How to Cross from Indonesia to Timor Leste Overland

There’s not a lot of information on how to cross from Indonesia to Timor Leste overland. So here’s how to cross the Indonesia – East Timor land border.

That way, irregular readers, you won’t do what we did. And, regular readers, you are spared another whiny blog post.

1: Get Visa Permission. Don’t Do It Online.

Since early 2010, you need written permission to cross the land border between Indonesia and Timor Leste. The overland crossing from West Timor (Indonesia) to East Timor is no longer a straightforward visa on arrival unless you’re a Portuguese or Indonesian citizen.

Now, it might appear — not least from the Timor Leste government’s own website — that it’s possible to arrange a Timor Leste visa online.

But after twelve unanswered emails to different Timor Leste government departments and six phone calls to immigration, all of which ended with the gentleman on the other end hanging up, I’d recommend you cut to the chase, spare your blood pressure and pop in to an East Timor consulate, either in Bali or Kupang (the capital of Indonesian West Timor), and arrange your East Timor visa there.

As a Twitter friend put it, “The Timorese government does not use email.” As the consulate put it, “Ah! No internet.” (For six weeks.)

2: Get Your Visa Permission in Kupang. It’s Painless.

The Timor Leste consulate in Kupang is on Jalan El Tari, near the governor’s mansion. Show up with a passport photo, a photocopy of your passport and a good attitude and they’ll turn your East Timor visa application round in three working days (if you’re coming from Flores, the boat leaves Ende on Mondays at 7am).

Don’t bother bringing the form you filled in for your online visa application, or downloading it, for that matter. You’ll need to fill a different Timor Leste visa application out.

Three working days later, the consulate will issue you with a printout, your authority to be issued an East Timor visa at the border. You’ll need to pay the fee ($30) in US dollars (the currency, with centavos, of Timor Leste) at the Indonesia-Timor border: that’s between Mota’in (also spelt Mota’ain and Mota Ain) and Batugade.

3: Change Money At The Border.

You need US dollars for East Timor. Despite what Visa and Mastercard’s websites will tell you, there are (ANZ) ATMs and banks in Dili, but you’ll need cash for the Timor Leste visa fee and to see you through to Dili. Obviously, your best bet is to bring dollars from home.

Failing that? Don’t change money in Indonesia. Not in Kefa. Not even in the border town of Atambua. And definitely not with the guys who hang out at the Indonesian border post in Mota’in.

Once you’re through Indonesian police and immigration, and waiting your turn at Indonesian customs, there’s a Mandiri bank bang on the Timor Leste border offering the best rupiah-dollar rates I’ve seen in Indonesia.

If you panicked and changed in Atambua, you’ll feel as stupid as I did. Don’t even *think* about changing in Kefa.

I’ve been told in a couple of banks that it’s not yet possible to take dollars out on a credit card at any Indonesian bank. If I’m wrong, drop me a comment.

4: Got Your Own Wheels? Go Through Poo-Poo.

Don’t ask for directions to Mota’in in Atambua. Follow the sign to Atapupu (Poo-poo, to the locals): when you hit the coast, follow the sign to Mota’in. If you have your own wheels, you’ll need to go there anyway.

There is a direct road to Mota’in. Unless you actively like bouncing over wavy corrugations into oncoming pickups taking up the entire road, heading down 1 in 3 gradients with the brakes on hard or biking over loose rocks, it’s best avoided.

The road to Poo-Poo, on the other hand, is virtually paved with gold. Go there. And go early. Because…

5: Got Indonesian Plates? You Need A “Sticker”.

If you’re driving a vehicle with Indonesian plates, you can’t take it across the East Timor border without documentation. The police at Mota’in will stop you before you get to the Timor Leste border, and, as both sides check your documentation several times, this is not a situation where bribery will help (unless, I guess, you’re a syndicate running vehicles across the Indonesia-Timor border in bulk).

