerners majority.
After I’ve been sitting for 20 minutes or so, the guy at the desk - the same guy you give your forms to on day #1, and who you get a ticket from on day #2 - gets given a stack of passports by someone coming from a back office, and he starts calling names. It mostly seems to be the westerners who had already been sitting down before I got there who seem to be going and collecting theirs; my name is not called. I start to regret not registering to collect my passport immediately when I arrived at 1:30PM.
Ten more minutes pass until more names are called, and I see people whom arrived after I had pick up their passports and leave. This repeats twice before 3PM.
As 3PM approaches and I still haven’t heard my name, I begin to get worried that I might not receive my passport if I don’t get it before 3PM. I check with the clerk and he tells me I should just wait.
To cut a long wait short, I spent a total of 2.5 hours in the immigration office before they called my name and gave me my passport. In that time, I saw a very pissed off girl going up to the counter repeatedly; she got her passport directly after mine, so when I saw her outside, I asked how long she had been there. 4 hours.
How can it take 4 hours, 2.5 hours, etc, just to return a passport? It’s not like they were doing any last-minute processing because I gave them no new information today - and they’ve had a whole week to do everything else. It’s just… delay.
The nice thing was, now I was in Jimbaran, so I could head down to the beach and have Ni meet me here after work.
The immigration process in Bali is bad. I don’t think anybody could disagree after reading my experiences of doing things the ‘correct way’. I got shunted between different offices, had to make several trips (with long waits between each), and wait in the office for long periods of time.
My friend went through the visa agent for $50 and had no problems; he only had to make the second visit, which was the easiest and quickest of my three visits. He didn’t have to book a flight in advance, and he got to pick which immigration office he wanted to go to. Seems a lot less painless than my experience.
Enjoying Lumpia at Jimbaran Beach.
But I don’t think visa agents are necessarily the answer. This isn’t a case of ‘I think visa agents are expensive’ or anything; if you go through this post and add up the expenses I paid to get to or be in the right place for the visa extension and you will see that I spend much more than it would take going to the agent. I wasted a lot more time too. My issue with the visa agent is that you’re putting a lot of trust into them to be good with your passport, which could be worth a lot of money to them. Some may argue that they wouldn’t do that because it would damage their reputation, but I wouldn’t be so sure that someone ‘losing’ a passport would damage the reputation enough to kill the business. I think they could get away with it.
So what’s the solution here?
Well for a individual wanting to extend their visa right now, I don’t think there is a good solution that I can get behind. But we’re stuck with the two choices. I really want to just be able to say “go with the visa agent” - my experience was unpleasant - because of the argument of “you didn’t come to Bali to spend all your time extending the visa”, but the truth is if somebody loses your passport, you’ll be spending much more time trying to solve that.
A visa extension process doesn’t have to be so cumbersome; the whole process took me one trip and just two and a half hours in Thailand, and could have been under an hour if I had come prepared with my photocopies like I did here in Bali. So I think the impetus really should be on the Indonesians to fix their policies. There isn’t much a visitor can do.a twitter account that you can follow here.