DENPASAR, Indonesia – Bali appears set to overtake New Zealand as Australians’ favorite overseas holiday destination after Indonesia finally came good on a promise to remove the $50 visa entry fee.
After more than a year of backflips, Indonesian President Joko Widodo signed the official decree into law adding Australia to a list of 169 countries with “visa exemptions”.
But the implementation is proving a bit haphazard with some travelers reporting free entry at Ngurah Rai Airport and others still being charged the fee.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had been given no firm date as to when the law change would take effect.
But a DFAT spokeswoman said the decision was welcome.
“Australia is one of 169 countries granted visa-free visits,” said the spokeswoman.
“Australian tourists will be able to take visa-free visits for up to 30-days.”
A statement from the Indonesian Government said implementing procedures were yet to be finalized.
“Once the regulation has been implemented at all immigration entry points, the Indonesian Consulate General in Sydney will provide further announcement,” said the statement.
Other countries to win visa exempt status include Ukraine, Bangladesh, Albania, Malawi, Nepal, Paraguay, Samoa, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
Countries like New Zealand, China, the UK, the US and Russia already enjoy visa-free entry to Indonesia.
Coordinator of Bali tourism portal Bali.com, Cindy Lugten, said “happy messages” from people arriving on the Indonesian resort isle had been posted on Facebook.
“Early morning arrivals still had to pay for the visa while lucky late afternoon visitors were told to keep their money and enjoy their holiday in Bali,” said Ms Lugten.
“It might take a while before it is completely implemented at the other designated airports but Bali seems to be ready.”
She said tourism operators were very, very pleased with the exemption.
“Almost all of the questions we received at Bali.com were related to visa requirements,” Ms Lugten said.
“Now visitors can concentrate on more fun matters and use the money to support the local businesses.”
Of the 1.1 million Australians who travel to Indonesia each year, close to one million visit Bali.
Previous promises to include Australia in the visa-exemption list were retracted due to political tensions over the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and then the lack of reciprocal rights for Indonesians travelling down under.
Last December, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Rizal Ramli, again said Australia would be added but hopes faded when President Widodo did not issue a formal decree.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is currently in Bali, to co-chair a conference on people smuggling, trafficking and other related transnational crime.