To get your “sticker”, head down the nice, fast road to the port of Atapupu (Poo-Poo). Better yet, go there in the first place, like I told you. You’ll need a copy of the Blue Book, a copy of your license (international or Indonesian), a copy of your STNK (the plastic wrapped driver ID you get with every hire vehicle) and a copy of your passport. Best to bring copies with you as the copy shop on the border tends to run out of paper or break.

Only got your home country license? Here’s how to get an Indonesian driving license.

Go to customs, down a turnoff just past the port. They don’t speak English, but if you don’t speak even pidgin Indonesian they’ll still try and help. They’ll process your paperwork for free and give you four copies of a piece of paper. Check the details are correct, and that it’s stamped and signed by the guy who gives them out. They’re quick and very nice.

If you’ve hired a vehicle to cross from Indonesia to East Timor, your best bet is to get written permission from the owner to take it across the border and a copy of the Blue Book. Good luck with that, sucker.

6: The Border Closes At 4. Allow A Lot Of Time.

It is possible to get from Kefa, Indonesia, to Dili, East Timor, in a day (the roads are surprisingly good). But the border formally closes at 4pm Indonesian time, 5pm Timor Leste time. In practice you need to be there at 3.30pm Indonesian time to have a chance of crossing the border.

If you have your own wheels, you need to process your “sticker” with the police at Mota’in. They’ll take your STNK as security, take a few of your forms and give you some more in return. You need to show this to the next lot of police, the ones at the actual border, a hundred metres down the road, who will write down a bunch of stuff.

You then need to clear immigration, who will need to see your Timor Leste visa authorisation, and show your vehicle paperwork again at customs. You’ll need to repeat the same trinity on the East Timor side of the border, with more paperwork.

Timorese customs will probably search your bags for the hell of it and, if you’re travelling with a vehicle, will take some of your paperwork and give you a new piece.

Should you spend many minutes watching policemen fill out forms in triplicate and biro, and have to return to Atambua to spend the night, as we did, there are several accommodation choices. Avoid the one that has a Timorese wedding, unless you want to be up all night listening to the Indo equivalent of “Come On Eileen!” and marvelling at the slutty bridesmaid dresses.

7: Overstayed Your Visa? Don’t Sweat It. Much.

Good news! For the moment, at least, if you’ve got a few days overstay on a visa at this particular border, the Indonesian government won’t get medieval on your ass. It costs 200,000 rupiah per day overstayed, and, I figure, from our experience, they’re used to folk who hit visa hassles.

Your East Timor visa? It’s a disappointingly matter-of-fact stamp in your passport.

8: In A Hurry to Get to Dili? Leave Early.

There’s not much by way of accommodation apart from palm huts on the East Timor side of the border for an hour or two, depending how fast you drive.

The coast road to Dili is not in bad nick, considering a) the decades of war and b) that this is the poorest country in South-East Asia. Still, ignore all the people in West Timor who tell you it takes two hours from the Indonesian border to Dili. The Timorese say three and a half. When we drove, they were still building part of it.

9: Coming Back? Get A New Visa.

You’ll need a visa to cross overland from Timor Leste to Indonesia, which you can get from the embassy in downtown Dili. I’ll let you know how that goes, but I’m cautiously optimistic.


Forewarned is forearmed. It took us four visits to get our 60-day Indonesian visa from the embassy in Dili, Timor Leste, but you can do it in two. Here’s how. (The process is the same for a 30-day Indonesia visa.)

The Indonesian embassy in East Timor, one block back, and one block before, the Chinese Embassy, is open for visa applications from 9-12am. To have your visa application seen, however, you need to get there at 8am and receive your number.

What do you need? Refreshingly, neither proof of funds nor a return ticket nor a sponsor. Just a photocopy of your passport, a passport photo on the classic Indonesian red background, a *black* biro (not fibre tip), US$45 and the willingness to handwrite an application letter (they have templates). You can get the photos done in many places in Dili — we went for Pas Foto, near the ANZ cashpoint a block back from Hotel Dili.

