We had a huge response from our last article about living in Bali, and so have decided to follow it up with more information for those considering relocating here for a period. When we moved here in 2015, we had very little knowledge about the practical realities of life on the island, having only been a tourist here before. Our naivete meant we took a while to find our feet! Below is some of what we have learned.
There is no one perfect visa unfortunately, and we have found that different families choose different visas by picking the “least bad” for their situation. Below is a list of the most common options:
1) A “social culture visa” is good for 60 days, but you get 4 x 30 day extensions which brings the total to 180 days (about 6 months). You cannot leave the country during this period otherwise you need to come back in on a new visa. To get the visa processed, you can best do it yourself in Australia by visiting the website of your nearest Indonesian Consultate (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth), filling out the forms and then posting them to the Consultate with a return envelope included. You will need an Indonesian sponsor, which can be arranged through Bali Business Consulting or other similar companies – www.balibusinessconsulting.com. When you have made the move to Bali, the most popular destination for getting a new visa processed is Singapore as its only a 2.5 hour flight and there are crazy cheap fares using Air Asia or other budget airlines. Most people pay someone to collect the paperwork when you arrive, and they go to the consulate on your behalf to have it processed quickly – the express service can be done on same day if you wish, otherwise it takes a couple of days. Just ask around for a contact to use in Singapore for this service. When you need to get the extensions processed in Bali, your visa consultant (like Bali Business Consultant) arranges an interview at Immigration in either Denpasar or Nusa Dua, and you need to turn up well-dressed for a quick finger print session. You only need to go to Immigration once during your 6 month stay.
2) KITAS – this is a work permit for those who own or are employed by a business in Bali. Dependents of the primary KITAS holder also get one too. Given the expense of starting a foreign-owned business in Indonesia, you would only consider this option if you are serious about setting up a business here. The odds of finding another business owner to hire you and organize a KITAS for you are quite low, given local labour is so cheap. The good thing about a KITAS is you can come and go from Indonesia as you please, with no restrictions.
3) Multiple Entry Business Visa – valid for 12 months, if you can prove you are here for business reasons (eg. meeting suppliers), you just need to find a sponsor company (Bali Business Consulting can do this for you). The catch on this visa is that you need to leave the country every 60 days, so flying to Singapore and back can take up a full day – once every 2 months or so.
4) APEC card – if you are a business owner in Australia and you deal with suppliers in any of the APEC countries, you can apply in Australia for an APEC card (search google to find out how). The APEC card allows 60 days of visa free entry to Indonesia (and most of the other APEC countries) and is good only for the card holder – dependents are not included.
Families with children of school age will of course need to know about schools in Bali. Our boys are currently in childcare only (covered below), so we are still researching this ourselves. We have learned that most options are quite expensive, and the quality of education is often considered dubious for the money paid, particularly in high school. The primary school years are not as important, so we still have quite a bit of time up our sleeves before we need to consider this – we will probably be gone by then. The best options for primary school in the Canggu area are the following (in our opinion):
1) Montessori School in Canggu – https://www.montessoribali.com/. This is a relatively new school and has an amazing campus in the heart of Berawa. Fees are around A$14,000 per year (at current AUDIDR exchange rate) depending on the age of the child. The feedback we have heard is very positive, and this seems to be the leading option so far.
2) Canggu Community School – https://ccsbali.com/ – this is adjacent to the Finns Recreation Club (also in Berawa), and is probably the most popular school for expats in Bali. The primary school looks very nice and staff are friendly. It comes with a price tag getting closer to A$16-18,000 per year, depending on age.
3) Skywalker House Montessori – https://skywalkerhouse.weebly.com/ – much more affordable, this is run by an English guy with great standards, and your child will get lots of individual learning attention. There is not any real grass yard for kids to run around, though the house is quite large. The main downside is the far off location (if you are living in Berawa). This option is better for those wanting to live in the Pererenan area, as the commute would be about 10 mins versus 30-40 minutes from Berawa depending on traffic. If it was an easy commute we would consider it more, but the traffic in Bali these days is not good, and can be quite stressful if caught up in it on a twice daily basis.
The above schools will usually take all but the youngest of children, so can be considered as childcare options as well. Some more childcare focused options are listed below:
1) Skoebi-Do in Berawa, Canggu – locally run but very friendly staff with good experience dealing with foreigners. Feedback is positive and very affordable.
2) Umalas Kids Club in Umalas, Canggu – a fantastic childcare option for a reasonable price in Umalas.
3) The Garden in Berawa, Canggu – run by an Australian couple, this is very popular and well run. The high price is the main downside, but many argue it is worth it.
The above list of schools and childcare facilities is by no means exhaustive. There are loads of other options, though if you wish to live in the Berawa / Batu Bolong / Echo Beach / Umalas areas, the traffic in Bali limits your options.
There is a good General Practitioner in Canggu who is Indonesian but speaks fluent English and has a good manner with kids. Her name is Dr Ristie and she is used by most of the expats we know. Google will help you locate her. It costs between 250,000 – 300,000 IDR per visit (A$25-30).
