Not a Tourist, but a Visa Runner


From Johor Bahru facing Singapore

I often heard this slogan ; ‘I am not a tourist I am a traveler’.

Because I am an anti-mainstream person, I asked myself, so, what am I then ?? Am I tourist or traveler ??

I understand there’s no need to argue between Tourist or Traveler, why bother labelling whether we’re a tourist or traveler that make us a Travel Snob. It depends on your preference and lifestyle. At the end of the day, we’re all a tourist, traveler will always be a tourist in immigration.

There’s no traveler visa, we only hear tourist visa, by far.

But I have to be honest, tourist and traveler could be a different concept although they often interchangeable. For me, traveler could be named as a tourist generally, however, tourist has narrow definition than traveler. Tourist could be referring to people who take vacation for a short period of time, because they have regular job, company to run, family to feed and limited annual leave.

Most of my family fall into tourist group, my sisters run their own business and spend not more than a week traveling with their own little family, kids, visit touristy places, shopping and back home with souvenirs , then repeat it at least twice a year.

Unlike me, my sisters or big family would never understand the concept of staying at the hostel dorm, sharing the room with strangers, male and female. They are hotel people, vacation means staying at a very comfortable suites, or family suites with swimming pool and room service all the time. They travel for having quality time with their beloved ones, getting closer, not to socialize with other tourist in hotel. As for my family, vacation means being pampered with facility they pay for it.

And, …. I’m the anti-thesis of everything my family’s way.

In the end of 2007, I surrendered my Student Visa to ICA Singapore and they stamped in my passport and stated that I no longer as a legal long-term resident in this country. I only had 30 days of tourist visa to stay in Singapore, If I break it, staying longer than that, my status would be an over-stayer and I have to pay fine.

I couldn’t go back home for good because I didn’t have any intention to live in Indonesia after my study was over. It was not easy to find a job in Singapore when you are foreigner and less experience in your major. And, design industry is a very competitive field, the job didn’t come to me, but, ME who must knock ‘their doors one by one’ , I mean, send hundreds of application, waiting for phone calls or emails and hoping for the interview invitation.

Then, don’t be happy first, after the interview… if the potential companies are not in a rush for hiring new staff, they only  let me waiting for the second interview and so on. They don’t care the fact, my status was only a tourist in Singapore, and my time was ticking out. I, actually, couldn’t wait. Life was uncertain where just I couldn’t wait for one company, so, keep searching and searching until I got one, they want me and I want them. Welcome to the real world..

Creative industry is not sort of job you’d get easily because you know somebody in the company and they will offer you a job because you’re friend with X, Y or Z in the department. NO. That’s not in my experience. As a fresh graduate with portfolio from School, it was very tough to convince company to hire you.

Within one month of my graduation day, and my 30 days social visit pass kept running to the end of the date, I had around 20s job interviews and most of company didn’t want to hire me because I was still fresh graduate, I had no real portfolio from real company they don’t count my school portfolio, Yeah.. of course for heaven’s sake, don’t they know there is a first time for everything, why just don’t give me a chance ??

Sadly to say, they didn’t want to be busy with paper work and visa for hiring a foreigner. I only had freelance projects from them and when my social visit pass nearly the end, I had to hop to Johor Bahru to renew my social visit pass and got another 30 days.

Several years ago, the visa rule was not as strict as today,  foreigners could renew their social visit pass by crossing the border and stay in Johor Bahru for a few hours, then re-enter Singapore in the evening. My Japanese friend did visa run for almost a year, and he never got problem.

How about me ?? Apparently, as a young Indonesian girl, my way was not as smooth as my Japanese friend. Of course, because our passport is different. The whole world knows between first world and third world passport are treated in a different way, different smile from the immigration officers, your nationality has a big role in this issue. Every time I passed the immigration, they always asked me same question; why I came in and out Singapore and Malaysia every month, why not taking Ferry to Batam, Indonesia, your own country.

I replied honestly, ‘I was in a job hunting,’ I showed them emails interview invitation in printout version I received during my stay in Singapore, and why I didn’t take Ferry to Indonesia, because it is cheaper to Malaysia than taking Ferry to Indonesia where I had to spend round trip Ferry  around SGD 40. Taking a bus to Malaysia, I only spend something Cents.

I remember, at my third time doing a visa run from Malaysia to Singapore, I got a terrible problem in Johor Bahru Immigration. They wouldn’t allow me to enter Singapore, and they detained me for more than one hour. I just sat in a boring small room, listening to boring conversation in Malay and they let me linger longer without doing nothing, what a waste of time, to be precise!!

They convinced me, Singapore wouldn’t allow me to get my another 30 days visa and there was no solution unless, kick me out to Indonesia from Malaysia. Of course, it is just their bullshitness.

