By Vyt Karazija
Knowing that I could not travel for a few months, I grudgingly surrendered my passport and soon-to-be-expired KITAS residency permit to the Immigration office. Of course the usual raft of paperwork had to accompany this, including solemn written promises that I will employ Indonesian staff, that I will live in an approved tourist zone and that I will not, under any circumstances, engage in gainful employment. Truth be told, I actually welcome this latter injunction, as it validates my choice to live a life of slothful drifting from one day to the next. In fact, I have no idea how I ever managed to fit work into my daily life before coming here.
As in previous years, I was a little worried about not having my travel documents while the tedious process of KITAS renewal dragged on for several months. One can’t travel at all without documents – not even within Indonesia, where ID is mandatory. The supposed 12-month KITAS which I pay for is not really usable for the whole year anyway. Not that that matters, because the essential Multiple Entry and Exit passport stamp is now only valid for 11 months, because the authorities have decided that they don’t like you travelling during the final month of your KITAS term.
Two years ago, it took two and a half months for the renewal process, because my documents were “lost” – and then the official who had to sign off on them was “on leave.” Last year the process was incredibly protracted because the Immigration Office was being investigated by the anti-corruption people, during which time most of their normal work – glacially slow at the best of times – ground to a halt. Ironically, it was suggested to me that a “facilitation fee” might speed up the process, but given the reasons for the low work output, I thought it best to decline.
This year, I planned, perhaps optimistically, for a eight-week turnaround. Naturally, only five days after feeding my entire legal identity into the maw of the Immigration Office, I found out at 9am on a Monday morning that I needed to travel urgently to Australia to help out a friend who had been incapacitated in an accident.
Luckily, I have an excellent agent, who immediately put in an urgent request for “express processing.” By 11am, I was in the Immigration Office being fingerprinted yet again, presumably because my fingerprints had changed in the intervening 12 months. I was told that processing would take about a day, so I couldn’t travel on Tuesday, but was assured that I could pick up my completed travel documents by noon on Wednesday. The nice official told me that it would be quite OK for me to book a flight for Wednesday afternoon. The only flight I could get at short notice was via Jakarta, which meant that I had to be at the airport by 5pm on Wednesday. With Bali’s notorious traffic, I had to leave home by no later than 4pm.
But by noon on Wednesday, there is no sign of my passport or KITAS. I feign stoicism until 1pm, when I call my agent. She says my passport “is on its way and will be there this afternoon.” I begin to worry; “this afternoon” is a rubbery concept in Bali.
At 3pm, my rising stress levels making my voice rise an octave, I speak to my agent again. With insufferable calm, she says: “They’re still waiting for a signature at Immigration.” Ye gods. At 3.05pm, she tells me my documents will be arriving in 40 minutes. She also chooses that moment to inform me that I need to bring 1.5 million with me for the express processing fee. Oh, wonderful. Three hours ago I discovered that my debit card has stopped working at all of the ATMs I tried, and I have just enough cash for the taxi, a humble snack and the obligatory departure tax.
At 3.45pm, not game enough to call the agent again because my voice is approaching ultrasonic frequencies, I hurtle over there on my bike. Praise be to The Great Squirrel! My passport and KITAS has just arrived! The agent apologises for the delay, explaining that, only that morning, a team of workmen had unexpectedly descended on the Immigration offices to perform “unscheduled maintenance,” which stopped all work. I am so speechless that I brush off her request for money and rush back home to call a taxi, finally departing for the airport, my stomach full of hydrochloric acid, a mere half an hour behind schedule. But I have my passport back.
On the way to the airport, I puzzle over my itinerary, which doesn’t tell me whether I leave from the domestic or the international terminal. The cab driver laughs. “If you transit in Jakarta, you go from domestic terminal,” he says assuredly. I am sceptical; after all, isn’t it a normal international flight with a stop-over? “No,” says the cabbie. “This is Indonesia. You go from the domestic terminal, because that way you have to pay Rp40,000 departure tax, and another Rp150,000 when you leave Jakarta.” He grins wickedly. “The government likes that.” Oh, of course. Why didn’t I think of that?
So, finally on the plane, I have time to think about how it is possible, for extra money, to get a two-day KITAS renewal instead of waiting for two months. And I realise why it normally takes that long for us normal schmucks to get one – because the full resources of the immigration department are engaged in making money from the express delivery set.
Some might think that it’s almost like a sort of, er, bribe. But when you need something done right now, and people have to make a special effort to make sure you get it – well, I reckon paying a fast-tracking facilitation fee is worth it. Despite the last-minute panic, it certainly was for me.