The authorities limit the number of visitors (120 lucky divers or snorkelers) who get to visit Sipadan each day – all divers/snorkelers must check in with an island official before getting wet.
You shouldn’t just show up and expect to dive as you may be disappointed. Permits generally sell out well in advance.
Getting a Sipadan permit
Chances of obtaining a permit for diving or snorkeling in Sipadan may significantly be increased by:
1. Booking a longer stay
As diving is not possible on arrival or departure day, longer stays (at least 3 nights) are necessary for diving in Sipadan, which requires a full day.
Furthermore, permits are known to be distributed according to a rotation system. Hence, a longer stay at a resort ultimately provides better chances of obtaining one.
Depending on the number of visitors, resorts are usually able to guarantee that Sipadan permits will be issued for guests who stay for 3 nights or more.
At times, guests may find that they are unable to stay long enough due to time or financial constraints.
In such a situation, it may be wise to consider accommodation in Mabul which do not have minimum stay requirements for diving Sipadan, or plan a visit during the off-peak season.
2. Avoiding peak seasons
As there will be much less visitors during the off-peak season, resorts and dive operators are likely to have more permits available.
Peak season includes the months of May to October as well as periods near Chinese New Year, Easter, Christmas and New Year.
3. Booking as early as possible
It is best to book your stay as early as possible. Much paperwork goes into the process of issuing a permit, which may take a while.
If you haven’t already secured a permit, immediately enquire about Sipadan when arriving at your resort.
4. Sourcing for permits from other dive operators
Keep in mind that not all dive operators are allocated Sipadan permits directly from the government.
That being said, there is a rich secondary market for diving permits and if your dive operator is unable to provide a permit, they may obtain one for you at a premium or book that day with a dive operator who can.
5. Replacing a diver
If you’re a last minute arrival, it may be possible to dive Sipadan using somebody else’s permit (that is, a no-show).
This is a bit of a gamble though, as you will be banking on:
- someone not showing up to claim a prepaid diving permit (which you will also have to pay for); and
- the permit being issued in your name, in time for the dive.