The Great Wall of Indonesia (Indonesia study visa)


Photo courtesy of Matt Davies

An Indonesia study visa has widely been understood as one of the main obstacles preventing students from studying in Indonesia. Recently one Asia Options community member asked about research permission and other visas for study.


CG asked July 1, 2014

I will be undertaking research as part of my PhD. Any tips on how to go about applying for a visa, and what kind?

While Asia Options is not registered to give official visa advice – we are able to share our experience in order to shed some light on these kinds of questions. In response to this particular question Asia Options has some advice.


Team Response

The requirements and processes [for visas and research permission] may depend on where you are, what institution you are affiliated with, what your topic is about and the mood of immigration/research dept. RISTEK as they receive your application. 

John Butcher from Griffith Uni shares a comprehensive account of his experience going through this process of gaining research permission on the ACICIS website.

Going on past experience the process may be quite difficult and time-consuming (especially depending on the sensitivity of your research topic) but if you are persistent and very patient you should hopefully be able to get there in the end.

In relation to the Foreign Research Permit – FRP
This is a document which officially authorizes you to conduct research in Indonesia. A visa serves to provide you with living permission but does not necessarily grant you permission to condut research.  
As this question relates to a process which is continuously changing and being updated it would be worth checking out some more sources. 
Here are some more links which may help you. 
Link to online research permission application
Link to Ministry of Research and Technology
FRP Directory
FRP Procedure
Keith – a PhD candidate shares his experience in applying for a research permit
An explaination from the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra
RISTEK – research department information – permits and procedures
New Updates from 2O12
Frustrating experiences 

In this article, Asia Options also interviews a number of alumni who have taken part in various in-country study programs. We ask them about their experiences in overcoming the obstacles of immigration and scaling “The Great Wall of Indonesia.”


How to get an Indonesia study visa?

The Republic of Indonesia’s department for Immigration or Direktorat Jenderal Imigrasi has received fairly mixed reviews from Asia Options interview subjects. These experiences will be documented in this article in the form of general experiences and tips. The names of interview subjects have been changed in order to protect the sensitive nature of these testimonials and the identity of these individuals.


KL – it doesn’t take too long if you follow the crowd: …My first experience with immigration in Indonesia was when I tried to organise a social cultural visa (Sosio-Budaya) to take a private Bahasa Indonesia language course in Java. Since I was going to Yogyakarta, which receives oceans of foreign tourists, workers, volunteers and students this was relatively easy. As a result, of all these foreigners flooding into Yogyakarta, the immigration office had enough experience. They knew what they were doing… It is usually much harder for people going down the road less travelled, to other universities in other provinces where the immigration offices are less experienced and often don’t know what they are doing… (KL total waiting time 2-3 months for a 2-month visa)


MB – is the phone still connected?: …I experienced more difficulty in reaching the local consulate general in Australia to organise my visa. I have studied on a socio-cultural visa, a limited stay visa KITAS and others but I have always had difficulty in getting through to the consulate general in my city. Their phone call answer rate was probably around 1 in 8 phone calls. I’m not sure if the office is empty or if they just don’t want to answer the phone. I tried an email too but I wouldn’t bother in future unless you already have a friend or contact on the inside who likes you and is willing to help you. Customer service has not been a strong point for the local consulates… (MB total waiting time 2-3 months for a 2-month visa)


ID – make contacts on the inside …I reckon what you have to do to get through is make a friend on the inside. If you have a friend on the immigration whether it’s a consulate general, the Imigrasi Direktorat Jenderal – central department of Immigration in Jakarta or even an embassy in another country… It all comes down to whether they like you and your face or not… This could often be the difference between getting a visa or not… Luckily in my case, the fact that they didn’t like me, just held up the process a few months rather than actually causing me to lose the opportunity. My advice is to use the waiting time to do something else. I used the additional waiting time to spend 2 months travelling around India before beginning my student exchange in Indonesia. Interestingly, the immigration in India was far more efficient than Indonesia immigration… (ID total waiting time 6 months for a 5-month visa)


