A “much-needed” relaxing holiday to Bali turned into a nightmare for a Melbourne woman, all because of a seemingly minor detail on her passport.
Monique Sutherland and her 60-year-old mother were travelling to the Indonesian island hotspot from Tullamarine airport when staff reportedly asked her to sign an extra form due to her passport being “slightly dirty”.
“While at the Batik Air counter at Tullamarine airport I was made to sign an additional blue form which I was told I had to show whenever I showed my passport,” Monique told 7News.
“This was because my passport was slightly dirty as it is seven years old.”
Boarding the flight went without a hitch, and the pair landed in Bali where things quickly went downhill at immigration.
'Pay $1500 or be deported'
The young woman said upon arriving at Indonesian customs, the extra paperwork didn't seem to help all that much.
“I was asked if I was alone, and if I were a regular traveller (which I’m not) ... then I was taken into a small interrogation room,” she said.
“Officials continued to come in and out and question me for over an hour. I was hysterical and petrified.”
Monique said she was terrified as immigration officers spoke Indonesian and laughed with each other, before telling her she would be deported unless she paid a fee of US$1000 ($1500).
“However my passport was actually accepted and already stamped for visa entry, and it wasn’t till I handed them the blue form that I was picked on,” she told 7 News.
The 28-year-old refused as she was recently out of work, so the officers turned to her mother for the money and “convinced her to pay”.
After handing over the fee, the travellers were escorted out of the airport free to go about their holiday – but Monique found it difficult to relax and enjoy her trip after the “traumatic” ordeal.
“The entire holiday was spent stressing about this experience and researching whether my passport was acceptable,” she said.
“It was a terrible experience ... very traumatic.”
Traveller suspects $1500 ordeal was a ‘set-up’
The pair’s trip back to Melbourne went smoothly, and on landing Monique told an Australian border security staffer about what had happened in Bali. They told her the situation appeared to be a set-up.
“My passport was never the real issue,” she said. “It was an easy way to get some money from inexperienced tourists.”
Passport damage can stop Aussies from travelling
Balinese authorities are known for their strict passport rules, after cracking down on travellers with damaged passports. In 2019, the nation began enforcing a $7000 fine for airlines if they carry passengers with damage to their passports, with some even being made to return to Australia.
According to the Australian Passport Office, serious passport damage can stop you from travelling. But the website states: "Normal wear and tear should not be a problem". Aussie travellers are urged to keep passports "intact and in good condition”.
Just last month, another Aussie traveller was told she could not board the plane to Bali because of a small tear in the binding of her passport. She claims she was left $2000 out of pocket over the ordeal.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.