First things first… the Indonesia permit process

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’ve been here in Salatiga for about 3 weeks now, and things are going well.  I’m recruiting potential study participants and doing initial interviews, which is exciting.  I found research assistants and have gotten all my project documents translated.  But the most time consuming activity over the past few weeks has been the seemingly insurmountable permit process.  If you’re considering undertaking research in Indonesia and you’d like more details about the minutia of the process (or if you just have a lot of free time to read blogs online), I’ll be publishing a post next week about all the different documents I obtained and how I got them.  Otherwise, this blog is more of an overview of the process and my reactions to it.

I started the permitting process back in April, when I submitted over a dozen documents online to the Foreign Research Permit office.  I had to submit my research proposal, my CV, my transcript, a copy of my bank statement, and letters from my advisor, department chair, department secretary, host institution, local embassy, and doctor.  Then, after waiting over 2 months for them to send my visa authorization letter, I rode my bike down to the Indonesian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, only to find that it was closed and would remain closed for the next 5 days because of Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan.  But I returned after the holiday, and was able to get my visa by Mid-July, which was perfect for my intended departure date of August 1.

Once I arrived in Indonesia, I stayed in Jakarta a week so I could report and complete paperwork to the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education, the Ministry of the Home Affairs, and the National Police Headquarters.  Then, once I got to Salatiga, I had to report at the local police office, the neighborhood head, the community head, the subdistrict office, the district office, the city office, and the census bureau.  I also had to go to Semarang to visit the Immigration office, the Governor’s office, and the Regional police office.  I went to some of these offices two or more times, and have collected over a dozen official letters.

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This is not even all of them.

For most of these letters, I had to submit copies of my passport, visa, various other letters I had been given previously, and passport-sized photos.  Luckily, before I left the US, I had Jim take a photo of me, and I printed a page full of passport photos at CVS.  Because Jim had been doing this when he was supposed to be taking the photo…IMG_0890.jpg…my passport photos for all of these paperwork show me looking tired and unamused, which is an accurate depiction of my feelings about the process:


The amount of paperwork that needs to be completed to live and do research in Indonesia approaches the absurd.  There may be an equivalent amount of paperwork for foreigners to live in the US, but I don’t think they need to register with every level of government, right down to the neighborhood level.  At least, I hope not. I was amazed at the amount of paperwork that is being filed and recorded, and by the numbers of people involved in filing and recording it.  The small city of Salatiga must employ thousands of people, just to manage its bureaucracy.  Even the smallest government office, the sub-district, had about 20 people working in it, and I think there are more than 20 sub-districts in Salatiga.  I guess it is a good thing to keep so many people gainfully employed, but otherwise, I’m not really sure what purpose all this paperwork is serving.  I have a bunch of letters of recommendation and residency and permission, but I’m not exactly sure what they are all for.  I’m not sure the civil servants who prepared them did either.  At several offices, they had to hunt around for another foreigner’s file to look up what documents they needed from me and what the final paperwork should look like. For the most part, I was able to muster enough patience and tenacity to stick with the process, but the several times I was close to losing it were the times when I came to an office with all the documents they had requested the day before, only to have a civil servant pull out another foreigner’s file, notice that they had a document I didn’t have, and ask me to come back again with that additional document.

In any case, I am close to finished now.  I have received my residency permit and multiple entry permit, which are the really essential ones.  I’ve also received Letters of Research Recommendation from the local, regional, and national level, though I am not certain to whom my research is being recommended.  All that remains is one last office to get my residency letter.  At least I hope so.  What will I do with all my free time when I don’t have go to government offices everyday?  I don’t know… maybe I’ll write a dissertation.  Maybe I’ll plan a wedding.  Maybe I’ll learn to juggle.  We’ll see!

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