SJ – rub shoulders with elites: …It is a very sad reality but I think the only reason I got my visa in time for my study program was that I had networked with some powerful people in Jakarta. If I hadn’t taken advantage of this contact, I would have had to wait for around 5- months like many others from my university. It is a sad reality but in Indonesia and especially amongst elites in Jakarta, corruption, collusion and nepotism – (Korrupsi, Kollusi dan Nepotisme) are commonplace… (SJ total waiting time 2-3 months for  a 6-month visa)


DW – drowning in letters and forms…Why do I need so many letters to apply for a study visa? I need a letter from my home university, my host university, the ministry of research, the ministry of higher education, the immigration office in Jakarta, I also have to get two different sizes of photos with red backgrounds, then I have to get an identity card from my sponsor, a CV and many other documents… What’s really confusing is the inconsistency. I have studied in different parts of Indonesia and I didn’t have to provide all these documents in Yogyakarta.  My friends studying in the same program at other universities also had an easier time depending on which immigration office they visited and even sometimes, which official they spoke with…
Sometimes people from immigration asked for letters from other departments but they didn’t explain what kinds of letters they needed. The people who had to provide the letters also didn’t understand what kind of letters to provide. It was like they had never done this before. I had to draft my own letters and send them to the right people to get signatures and letterheads. I had to do their job for them since they didn’t know what they were doing.
There were some pretty serious problems with people not knowing what to do in parts of Indonesia which are not used to getting foreign students. Due to a lack of accountability they have to wait for permission (dari atas) from their bosses since they are terrified of doing the wrong thing and are thus paralysed and unable to come to a decision and are thus much less likely act.  This situation is further worsened by the poor communication and coordination lines within immigration with local and central offices often unable to communicate, and with inconsistent clashing policies, this can leave you in limbo. (DW total waiting time 7 months for a 5-month visa)


ET – waiting forever: …Where to begin? Or where not to begin? Pretend to begin? Fill in forms in order to begin? (if you follow the Indonesian immigration working method it will look something like this)… The immigration offices in Indonesia may not be great examples of teaching efficiency, accountability or ethics, but they definitely taught me patience… I waited for a loooooonnnnggg time to get my study visa. So long that after waiting 6 months, I had to give up and so I just went to Indonesia on a tourist visa. I was two weeks late to enter classes and already far behind.
A month later I got an email and telex saying that I could pick up my visa from an embassy outside of Indonesia. Yes, you have to leave the country to pick up your KITAS or temporary stay visa. Since I had already spent 6 months filling in forms for grumpy bureaucrats in order to get my visa, I went overseas thinking that I could just pick up my visa. I was wrong. Even though the email and telex had come through saying my visa was ready, I was told I had to fill in more forms and wait for 3 working days to pick up my visa. I waited for more as Immigration had trained me to do… After the three days, I turned up yet again, waited in line and then met with the head of immigration at the overseas Indonesian Embassy. He said that since I had two sponsors, my university and the department of research I would be unable to get a visa. I was confused since they had already sent me a letter saying to pick up my visa but yet after arriving, filling in more forms and then visiting them I was turned away.
I had to get another letter from Jakarta to say that I only needed one supervisor. Of course, the immigration people in Jakarta didn’t know how to make such a letter so I had to draft a letter for them, send it to Jakarta and wait for them to get back to me with a signature… With every day that passed, I fell further and further behind in my studies. When I finally got the letter I was relieved. I turned up again, waited in line and met with the bureaucrat but then they said that this letter was not good enough because it didn’t have the right stamp on it. Again I tried and tried to get the right letter, by the time it was finally good enough, I had missed a further two weeks of classes.