Turnaround time is three working days, and you pick up in the afternoons. If you have an overstay on your old Indonesian visa, the attache will personally decide whether you are allowed a 60 day Indonesian visa, or only a 30 day — we got a 60-day Indonesia visa in Timor Leste, no problem, despite a couple of days overstay.

55 Responses

  1. Sounds like the border crossings are hard work there!

    • Theodora says:

      Um, yes. We’re in a visa rigmarole to get back across it now, as well. And when we get to Papua it’s going to be paperwork all over the shop as well.

  2. Anne-Marie says:

    Hilarious – at second hand! But also really useful. Did I tell you about the time we spent 3 days in no-man’s-land between Iran and Afghanistan….

    • Theodora says:

      Didn’t you have typhoid, or something? Or you had typhoid and everyone else had Yellow Fever?

    • Keith G says:

      Ha! That reminds me of crossing that border in 1973 – better have your cholera and smallpox certs. up to date. The “health station” office did the paperwork checks and, just to give you the shits, there was an old-fashioned non-disposable syringe sitting exposed in a kidney dish just behind the health officer – you would’nt want a jab in the bum or anywhere else from that I can tell you! Of course the whole point was, that if your paperwork wasn’t up to snuff, the sight of the aforesaid syringe would keenly encourage you to pay a premium on your regular bribe as an alternative. The health officer had a cup of tea on his desk which he sipped and spat on the floor at regular intervals, oral hygiene of a sort, I suppose, and it was dusty . Anyway happy days – once in the delightful place ( no irony it *was* delightful) and on the road there was no chance of getting a drone-launched American missile up your chuff as a nice piece of “friendly fire” . Happy days!
      Herat, did I tell you about the pleasures of Herat?

  3. Adrian says:

    Hello Guys, I am just wondering is there still a problem with the visa’s from Dili To Kupang. I am flying from Darwin to Dili. then on a coach to Kupang for 3 weeks. I am Wondering if it would be easier to get a visa at the Consulate here in Darwin !

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Adrian,

      My experience of getting Indonesian visas in Australia was pretty hellish — but then I did it remotely rather than visiting the consulate. You will need a visa to cross overland, and it will probably be an easier process in Darwin, where they speak English and there aren’t huge queues, than in Dili, where you need to be there super-early to get the paperwork through, and there’s not much English spoken. I’d pop into the consulate near you with your passport and some passport photos (I think overseas you can get away with having them on a normal colour background) and get it done before you go…. Theodora

    • Theodora says:

      Also — remember you’ll need a visa to come back across the land border into Timor Leste if your flight home is also out of Dili. The consulate in Kupang is very good and used to dealing with these things, but I’d get the visa done early to avoid hassles…

  4. Adrian says:

    Hi Theodora. Thanks very much for your help.

  5. Adrian says:

    Might be easier to cancel the booking to Dil and go to kupang via Denpesar. loose some cash tho. thanks again.

    • Theodora says:

      Well…. It’s a relatively painless visa process once you’re physically there, but with only three weeks I’d kind of be inclined to go the Indonesia-only route. Timor Leste is actually amazing and culturally very interesting (though a lot more expensive than Indonesian Timor), but it’s not a quick place to get around.

  6. Ilaria says:

    Theodora thank you a lot!! Your post is exactly what I was looking for. I will use all your precious information. I didn’t expect at all to have to chance to obtain a 60 days visa in Timor Leste, I feel so happy! Baci da Lombok, Ilaria.

    • Theodora says:

      And baci to you, too, Ilaria. Good luck with the 60 day. Just fill in a plausible travel plan and they should rubber stamp it.

  7. merantau says:

    Thanks Theodora. When you say the police at Motain take your STNK for security presumably this is to ensure that you return to Indonesia with the bike, right?

    • Theodora says:

      Yes. Prices in Timor Leste are a lot higher than Indonesia, so it’s to stop you smuggling it in, selling it at a profit, and then returning.

