Ever since America disappointed the world with their terrible management of Covid19, the American passport pretty much went for a free fall in value. It’s pointless to mention that the US passport ranked 7th in 2020 according to the Henley & Partners passport index. For instance, although Europe partially opened its borders on July 1st, the US is notably left out on the list of approved countries. Gone are the multitude of travel articles luring Americans to exotic destinations. Nowadays, articles like NYTime’s “I’m a U.S. Citizen. Where in the World Can I Go?” reveal the glum reality – as an American traveler, it’s slim-pickings. The Points Guy listed 22 countries (two sort of’s) and threw in two US territories just to beef up the short list. 

Hopping borders in the time of Corona

This shouldn’t even be an issue since we’re all supposed to stay put. As a traveler, I was lucky to have breezed through the first three months of the outbreak sheltered on Christmas Island. As much as I wanted to hide on a remote island until the whole thing blew over, the expiration of my 90-day tourist visa was fast-approaching. I reluctantly bought a ticket to Jakarta and braced myself for the risk of exposure while passing through a major travel hub of Asia. This is the life of the traveling nomad. We hop countries based on visa expiration dates. 

From “0” cases to hotspot of Asia

The idea of flying to Jakarta scared me shitless. At the time, despite being surrounded by countries plagued by the virus, Indonesia maintained their improbable claim of 0 cases. The lack of transparency was scarier than the truth. So it was with this trepidation that I flew to Jakarta on leap day. When I arrived at CGK, other than a yellow health form that passengers were required to fill out and a few temperature checks, everything looked like business as usual. Social distancing hardly noticeable, the airport bustled with activity. 

Traveling during Covid19: the yellow health form travelers had to fill out upon arrival at CGK airport.

Two days after I arrived, Indonesia finally reported its first case. Panic spread like a toppling tower of Jenga. The first few days I spent in Jakarta, I freely explored eateries with a local. Within two weeks, cities began locking down and local villages set up blockades to prevent visitors from entering. I was lucky enough to have escaped to Yogyakarta before trains stopped running across Java. 

The world shuts down

As soon as I arrived Yogyakarta, I began receiving texts from friends around the world updating me on their perspective country’s border closure. Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan – countries removed their welcome mats one after another. This was horrible news to me. Even with an extension, my visa only allowed me to stay in Indonesia until the end of April. The idea of returning to the States seemed ridiculous. Not only was my hometown of New York City becoming the epicenter of Covid19, I’d be returning to a life under voluntary house arrest – truly not a way I had imagined my triumphant return. 

The silver lining: no more visa runs

Miraculously, Indonesia saved me from my troubles and announced an emergency stay permit allowing all foreigners with expired visas to remain until further notice. With this news, I spent the next four months quite blissfully “stuck” in Jogja. I no longer needed to pack my suitcase every few days. Being bored in an unfamiliar city, I experimented with the sustainable living solutions that had exploded across all social media. (I will devote another post to all my happy discoveries in this beautiful city.) 

The unknown future

Bliss doesn’t last forever. Two weeks ago, Indonesia finally announced the inevitable. While the pandemic is far from over, they’ve revoked the emergency permits. Foreigners must vacate by August 11 if there are available flights to return home. Under this stipulation, I’d say 99% of foreigners have to leave. They’re expensive as hell and likely to be cancelled, but there are available flights to almost all countries. It’s just a matter of whether you’re allowed in.

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I guess it’s only fair. The Trump administration had caused much distress when they tried to revoke visas from students taking 100% of their courses online. After colleges sued, the US backpedaled. I’m not religious, but I’m praying for an Indonesian version of this outcome. It’s a developing situation that requires mental strength to remain calm, flexible, and a willingness to accept a future that can’t be easily controlled. 

If the powers-that-be won’t answer my Hail Mary, here are some options I’m considering…

To other stuck travelers with expiring visas, restrictions.info is an awesome site to check status of border closures!

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