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Research Permission for Foreign Biologists in Indonesia

This note reflects the experiences of a number of foreign researchers and is NOT a statement of government policy!


All academic research conducted in Indonesia requires official permission. Please, for the sake of everyone else, do not bend the rules and conduct research without a permit. Removing any specimens from Indonesia without permission is a serious international offense and will lead to the deterioration of trust in foreign scientists, and could cause the closing down of access to Indonesia's wonderful biodiversity.

The procedure to obtain research permits can now be very rapid. Application is easier from inside the country---consider a non-research recce trip (on a one-month visa-on-arrival), to meet with counterparts and visit the ministry for research and technology (Ristek) who issue research permits.

Identify a counterpart organization within Indonesia and a specific person to name on your application as your counterpart. A common counterpart from biological research is LIPI-PPB (Center for Research in Biology) in Bogor but they do not have to be involved (although they issue any biological collections export permits); the office is now at the LIPI Cibinong Science Center (Km 47 Jalan Bogor Raya), and the staff bus to LIPI leaves from the old Herbarium in central Bogor on Jl Juanda every morning at 7 am. You may alternatively choose a local university professor to be your counterpart, with his/her department as sponsoring organization.

Whether or not you visit Indonesia first, you need a number of documents to be submitted to the Ministry of Research and Technology (Ristek, 8th floor, BPPT Building II, Jl. Thamrin, Jakarta). See their website for further information. Applications can be submitted by email.

Make sure you include all the field sites you might want to go to in this initial application. It is not possible to add more later.

Be very clear where you want the visa permission wired to. If you are in Indonesia, you will probably request Singapore, although Kota Kinabalu has a consulate with fast, friendly service, and there is news that the Kuching consulate is also issuing visas (both KK and Kuching can be visited directly from Jakarta on Air Asia).

The application board usually meets mid-month (ca. 14th). Make sure you get all the letters into Ristek at least 10 days before the meeting (call first to find out when it is). When the staff at Ristek have had a few days to consider your application, call again (or visit, if you are in-country) to see if your application is complete. The staff are all professional and conscientious, and any delays are probably not their fault---please respect them, and your other Indonesian contacts. The office number is: +62 (021) 316 9293.

After the board has met, wait 3-4 days, and call again to see the status of your application. Be warned that the board may have further recommendations, and you may need to provide other documents and repeat this process for a second month.

Getting the Visa

Once your application has been accepted, Ristek will contact immigration and ask for a permission cable to be sent to the requested embassy overseas. Make sure that the cable has been sent (processing at immigration can take a week) and obtain copies of the cable and introduction letter from Ristek (either in person or by fax) before you go to the foreign Embassy or consulate. Then go to the Embassy, making sure it is not closed for any holidays; check on the in-country website. In Singapore, three working days are required - you drop your passport with application form and copy of the cable (or at least the number) on day one in the morning. Then pick up the visa on the afternoon of day three. There may be ways to expedite this procedure via official visa assistance companies (but DO NOT ask for faster service directly at the embassy!) - ask at your hotel (or see this forum page).

Long-term research in Indonesia requires a semi-resident permit (a KITAS) to be obtained. The maximum KITAS length is 12 months, although research permits are now being issued only for a maximum of 10 months. We have heard that shorter projects are now allowed on a Sosial Budaya visa; this is significantly faster as it does not require further immigration work after arriving in Indonesia. Please inquire at the Ristek office.

Arrive/Return to Indonesia

At the airport, tell the immigration official where you will process your immigration documents; generally this is the nearest city to the research site, but if you are traveling widely you may select Jakarta, or Bogor (e.g., if you will be spending much time at PPB-LIPI).

You must report to local immigration and begin the KITAS application process within 7 days. While this should not be difficult, we suggest arriving in Indonesia on a Sunday evening if possible, to maximize the time to complete this. In addition, you must visit several offices in Jakarta to obtain other documents.

On the first working day, report to the Secretariat of Foreign Research Permits at Ristek in Jakarta. Ristek will give you information on which offices to visit and what each office will provide. It's all a bit complex, so take a deep breath, and relax, and you will find people are usually very helpful. Here is a brief version.

After you pay and official fee of USD 250, they will give you a letter for local immigration and a Surat Izin Penelitian (SIP, research permission letter) which you should take to local immigration as written on your arrival card within 7 days (including weekends, so only 5 working days!). The local immigration office will then give you the application forms for a KITAS that you and your research counterpart will fill in. A copy of the SIP (keep the original!) is submitted along with the KITAS application. If your local office is in Jakarta or Bogor you can start the KITAS process without waiting for the additional letters described below. Otherwise, complete the paperwork in Jakarta and then go to your local office and start the KITAS process.