  8. Natalie says:

    Hi Theodora,

    My boyfriend is planning to visit East Timor from Indonesia by land. I have been searching a lot of info that we have to get both visas in advance to East Timor / back to Indonesia. We have our own motorbike bought in Jakarta with an Indo car plate. Previously, we have difficulties in passing through the border from Kalimantan to Sarawak as the Malay custom only allowed the engine size of a bike that was > 150cc. Hence, we could not pass through the border with our bike.

    Do you have any ideas about the engine size or whether the custom officers in East Timor would check very seriously about bikes?

    Thanks in advance!


    • Theodora says:

      Hi Natalie — I have no idea about the engine size. Ours was a scooter, so under that threshold. The concern with customs is that you’re not going to sell the bike, which is why you have to leave the documentation with them: provided you do that, I’d be surprised if they were fussed about engine size. Cheers, Theodora

  9. Great post with fantastic advice. Hope most of it still applies. I’m going to try and tick East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Bangladesh off soon to complete all the countries in South or East Asia. There are not too many other bloggers writing about it. Safe travels, Jonny

  10. Jeff W says:

    Hey guys, great information! Your information helped me get into Timor Leste today. Just an update from my experience. I took a bus through Timor Travel, price was 185,000 and they picked me up at my place (though at 5am) We left at 6 and it was spot on 12 hours until we got to Dili. I changed money in Kupang 9900RP for $1. The embassy was annoying to deal with (closed from 12-2pm and the one day it was closed longer for “cleaning”) but in 3 days I had the letter. The driver was a bit too fast for my liking, so I just put on my headphones and sunk into the seat for most of the ride, dozing off occasionally. Your butt will be a bit sore after this ride. After the border crossing, they are *still* working on the coastal road into Dili, and we had to wait several times while earth moving equipment leveled dirt for a future road. However, once you get over the first mountain in Timor Leste it’s pretty smooth sailing into Dili.

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks for the update, Jeff! With all that oil money you’d think they’d have finished the coast road, but clearly not. Jeez.

  11. samuel says:

    Theodora, thanks for the information,i have car present to deliver for a friend in dili,i want drive the car from kupang to dili,what will be the cost crossing over the border with the car? and what are the risk involve?the journey is going to be like how many hours?and what are the terms and condition?

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Samuel, I’m not up to date with this, but I’m fairly sure you’ll need to explain that the car is as a present for your friend and pay duty on it at the border, or surrender all your ownership papers, only to retrieve them when you come back. They’re quite hot on not having Indonesian vehicles imported illegally…

      On the Indonesian side, the roads are very good, by the standards of the islands — all of them are made, many quite wide and relatively fast. I understand from commenters that they’re still building the road on the other side. But it shouldn’t be more than a day’s drive if you leave early enough to catch the guys at the border.


  12. Michael says:

    Theodora thanks for the information about bringing the motor bike. Google worked 100% to get me on this site. I bought a bike in Sumatra and drove all the way to kupang now. I have a car drivers license from Holland, but not for motor bikes. Do you think it’s still possible to get a indonesian motor license? I tried to get it before but the police always said I didn’t need it. But border crossing might be different. I got all the rest of the papers though. Blue book and tax paper still active. Thanks for the reply. I looked at the dates and was afraid you weren’t active her anymore, but then I saw you replied two years later. Awesome! Mike

    • Theodora says:

      You can drive in Indonesia on an IDP (International Driving Permit), but if you don’t have one of those, you’ll probably want a license. Pick one up from the cops in Kupang…

  13. lucas harper says:

    Hi Theodora, thanks for the info. How long did it take to boat/bus/ride from Bali to Tiomor? Thanks so much for the info! (Please send to my email address.)

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Lucas, Just saw this, so sharing for others: we went Bali-Lombok (Padangbai-Lembar), drove across Lembar, Lembar-Sumbawa, drove across Sumbawa, which took ages, Sumbawa-Flores, drove Labuanbajo Ende, Ende-Kupang (Timor – 22 hours and hellish boat ride), then across the border. There are also Pelnis. Theodora

  14. babur says:

    is possible to go bali to dili seaport

    • Theodora says:

      Yes, but not in one hit. How do you want to travel?

