It is an ordeal- to say the least- to get a work visa in Timor-Leste. For Jason, it took him over three months and a promise to teach someone English before his work visa was approved.

We were delighted to receive this blog post about the hurdles of trying to get a work visa in our inbox this week.

Bravo to the writer, who’d like to remain anonymous, for firstly, trying to get a work visa and secondly, for sharing their experience with us (it would have taken hours to write this great post).

I think you’ll agree it is an invaluable and funny read.

For all of those left wondering, is it really worth working or setting up a business in Timor-Leste?

Yes, it ABSOLUTELY is!

Survivor  Timor Leste: Work Visa; The Immunity Challenge

All the events in this blog post all true.Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The World Bank provides a “doing business” index each year and then rates countries across the globe on various dimensions. The bigger the number the more difficult it is to do business; Timor Leste now ranks 172 out of 189 countries however the result is better than it seems; Timor did manage to achieve the lowest rating on the planet (189th  out of 189) in 3 of the 10 World Bank measures.

So on the ground what does this mean? Countries with a high ranking have processes that are complicated, time consuming or typically lack reliability or transparency. For business this means greater time and cost spent doing bureaucratic processes and a lack of certainty about processes. This can lead to impacts on businesses such as reduce investor confidence and higher costs of doing business but more serious impacts include lower levels of compliance and greater scope for corruption in order to simply get things done.But what does that look like on the ground? One of the things that is not measured in this index is the simple process of getting a work visa but it does illustrates what such a high ranking means in real terms.

Context: Getting a tourist visa or 60 day visa extension

When you come as a visitor to Timor Leste you can purchase a 30 day visa for $30 USD at the airport. After that you can apply for a 60 day extension and this requires just a few manageable steps:

  • Filling out of a form (available online)
  • Finding the visa office
  • Showing up at the right time of day (hint: Government departments receive documents in the morning and issue documents in the afternoon. They are closed for 2 hours each day at lunch)
  • Asking a person with a resident’s card to support your application
  • Providing copies of your passport
  • Leaving your passport at the visa office
  • Returning to pay for your extension (about a week)
  • Pick up your visa and passport

It is a relatively straight forward process.

Getting a work visa:

If you want or need to extend your time beyond 90 days (30 + 60) then you need a special visa such as a student, study or work visa and this is a little more complicated. If you are working for someone or a volunteer and supported by an agency they will provide you with assistance but if you need to do it yourself it is just like participating in an immunity challenge on the Survivor program and just like in Survivor if you don’t succeed you really do get voted off the island or in this case get fined or even deported.To compete in this challenge you are going to need:

  • Pen (Black or blue)
  • Photocopier or a local shop that will do photocopies for you
  • Some folders to put all those original documents and copies in
  • Money
  • Time, lots and lots and lots of time, about 3 weeks
  • Patients, buckets of it

If you want to play by the rules only pay for official government fees and charges. You will be issued a receipt for these.

Let’s begin:
Challenge 1: Get your list of things to collect for your work visa

Anticipated number of visits to this department: 3

  1. To find where the office is
  2. To come at the right time to get the list of things you need for your visa
  3. Visit to clarify things such as “complete medical record” (which by the way means a health check at the Dili hospital)

Notes about this challenge:

  • If you are new to the challenge you will need to locate the Timor Leste department of foreign affairs and then the visa office (hint; it’s at the back somewhere). Note that this is NOT the visa office where you get a 60 day extension
  • Find out when the office is open remembering that the office will be closed for 2 hours in the middle of the day. Document can only be received in the mornings and issued in the afternoons and that opening hours are a guideline only. If there is one public holiday in the week this office have been known to close the office for the whole week.
  • Get a list of the documents that you need. Note that it is important that you get a new version of the list as the list changes from year to year
  • While you are there get a visa application form. You can download one off the web but when you come to submit the form this will not be accepted. It needs to be on A3 paper (folded). You can buy one from the visa office for 50 cents and it’s got a fancy stamp on it (fancy stamps are good!)

Challenge 2: Police check

Anticipated number of days to get: 1 day or if very unlucky 2 weeks
Notes about this challenge:

  • You are going to need a new police check and it MUST be an original
  • If you forgot to get one you can order one online from the AFP if you have or can scan identity documents such as your passport, a utility bill with your address on it (I always pack an old gas bill when I come to Timor Leste now) or your birth certificate
  • Once the police check arrives it will be delivered to your home address in Australia. You need to find someone to pick it up and bring it to you in Timor

Challenge 3: Certified copies

Anticipated number of visits: 1 day
Notes about this challenge:

  • You need to have certified copies of your passport, the visa page in your passport and that pesky police check all certified by the embassy of your home country
  • Get your documents and get some cash they cost about $28 for each document

Challenge 4: Photos

Anticipated number of visits: 1 day
Notes about this challenge:

  • There are several places that specialise in photos. They are cheap and easy to get
  • Tell them what you need them for as there are several different coloured backgrounds depending on the thing you are applying for. This information is generally not on the list of requirements but explained when you submit the application. If you get photos with the wrong coloured background you will be required to get new ones
  • If you are a man make sure you have a collar on your shirt as the photo will be rejected if you don’t have one
  • The online visa application form lets you upload a photo into the form and then run it off on your printer. This is not acceptable for your work visa