As well as the KITAS, obtain the following:

  1. Ristek will give you a letter for POLRI (police) in Jakarta. Go and apply for an SKJ (travel permit), taking the letter than Ristek provided, passport photos (red background), passport, visa and arrival card. You will take the SKJ with you when you travel to show you have permission to visit.
  2. The next day return to POLRI and pick up the SKJ and take it to Ristek. They will provide a letter to the ministry of foreign affairs in Jakarta. Take the SKJ and the letter from Ristek to the ministry along with a copy of your passport, visa and 3 more red background passport photos. Ristek will also provide a letter for your research counterpart for you to give to them.
  3. The next day return to the ministry and pick up your SPP (announcement of research). Take it to Ristek. Ristek will make copies and provide the addresses for all of the governors of each province you will visit. You will mail a copy of the SPP to each governor to announce your research.

Expect to take 2-3 days in Jakarta visiting the offices listed above and 1-2 weeks obtaining the KITAS from the local office. There are visa consultants (e.g., Rami Services) who can assist with some or all of this (for a price), and if you are a VIP or working with an established NGO, someone should be standing by to help. If you are not, inquire outside the immigration office if there is someone who can help - this is legal, and you will pay them as well as the official fees (ca. $200), but it can relieve the stress and will definitely speed up the process of getting the KITAS. Definitely rent a car for the day (ca. $35 including tip, gas and tolls), even if you are doing this on the cheap - it will help greatly.

As an additional requirement, if you are working in a national park or other protected area, you will need permission to enter and work in the park. Ristek will prepare a letter for PHKA at the Dept of Forestry in Jakarta, to enable you to get a SIMAKSI (entry letter) and can help you make sure you have the correct documents. You need: Application letter, research proposal, passport with visa, Ristek letter, SKJ, Letter from Dalam Negeri, completed application form. Additionally, some National Parks now request that your field assistants are also listed in your SIMAKSI; this requirement cannot be completed if you have not been to the field yet, but if you are renewing your SIMAKSI you should include an additional letter to DirJen PHKA listing the names of your field assistants. Obtaining a SIMAKSI may be a rate-limiting step, as a senior official (SekDirJen) must sign it, and he/she may be on a long trip (i.e., it may take from 2 days to 1 month). A SIMAKSI is only valid for 3 months, requiring frequent renewals, each of which can take a month. The renewal process requires a letter from Ristek and should be started at least a month before the current SIMAKSI expires.

If you are collecting you may be required to make a complete list of all expected collections, and/or sign an MoU/MTA. This is where a previous recce can be very helpful. The authority to permit collections in National Parks has recently been given to local national park offices (Balai TN), and so you can work directly with the local park staff in obtaining this permit.

Finally, you must obtain a SKLD (a police ID card) at the province level where you will be primarily working. This requires a letter from Ristek, and can take several weeks, but will not hold up other steps. You are however required to carry and produce the card if asked by police.

In summary, the quick route is: short research, out of parks. The middle route is long research, in parks, but based in Jakarta/Bogor. The most intensive route is: long research, in parks, based outside Java.

MERP & Exit Permit

If you are on a KITAS, you need to get a Single or Multiple Exit-Reentry Permit in order to leave the country and then return during your stay (valid for 6 months, hence remember to renew if you are staying for more than 6 months!) After you get your KITAS you can apply for this at your local immigration office where the KITAS was issued. You will need additional letters from your research counterpart, photocopies of your KITAS and passport, and should allow 7 days (and ca. $150) for immigration processing. To exit the country, all you need to do is present the MERP in your passport, with a filled-out immigration slip (the same you filled in when first entering the country) to the immigration officer at the airport. In order not to pay the Rp. 2,500,000 fiskal exit tax, you used to need a special letter from Ristek to the Fiskal office at ports of departure (created by Ristek along with the MERP support letter). Don't forget to re-enter the country before the MERP expires!

To leave the country permanently you need an Exit Permit to cancel the KITAS; you cannot just let the KITAS expire. Processing time for the exit permit is about 1 week, and you must leave the country within 1 week of obtaining the exit permit so this will require some organization and makes it hard to change your leaving plans at the last minute!

Do not try and leave without the correct permit – you may be prevented from catching your flight and sent back to the local immigration office to obtain the correct documents.


If you intend to conduct research longer than 10 months, you will need to extend all your documents. In outline:

Because of the different chain for extensions (Ristek -> Immigration -> police -> PKHA), extensions are complex (and expensive), requiring a trip to the province to get your KITAS and a trip back to Jakarta to PHKA, and will require some time.


The link to the Ristek website above lays out your responsibilities as a foreign researcher, which includes submitting quarterly reports. Send these on time. Two major concerns of officials about foreign scientists are (i) the suspicion that materials are being illegally removed from the country, and (ii) knowledge is not being transferred, and no one knows what the researcher is up to. Please, for the sake of those who come after you, play by the rules, and keep people informed.


The steps required to obtain a research permit may seem lengthy and complex. However, for many foreign researchers these requirements are well worth the investment, since they do permit access to some of the most amazing biodiversity in the world. In terms of what research is allowed, and the ability to legally remove specimens from the country (with an appropriate MoU), Indonesia is one of the most foreign researcher-friendly countries in the tropics. Please respect the country's sovereignty and your position as a foreign guest, and you will be rewarded with life-changing experiences of the Nature of Indonesia.