WARNING: Visa runs to Singapore may no longer be safe, Sacha Stevenson’s friend finds out the hard way

Foreigners who frequently use Indonesia’s free 30-day tourist visas, such as holidaymakers who want to vacation here for over a month or expats in-between working visas, often make “visa runs” to Singapore to fulfill the requirement that they leave Indonesia within 30 days and then enter Indonesia on a new tourist visa (it is possible to extend a tourist visa inside Indonesia, but only if you pay for a $35 visa-on-arrival – the free one cannot be extended).

Singapore has long been the destination of choice for these visa runs, given its proximity and the price of tickets. Many visa runners do not even leave Singapore’s Changi Airport and fly back to Indonesia within hours. This practice has long been tolerated by both Indonesian and Singaporean immigration officers (we say tolerate, but we are not aware of any laws that such visa runs might be in violation of).

However, it seems that those days might be done. The latest video from Indonesian Youtube star Sacha Stevenson (best known for her “How to Act Indonesian” series) is not one of her usual comedy sketches but rather a cautionary tale from one of her friends, who we’ll refer to as SF, who went on a visa run to Singapore and is currently in detention at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport.

(UPDATE: It looks like Sacha has set the video to private, possibly to protect her friend – whose name we have decided to remove from this story –  but we’ll summarize his story as best we can remember for everybody who is interested (apologies for any errors).

Basically SF arrived at immigration at Singapore’s Changi Airport and the immigration officer asked if he was just coming to Singapore for the day so that he could return to Indonesia to get a new tourist visa. Surprised, SF told the officer yes and the officer told him something to the effect of “you can’t do that, this isn’t an embassy.’ SF apologized to the officer and told him he would never do it again, but the officer said he was in serious trouble, took his passport and led him to a detention cell.

SF was held there for 3 hours before being placed on a flight back to Jakarta along with a letter from Singaporean Immigration explaining that he had been denied entry into their country. He was met on the plane by Indonesian Immigration officers in Jakarta and put in a detention cell in Soekaro-Hatta Airport where he remains. As Singaporean Immigration had never stamped his passport to prove he had left the country, he said that Indonesian Immigration was forcing him to buy a ticket back to his country of origin.)

One of the things that many people will no doubt find shocking about SF’s story is that he first ran into trouble with an immigration officer in Singapore, not Indonesia. However, a friend of Coconuts also recently mentioned to us a similar incident with immigration in Singapore while making a visa run, though they were fortunately only questioned and not detained.

That would still seem to indicate that Singaporean immigration has recently changed their policy in regards to visa runs from Indonesia and are now cracking down harshly on the practice. We have reached out to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore in order to get a clarification on their current policy and will update this story when we hear back from them.

Now we cannot offer you any advice (for legal reasons), but there are plenty of lessons one could take from this video. As SF warns at the end of his grim story, those thinking of making a visa run to Singapore should perhaps consider against doing so. Sacha’s advice at the end of this video is that maybe, if you are planning on making a tourist visa run to Singapore for just a few hours, make it a couple of days instead. Otherwise the price you end up paying could be very steep indeed.

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