13Jun2011

How to Cross from Indonesia to Timor Leste Overland

Jumbo Jesus Timor Leste

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.

EDIT!!!!

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.

25 Comments

  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….

  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!

    Cheers,
    Natalie

    • 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.

      Theodora

  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…

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