      • Harsh Agrawal says:

        Hi. firstly, thanks for all the amazing information!
        Secondly, can you let me know how to reach Dili via Sea, if possible? I’ll be on a backpacking trip, and flights are way too expensive. I have to travel from India to Bali, and then from Bali to Timor Leste. I don’t have an international driving license so i cannot drive. Are ferries / buses a good option? Or tiresome? I’d go by sea if possible.
        Third, where did you stay? Are good and cheap accommodations available? Places that you visited?
        Kindly reply at the earliest of your convenience.

        • Theodora says:

          Hi Harsh,

          Timor Leste isn’t the best choice if you’re on a budget: it’s on the higher end of prices for South-East Asia (take a look at prices on Atauro Island to give you an idea). To reach it by sea, you’d either be looking at a lot of buses and ferries over to Kupang, and then another bus to the border, or linking together Pelni ferries (I don’t think there is one that runs directly from Bali to Kupang, though I might be wrong).

          Pelni would be your cheapest and most entertaining option: I’m a big fan of them as they’re massive ferries and people spend days if not weeks on them. Start researching at their website here: Lonely Planet also has good info on the most common ferry routes.



  15. MaryLou Clarke says:

    Hey it’s great to see things haven’t changed that much here in 45 years, as I did this crossing in 1970, after traveling deck class from Bali. We walked from Atapupu to Batugade, and the Portuguese soldiers made sure the alligators didn’t eat is while we slept on the beach. We walked up to Balibo for our passport stamp and, after camping out for a couple nights took the WWII amphibious vehicle ferry to Dili, via Occussi. Fun trip then, and sounds like a fun trip now!

    • Theodora says:

      Bali has changed a bunch, and parts of TL have changed a lot, but, yes, you’re right, I’d guess it’s changed relatively little.

  16. Jams says:

    Well -East Timor is part of Indonesia so respect the laws.

    • Theodora says:

      East Timor or Timor Leste is an independent nation.

      • saydur says:

        Hi theordora how are you .please give Mr some information how can I m visit from Indonesia to dili.I m Bangladesh passport holder…thank you.

        • Theodora says:

          Hi Saydur, Probably your best bet is to fly from Bali – there are regular direct flights to Dili – and get the visa on arrival at the airport. Alternatively, you can cross from the land border with Kupang and apply for the visa in advance there. Cheers, Theodora

  17. Ali says:

    Hi Theodora, please give me some information and how can I go from Dili to kupang and I am Afghan citizen and how can I gain Indonesia visa from Dili
    Thank you!

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Ali, I suggest you go to the embassy in Dili to get the visa – this is their address here (and all taxis will know it): Farol-Palapaso, PO. Box 207, Dili, Timor Leste, Telepon: (670) 331-7107, 331-1109, 73755000. You can get a tourist visa for 60 days in Dili, then cross the land border – there are bemos (little vans) that run across the border, but I’m not sure what their timings are. I’m also not sure what the application process is as an Afghan citizen: hopefully the same as for everyone else. Best, Theodora

  18. cindy says:

    Hi we are wanting to renew our visa in Kupang after being in Indo for 60 days. Is the crossing of the border the way to get another 30 days for Indo….from what you have all written it seems a mammoth journey to renew the visa from Dili…..what other ways can we get the visa after 60 days.

    • Theodora says:

      Hi, This is a historic post, but it looks as though you’re still looking at the same problems. On the plus side, it looks as though Indonesia is still not issuing either the VOA or the visa-free stamp (exemption) at the border, so you should be able to get the 60-day tourist visa in Dili still. On the downside, it looks as though Timor Leste still wants advance approval to enter (see this: But Kupang airport has no international flights, so going anywhere that’s not Dili is going to be fiddly too: so if I were you I’d be inclined to apply, jump a bus (there are several, we just had a bike) and enjoy TL as best you can. It’s a lovely country. Theodora

      • LUDOVIC says:

        Hi Theodora, really need to get info about Timor Leste. May I contact you by phone ou be in a private chat with you.
        Important, I will really appreciate that.

