Sunday, April 13, 2014

Living long-term in Bali: Part 1, visas


There are some useful things and resources to consider when moving to Bali for an extended period of time. We will cover a variety of things in this series of articles, and this article focuses on the first thing you should do: get a visa.

Click here for Part 2 of this series on renting a house in Bali.
Our experience is based on what we’ve encountered in Ubud, and it could be quite different if you were planning to move to another community, particularly those in the south of of the island such as Seminyak or the Bukit Peninsula. We have heard, for example, that using a visa agent in the south can be more expensive than in Ubud. This article will provide some resources that will introduce you to the visa process.
First thing’s first: Bali or elsewhere, you need a visa in most countries!  Be sure to check the website of the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit or live long-term in order to understand the visa regulations and procedures. It can vary depending on where you are from. Visa applications, even at the best of times, can be confusing.

I’m going to walk you through the basics how it works for Indonesia at the moment. (Remember – regulations can suddenly change, so check your local Indonesian embassy or consulate for the latest!)

Most people who consider a long-term stay in Bali have probably already visited the island before, but if you haven’t, we recommend you consider visiting for a month or so first, to see if it’s really the place for you. This goes for anywhere, though some people might prefer a more adventurous approach, settling into a place they haven’t visited before.
Tourist Visa-on-Arrival (30 days, extendable up to 60 days)The basic visa-on-arrival (VOA) can be attained upon arrival at the Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar when you land. As of April 2013, the VOA costs $25 US for 30 days. There is a booth where you get a sticker, and then you proceed to immigration to get your passport stamped. There is clear signage to direct you to where you need to go. The visa-on-arrival is extendable for another 30 days either by visiting Indonesian immigration offices or hiring a visa agent. We have heard from friends that entering Bali, a tourist mecca in Indonesia, is easier than entering the country through other major airports, but we cannot attest to this ourselves as we’ve only entered via Denpasar.
Visiting the island for the first time will help get you into the swing of things. But a holiday is much different than actually living here. We first came for a five weeks in 2011 and visited half of the island in that time. Since actually moving here in January 2012, it has been more like living here, that is not partaking in so many touristy activities.
So, if you arrive in Bali on a VOA and are renting a property for 30 to 60 days, you’ll get to know the owners of your property. Such relationships are invaluable, because if you want to stay longer, the owner of your property can then provide you with a letter of reference that will enable you to apply for a longer term visa. Visa agents can also provide such letters. More on all of this in the next section.
Once your VOA is expired, you will have to leave Bali (or any part of Indonesia). You can either re-enter the country and attain another visa-on-arrival following the same process as above.  Or while you are out of the country – in your home country is best, but Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Perth are also popular destinations – you can apply for a Social Cultural visa (also known as the Social Budaya).
The tourist visa stamp takes half a page in your passport.
In front of the Lake Bratan Temple, which appears on the RP 50,000 bank note.  


Social Cultural Visa (Social Budaya, valid for up to 6 months)The initial Social Budaya visa, once approved by the Indonesian embassy or consulate, is good for 60 days, after which you can renew it an additional four times before having to leave Indonesia again. That means you can stay up to six months (at the discretion of immigration officials). The Social Budaya visa requires that you have a sponsor: this is someone who knows you and can write you a letter, and will essentially take responsibility for you while you are in Indonesia. The purpose of the visa is to reside for a longer term in Indonesia to experience its culture and to visit people – but it is very strict in terms of not working or even volunteering. If you have an income, it should come from your home country or outside of Indonesia.
Ourselves, I am a PhD student working on my dissertation, and Kristofir paints and ships his work to his gallery in Canada. Our income sources come from our home country.
We have attained the Social Budaya twice. The first time was in our home country, Canada, where it was definitely the easiest. We did it ourselves and the Vancouver Indonesian Consulate staff are incredibly helpful. The second time, we first attempted to do it ourselves in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was a long wait to get to the counter (you had better take a number for each person who is applying), and we were turned away for not having made a photocopy of our Malaysian entry stamp in our passport. Now, it doesn’t actually say you require that on the checklist that the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur provides on their website. The staff did not provide a photocopier on the premises in order to do this on the spot and told us to leave. Many people apply for a Social Budaya this on their own, but it’s time-consuming, requiring you to stay three or four nights in Kuala Lumpur (or whatever city you apply for the visa).
Rather than deal with the bureaucracy in person, we decided we would re-enter Indonesia on a tourist visa instead of a Social Budaya, and two months later, we went to Singapore, hired an agent to do the process for us, and in one day we had our Social Budaya and were happily on our way back to Bali. To do this, read reviews of agents online; that’s how we found ours. You can usually get an impression of how reliable they are through reviews. We used a guy who sits outside of a McDonald’s in the morning, and as strange as it all was, by the afternoon we had our passports back with the Social Budaya in place.
The Social Budaya stamp takes a full page in your passport. For every six months, you will use up probably four to five pages in your passport including the Social Budaya visa, entry stamps, extension stamps, and exit stamp. If you think you’ll stay longer, consider getting more pages in your passport or renewing it before you leave.
Colourful fishing boats in Pantai Lebih: Gianyar's beach. 
Other visasThere are other visa categories you can investigate if you wish to start a business here or have been offered a job (KITAS), or are over 55 and wish to retire in Indonesia. There is also a one-year multiple entry visa in which you must leave Indonesia within 60 days, but can return on the same visa multiple times. You can investigate those on your own at the resources below.
Visa agents or visiting Immigration yourself? 
Here in Bali, we have used two different agents to extend our Social Budaya or VOA. The first agent we met at a restaurant once a month; the second would come to our house. Every agent is different and will have a different price. It’s good to ask other people who use agents who they would recommend. Also, be aware that some agents are great and will give you a consistent price; others will raise the price on you unexpectedly. We’ve experienced both scenarios. Prices vary, so feel free to shop around and get an idea of the reputation of the visa agent. In our experience, we have used a reliable agent for under 500,000 Rp. ($50 US) per extension in the Ubud area. It can be higher.
We have friends who have extended the visas themselves, driving to Renon, a neighbourhood outside of Denpasar, where they get to know the Immigration staff and procedures. This involves two or three trips per month to make an extension. To avoid this time-consuming process, using an agent costs significantly more than it would in person, but for us it has saved us the headache of navigating Denpasar traffic and the bureaucracy. So it’s really up to you if you want to do it yourself or have someone do it for you.
Goodbye passport, please come again soonIt can be unnerving to give your passport to an agent. The time to process each extension can vary, from very fast (within a week perhaps) to a month! The agents have always been pretty good at indicating when it will take longer. A friend of ours suggested getting a receipt from the visa agent – a good idea, but not common practice in the Ubud area from what we’ve encountered. Visa agents work fine from our experience (and from what we’ve heard from other people). There are issues of corruption in Indonesia, and the visa system is at best questionable and has brought us anxious moments. We have, to the best of our ability, worked within normal procedures, for example, leaving Indonesia every six months, following the rules of the visa, and ensuring that our visa agents have everything they need from us to lawfully extend the visa.
So, ultimately, things work best when you can do them yourself, but if there are ways to make life easier for you while still working within the appropriate channels, less stress makes for better times living overseas.
Further resources
Written by Christopher Laursen

4 comments:

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