Whine Wednesday: Immigration Lines Out Of Control In Indonesia (Jakarta & Denpasar Airport)

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Both John and myself were traveling through airports in Indonesia this past week and the topic of our Whine Wednesday this week are the immigration lines at Jakarta and Denpasar-Bali Airports that were completely out of control.

For the past couple of years the lines have gotten less but it appears that Indonesia has (purposely?) cut back on border patrol staff again and the lineup can be horrible.

Now the first thought someone should have is ‘Why would they purposely keep these lines longer?’ but there is actually a very valid reason for it: Bribes!

Those of you familiar with arriving at both Jakarta and Denpasar might have noticed the touts that more or less discretely approach you and offer ‘Express Service’ leading you away from the long line through some special counter usually reserved for diplomats and airport staff. The charge for this service can be anywhere from 15-30 US$ but recently the price quoted was always US$20.

This money will then go into the pockets of higher-up individuals at the airport so they have a real incentive to keep lines long in order to entice people to use that inofficial ‘fast track’.

The official fast track service for Denpasar is called Bali Concierge (see here) charging 550,000 IDR (~ US$40) for the service.

Here is the lineup at Denpasar where i was able to avoid the worst of it because I was first off the plane and also overtook almost all passengers of a flight that arrived simultaneously to mine by breezing through the terminal (I still ended up waiting 45 min).

There were two lines and I’d estimate each held up about 600 people while on our side there were a total of two immigration officers on duty stamping people in. The process now is relatively quick because Indonesia has eliminated the paid visa on arrival for most nationalities and instead moved to a visa waiver system (there are still a range of countries that do require the VOA).

Since the new terminal in Bali is in operation and the Visa Waiver is in place the lines have been drastically shorter which obviously leads to less people using these touts which in turn means no pocket money for the officials.

They then resorted to other methods to earn something extra as I experienced last year when someone at the customs counter tried to shake me down for money saying they detected some drug traces on my bag. I refused to pay anything and offered them to undergo a full inspection knowing that nothing will come of it and I feel uncomfortable trying to bribe a customs official out of an inspection which could be yet another setup.

I’m always baffled by situations like this especially at a tourism destination such as Bali. The country spends a fortune promoting the island as a tourist destination and then they ruin the reputation through these ridiculous shakedowns and super long immigration lines.

Conclusion

The airport is the first and last impression visitors have when visiting a foreign country and a negative experience can spoil everything. Especially at a destination where tourism accounts for a substantial part of the local economy, authorities should make sure that airport immigration is fully staffed and visitors processed efficiently.

I wonder where this entire thing with Indonesia will move in the long run and if the lines will subside again at some point. I can’t see these corrupt officials giving up their tea money generated by the touts. It sometimes absolutely makes sense though to just pay someone a bit of money to go through. Especially in Bali it can mean the difference between an afternoon at the beach or 2 more hours at the airport. I think US$20 for saving half a vacation day isn’t a horrible investment. Of course with every person who pays even once the likelihood this will all change goes more towards zero.

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