Timor Leste is one of the world’s newest countries (only Montenegro, Kosovo, and South Sudan are younger) which officially became independent in 2002.
You’d be excused if you don’t know where it is – Timor Leste is a really small country of 15000 sq. km. sharing the island of Timor with Indonesia, about 500 km north of Australia.
Given its remote location, travel to Timor Leste can be both time-consuming and expensive. But as a budget traveler, I always find a way so I’ll share my tips for getting to Timor Leste cheaply, including information about the bus from Kupang to Dili.
Timor Leste Fun Fact 1:
“Timor” means “east” in Malay and “Leste” means east in Portuguese. So Timor Leste basically means “East East”.
The country is frequently called East Timor in Anglophone countries, but I’ll use the official name Timor-Leste (with or without a hyphen).
Fly to Kupang, then bus to Dili
If 220 USD (minimum) for a one-way ticket seems a lot to you, then you’ve come to the right place!
A little-known trick involves using Kupang’s El Tari Airport as a cheap gateway to the island of Timor. This way of getting to Timor Leste takes way longer than a direct flight but also costs half and allows you to check out Kupang!
If you’re flexible and not in a hurry, then this is for you, so read on!
Flights to Kupang
There are regular flights to Kupang from most airports in Indonesia, including Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, and Labuan Bajo. The carrier is usually Lion Air, but some flights are with Batik Air, Wings Abadi Airlines (both part of Lion Air Group), and Citilink.
Just as a reference, if you book between 1 and 4 weeks in advance, the cost of a one-way ticket is:
- Jakarta to Kupang: 100-120 USD
- Surabaya to Kupang: 65-80 USD
- Denpasar (Bali) to Kupang: 70-90 USD
- Labuan Bajo to Kupang: 70-80 USD
You will need a place to sleep in Kupang for one or two nights. I stayed in a RedDoorz hotel close to the Mangrove forest and I can recommend it. Hotels in Indonesia are almost always cheaper if booked online. I paid 120000 IDR / 8$ per night. Check it out on Booking.
Bus from Kupang to Dili
There’s a regular service with a modern, air-conditioned bus from Kupang to Dili. The distance is 450 km and it takes 12 hours since the roads are very winding. Even though the drivers are good and the roads are in acceptable condition, it’s still not the most pleasant bus trip.
Officially, there are two companies serving the bus route between Kupang and Dili – Damri and Babadok.
However, finding reliable information about the Damri service has proved difficult for me, so I will share with you my experience with Babadok.
All you have to do is message them on WhatsApp to book your ticket. Their number is +62 821-4765-2911. They speak enough English, but Google Translate can prove helpful still.
As of 2023, the bus from Kupang to Dili travels on even dates (2,4,6…) and the bus from Dili to Kupang travels on even dates (7, 9, 11…). The price is 400.000 IDR / 27$ one way and 750.000 IDR / 50$ return.
Do note, that if you pay in USD or you book/pay from Dili, they charge more: 40$ one way and 75$ return.
On the return leg, the bus departs at 7 AM from behind Timor Plaza and arrives at 6 PM at Terminal A Bimoku.
Timor Leste Fun Fact 2:
Timor Leste has a population of 1.35 million in 2023 with more than 50% of it under 20 years. There are kids everywhere in Timor Leste!
Border Crossing at Mota’Ain
The border crossing is very quick, efficient, and without any problems. You get off the bus with your luggage, pass Indonesian Immigration, walk to Timor Leste Immigration, pass customs and passport control, and board the bus again.
They were so lax with checking luggage, that I somehow managed to get through without having my luggage checked. Then I went back (unprompted) to tell them and they waved me through.
All throughout everybody was extremely friendly and welcoming.
Fly directly into Timor Leste
Timor Leste has one international airport in its capital Dili – Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport. It’s small and only has a few flights per week. The Timorese government is planning to make the big airport in Baucau operational, but until then it’s only Dili.
There are only two international destinations served from and to Dili – Denpasar (Bali) and Darwin (Australia).
From Denpasar (Bali)
There are 4 weekly flights from Bali to Dili – on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. The carrier is the Indonesian Citilink known to be reliable and comfortable. A one-way ticket costs between 220-300 USD.
Booking directly with Citilink outside of Indonesia can be problematic, as they reject foreign debit and credit cards. My advice is to book with Skyscanner.
Timor Leste Fun Fact 3:
Timor Leste was a Portuguese colony until 1975, then a region of Indonesia (de facto forcefully occupied) until 1999, and then administered by the UN until 2002 when it finally became independent.
If you want more fun facts, check what I learned about Timor Leste after backpacking there!
From Darwin (Australia)
There are daily flights between Darwin and Dili on the Australian flag carrier Qantas. The price is between 220-280 USD.
In addition, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday there is one more flight on the regional Australian airline Air North. It’s marginally cheaper with prices between 220-240 USD.
Visa for Timor Leste
If you’re carrying a passport from the European Union (including wider Schengen), Cabo Verde of Indonesia, you don’t need a visa for Timor Leste. EU citizens can stay up to 90 days, whereas Cabo Verdians and Indonesians up to 30 days.
Everybody else can acquire a visa on arrival (30$) at Dili International Airport or seaport ONLY! This means you cannot just turn up at Mota’ain (the overland border crossing with Indonesia) and get a visa on arrival if you’re not from an EU or Schengen country!
If you’re from the US, UK, Australia, Canada, etc., and want to travel to Timor Leste from Kupang, you must go to the Timor Leste Consulate in Kupang and apply for an Authorization Letter, which will give you the right to enter Timor Leste overland.
So there you have it! If you’re into getting to Timor Leste quickly and are not on a tight budget – fly directly from Bali or Darwin.
If you’re into slow travel and want to save money – fly into El Tari Airport, then take the bus from Kupang to Dili.