Nunukan to Tawau, Border Crossing by International Boat from Indonesia to Malaysia

Border Crossing

International boats cross the border from Nunukan, Indonesia to Tawau, Malaysia. It’s an interesting way to cross the border and not very complicated.

Both Nunukan and Tawau are cities on the island of Kalimantan (Borneo), but in order to cross the border, you need to take a boat.

Boats from Nunukan to Tawau

International boat terminal in Nunukan

There are three countries on Kalimantan (Borneo): Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. We crossed the border by boat from Nunukan, Indonesia, situated in the north-east of the island to Tawau, Malaysia.

Boats from Nunukan to Tawau depart every morning at around 9am. They leave from the international ferry terminal (Pelabuhan Tunon Taka Nunukan) where immigration is located.

We came to Nunukan from Maratua Island via Tarakan the day before. We arrived in Nunukan in the late afternoon and went to buy international boat tickets after checking in the hotel.

Buying boat tickets from Nunukan to Tawau

Ticket office

There is a ticket office (Tempat Penjualan Tiket Nunukan Tawau) near the ferry terminal where international boats arrive and depart.

However, when we arrived, the office was already closed. Then the taxi driver who brought us to the office phoned someone. Apparently, he called the ticket seller.

While we waited, we checked into a hotel opposite the ticket office. We left our luggage in our room and went down to the hotel lobby, where the ticket seller was waiting for us and we bought international boat tickets from him.

The distance from Nunukan to Tawau was approximately 40 km, but the boat cost Rp 360,000 per person, which is not cheap. Funnily enough, although the fare on the tickets were written Rp 360,000, we actually paid Rp 350,000 per person. He said it was a ‘discount’, – is it really? Who knows. I think you might be able to get the ticket a little bit cheaper.

The boat would leave at 9am the next morning and we were told to come to the ticket office between 7.30am and 8am as we had to register our passport numbers before that.

Passport registration at the ticket office

Ticket office at 7.30am

Next day, we went to the ticket office at around 7.30am, as requested, and found the man who had sold us the tickets the day before. There were several other staff working in the office and we submitted our passports.

Many other people had come to buy boarding tickets besides us, and we waited for about 10 minutes for them to finish registering.

The ship’s name was put to our passports.

After registration was completed, the name of the ship and the list number were affixed to the passports. We would find out later that there were a total of four international boats bound for Tawau that day, leaving at about the same time. You don’t want to get on the wrong boat!

Exchange Indonesian rupiah for Malaysian ringgit

A money exchanger in front of Hotel Gita.

We had quite a few Indonesian rupiah left on hand. There are several money changers standing near the port with wads of money in their hands.

I negotiated with the moneychanger in front of Hotel Gita to exchange rupiah for ringgit.

There are also money changers standing at the boat dock

Leaving Indonesia at Immigration in Nunukan

International boat terminal for Tawau

After registering our passports, we returned to the hotel and checked out. We then headed to the ferry terminal.

In Nunukan, we stayed at Hotel Melati Indah. The rooms were so-so, but the location was excellent, just a few minutes’ walk to the ferry terminal. We walked to the ferry terminal with our luggage.

A lot of people were already standing in front of the port. We entered the building through the ‘International’ gate.

International boat boarding area

Inside the building, there is the immigration where there was already a long queue.

Entrance to immigration

At the immigration, present your passport and boarding pass to complete Indonesian departure procedure.

This time, we got visa on arrival in Makassar, and then extended our visa in Manado. The departure procedure took a little longer at this time because the Arrival Visa and the extended stay permit stamp were on separate pages and the Immigration Officer could work it out!

Boarding an international ship from Nunukan to Tawau

Four international boats line up from Nunukan to Tawau

There were four international boats leaving that morning, so there were four fast boats docked at the pier. We boarded the ship, checking the name of the ship on our passport.

Our boat, Labuan Express Lima

You can choose your seats. The legroom of each seat varies slightly, so if you want better seats, early embarking is recommended.

Departure from Nunukan: 9:09 am

On board

The ship was crowded but there was space for our backpacks. The ship was air-conditioned, and comfortable enough.

The ship departed at 9:09 am, slightly behind schedule. We were told that the journey from Nunukan to Tawau would take about 70 minutes.

Entering Malaysian at Immigration in Tawau

Tawau immigration exit

The ship departed from the port of Nunukan shortly after 9am and arrived at the Malaysian port of Tawau at 10:35am.

At Malaysian immigration in Tawau, there is a separate queue for Malaysian passports holders and other nationalities. Wanting to get through immigration as quickly as possible, we started preparing to disembark as soon as we saw the ship approaching the port of Tawau.

Once disembarked, we walked quickly towards immigration, so that we managed to get in line at the foreign passport booth early. Within 15 minutes of disembarking, we were able to leave the immigration office.

From here, we moved towards Sipadan, another wold famous diving spot.


  1. Chris Chris says:

    Thanks for your feedback! It’s much appreciated. Travelling to Maratua was fun and the people are great, like everywhere in Indonesia.

  2. Kris says:

    Thank you for this article. I’m planning to travel from Tarakan – Nunukan – Tawau and found the article very helpful. I want to ask if you have phone information of Hotel Melati Indah? I didn’t find it on any travel app.

    • Chris Chris says:

      Thanks Kris for your feedback. Unfortunately, I don’t have a number because we just walked in. I also tried to find a number online for you, but couldn’t. You should be good if you just turn up. It’s quite a big place. Nothing special, but very convenient. Safe travels and enjoy the journey!

    • Chris Chris says:

      Thanks for your feedback. unfortunately I don’t have a number as we just walked in. You should be ok to just turn up. It’s quite a big place, nothing special, but convenient. Safe travels and enjoy the journey!