Eventually, I could handle it. As ‘a seasoned visa runner’, getting my passport stamped is quite a dramatic moment for me, where I could finally breath, such a relieve !!!!

Then I got my Working Visa, both S-Pass and E-pass. It was nice living in a foreign country with legal permit.


The view was taken from one of Hotel in Johor Bahru I stayed for one night during my early Visa Run

When economic downturn hit Southeast Asia in 2010, I moved to Jakarta after working for few years overseas. I thought my returning home would be a good sign for my future, but I was totally wrong. I don’t feel I belong to Jakarta anymore, my birth city. Even in my heart and dream I don’t know where I belong exactly ??

According to my passport, I belong to Indonesia, but when I am back to Indonesia I always want to go back to Singapore. I didn’t mean to be a nut forgets its shell, if you were like me, a long-term traveler, probably, you could feel how I feel, too bad our passports aren’t “fill in the blank”, it would be great if so, we could choose where we want to live until we get bored and find a new country, without dealing with Visa Run issue. I think it’s the dream of Nomadic around the world

Passing my one year in Jakarta, I then went back to Singapore and did a job hunting again. I got a job after my first two weeks, but my timing was not in the right time. My company applied job application to Ministry of Manpower during the election day, and my working visa got rejected for many times, so, sorry to say, I worked there under social visit pass, but am I wrong, they let me hanging, sometimes the law is tentative, there is a fine line between legal and illegal.

I did my visa run for more than three times, during that times I stayed at cheap hostels in Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, I got a freelance job as a web designer in Malaysia, so, that’s  story of my life as a visa runner. It is away from ‘normal life’.

Meanwhile others competing one another how many country or place they have visited, I actually never care about how many country I have visited, people are vary, we are different. I was not a tourist who travel to another country for vacation, I traveled to Malaysia, Thailand for my visa run, continuing my freelance job at the hostel I’ve got from my online jobs, pitching with companies and people I sometimes never met in real life, glued to my laptop on the fifth storey Singapore National Library Bras Basah, whilst others have party and visit touristy places. On the contrary, I come back home for a few months or more to recover, or meet my family and cats.

Being a nomad is part of my life since I was born, my first flight when I was 2 months old traveling from Java to Sumatra island. And as a Visa Runner, I travel without itinerary, all I do just exploring and go with the flow, I meet many people from different nationalities at the hostel, talking with them, exchange stories and see the world in different perspective…

I’m neither tourist nor traveler, I’m just a visa runner.


One of my room in Malaysia, it is my favorite one where some times I was the only one guest in a big house, with nice pantry. Of course, with a nice owner who lived not far from the guesthouse.


authorRahma loves writing & reading before she knows how to write and read. A geek who loves her spirit of individuality and has traveled solo since her early age.

4 Responses to “Not a Tourist, but a Visa Runner

  • Yes, anyone who is a visa runner (or even knows what a “visa run” is) is definitely a traveler and not a tourist. But you are right, in the eyes of immigration we are all just tourists — and unfortunately the first world ones often get treated different. Like me I have dozens and dozens of stamps, many from the same countries 5-6-7 times, yet no one questions me. Still, I don’t like carrying a US passport, even if it does make border crossings simpler.

  • Hi Lynn, thanks for the beautiful comment. Great meeting you too and stayed at your place and met with two cool housemates from Germany and Iran. It must be great meeting new people from all over the world everyday
    Thanks for stopping by here, I hope we’ll cross path soon. I’ll give you a shout whenever I’m in JB.
    I’ll be back on the road in 2015

  • Salam Rahma,
    Oh, it’s great knowing you and your “straightforward + no-nonsense = real world lifestyle”. We are traveler in our daily life journey.
    Believe that where ever our feet lands, be good to people & journey never ends. Hope to travel a lot in 2015. We both know when we’re in foreign land, luxury isn’t necessities, it’s the people that makes the difference! May Allah bless our day.
    Hey, drop by JB anytime you’re here. Seriously, we’ve lots to share & giggle!

  • and, when we’re too long in a foreign country, a love hate relationship will emerge by itself, it’s different when we are just on short holiday as a tourist, when everything is still new & we feel more excited, everything still looks fun.
    But, after more than 3 months, our view toward this foreign country unlike a tourist anymore. So, when I heard my friends spend holiday in each country only for 3 days, for me, it’s just like a business trip. What we see in 3 days are just our momentary happiness.
    Speaking of Passport, I think this world is totally unfair. I know, even your passport get a 90 day social pass to Singapore and Malaysia, our passport, fellow ASEAN country, only get 30 days. Buh, this ASEAN label is kinda useless.

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