Indonesia Visa-Free Entry Cost US 35 Dollars
In March, 2015 we read that Indonesia will be offering a visa-free entry starting from April 1st. The new offer covered the following passports: China, Japan, South Korea, United States, Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, Russia, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and South Africa. We took the bait.
Tourism Minister Arief Yahya was hoping that visa-free travel would lure this year over a million tourists more to Indonesia. We are pretty convinced that many of those newly acquired tourists are not very likely to return to Indonesia after they learn — despite the promised visa-free entry — that they will be forced to pay 35 US dollars for a visa on arrival just like we had to do yesterday. In the immigration, we were told that the government has decided visa-free entry, but because immigration does not agree, everyone must pay for their visa-free entry.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Good luck Mr. Yahya and Indonesia. [Added 2016-4-15] As a logical next step, the visa-free access should be extended to 3 months like in other countries. If Indonesia will figure out an easy and inexpensive way to replace visa-runs, then the visa-free program can offer real benefits for long-stay foreigners spending their savings in Indonesia and paving way to the hordes of less seasoned travellers.
Update 2016-4-15: Fool Me Thrice
Despite our earlier disappointment with Indonesia's visa-free entry exactly one year ago (this article was posted originally in 2015-4-15), we made a visa-run to Medan in North Sumatra, and managed to enter the country without having to pay for a visa. Currently, visa-free entry depends on your port of entry and exit, as only some cities and airports are accepted. We used Kualanamu airport (KNO) for both arrival and departure. Before you go, make sure you have a paper showing an exit flight booking with you, or otherwise immigration officers will take you to an airline ticket office that has probably bribed them to do so in order to get more customers. This happened to a European traveller who arrived in Medan at the same time with us.
Our visa-free destination, Medan, enjoys a reputation of being a dreary and uninteresting city, but as there are not many tourists around, the few foreigners wandering around will become instantly sights for locals to see, which can actually be great fun. This also happened to us. Many people greeted us and came to talk with us. Some wanted to have their photo taken with us, and a few others asked for our autographs! Locals, the Batanese, were helpful giving directions, and a few motorcyclists even drove us to our destination when we got lost — without asking anything in return.
If you visit Medan, forget Google maps that does not include an accurate mapping of the city's little streets and alleys. The only way to find what you are looking for is to ask around. It can take a while before you find someone speaking English (unless you speak Bahasa Indonesia), but in the end you will get help. Upon arrival, you can get a photocopied map from the tourism office at the airport. The officers will probably be sleeping on the couch but wake up to serve you. The map they have is basic but somewhat accurate, after we realised that the north was not on the top of the map where it normally is. Happy travels!