Bali’s Own Travel Ban

By Vyt Karazija

I can’t help feeling just a little bit cheated. My Retirement KITAS, plus its essential companion, the Multiple Entry and Exit endorsement, lets me live in Indonesia for a year while using it as a travel hub to explore other countries, right? Umm, not really.

Yes, I can live in Bali for a year. Yes, I can travel wherever, and whenever, I want – unless the authorities have my passport for some reason.

To renew my KITAS each year, I need to provide the usual mountain of bureaucratic guff. This includes bank statements to show that I am not an impecunious drifter and can actually afford to live here, and proof of health insurance, life insurance and liability insurance.

I also need a copy of my accommodation lease, one affidavit to confirm that I will employ Indonesian staff, and another one solemnly swearing that I will not engage in work while I am here. Then there is the mandatory curriculum vitae, a document hardly likely to change much from year to year for me now. Oh yes, and the 18 – yes, 18 – photographs, in three sizes that are only acceptable if they are on a red background.

At the time I provide this folder of goodies to the Immigration Department, I also must surrender my passport, Blue Book and KITAS. These documents must be in their hands well before the KITAS expires. Processing is supposed to take less than a month, but this is Indonesia, so most agents recommend that the annual renewal circus starts at least two months before expiry.

And there’s the problem. A passport is, of course, mandatory for overseas travel, so I’m stuck in Indonesia while without one. For me, this is a big issue in case of a family emergency back home. But even for travel within Indonesia, a passport serves as the preferred ID for just about everything, with a KITAS coming in a poor second. So if I’m unwilling to be caught short without valid ID, I can’t travel outside Bali either. And because my KITAS gets me local rates at clinics, hospitals, hotels and shops – even Waterbom – I lose those benefits as well while not in possession of this document.

In Indonesia, the wheels of authority grind through their incomprehensible byways with excruciating slowness. My first annual renewal took over six weeks, ostensibly because “computer problems” caused the process to get stuck in the works. When I finally did get the call to report to Immigration – just 10 days before an optimistically booked overseas flight – I thought my problems were over. On the day, the paperwork went relatively quickly, I was fingerprinted again (even though I didn’t think my fingers had changed all that much in a year), photographed again (18 photos aren’t enough?) and was finally standing there in anticipation of getting my passport and KITAS back.

“Oh no,” said the man. “They will be sent to your agent.” My heart sank. “How long will that take?” I asked with some trepidation. “Two weeks,” he said casually. Several panicky phone calls, some inspired grovelling and much waving of flight itineraries later, my agent came through for me. I got my documents back two days before my flight. That’s too close for comfort.

My second renewal, earlier this year, took more than two months. This time the more creative excuse was that the Immigration office was being investigated by an anti-corruption squad, so no work could be done. I thought of offering a bribe, but under the circumstances thought that wasn’t such a good idea. So this year two months were completely blocked to travel. And apparently I’m one of the lucky ones.

One acquaintance reported a processing time of five months! At this rate, it will take 12 months to process a KITAS renewal by 2015, which will sort of defeat the purpose of having one in the first place.

Surely one small change in procedures would help to eliminate this unwanted and undesirable travel ban. After all, it’s just a side-effect of the current requirement to surrender our travel and residency documents; so why not just get notarised photocopies and give those to the Immigration Department while they do their thing? Then we could retain possession of our most important documents and have the freedom to travel year-round, instead of only nine (or fewer) months of the year.

Then, when the administrivia has been completed, we could just drop in again to get our passports stamped with the new visa, collect our new KITAS and go. I wouldn’t feel quite so cheated, or trapped, on the island.

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