        • Theodora says:

          Hi Ludo,

          Can I suggest you start by buying a guidebook, such as Lonely Planet’s? Once you’ve read that, feel free to drop me another comment and I’ll answer it.



  19. Will says:

    Just to give a quick update. Crossed the border within the last week and there is now asphalt all the way to Dili. There are many potholes in some sections but the long gravel sections are now a thing of the past.

    Also, 27 countries are now granted visa free access on arrival, even at the land border. As far as I know it is EU countries that are a member of the Schengen Zone however Ireland was included too for some reason!

  20. Robyn says:

    Hi Theodora,
    My husband and I are bringing our car over from Australia to Dili and planning to drive it across the Indonesia islands. Which company is best to contact for car ferries? I see above you have done the route (Bali-Lombok (Padangbai-Lembar), drove across Lembar, Lembar-Sumbawa, drove across Sumbawa, which took ages, Sumbawa-Flores, drove Labuanbajo Ende, Ende-Kupang ) we are looking at doing this in reverse however with the Kupang Ende trip does it go direct to Kupang? We have also looked at doing Kupang – Larantuka then drive to Labuanbajo. Your suggestions would be very helpful.

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Robyn, Yes, Kupang-Ende is direct: it’s a long ride, though, almost 24 hours. I wouldn’t try and contact the ferry companies as I don’t know whether they answer their phones and I doubt they’ll have English speakers – however, all the boats we took were big enough to take lorries, let alone cards. Just FYI, I understand Sumbawa’s roads have improved since we did it, and it would probably be faster on a car than on a bike anyway. Enjoy! It’s a great trip. I’d recommend doing the Tambora volcano if you have time on Sumbawa. We just got across it, but there is actually stuff to do there…. Theodora

      • robyn says:

        Hi Theodora,
        Thanks for your response, yes 24 hours is a long trip however i think the Kupang to Larantuka is around 15 hours so a long one also. So just need to decide where we want to enter the island. At least we will get it over and done with as our first ferry.
        We are planning on taking our time across the islands so should get a chance to head to Tambora volcano.
        Did you just turn up at the sea ports to get tickets and bookings for each place or did you book in advance? I don’t think we will be able to book in advance as you say with the language barrier it is difficult! We will be entering Dili in November which I believe is the start of the rainy season, do you think it will cause a big problem with the drives?
        when was the last time you undertook this trip?
        Many thanks

        • Theodora says:

          Hi Robyn,

          We did this trip in 2011, so it’s pretty historic. We did just turn up at the sea ports, and I’m pretty sure that’s what everyone does. With a larger vehicle – we just had a bike – you’d want to get there early. It’s only Kupang-Ende where there wasn’t a constant flow of boats: Bali-Lombok, Lombok-Sumbawa, Sumbawa-Flores have boats running very, very often. Kupang-Ende was, from memory, just 2 or 3 times a week – but people in Kupang will be able to advise you of that. Bring seasickness tablets for that. The port at Ende was built too close to shore so boats rock around like nobody’s business: lots of vomiting when we did that boat.

          I’ve not been to Dili in the rainy season. Landslides can be an issue but if it’s just the start it may well not even impact that greatly, particularly given how weird the seasons are being this year with La Nina/El Nino.


  21. shakil says:

    thanks lot of

  22. Keith G says:

    “…the plastic wrapped driver ID you get with every hire vehicle…” – STNK is the vehicle owner and vehicle registration domentation not a driver ID.
    Very useful article thanks

  23. Stanley Chimezie says:

    Tell me about Nigerians or other Africans trying to cross to Australia true East Timor, thanks.

    • Theodora says:

      Cross to Australia how? There are flights but no ships that carry passengers – only cargo ships and they’re not allowed to take passengers on that route. You’ll also need a visitor visa which I’d imagine in the current political climate is quite difficult for Nigerians to get, I’m sorry.