extending a tourist visa

If you’ve got $110, one Timorese friend, and a bit of patience, you can stay in Timor-Leste for three months on the same visa. Here’s how to extend Timor-Leste’s one-month tourist visa-on-arrival without leaving the country.

Step one: shed expectations

Timor-Leste’s English-language immigration website makes this seem like renewing your visa will be a very easy prospect. Don’t be fooled. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder than you think. Steel yourself.

Step two: gather photos, copies, and the form

Fill your pocket with change, find a collared shirt, and get ready to spend 20 minutes in the photocopy shop directly opposite the immigration office (any copy shop in Dili will do, but this one’s very convenient). Before you head into immigration, you’ll need the visa extension form, some photos of yourself, and some photocopies of your ID documents.

In an earlier version of this post I suggested you download the visa extension form from immigration’s website before arriving at immigration, to save the fuss of asking them to give you a copy. Do not do this. I found out the hard way that they form they have on the website is incorrect, and the office won’t accept it — you can’t print the form from their own website.

Instead, the immigration office hands them out (begrudgingly), or the copy shop across the road from immigration sells them for 20c. I gladly paid.

To accompany your visa extension form, you’ll need:

  • a photo of yourself that meets specific requirements
  • copies of your passport photo page
  • copies of your initial visa on arrival
  • copies of your Timorese friend’s ID card (more on this soon)

You can do all this at the copy shop on the day you visit the immigration office; no need to do it ahead of time.

The photo is the most specific bit — it needs to have a red backdrop, it needs to be specific dimensions (2cm x 3cm; the copy shop knows), and you need to be wearing a collared shirt (if you’re not, the shop will loan you a jacket). Closed-mouth smile or no smile. Immigration won’t reject the photo for being imprecise.

Regulation!

The photos take about five minutes to develop — while you wait, get at least two, maybe three copies of those documents listed above made. Black and white is fine, and all up it should cost you less than $5, including the photos.

Step three: fill in your form

Using blue pen only! I again found out the hard way that immigration forms filled in with black pen aren’t allowed (a friend explained this was to prevent photocopying, but I don’t know how colour photocopying fits in here.)

The form has prompts in English and is fairly straightforward — it’ll take two minutes and I had no questions.

For some categories of visa and other official documents, Timor-Leste’s bureaucracy is such that they will only accept your forms if they’re contained in a manila folder of the correct colour (it was red, when I was first here). I checked at the immigration desk when I was there last month and they said for tourist visa extensions, any folder colour is fine. You don’t actually need one — handing over your papers in a pile is fine — but if you want one, they’re also sold at the copy shop.

Step four: find a friend

To extend a Timor-Leste tourist visa you must have a Timorese person who’ll vouch for you. You need their name, phone number, address (just the bairo or suco is fine), signature, and photocopy of their photo ID, like a driver’s license or a national ID card. There’s a section right at the back of your visa extension form for them to fill in and sign.

If the thought of finding a friend in a month is a little daunting, consider asking a colleague, your landlord, or asking another foreigner for their recommendation of who helped them. You can also employ the services of someone like the Timor Fixer to help you out.

Step five: final items

Five steps in and we haven’t even left for the immigration office yet! Make sure you’ve got a pen, $40 in cash for the extension fee, and your passport, in addition to your photo and photocopies — and if you can find it, bring the tiny little receipt you got for your initial $30 visa-on-arrival. This isn’t essential, but as you’ll see once you’re in the building, the more documents, the better.

Step six: attend immigration

The immigration office is located at the Ministry of Interior compound, which is in Caicoli, behind UN House. Here’s a helpful map, and here’s the particular building you need to find once you’re there (it’s to the left of the big main green building):

This white building is where you’ll extend your visa.

Immigration is open between 9am and 12pm and then again between 2pm and 4pm on weekdays. Go in the morning to drop off your visa extension application, and go in the afternoon on the day it’s time to retrieve it.

Some administrative buildings in Dili have ticket systems when you walk in — you take your ticket and wait until your number’s called. In my experience, immigration doesn’t have that. When you walk into the building, expect there to be four or five staff sitting at counters, studiously avoiding eye contact when you arrive, and prepare to feel bewildered and flustered.

Unless there’s some clear-cut etiquette I’m massively missing, you can walk directly to the counters and place your pile of documents at one of the desks. Tuck everything into your passport, literally just place your pile in front of one of the staff and slink back to your seat to wait. They might not even acknowledge you, but watch them eventually slide your pile of papers in.

I’ve taken to waiting until someone else places their passport and documents on the counter, and then silently slipping mine beneath (never on top of) theirs. I’m still ignored, but it makes me feel more confident that the staff will see my documents.

Then, sit back down to wait. After a little while, they’ll call you to take another photo of you. This is right at the counter, a large white sheet, and you won’t miss it. The photo happens quickly and you sit back down after it. Another very short wait, and then it’s time to pay your fee — $40 to extend for one month. The staff will then give you a receipt stapled to the back of your cover sheet and explain that you need to leave your passport, and return to immigration in a weeks’ time to pick it up with the extended visa inside.

Step seven: return in a weeks’ time

Passport pickups are easier and quicker than submitting the application. Bring the receipt and cover sheet to that the same immigration office on a weekday after 2pm, and explain that you’re here to foti pasporte. The staff will ask for your receipt, tell you to sit back down, and within a couple of minutes they’ll call you back to the desk to pick up your passport. And that’s it! See you back here in a month’s time.

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