East Timor - also known as Timor-Leste - is an emerging country with a tough past. In 1975, after declaring independence from Portugal, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia and brutally occupied until the United Nations intervened.
Tourism is almost nonexistent in East Timor, but that will soon change. With the country's infrastructure on the mend, Timor-Leste is an exciting and "different" destination in Southeast Asia. The natural beauty of the undeveloped coastline has already attracted the attention of resort planners.
The diving in East Timor is superb; the corral reefs are in must better condition than those that were bomb-fished in neighboring Indonesia.
Unlike other parts of Southeast Asia, the large population of foreign aid workers makes it possible to wander around the capital of Dili without receiving constant attention from hawkers and locals.
Visa for East Timor
East Timor will provide a tourist visa on arrival for most nationalities only if arriving by air. The fee for a visa on arrival is US $30 payable in US dollars cash.
Important: As of April 2010, visas on arrival are no longer issued at the land border with Indonesia. You must apply for a visa in advance at a consular office abroad before arriving in East Timor!
There are no ATM machines or money exchange centers in the airport or at border crossings - bring exact change.
- Your passport must be valid for six additional months after entry.
- You may be asked to show proof of adequate funds, or a minimum of US $100 per entry.
- You must hold a return ticket or show adequate funds for departure from the country.
Note: You may be asked to show proof of arrangements for your accommodation. The "Backpacker's Guesthouse" is the primary choice of accommodation for budget travelers in Dili and mentioning the name will satisfy this requirement.
Portuguese nationals are exempt from the visa requirements and may enter free for 90 days.
Visa Extensions in East Timor
You can extend your 30-day tourist visa in Dili. A 30-day visa extension costs US $35 while a 60-day extension costs US $75. The duration of your stay in East Timor including all extensions may not exceed 90 days.
The fine for overstaying a visa can be up to US $150 and you could be arrested - never overstay your visa duration!
Contacting the US Consulate in Dili
The US embassy in Dili, East Timor can be contacted for last-minute travel and safety information.
Avenida de Portugal, Praia dos Coqueiros
Dili, East Timor
Getting to East Timor
By Air: The Nicolau Lobato International Airport (DIL) in Dili accommodates flights from Bali, Singapore, and Darwin. The departure tax is US $10.
By Land: Several companies operate buses of various quality from Kupang, Indonesia to Dili. The road near the border is in poor condition; expect a bumpy ride. Crossing the border by land is straightforward but requires a bus transfer for the rest of the journey to Dili - your travel agency will handle the transfer.
Exchanging your money with individuals at the border is risky business, wait until you can do so at a proper bank in Dili.
Vaccinations for East Timor
There are no required vaccinations to enter East Timor, however the usual travel immunizations of typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, polio, and tuberculosis are highly recommended.
Malaria is endemic in Dili and is especially bad during the rainy season of November to April.
You may be asked to show proof of yellow fever immunization if you are arriving from infected areas in Africa or South America.
For more information about health concerns in East Timor, visit the World Health Organization website. (offsite)
Money in East Timor
The official currency in East Timor is the US dollar. Banks in Dili will exchange money and a few ATM machines scattered around town will accept US-issued bankcards.
Safety in East Timor
The razor-wire fences around most businesses in Dili are a testament to the violent past. There were outbreaks of armed violence in 2006 and 2008 including an assassination attempt on the president and prime minster.
Gang violence in Dili has been a problem in the past as well as the usual pickpocketing and petty crime.
The U.N. maintains a heavy presence of armed policemen on the streets, however you should still observe the following safety precautions:
- Observe the nighttime curfew and check with your guest house for what to do once the perimeter gate is locked.
- Finding a taxi in Dili after dark can be very difficult; always plan in advance.
- Avoid demonstrations and mob gatherings in public areas.
- Avoid taking photographs of armed policemen or anything of military significance.
- Land mines are still present in East Timor, always walk on marked paths.
US citizens may register their trip with the Department of State before visiting East Timor: https://travelregistration.state.gov (offsite)
Visa Run from Indonesia
Many travelers once made the visa run by bus from Kupang to East Timor. The Timor-Leste government put a stop to this in early 2010. Now a visa must be obtained in advance before turning up at the the border from Indonesia.