As a child I was fortunate to have travelled quite frequently in and out of Indonesia via Soekarno Hatta airport (Indonesia’s flagship airport situated in what was once marshland in the outskirts of its capital Jakarta). One of the most lingering memories of the airport was not its antiquated brick floors, its old fashioned crème paintjob or its lack of acceptable catering and entertainment options (the one Dunkin’ Donuts it had held its ground firmly until Starbucks moved in a few years ago); it was rather the painfully slow immigration line you had to endure every time you arrived back into the country.
Like almost every other immigration line the world over, it was hobbled by the slow manual process. Made worse by the airports combustible frequency in which airplanes seemed to arrive on any given day and you have what makes for an endless queue of already impatient and weary travellers. The traffic outside was no better of course, but efficiency was never high on the priority list in the capital.
Fast forward 10 years and I find myself living in Australia as an Australian now (my passport says so), I’ve found that whenever I return to Indonesia for social or family visits, this inefficiency has morphed itself into a strangely effective but costly work around an old problem.
I had to give up my previous passport which meant that Indonesia was no longer my legal home. It’s a little bizarre to think that a place you called home for more than 16 years has suddenly become foreign soil; not by heart or by familiarity, but my legality. Foreigners traveling to Indonesia from certain countries are eligible for a relatively painless Visa process called the ‘Visa On Arrival’. As it states, those traveling from a select list of countries can purchase a short stay 30 day visa for the duration of your stay. At the price of USD$35, it isn’t the most exorbitant amount in which you will have to pay for on a holiday (the cost of a US Visa for Australians is roughly $25) but the sole advantage of this situation is getting to skip that never-ending immigration line. How? Perhaps due to design or by bureaucratic-inefficiency-turn-dumb-luck, the line in which you purchase your Visa On Arrival also has its own immigration booths, far from the ones which locals and residents use. It’s a breeze. An inefficient, messy breeze.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to the Visa On Arrival process is that there is no shorter term Visa than 25 days and there is no option to re-stamp once you have left the country. I have on many occasions taken short trips during my stay in Indonesia to places like Singapore, and even if I’m only traveling for 2-3 days, I have to purchase a new Visa when I arrive back into Jakarta, shelling out another $35. Does skipping a sometimes 40+ minute wait in a line warrant the $35 price tag?
It really depends on how lucky you are with your bags coming out of the carousel once both sets of queues merge post-immigration. My longest wait time after paying for the Visa On Arrival? About an hour before my sole piece of mid-sized luggage trundled its way on the archaic luggage carousel into my frustrated and tired hands.