Specialists can be found on the island, though most expats agree for anything serious you are better off flying to Singapore.
The emergency facilities here are fantastic, and some big hospitals (Siloam / BIMC) in the Kuta area are where the most advanced treatment can be found. There are plenty of smaller emergency hospitals scattered around Canggu, though we are not sure we would want to go there for anything major.
Many prescription drugs can be found here – though not all. If you or your child need a less common drug, it might be worth checking around to see if it is available at any of the pharmacy chains (eg. Kimia Farma, Guardian).
There are coworking spaces opening up all the time in Bali, though in the Berawa, Canggu area, the options are still fairly limited. It all depends on what you are after. If you are a member of Finns then you can use their business centre, or there is a new space in Umalas called Third Space – see www.thirdspacebali.com.
There is an ok space in Berawa called District Canggu – see www.districtcanggu.com.
If you want your own office, then you can either hunt around to see what you can find (eg use a cheap villa as an office), or you can try this new place on Batu Bolong – Monopole – see https://studio-base.com/
If you live around Batu Bolong / Echo Beach, then Dojo is an option too – see https://www.dojobali.org/en.
Note – when looking at a map, the Batu Bolong / Echo Beach area is very close to Berawa. If you plan on riding a motorbike, then indeed they are close – you can take “the shortcut” between the areas in no time at all. If you plan on driving a car though, then the commute is more like 15 – 20 mins depending on traffic, as using the shortcut every day invites trouble. Just check out the “Canggu Community Group” on facebook for updates on all the shenanigans on this short strip of narrow road adjoined by rice paddies. The traffic is only meant to go one way, but of course that never happens and there is only room for 1 car otherwise you end up falling off the side of the road into the rice paddy. It is quite common to see photos posted of cars that have tipped over the side!
The roads here are wild, make no mistake about it. The strange thing is, they are predictably wild, and it doesn’t take long for you to realize that if you don’t have any expectations about driver behaviour, then as long as you stay calm and do things slowly, you will probably be ok. Most of the danger comes from falling off a motorbike, as speeds around the local streets is usually less than 30 km / hr. It never ceases to amaze what risks people take when they come to a country that lacks road rules. Perhaps it is the release that comes from escaping the nanny state that is western society, who knows!
If you drive on major artery roads around a Balinese holiday period, there is a chance you may get pulled over by the police and fined for something you may or may not have done (they won’t speak English so you’ll never know). As long as you pay the fine and don’t be a jerk (usually around A$30, depending on the officer), then life goes on. We have only been pulled over once. It was around New Years Eve and we were travelling on a main road. The police found we did not have an original registration certificate (it was a copy), so they fined us about A$30 equivalent. Luckily our car rental company apologized and agreed to deduct it from our next rental payment.
We choose to rent one car and one bike. The cost of renting a car is around A$300 per month, and a scooter is around A$75 per month – there are loads of places who will charge a decent monthly price. We use the bike for super local runs when one of us needs the car. The car is usually our first choice for the added protection it provides. A small car is better, as parking can be quite challenging in a place where bikes vastly outnumber cars. Large numbers of cars are a recent phenomenon, and frankly speaking, the roads are not handling it. Congestion is out of control, especially around key intersections. You want to set up your life to be as localized as possible. Thats why we chose Berawa or “Brawa” – it has more of what we want than any other area.
If things go wrong, you want all the right documentation. You should definitely get an international drivers license, and if you will be riding a motorbike, then Australian insurance companies may need to see a motorbike license too. To get an international drivers license before you depart Australia, just go to NRMA / RACQ / RACV and ask for one – it costs about $40 and is issued on the spot.
Finding a villa to live
The task of finding a home for your family can be tough. Some might choose to send somebody over here ahead of the move to arrange it in advance. We didn’t do this, and the pressure of finding somewhere when you have a small family can lead to quick and less than ideal decisions. This was certainly the case when we first moved here. We paid far too much for our villa as a result. The second time around we avoided using a real estate agent and went direct to the owner. Agents can come in handy as a mediator when disputes arise, as like the roads, things in villa renting world can get a little wild. Rent is usually paid in advance for the year, so you’ll need plenty of money ready to transfer. There are no shortage of scams operating around here, and people have been fleeced out of large sums by people posing as villa owners or real estate agents. The law is not exactly something that makes you feel comfortable as a renter in this country, unlike in Australia where we have very detailed legislation governing the relationship between landlord and tenant.
The best bargains are normally found by driving around and looking for small “For Rent” signs that locals have placed in “Gangs” (small side streets pronounced “Gungs”). You have to be lucky though, and with so many people scouring the same areas for bargains, don’t count on it unless you have been here a while and are not in a hurry. Locals are much more likely to give you a reasonable price compared to a foreigners’ investment property, but you will probably need to do some work to the place on your own expense to get it up to scratch. If you are patient and don’t expect things to be done quickly (they never are here), then you will find Bali an easy place to live. If you want to live outside the more popular areas, then you can pick up very cheap properties, but that comes with downsides. If you don’t mind the quieter life and not having everything you need close at hand, then this can work very well.
