The ‘Express’ KITAS Renewal Process

May 20, 2012

Knowing that I could not travel for a few months, I grudgingly surrendered my passport and soon-to-be-expired KITAS 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 eleven 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 twelve 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 Imigrasi”. 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 40,000 departure tax, and another 150,000 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.



  1. Thanks, I always find your blogs interesting. Looking forward to my Bali break next month.

  2. The more years spent going through this visa renewal process the more one becomes inclined to consider going for full citizenship, which for some expats makes a good deal of sense. One clear advantage is that you can work your heart out if necessary or desired without those expensive work permits. Another clear advantage is the right of property ownership in your name as opposed to a nominee’s name. A final advantage is the right to set up and own a business without that ultra expensive PMA approach.

    In my early years of life on Bali and while on the old sosbud visa it seemed I would only have possession of my passport for a few months each year, the rest of the time it was with my visa agent, which like for many others, was PT Bali Ide. A good photo copy of your passport coupled with their receipt for your passport always proved to be more than sufficient ID for any domestic travel within Indonesia. Obviously that is not sufficient for those needing to travel internationally multiple times each year.

    I know some expats who take great personal pride in handling their visa matters directly with one of the three immigration offices on Bali. They seem to feel they can wear of badge of honor for having personally handled these arrangements without using a visa agent, and they love bragging about the money they saved by doing it themselves. For me it’s simply a matter of how you value your time, and in the end, if those small savings garnished by doing it yourself somehow factors into one’s ability to live on Bali as an expat…well, those expat days are clearly numbered.

    Among the “solemn promises” you mentioned a promise to live only in “an approved tourist zone.” Having never heard of that before I’m curious as to just where in Bali a non approved tourist zone might be located? I’m not trying to be a smart arse here, rather, I am genuinely curious if there is such as thing as a non approved tourist zone on Bali?

    I enjoyed a good chuckle with your comments about fingerprinting. The last time I was called in for prints I replied, “sorry, they are all worn off from all your fingerprinting of me in the past.” Ma’af Pak, fingerprints habis! Indeed, it is rather silly to be printed year after year, but at least these days one doesn’t have to get all ten fingers inked up and stamped on a card. In the future, assuming Indonesia will eventually incorporate DNA into their identity base, one can only wonder how often we’ll be called upon to provide our DNA samples.

    And that brings me to a fourth good reason to consider full Indonesian citizenship…no more dealing with immigration!

  3. Sure Roy, but citizenship will mean dealing with a multiplicity of other Indonesian state agencies forever and anon. And of course Immigration whenever you want to enter and leave the country. Won’t it?

  4. Since I’m in full compliance, including a tax number, I honestly can’t think of any other bureaucracy or state agencies I’ll have to deal with as a citizen. In other words, it will be the same as what my Balinese wife of thirteen years deals with…like the tax office, and of course elections. Can you think of any I have haven’t considered?

  5. Banyak pemilu Pak.

  6. Many and frequent elections? Not at all!

    You may or may not know that all elected positions here, be it the from Kepala (village head) to President are each five year terms and with two term limits.

    Compared to the country of my roots…Amerika Serikat, public election are far, far less frequent here in Indonesia. Of even greater consequence is the rule of very limited time for campaigning for election. That might be just part of the reason why Indonesians turn out in vast numbers to cast their popular vote (upon which election results are based).

    As a percentage, voter turn out in most Indonesian elections even exceed that of Australia, where voting is mandatory under law. When voter turn out in Indonesia is compared to the US, it almost seems that Americans have abdicated democracy.

    IMHO, and despite corrupt practices like buying votes, Indonesia has a better grip on politics, and perhaps democracy, than in most “civilized” western countries.

  7. OK, Bapak menang!

    I must say the reality differs from my (external) perceptions of citizen/government interactions with bureaucracy in Indonesia. Getting driver’s licences, motor vehicle registration (tax), KTP, pajak, buying/selling property, registering guests or visitors at your residence, enrolling kids at schools, etc etc etc

    Granted, some of these apply to you as an expat anyway, but even so. Indonesia seems to have come a long way in a very short time if the only interactions a citizen ever needs to have with government is voting in elections every 5 years for each level of government.

  8. For sure, my Balinese wife complains about the same things you mention. Do you honestly think that government bureaucracy is different in other countries?

    While always annoying, because of the time and expense involved, I would “hands down” rather deal with Indonesian bureaucracy any day over the bureaucratic (and more expensive) intrusions into my life if I lived in the US, Australia, the UK, or the EU.

