It may not always be apparent from our blog, but we often have no clue what we are doing tomorrow, let alone our next city or country to visit. Our experience dealing with Indonesian immigration is a perfect example of the kind of time suck the process can become and the various about-faces and deliberations we make (but that never make it to the blog).
When we first landed in Indonesia, our general intention was to spend a lot of time going from island to island. Since it takes so long to get to Indonesia from California, we wanted to give the country our full attention.
In order to do so, we would need to extend our initial 30-day visa. We did our upfront research on visa entry requirements, and were sure to purchase the extendable visa when we arrived and not the standard free exemption for short term visitors to Indonesia (which is not extendable). This process was so easy and straightforward that we figured, how hard could it be to later extend the visa? Pretty hard as it turns out.
While recovering from our late night climb of Mt. Ijen, Elizabeth sat down to figure out the extension process. What we thought would be a 20 minute google search explaining how to make a short visit to an immigration office turned into a multi-hour dilemma. Apparently, Indonesian visa extensions require three separate trips to an immigration office over the course of 7-14 days (the first of which must be at least one week before the original visa expires). While the process can be simplified by hiring an agent to handle two of these trips, the process if fairly expensive and the internet is rife with horror stories. Either way, you still end up stuck without your passport and needing to stay near a single location throughout the entire period. Given the required timing, we would be forced to do our visa extension in Bali (from the Denpasar office) while visiting with Elizabeth’s parents. Three morning trips from Ubud to Denpasar would put a major dent in our travel plans no matter how we sliced it.
So (after much research) we turned our attention to doing a traditional “visa run” instead. If we left Indonesia and then returned, we’d be eligible for another (this time free) visa exemption to reset our 30 days. With cheap flights, this looked like a good (and potentially cheaper) option. First, we looked into visiting Darwin, Australia (thanks to our Camino friend Little Duckie’s Adventures for the info) for a week of camping and hiking. It sounded perfect and in the day leading up to leaving for our Raja Ampat live aboard dive trip (without internet) we decided to go for it. But maybe we’d put off purchasing the flight until after we returned . . . since we learned a couple hours into our research that it would be rainy season in Darwin.
While on the live aboard, we learned that the diving in Komodo in February wasn’t particularly great because of low visibility… but conditions should be good in the Philippines. With the Philippines in dry season, and most of Indonesia and Darwin in rainy season, we did an about face and shifted our focus to heading to the Philippines instead. Instead of extending our visa or doing a visa run, we’d just leave the country. Thank goodness we’d put off purchasing that airfare to Darwin. Seems like the restrictive immigration policies for visa extension turned out to be an economic loss for Indonesia.
Only one problem remained. Our Indonesian visa would expire the day before my in-law’s flight home. Another hiccup resulting from our initial plan to extend. We looked up info on overstays in Indonesia and found that Indonesian authorities don’t hassle tourists for a few days of overstay, and are happy to let you go after paying a modest fee. Perfect.
Then our dumpster fire of a President banned citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. In case you only saw American coverage of the first attempt at a partial Muslim Ban, overseas it is a big f**king deal. Indonesia wasn’t on the list, but it is the world’s most populous Muslim country. Discussion of potential application to Indonesians featured prominently in local newspapers and there was still a lot of uncertainty about what was going on.
Concerned that things could take a turn for the worse quickly, we booked a flight to Manila via Kuala Lumpur for the last evening of our visa-allowed stay (again, luckily we’d yet to purchase our flight… sometimes procrastination pays off). On the way we had breakfast in the shopping area where, a couple weeks later, North Korean agents would assassinate Kim Jong Nam.
“May you live in interesting times.”
This is just one example of our mid-course adjustments while traveling. It results in lots of time spent researching how to deal with bureaucratic red tape or travel destinations that we never end up visiting. This basically explains why we often don’t know where we’ll be two days in the future. So there you have it, a peek into the lives of full-time travelers. I guess it still beats a desk job 😉