The price you can expect to pay for a 3 bed villa in Canggu that is “livable” can be anywhere from A$5,000 per year to whatever amount you can think of. The range of prices and quality of villa is astounding. Not rushing the process is key, and with luck on your side, you will find something you like. Check popular facebook groups for renting property in Bali (there are many). Taking a short term lease while you look for something nicer might also work. A good agency if you have to use one is Bali Treasure Properties.
One last thing – you will see plenty of cheaper “open” villas available. This does not seem to bother some people, but you need to be comfortable with vermin, dogs, cats, insects or other people wandering through your villa at night if you choose to live in one. Security is important to think about in Bali, so having an “enclosed” villa is what most expat families prefer. Thanks to the importation of cheap labour from East Java for the building boom in Bali, there are many desperately poor Javanese men looking for an easy laptop or ipad to steal at night while people are sleeping. If you were earning $1-2 a day and had a family to feed, stealing a laptop from a westerner would probably cross your mind too! Finding a dog can be a wise move, as is making sure you have a secure villa with high walls. Bali dogs are extremely good guard dogs, and if you get one from a young age, you will find them to be fantastic family dogs to have around. You will sleep far better at night, though dog poisoning before a robbery takes place is not unheard of.
Electricity here is rather expensive, though not as bad as the sorry state of prices that currently exist in Australia. Most villas have a meter on the side of the house with a touchpad. Look for signs on shops that say “listrik” and here you can buy credit. Give them any amount of money, and they will buy the credit for you, and give you a code to punch into the meter at your villa. Most of your expense will come from running airconditioning, so your total cost will depend on how often you like to indulge! There are still a few blackouts in Bali, though they have been upgrading the infrastructure in recent years and they are much less common than they used to be.
There are many good networks over here, and they are all very well priced compared to Australia. Data is super cheap, and most people operate on Whatsapp so you need less “Pulsa” (call credit) and more “Data” – purchased separately though sometimes in combo packages. We use XL Axiata and have no issues. Like purchasing “listrik”, you need to go to local shops and ask if they sell “Pulsa” or “Data” and then they will play around on their phones while they organize the credit for you.
The quality of internet over here is pretty good. We use Global Xtreme who are considered the best for fiber optic broadband internet in the Canggu area. The cost is about A$50 per month and we get nearly 15 mbps download speeds – better than we ever got in Australia!
There are expat insurance options for long term expats, but we choose to operate on Australian travel insurance. One positive about living here is you can cut out the high cost of Australian private health insurance by getting travel insurance that covers your health needs, as well as many other insurance needs for a much cheaper price. We use a company called www.travelwithjane.com and recommend it.
We recently discovered “Level 21 Mall” in Denpasar. This large indoor shopping centre is perfect for a lazy Sunday with the kids. A cinema, games arcade (so cheap!), homewares, electronics, clothing, food – all here! There is also Beachwalk shopping centre in Kuta, as well as Carrefour on Sunset Road.
Sharing an island with an active volcano is something most people here continue to ignore, even after it briefly came to life last year, causing major disruption in the process – mainly to tourists and business owners who rely on them. The Canggu area is well out of the immediate evacuation zone where real danger lies, but if a major eruption occurred there is always the risk of a major ash fall creating havoc. We have a stash of proper gas masks for volcanic eruptions – ones that keep out the super fine ash from your lungs that can really irritate them, especially for young children. There was a light ash fall in November 2017 and that briefly caused our eyes to sting and a wheezing cough to emerge. You never know what can happen in life, but avoiding living here because of the volcano is possibly something we would regret. We choose to ignore it, but stand ready to take action should it happen again.
There are expat people from all over the world living here, which is what makes it so interesting in our eyes. The local childcare or school is like attending the United Nations, which has to rub off positively on a young child’s mind. As mentioned in our previous article, the Balinese are wonderful to have around children, and would never shout in anger at a child (or anyone for that matter). The variety of nationalities in the Canggu area is one of the major drawcards for us, and we have friends from half a dozen countries. Most expats are doing something creative in Bali, so its an interesting crowd for sure. Restaurant owners, chefs, fashion designers, photographers, e-commerce folk, artists and consultants are some of the more common things we hear people doing.
A whole book could be made about living in Bali, so the above information is by no means comprehensive and you will learn most of what you need by simply being here. We regularly ask the “Canggu Community” facebook group any questions we have about where to find stuff. That can often be the most challenging part of living here. In the West we get used to having everything run smoothly, with consumer goods at our fingertips. You have to work a bit harder to find things in Bali (hello language barrier), but it makes you cut out lots of unnecessary stuff and stick to what you really need. There is less material pretense in Bali as you can imagine – a welcome relief compared to our society. What a great adventure to have with your children, one that should enlighten their young minds about life outside of the cocoon that is Australia. Life is raw and colourful here – the realities of the real world are all around you. Australia seems rather bland when you step off the plane after living in Bali!