4 Costly Visa Mistakes You Can Avoid

‘Visa run’ two words that will mean very little to most and bring a shiver up the spine of most travelers. The visa run is a short term (anywhere from a few hours to a few days) trip into another country, only to be allowed to come back and remain in the original country for longer. Bureaucracy working at its finest.

Travelling through Asia for the first eight months I had not stayed in a country long enough to require a visa run. I was always on my way to another beautiful location before my 30, 60 or 90 days were up (depending on the country). Then Bali happened, and five months later I have become an expert in both the visa runs and visa extensions in Bali, mostly because I got it oh so wrong to begin with.

Bali is one of many countries which allows visa free entry for passport holders from 169 countries, this allows 30 days stay, which is great for holiday makers, it costs nothing (but time, it can be a crazy queue) and allows you to come and enjoy paradise. For the long-term traveller Bali is a magical haven and can easily suck you in.

There is the option to pay $35 for a visa on arrival, which will allow you to extend your stay by a further 30 days, but even after 60 days Bali can steal your heart, so the visa run will be your only option (outside of social visas and kitas, but they need a separate blog post to explain), to stay for longer.

Dino Maiolo explains in this detailed blog post just how to extend your tourist visa in Bali.

What is A Visa?

Put simply a visa is a stamp or sticker which gets popped into your passport, allowing you to enter and remain in a country for the determined amount of time. The length of time you can stay in a country (and cost) of a visa varies depending on:

  • The country you are visiting
  • The passport you hold
  • The type of visa you require (tourist, student, business)

Visa requirements and information for different countries is readily available with a quick Google search, they are generally easy to get hold of (passport dependent) and quite straightforward to understand (all of the mistakes in this post are my own doing).

Visa requirements and information for different countries is readily available with a quick Google search, they are generally easy to get hold of (passport dependent) and quite straightforward to understand (all of the mistakes in this post are my own doing).

The Visa Run

The visa run has long been a pain for many tourists, spending hours travelling across the border into another country just to come back and get a fresh stamp. The stress of catching fights, the boredom of waiting at an airport for hours or the lengthy and uncomfortable bus journeys just to come back. They are not usually high on the ‘why I love travelling’ lists, they can leave you exhausted, poorer and cursing out the bureaucratic system you are still tied to following.

They are not all bad however, my top tip would be to make it a few days long, this allows you to go and explore a new country which you may not even have heard of (Timor-Leste anybody?), and for a traveller seeking the unknown it can open up a new possibilities for adventure. I have met some of the most interesting people and discovered some of the most beautiful scenery while taking a few days away to renew my visa.

However I have also got my visa run and visa extensions very wrong during my time in Bali, and I am going to share with you four mishaps which could have been totally avoided, in the hope that you avoid the same mistakes I made (and save a lot of money!)

4 Visa Mistakes (I Learned the Hard Way)

1. Missing Your Flight

OK so this one isn’t rocket science, but it is definitely worth a mention. I have been travelling on and off for the past five years, and during this time never missed a flight, so it was bound to happen sooner or later.

I had a flight at 10 o’clock in the morning, so the sensible thing to do would have been go to sleep early and wake up early to get to the airport. This was my plan, until I had a heated disagreement with my girlfriend at the time, sensibility quickly went out the window. Instead a lot of arak (local Balinese homemade alcohol), irrational emotional thinking and a very drunken night out ensued.

Needless to say that was not the best choice I ever made, getting back to my hostel at 3am barely able to walk, I was convince I could stay awake until 7am and drive myself the 90 minute drive to the airport. I couldn’t, the only thing I could do was pass out in the hostel common area.

Visa’s do not care about your personal problems (rude I know), or lack of ability to be sensible, they have a date and that is that. My flight was booked on the last day of my visa validity (I could have put book a flight a few days before your visa expires on this list, but that wasn’t the issue or reason here), so I was now going to have to pay overstay as well.

