Papua Travel Permit
In the fairly recent past, visiting Papua meant filling out reams of forms and obtaining a special travel permit known as a surat keterangan jalan (commonly called a surat jalan). Recently, though, permit restrictions have been eased for many areas (though this could just as easily be reversed). At the time of research, exactly where a surat jalan was required seemed to depend on whom you asked. The police in Jayapura insisted one was required for almost every town and area in Papua, but the reality was that in all but the remotest areas you now very rarely get asked to produce a surat jalan. To be on the safe side, however, if you’re heading to the Baliem Valley, Yali country, Agats and the Korowai region it’s better to get one.
A surat jalan is usually easily obtained from the police in the capitals of Papua’s 30-odd kabupaten (regencies). The relevant police departments are typically open from about 8am to 2pm Monday to Saturday; times and days vary, and some departments can attend to you outside their official hours. Take your passport, two passport photos, and photocopies of your passport’s personal details page and your Indonesian visa. The procedure normally takes about an hour and no payment should be requested. The duration of the permit depends on how long you request and the expiry date of your visa.
Some police stations will only issue a surat jalan for their own regencies or limited other destinations. The best place to obtain a wide-ranging surat jalan is the polresta or polda in Jayapura, where you can present a list of almost every place that you intend to visit, the exception being places considered West Papua. Take care not to omit any obscure, small, off-the-beaten-track places, and you can ideally get everything included on one surat jalan. You might have similar luck in other relatively large cities such as Biak or Manokwari.
Once you have your surat jalan, make several photocopies of it. In remoter areas your hotel should report your arrival to the police and they will likely need photocopies of your passport and/or surat jalan to do so. In a few places you may need to report to the police yourself. Carry your surat jalan on out-of-town trips.
Some parts of Papua are sometimes off limits to tourists, usually because of Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Organisation; OPM) activity. When you apply for a surat jalan, the police will tell you if anywhere on your itinerary is off limits.
Note: some Indonesian embassies may tell you that in order to visit Papua you must obtain a special permit from the Indonesian immigration authorities and/or the police department in Jakarta – some have even reportedly refused visas to applicants who said they planned to visit Papua. This is not true. In practice, as long as you have an Indonesian visa then you’re free to travel to and around Papua (and don’t worry, airlines never ask to see a surat jalan).