(UPDATED OCT. 20, 2016: Please see the changes below for new requirements for getting an Indonesian Social visa aka Social Budaya in Bangkok: a Wage Freedom reader tells us that the Indonesian Embassy in Bangkok requires 90 days to elapse between Social visas. I just called Ismail Hamdan’s office–see below, including his phone number–and as of today the rules haven’t changed at the Singapore Indonesian embassy. PLEASE CALL AHEAD!)
Over the years I’ve had lots of people ask how to go about staying in Bali for six months or more, and how that affects which Bali visa they should choose. I should begin here by gently (and very respectfully!) reminding anyone who doesn’t know that visiting Bali requires an Indonesian visa, not a Bali visa.
Nowadays Bali especially is seeing a huge influx of foreigners looking to save by renting an apartment or house by the month (or by the year) and work on a project, look into possibilities for making a base in Bali or elsewhere in Indonesia, or simply take an extended break to explore Indonesia’s endless natural and cultural depth and variety.
The Sosial Budaya, or Social Visa is a great way to do this, and for many people it’s the best option. Costing approximately US$60 in 2016 depending on where you apply, it allows you an initial stay of 60 days, then is extendable every 30 days for about US$25, up to a maximum stay of six months without having to leave Indonesia. A stipulation with the Sosial Budaya is that you must apply for it while you are physically outside of Indonesia. You also need a letter of invitation from an Indonesian citizen. All this is simpler than it might sound. My aim with this article is to remove, whether you’re interested in Indonesia as a whole or just Bali, visa-related question marks as barrier to doing this.
I’ve applied for quite a few Indonesian Social Visas in several cities around the world, so I can elaborate, but I must emphasize that my info is current through 2016. Please check online with the Indonesian embassy through which you’ll apply for current information. Interestingly, different embassies sometimes have different application forms and slightly different requirements.
Bonus Tip #1: Even when the process seems clear on the embassy website, I always call first to confirm that I understand exactly what I’ll currently need. This has saved me time and money in the United States for example, where you’ll find you must apply to the Indonesian embassy closest to your permanent address. Rules change over time. It’s worth a call.
The Sosial Budaya or ‘Social Visa’
It might be helpful to compare the social visa to the visa most travelers get initially, so you understand your options. In 2016 citizens of most countries can get a 30-day ‘Visa on Arrival’ (VOA) stamp at the airport, or pay US$35 for the extendable version of the VOA, extendable once for a maximum stay of 60 days. Neither require arrangements in advance.
If you’re new to Indonesia you might be inclined to get a VOA initially. Once you’re here you’ll undoubtedly make the acquaintance of Indonesians who might be willing to sponsor you for a Social Visa and give you a letter of invitation you’ll need for it.
Once you’ve decided to stay longer and you have a brief invite letter from a sponsor, you can apply for the Social Visa yourself and save money. In my experience, expressing a sincere desire on the application to visit Indonesia for extended travel and to visit friends is enough reason for the authorities to give you one. Again: make sure you get the visa application from the website of the specific Indonesian embassy to which you will be applying! With the sponsor letter (and possibly a ‘letter of guarantee’ depending on the embassy to which you apply) and application in hand, you’ll also need to submit:
- your passport
- a copy of your sponsor’s Indonesian KTP (identity card)
- one or two passport-size photos
- the fee, it will vary
You’d then fly to Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur to apply for the social visa at the Indonesian embassy there. It takes two or three days depending on where you go. (See below for a one-day option) I’ve had social visas from embassies in all three cities but again to avoid confusion I’d really suggest calling ahead to see what exactly you currently need.
Would you rather just have a Social Visa in hand when you first arrive in Indonesia, i.e. before you ever leave home? There are travel agents who will handle the sponsor letter, letter of guarantee, and a copy of the sponsor’s KTP document for you, before you leave home. You can Google for Bali visa agent, and call one before you leave. Do shop around because prices can vary widely. The price for this service shouldn’t be much more than US$20 or so in 2016. They will get the documents to you.
Extending your Social Visa
After your up-to-6 months’ stay on the Social Visa is up, you’ll be obliged to leave Indonesia. You can apply for another Social Visa immediately (update: Oct. 2016: apparently no longer the case in Bangkok, but you still can in Singapore.) This will be a completely new visa, you need a new invite letter, etc. It is normally a three-day turnaround (two in Singapore), but if you’re buying flight tickets, ask for the current wait time when you call ahead.
Bonus Tip #2: I check Air Asia‘s website well in advance for cheap flights leaving on Monday (much cheaper than Sunday usually), as early as possible so that I can get to the embassy to which I’ll be applying that same morning. For example, in 2016 there is a 6:20 AM Air Asia flight to Singapore which will easily get you to the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore early enough to get your paperwork in. By applying on Monday I have my visa in hand by Wednesday afternoon i.e. well before the following weekend, and avoid paying to stay in Singapore over the weekend while I wait for the visa.
Bonus Tip #3: If you are going to the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore to get your Social Visa, as of 2016 they will not let you in to submit your application if you are wearing shorts. They have discontinued the practice of renting sarongs for men and women deemed unfit for entry, and you will be told to ‘go home and get some long pants’. Well, that’s what they told me…..
Bonus Tip #4: Be aware that outside of Southeast Asia, the process will take longer if you aren’t a citizen of the country in which you apply. One time in Paris for example I waited for over 2 weeks for my Social visa, but it would have been worse if not for the incredibly helpful staff at the Indonesian Embassy in Paris going beyond the call of duty and helping me apply to the Indonesian Embassy in Los Angeles. As helpful as they were, I will make other arrangements next time. It’s another reason why it is imperative to call ahead.
Tom, Can I Get A New Social Visa In Singapore in One Day?
I knew you were going to ask me that! Expediting the whole process via an Indonesia visa agent in Singapore is surprisingly simple to do. If you’d like to avoid the conventional few-day ‘visa run’, a one-day turnaround for Social Visa processing is possible in Singapore. Ismail Hamdan is a Singapore-based Indonesian visa consultant specializing in same-day service. I use him myself. Taking an early-morning flight from Bali or Jakarta can land you in Singapore with enough time to make it to his office (not the Embassy!) by the 11 AM cutoff. As I will have already paid for a return flight ticket I always call his office in advance to check the most current procedures/costs to avoid problems:
Ismail Hamdan – Singapore Visa Consultant
Address: 190 Clemenceau Ave, Singapore 239924 (in Singapore Shopping Center across from Dhoby Ghaut Station)
Phone: 65 6334 5520
As of July 2016, bring:
- your passport
- sponsor letter
- a copy of your sponsor’s Indonesian KTP (identity card)
- one passport-size photo, 4 x 6 cm. (white background)
- In July 2016 Mr. Hamdan’s service costs $185 Singapore dollars total, which includes the fee for the visa.
You can just take the MRT (train) from terminal 2 at Changi Airport into Singapore for SG$2.40 in 2016, less than US$2. Takes about 40 minutes. Taxi at that time of day all the way from Changi was $19 Singapore dollars for me once (I usually take the train, it’s so easy.)
Ultimately the Social Visa/Sosial Budaya is a terrific way to stay in Bali for longer stays, or to do some serious travel to other parts of Indonesia entirely.
In an archipelago this far-reaching and varied, spending even six months would be just a start! If you have any further questions, please ask in the comments below.
If you’d like boots-on-the-ground info about getting started as an expat in Bali, leave your email below and I’ll send you two free chapters of “How To Live In Bali“(2016 edition) with almost 30,000 words of detail about staying longer than a tourist does in Bali, below. And don’t worry, I’ll only email you when I have something worthwhile to share.