When I returned to continue my studies I was four weeks behind and had to struggle and spent many sleepless nights studying just in order to pass. I had to spend many nights sleeping in the empty uni buildings because I was too exhausted to walk back to my kos.
My only hope was that my exams would be my new main concern and that my troubles with immigration were over… I was wrong… I had to complete another set of forms to convert my visa into a little blue identity book or Buku KITAS. This involved visiting the local immigration office, the head of the neighbourhood, RT and the head of the suburb kantor Lurah to get additional letters. This additional process would take a further 2 months in total. By the end, I was quite exhausted…

I wanted to give up so many times but I got through… And learned patience…  

Through this experience, it is clear that immigration acts as a highly obstructive barrier preventing and even discouraging foreign students from studying in Indonesia… (ET total waiting time 8.5 months for a 6-month visa)


BB – first impressions count- It sounds ridiculous I know but the people at immigration didn’t like me as soon as I showed up on their door. I needed to convert my visa into a KITAS… I had all the forms but they just didn’t like me so they asked for additional letters which would take ages to get… I asked for a signature from them to at least prove that I had already reported at the office before my visa ran out but they refused and even asked me ‘kenapa kamu butuh surat ini – apakah kamu adalah penjahat?’ – ‘Why do you need this letter, are you a criminal…?’  Perhaps if I had turned up in a suit rather than as a backpacker I would have received better customer service (but customer service is not a strong point for Indonesian immmigration). I had to make phone calls to Jakarta and luckily got a lot of help from my local university. After around another month of barriers, I managed to get my buku KITAS… (BB total waiting time 6 months for a 5-month visa)


TL – inconsistent immigration policies: If you are planning to apply for a study visa in Indonesia, I already feel sorry for you… I completed all the documents and sent them and followed all the instructions around 8 months before I eventually got my visa. Frustratingly, there is a great deal of inconsistency within immigration depending on which province you are in. This meant that I had to supply many more documents than my classmates who were studying in the same program in a different part of the country. Immigration policy should be uniform and consistent, not subject to arbitrary changes based on the erratic moods of immigration officials… Eventually I managed to get there but still, I was disappointed that the path of following the procedures and rules was less effective than trying to cheat them… It’s arbitrary, inconsistent and illogical, it’s Indonesian immigration… (TL total waiting time 7 months for a 5-month visa)


Executive Summary: Tips and conclusions from interviews

  • Apply very-very early. Submit all your documents maybe one year or more… At the least 6 months before you plan to go over to Indonesia. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Probably would be best to go through an organisation like ACICIS who have a lot more experience in overcoming the bureaucracy of immigration. They will save you time and in the long-run money (at least in terms of opportunity cost – our members could have gained lots of opportunities in the time they spent waiting in lines, chasing documents and filling in forms in immigration offices). 
  • The working culture is not sensitive to urgency, efficiency or accountability. As a result,
  • Don’t apply for the research department (RISTEK) research permission if you already have a university sponsor. Having both will only prevent you from getting a visa. You should choose one or the other.
  • Whatever you do, DON’T get angry with immigration officials (even if you should be) this will only worsen the situation. Learn from the Javanese – even if you are angry – keep it on the inside and wear a smile on the outside.
  • Get many copies and many different sizes with red background photos.
  • If you are hoping to pioneer and study somewhere where no one has studied before – you will encounter greater difficulty and uncertainty than others studying in more popular destinations.

If you’re not sure how long the total waiting time for a study visa will be – you can use this formula which was modelled on quantitative analysis based on the participatory statistics gained from our interview subjects:

  • TWT = DoV + 1-2m (where TWT = total waiting time, DoV = duration of visa, + 1-2m add one or two months

In other words, the total waiting time for student visas will usually take around the same time as the total duration of the visa itself with one or two extra months. So if you are applying for a 6-month student visa you will be likely to wait from between 7-8 months after handing in all your documents. (Note this formula is based upon experiences from interview subjects who merely followed the rules and procedures without having friends or the inside or paying any bribes).

While this might seem like a depressing article, AO would like to emphasize the positive side. From all the interview subjects we spoke with, in total – eight alumni, we found that 6/8 of them thought that the study experience was worth the wait. Six of our alumni said that despite all they had been through with immigration, the study experience itself was such a positive experience that it outweighed all of the negative experiences encountered in overcoming the Great Wall of Indonesia…

DISCLAIMER: The views based on the experiences of the interview subjects expressed in this article are the views of these individuals alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Asia Options.


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Nick Metherall

Indonesia Country Coordinator
Nick is a student at La Trobe University. He is currently conducting field work in rural and remote parts of Eastern Indonesia.

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