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.