Terror in the Terminal: When You Overstay Your Visa and Immigration Thinks Your Story is “Fake News.” Or, Saved by Snickers.
My host in Indonesia and I had walked up to the bank for me to get my money changed. I needed extra, so I went downstairs to the ATM. Neither of the pins on my credit cards worked, and I know my pins.
Both are platinum Visa cards, so of course I called Chase on Skype. Found out what had happened. In the first-rate, all-out emotional mess that was last year, I got a brand new travel card and totally forgot to set a pin number. The other was a replacement with a brand new pin which of course, I didn’t know. I couldn’t change the pin. All I could do was wait until I got back to America, order new pins and update both cards. No big deal. Meanwhile, take money out against the credit card. Which I did.
Given that the bank had a limit on how much you can take out at any time, I had about $300 or so to spend. It went fast- especially to the local medical community. I had gotten pretty sick. Even in Indonesia, where a dollar goes a very long way, my money supply dwindled quickly,
The following weeks were, as I have written elsewhere, problematic. I was so sick I could barely leave the house, and as a result, when I stayed over my visa by three days, I knew I’d have to pony up the 900,000 rupiah ( about $64.00). Not exactly a fortune to you or me.
I finally got well enough to leave the day before my flight. One option was to go to the visa office which is exceedingly-time consuming and much more expensive. My hosts told me just to pay the fee. I figured I could take care of it with a credit card. This is, of course, 2019, but not everywhere. I am given to understand that by the Indonesian calendar we are in fact somewhere in the mid-1960s.
No truer words.
Besides, I always had a $100 bill stashed for rainy days. Well of course I do.
I let my rupiah run out to about 400k left when I got the airport. Checked luggage, then walked up to Immigration. The man’s face got stony as he reviewed my passport. I handed him the two letters my doctor had penned for me explaining what had been wrong. He marched me over to the Immigration officer, took my letters and passport, and I sat down.
Next to a large and very angry Australian woman who had overstayed her visit by eleven days. Look, I had an excuse. That’s ridiculous. She clearly had just had a shouting match with the folks inside this office, which, I didn’t realize, was a perfect set up for me. She was still fuming. They were, too. Not without good reason.
And this, too: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1904719/3-british-woman-jailed-slapping-bali-immigration-officer/. Apparently, as the story goes, that woman owed some $4k US for overstaying her time in Indonesia by quite a bit. To say the least, immigration wasn’t happy with foreign women right then.
So when I walked into their office they informed me that I had to pay cash. That my medical letters, despite what I had been told, weren’t helpful. For any reason. I owed them 900,000 rupiah.
NOW. As in RIGHT NOW.
I didn’t have it. Well, use your ATM. I can’t. That got me a stinkeye indeed. This is an American woman with two Platinum Visa cards, and neither of her pins work? Sounded an awful lot like fake news. They treated it like fake news, too. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
But wait! I have a rainy day fund.
I looked for my $100 bill.
It wasn’t there.
To say that at that point I began to sweat is an understatement. It was 11 pm, my plane left at 1:35 am. I wanted to go home. Badly. The trip had already been difficult from a medical standpoint. I desperately wanted the comfort of my own house and bed to begin getting back to full health and vitality. I had been up since 3 am and I was scheduled on a red-eye. This wasn’t the way to start.
The female immigration officer, who was particularly hostile, told me that they were going to detain me if I couldn’t get the money. It didn’t seem to matter that I kept saying that I’d be happy to pay if I could find a way to secure the funds.
Finally she told me that she would get a Korean Airlines (my carrier to Seoul) employee to take me to duty free to help. They had done it multiple times before, she said, just go to Duty Free. But I couldn’t go on my own. They had my papers.
For anyone who has never traveled overseas, when someone takes your papers, let’s just say that at that moment, you get the overwhelming feeling that you need a paper supply, as in toilet paper. We Americans are accustomed to our freedom. When it’s taken away, suddenly you have a great deal of empathy for what it must be like to live in a dictatorship. I was not going to leave until I could somehow come up with $64.00. FAST.
The first agent they sent barked at me about using an ATM machine. He simply did not believe that the pins didn’t work. He stalked off in a huff. I sat for a while before I realized he wasn’t coming back. Then I went back inside the immigration office and asked the woman inside to get another.
Another young agent showed up. Just in time. He saved me from the fuming Aussie woman who was in search of a handy target. We headed off, passport and hope in hand, to Duty Free.
The cashier at Duty Free was flummoxed at our request.
Not only did they refuse me but they contradicted Immigration’s claim that their cashiers had helped with money before.
NEXT. Money changers. Well why don’t you just use your ATM? Broken record. No help.
The young man then said that Immigration told me that I’d have to ask another passenger for help.
You ever try to ask a stranger for $64.00, in a foreign airport, after midnight, and promise said stranger that you will, of course, repay the favor?
We cast around. At this point I was sweating hard. The Korean Airlines agent was at a loss. This was over his pay grade.
I wondered if I was going to spend the night in jail.
I took a side step into a toilet, feeling like a fugitive. The agent was holding my passport and visa information. We were joined at the hip.
By the time I rejoined the young man, his boss had arrived. The three of us walked back to Duty Free, where the boss asked the cashiers again about their policy. Then, in rapid-fire Indonesian, he called Immigration. A long, lively conversation ensued.
Time was sliding by quickly. If I didn’t get to the gate soon. I was grounded. Perhaps, detained. I don’t think Indonesian jails are air-conditioned.
I think I prayed. I was so tired at that point I don’t remember much.
Finally, the young agent translated for his boss. I was to purchase $64 worth of some kind of treat from Duty Free, deliver it to Immigration.
Is that even legal? Is this a trap?
What? He led me by the elbow into the food aisles. I vaguely recall grabbing two big bags of Snickers bars (who knew Snickers were considered gourmet food overseas?) and a small bar full of almonds. We checked out.
Then we marched back to Immigration. I had the sick premonition that if I handed the agent the two bags of Snickers I’d be arrested for bribery. Worse things have happened to the hapless.
The KAL agent stood next to me as I handed over the candy. The Immigration officer counted out $900k rupiah. Then I handed him back the money as payment for my overstay. He stamped my visa. Grabbed the bags. Smiled at the other agents.
The female officer smiled at me. They were going to have a candy party. Was this really legal?
I waited for the Indonesian police to rush in and arrest me for bribery. I think I held my breath. Worse things have happened.
I definitely needed toilet paper.
Instead, the KAL agent walked me at speed to the gate. We barely made it, as the plane was pre-boarding just as we walked up.
The agent disappeared in the crowd before I could thank him profusely for his help. I had already given him the bar with almonds, a gift that made him grin ear-to-ear.
I had just paid my way out of Indonesia with $64 worth of Snickers bars.
It’s not the first time this particular candy saved me. In 2017, was in a hospital in the middle of Kazakhstan with a broken back. Nobody spoke English. I needed pain shots twice a day while I waited for an ambulance to take me to the closest airport to be airlifted to Dubai. My bribe?
Snickers bars. The nurses had never seen them, much less had a supply of them. Nor could they afford them. I had a big bagful that had been stuffed into my saddlebags during the ride. I got hurt. Those Snickers bought my escape from intense pain.
I think I’m going to buy stock in Mars, Inc., which makes Snickers, the best- selling candy bar in the world. And, I am going to add “useful for international bribery” to the list of ten things you didn’t know about Snickers bars: https://www.thedailymeal.com/cook/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-snickers/slide-9