Challenge 5: Complete medical record

Anticipated visits: 6

  1. Trip back to the visa office to clarify that “complete medical records” means “Get a certificate from the Dili hospital” (Which is what it said last year)
  2. Visit to the Dili hospital and find the office where you start the process and the time it is open
  3. Visit to commence the process and then realise that the next step is to get a blood test but unless you were there at 8.00am you have little hope of getting it done that day
  4. Visit to organise the x-rays
  5. Visit to go back early in the morning and get the blood test
  6. Another visit to get the results and hand the x-rays and blood test results to the people who issue the certificate
  7. Another day to come back and pick up the certificate

Notes about this challenge:

  • This year the hospital was over loaded so we were instructed to go to another clinic to get the x-rays

Challenge 6: Rental contract

Anticipated visits: 1

  1. Ask your landlord and if they don’t have one then make one up.

Notes about this challenge:

  • If you are a business owner you are required to withhold 10% of your rent on your office and remit this monthly to the government. To pay this tax means filling in a form each month, getting out the cash (It’s all cash here) and then going to the Timor bank, BNU bank, lining up and paying it. It also means informing your landlord that you are keeping 10% of the rent to pay in tax, this is something that landlords have not done in the past and are reluctant to do

Challenge 7: Work contract

Anticipated days: 4
The goal here is to get stamped and signed copies of employer contracts by the Inspector General for employees. You will also need a list of all employees.

  1. Visit to find SEFFOPE and the specific office you need to visit and the time they are open (hint: It’s moved but there is still no sign out the front)
  2. Download the employee contract template and modify it: The template is in Tetum or Portuguese. The Visa office accepts English contracts but SEFFOPE do not.
  3. Take the completed contract to SEFFOPE and they will explain the things that are essential for the contract that are NOT on the template
  4. Go home and modify the template according to instructions
  5. Come back at the appropriate time with the revised contracts and get them stamped and signed. Go and find a place to get photocopies (hint: It’s down the road and you need change) and return the copies to the office and you’re done!

Challenge 8: Company registration documents

Anticipated visits: 0
Notes about this challenge:

  • You just need copies of these documents. If you don’t have them or need to renew registration you will need another month, it’s a whole other process!

Challenge 9: Professional diploma or work experience

Anticipated visits: 0
Notes about this challenge:

  • You just need copies of these documents. If you (for some crazy reason) decided to leave home without or lost them then you will need to get them somehow

Challenge 10: Updated tax payment certificate

Anticipated visits: 4

  1. You have to (you guessed it) find the office: It’s also moved and when you do find it is the 5th grey door on the right, just look for people coming in and out.
  2. Get the form and fill it out
  3. Come back in the morning on another day because they only accept forms in the morning
  4. Go back after 6 working days (Unless there is a public holiday in between in which case make it 7 days). Come in  the afternoon, pickup’s ONLY ever happen in the afternoon
  5. Find out that it is not ready yet and try another day

Notes about this challenge:

  • The document you are trying to get for you and your business is called a “Dividas”. Basically it’s a statement that you don’t owe any tax
  • There have been some big changes to the tax system this year. Everyone and every business had to get a new TIN (Tax file number) in 6 weeks. Yep, everyone across the whole country otherwise their business is deregistered.

Challenge 11: Temporary domicile declaration

Anticipated visits: 3

  1. Find the office
  2. Come back at the right time; it’s putting in a form so that is the morning. Remembering to bring a copy of your passport (not that anyone told us to bring one it just seems like everyone wants one)
  3. Pick up in the afternoon and pay $30
Notes about this challenge:

  • This was new this year and basically it’s a stamped and signed form from the “Chief of the village” to say you are a good person and living where you say you are living
  • We asked around the people that we know how to find the “Chief of the Village” but most people were not sure. Someone said that there was a specific office where things like this were notarised. We got on a motorcycle and rode a few kilometres to a small government building that was in a place well of the main street. There was an office that dealt with such things

Challenge 12: Copy of your valid visa

Anticipated visits: 0

  1. Simply take a copy of the current visa document

Challenge 13: Submit

Anticipated visits: 4

  1. A visit to submit your final application
  2. A follow up visit to re submit your final application
  3. Follow up visit to see where your visa is up to
  4. Final visit to collect your visa and therefore win the immunity challenge!

Notes about this challenge:

  • There is always something else to do no matter how much time or detail you have put into the preparation of documents so one submission visit is never enough. Expect to revisit at least one department to get something else
  • Once submitted you will receive a receipt. You will need this when you periodically check with the office to find out if your visa has been completed. These visits (of course) can only happen in the afternoon as you will be aiming to pick up a document
  • Once the submission for the visa has been accepted this should take a 6-8 weeks

Challenge 14: Receive the document and leave the country

Anticipated visits: 1
Let’s say you were lucky enough to get your visa document then you have 1 month to leave the country and enter via the Dili airport where you show your work visa document together with your passport and it will be stamped and signed for 12 months from the date of the document issue.The 12 month visa will cost you $50 the airfares and other travel costs to leave the country for 24 hours and re-enter will cost you between $300 and $700.


Doing the process a couple of times has not made it much easier in fact in some ways it has got harder.There are more steps, more departments to find and more documents to get.

There is less clarity and this clarity protracts the process and makes compliance difficult.

At the end of the day it all comes down to the Visa office and their judgement of the sum total of your endeavours, effort does not count here otherwise:

If you’ve got an experience you’d like to share with our readers, please contact us.