    In the end it’s a very personal decision when it comes to deciding…once fully committed to living in Indonesia forever, to become a citizen or not. What’s good for one is not at all necessarily good for another. There are a whole host of things to consider, and we’ve only slightly touched on them in this discussion.

    All things considered, I am happily on the road to never being called an expatriate again. Gone forever, (for me) will be those regular pilgrimages to Singapore, Bangkok, KL etc. as though I’m different…an alien. Since I’m already intergraded by way of marriage, fatherhood, and a voting member of my banjar, considering full Indonesian citizenship was only a natural extension and an inevitable conclusion to my life on Bali.

    That all being said, I am not “selling” the idea of becoming an Indonesian citizen, rather I am only trying to convey my own experience and ultimate decision to say thanks for the honor and privilege of becoming one.

    • As a quick follow up to my odyssey of life on Bali and my Indonesian citizenship, I was called to the Kepala office for Gianyar Regency yesterday on Jalan Raya in Ubud to be photographed, retina scanned and finger printed for my national KTP (id card).

      Once the process was completed, and as I stood up to leave, the Balinese in the room all stood up and clapped, and several hugged me as well.

      A tad bit welled up with emotion, I could only recall Dorothy’s words from The Wizard of Oz,…“there’s no place like home.”

      Indeed, there isn’t.

  9. Roy, if you’re reading this, would you kindly explain the requirements of getting Indonesian citizenship? I’d really like to hear your experience of this, thanks. I’ve been here for 28 years, but always on a multiple entry or sobud visa. Please advise.

  10. I’d suggest you engage the services of PT Bali Ide which surely you must be familiar with by now. While the whole process isn’t by any means limited to foreigners living here with Indonesian spouses (and better yet with kids from that union), it seems to move things along pretty quickly.

    On a face to face basis I’ve discussed the experience of taking Indonesian citizenship with others who have also taken this step, and for each, the experiences were different.

    I can imagine that 28 years of having to leave Indonesia for Singapore or Bangkok every six months is starting to wear thin (not to mention the expensive) unless of course you have other reasons to have to periodically fly out of Indonesia.

    • Do you mind my asking how costly was this for you? I didn’t think it was possible outside paying a large bribe. Figure I have heard in the past was 50K U.S. The one American I know who did get citizenship was born in Sanur decades ago, and despite years of trying, was not granted Indonesian citizenship until he was 50+ years old. 50 years of waiting for it!

      I admit I’ve never heard of P.T. Bali Ide, I’ve been using the same Immigrasi official for all these years, who does everything for me. Thanks for your insights and info.

  11. I’ve heard similar stories about outrageous costs to get full citizenship in the past. Things are different now, especially for those living here for many years with an Indonesian spouse and kids with that spouse. It can also depend a lot on the status, position or influence the Indonesian spouse’s family may or may not have, but I am not going to publicly state that had anything to do with my own situation.

    While I’d rather not publicly state what it cost, I will say it cost less than what I would be paying to remain on residency visas over the next 5 years.

    • Hi Roy, under Indonesia’s constitution, as an adult you cannot legally hold both duel Indonesian and foreign citizenship. Tell us then about the process of renouncing your American citizenship. Btw, your name hasn’t yet been published in the Federal Register, which occurs for all expatriate Americans who give up their citizenship (how else do think the media got hold of the Eduardo Saverin/Facebook story?), so I personally find your claim a bit dubious. Of course, if you gave your middle finger to Indonesia’s constitution and got citizenship by some corrupt manner (e.g., not renouncing US citizenship), then you are most certainly a brave man who will likely follow the ebb and flow path you so patronizingly predict for other expats to Bali. Good luck tho!

  12. You’re a real nosey one, aren’t you?

    Come on up to Ubud someday and I can tell you the whole story over a martini or two. I don’t make it a habit of discussing personal matters on public internet venues. If that’s not OK with you, then too bad. Cheers!

  13. Actually Roy, I don’t drink, and would definitely recommend the same for you. In any case, it was you who disclosed a very personal matter concerning yourself on the internet, so I don’t feel any remorse for questioning your story, which I think is total bs by the way. If and when your name is published in the Federal Register as an ex-American, I will give you the props which you would in that case justifiably deserve. Otherwise your either a total bs’er, or just someone who is happy to corrupt the Indonesian constitution for your own means (which as you must know can have a sting in the tail eventually). Enough said (ma’af Vyt – on to more interesting topics).

  14. Well then, we could have our discussion over tea if that’s what you prefer.

    I’m serious, if you would like to meet then I’d be happy to discuss this in more depth.

    Either you’re serious about wanting to know, or you’re just spouting off and being incredibly rude for no valid reason whatsoever.

    Either step up to the plate, or bugger off!

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