Travel Tip: Always Check Your Visa

I handed my passport to the customs agent at Denpasar Airport in Bali, Indonesia.

“30-day visa?” He asked.

“That’s the one!” I replied.

In my mind, a 30-day visa is equivalent to one month. If you enter on January 10, you should be out by February 10. However, travelers who are much smarter than me will assume that 30 days means 30 total days. So, if you arrive on January 10, you need to depart by February 8 because the day you enter the country and the day you exit the country are included in the 30 days.

Math has never been a strong suit. My parents spent a small fortune on my math tutors and I’m sad to say that their investment did not pay off. While working as a bartender in Australia, I misplaced the calculator and mentally tallied a drunk man’s change. He came back to the bar a few minutes later and berated me for stiffing him a few bucks. “You only gave me $4.40!” He shouted. Under stress, I opened the till, grabbed a fistful of coins and plopped them in his hand without counting. He stared at me with his mouth agape, shook his head, and stormed off. “Un-feckin’-believable” he muttered under his breath.

Without a calculator, I am lost.

On what I thought was day 28 of my visa, I texted an immigration attorney about extending my stay in Indonesia by another 30 days. Two days would be plenty of time to extend, right?

“When did you arrive?” The attorney asked.

I told the attorney the date of my arrival and sent over a picture of my visa stamp. My flight out of Indonesia wasn’t for another two weeks.

“Your visa is up. You need to leave today.”

Oh. No.

After running five frantic laps around my hotel room, I opened my laptop and looked for flights. Should I go on an impromptu jaunt to Singapore? Visit the Petronas Towers in Malaysia? Pack up my things, call it a trip, and head back to Fiji? All these options seemed inconvenient and expensive. Through Skyscanner, I saw that there was a return flight to East Timor for about a hundred bucks. It left in two hours and the return flight was an hour after arrival.

It was the only way.

I rushed out of the hotel with nothing but my phone, my laptop, and my wallet. I caught a ride to the airport and boarded my flight to East Timor.

The line to get through customs in East Timor was long and moved at a sloth’s pace. Stressed that I wouldn’t make the return flight, I begged fellow passengers to let me cut the line. One man (hi Tom!) ushered me to the front.

At immigration, the man told me I needed $30 in US cash to pay for my visa to enter East Timor. He didn’t take credit card or Indonesian Rupiah. I didn’t have a single US dollar on me.

“Okay,” the man pressed his fingers together. “Go through customs and past the baggage area, go outside the airport, and then go to the ATM to get the money. Then, come back the way you came to the desk here and pay your fee.”

I pondered for a minute.

“You want me to walk past security without a visa, tell that I am just going outside of the airport quickly to get money, but that I’ll be back to go through security properly?”

“Yes.”

The system seemed flawed, but I wasn’t going to question it. I did as told and went to the ATM outside of the airport. At that point, I could have disappeared into Dili without having my passport stamped or paying a visa on arrival fee. After getting the cash, I walked back through a series of “Do Not Enter!” areas and paid for my visa. By the time that happened, my flight back to Bali was boarding.

Once again, I arrived in Denpasar and handed my passport to the customs agent.

“30 day visa?”

“Yep!”

Without a calendar, I am lost.

IF YOU GO… 

Don’t make this mistake: When booking your flight to Indonesia, factor in the 30 days and know that it includes your enter and exit date. The penalty for overstaying your visa in Indonesia is 1,000,000 IDR per day. While some travelers are okay with paying the fine, it’s not worth the risk of having an overstay mark on your record.

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