I booked a flight for the next day, which as you can imagine wasn’t the cheapest, and then went on to nurse my hangover and spend the day cursing out my inability to grow up.

At the airport the next day I had to not only pay extra for overstaying my visa by a day, I then had to explain to the immigration officers why I missed my flight, which they had a great laugh about (luckily). All in all the experience cost me over $200, as a traveler that is a hell of a lot of money, probably one of the most expensive arguments I ever had.

This 'experience' cost me over $200, as a traveler that is a hell of a lot of money, it's probably the most expensive argument I've ever had.

2. Being Unaware of Local Holidays

Returning from my first Bali visa run, I opted to purchase the $35 visa on arrival, in anticipation of extending my stay to 60 days, and therefore instead of spending $140-180 on return flights, I could just spend another $35 extending my visa when the time comes.

For 15 days before my visa expired Indonesia was celebrating quite possibly its largest holiday of the year. Public offices were shut, outside of tourism most of the industries halted, and the immigration offices were also closed.

I had no idea, and I wasn’t the only traveler to be caught out by this. I tried emailing the official services, seeking help from tourist offices (that were still open) and asking anybody that may know a way to still extend my visa before it expired. The answer was a resounding no, I should have begun the extension process before the holiday, the only other option I had was to fly out and come back in.

Great exactly what I tried to avoid, during this period money wasn’t exactly flowing and it was mere days before my visa expired, I could not afford the $200 (cheapest I could find) round trip. My only other option was to go to the immigration office the morning it reopened and explain why I had overstayed by three days.

There was no sympathy, nor did I expect any, I ended up paying over $100 in late fines extending my visa.

Be aware of local holidays and anything that may affect immigration opening hours, a simple Google search would have told me what I didn’t know and I could have begun my extension process early enough and saved a lot of money.

3. Losing Official Reciepts and Appointment Reminders

As with the first point, again this isn’t rocket science, but it can happen very easily. When you buy the visa on arrival at the airport, you are given a payment receipt, it’s not crucial to hang onto this, but it shows a level of organization which the immigration office appreciates.

What they do not appreciate is losing the appointment letter they give you in between visits. It causes them a lot of extra work digging out your file, it shows a level of disorganization and minor disrespect towards their work. If they give you something this important they expect you to look after it and rightly so.  They made sure I knew their displeasure with condescending remarks and quite possibly the longest wait they could have given me (over two hours just to ‘find’ my file), I deserved this.

Don’t lose the appointments they give you, not only does it show your time, it holds the information they require to quickly retrieve your file and move you through the process smoothly (I only lost this one, and learned my lesson).

4. Choosing the Same Destination for Your Visa Run

This one does not really affect your visa in any way, however it is a personal nugget I picked up. The visa run cannot be avoided if you are staying in Bali for over two months. Instead of it being a drain, it can be an perfect excuse for a new adventure.

My first visa run was a sprint to Kuala Lumpur, and back within the day, the airport was boring and I felt myself wishing I gave myself the time to explore. When the time came again I spent a week in Kuala Lumpur, made some amazing friends, and explored a pretty wonderful city.

The next time round I spent time in Timor-Leste, a country I didn’t know existed until I had to do my visa run, and a true hidden gem. Golden beaches, amazing food and with tourism still new, an amazing amount of intrigue and warmth from the local population. Within hours of arriving I was having lunch at a family home and had been invited to a local celebration.

Conclusion

The visa run needn’t be a drain and if you avoid the dire mistakes I made above it can be a pleasant opportunity to explore new worlds.

The visa extension process in Bali is actually quite straightforward, and if you give yourself ample time there is truly nothing to stress about.

Bali is a wonderful island, I was planning on being there for 30 days and five months later I was finally on my way (Thailand bound). It has taught me a lot about the visa process and I feel adequately equipped to handle them in the future with relative ease.

I hope my (mostly self-induced) errors give you some tips to avoid the same mistakes and at the very least a good laugh. If you have any questions (or anecdotes of your own) please leave me your comments below.

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