After just over 2 months living in Bali, I personally feel we’ve come a long way. It’s amazing how much and how quickly you learn when your only other option is to wallow in your own confusion, frustration, sweat and self pity. And let’s face it, nobody wants to be friends with that person, because gross.
For having such a huge expat community, I still find the information about how to live in Bali longer than 30 days at a time a bit overwhelming, vague and largely inconsistent. It’s kind of like the DMV of countries – it’s a lot of waiting around only to find out that you’re still missing one important item.
However, I’ve done my best to make notes of simple, everyday items that make life in Bali that much simpler. And while I’m sure I’ll be able to add to this list as our time and experiences here continue, I hope these tips will be of assistance in the meantime.
Tips for Traveling & Living in Bali
Items to Bring from Home
Despite being an inexpensive place to travel and live, Bali has some outrageous prices on a few items you’re better off bringing from home, including:
- Sunscreen – You won’t find a bottle here for under $10, and for the well-known brands, it’s more like $15.
- Photo Gear – If you plan on doing any sort of photography, bring basics like a tripod, which cost us about double what it would have in Texas or Maui.
- Electronics – You can find good deals on electronics in Bali, but you have to be willing to look around and bargain for it. A 21″ computer monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse cost us around $100 USD total – not bad, but we had to make a 2 hour roundtrip venture to the Rimo Trade Centre in Denpasar to get it.
- Haircare & Hygiene Items – The selection is pretty bare bones, and the high end items (like specialty shampoos or conditioners), come at a premium.
If you’re coming from the United States, bring cash and skip the ATM.
The exchange rate for U.S. cash is typically in your advantage on Bali. Currently, for every $1 USD, you get approximately 13,880 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR), while every Australian dollar only gets around 10,000 IDR. Plus, seeing as how the most you can withdraw from an ATM at one time is 3,000,000 IDR (or approximately $210), you’re better off bringing as much cash as you think you will spend during your trip, avoiding any foreign ATM and/or transaction fees altogether. I use Bank of America and am charged $11+ every single time I withdraw money from the ATM in Bali. Lame.
Things to Note:
- Money exchange offices in Bali refuse to take any bills that are not in near-perfect condition (including small rips or tears), so go to your bank beforehand and get crisp bills.
- The larger the bills, the better the exchange rate. Bring as many $100 bills as possible, then at least one smaller bill ($20) to change at the airport (where the exchange rates are notoriously worse than outside the airport) for initial cab money to your hotel or condo.
- The best place in Bali to exchange your money is BMC Money Changer. Look for their blue signs or ask your driver where the nearest one is, as they have several convenient locations throughout the island, are super legit, and don’t take a commission.
- Do not use the money changers you see on the street! Though they offer better exchange rates than even BMC, these places are known for ripping people off and stealing money in whatever shady way they can. Don’t hate the player, but don’t play the game.
- As with anywhere, don’t ever carry all of your cash on you. While we have yet to feel sketched out or threatened here, it’s just smart thinking to leave the majority of your cash, as well as your passport, in the room. Most condos, villas and hotels have small, in-room safes.
- The XE Currency app works offline, allowing you to easily convert prices while out and about in Bali. Use it or you could easily end up spending 400,000 IDR ($29) instead of 40,000 IDR ($2.90) for a couple of Bintangs.
Rent a scooter, hire a driver, or use Blue Bird Taxis, Uber, Lyft, GrabTaxi or Go-Jek.
The great thing about Bali is that you’re never at a loss for options when it comes to transportation. The unfortunate thing is that most of it is truly terrifying, as transportation tends to be for those of us not accustomed to driving in Asia, and not particularly awesome at it elsewhere.
In Bali, the dotted lines to distinguish road lanes may as well be made of puff paint and glitter, because they’re purely decorative. Also, if you’ve always wondered what it’s like to drive on the sidewalk, the wrong way down a crowded street, or consistently run red lights, Bali is your gold ticket to somewhat organized chaos.
The good news? Unless you have a specific reason, spending money on a rental car is totally unnecessary. Also, road rage isn’t really a thing here. Sure, people still drive like assholes, and people still get angry about it, but for the most part, if you have the right of way (or even if you don’t), take it. It’s all good, and for the most part, seems to work out alright.
- If you plan on renting a scooter, expect to pay around 50,000 IDR/day ($3.60/day). Any more than that and you’re probably getting ripped off. For a month rental, anywhere in the 700,000 – 800,000 IDR range ($50 – $60) is expected, at least in busier, more expensive areas like Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu, Ubud, Nusa Dua and Uluwatu.
- Drive like the locals drive. Honking is a necessary way to say “Yo! I’m here! See me!” and is not at all rude. If you’ve driven in Hawaii and are aware of the unofficial no-honking rule and aloha-ways of letting people in, do not do that here. Seriously.
- Keep an eye out for random brick piles, bold stray dogs, rogue rebar, and giant piles of sand in the middle of the road. They’re everywhere.
- Get an International Driving Permit. It’s cheap (around $15 for one year), and if you encounter a road block or are pulled over for any reason, it’s typically the first thing the cops check for. If you run into any problems, the fine is usually around 50,000 IDR, though we’ve heard of cops demanding more in different instances.
- To that affect, don’t call yourself out for being a tourist, as you’re more likely to get pulled over. Wear a shirt (or bathing suit cover-up) when riding, and always wear a helmet!
- If the idea of driving here is a straight-up nope, you can hire a driver for an entire day for around 400,000 IDR total. Best for long adventures, want to make a lot of stops in a few different areas, or when traveling with a group.
- You can also hire a driver to take you on one-way trips across the island, like from Seminyak to Amed, Uluwatu to Ubud, Padangbai to Lovina, etc., for around 200,000 – 600,000 IDR total per trip. This is typically cheaper than taking a cab for a long distance, though we recommend asking around for the best price, or to see if anyone is willing to share the cost if traveling to the same location.
- Taxis, especially in busy areas from Kuta to Canggu to Ubud, are everywhere. Blue Bird Taxis are the most reliable (as in they always use the meter), and because of this, every other cab company has chosen to paint their cars a slightly different shade of blue with a similar bird logo. Sigh. Look for the lightest blue varieties that say ‘Blue Bird’ and you’re good. The other cabs are sometimes fine too, but definitely ask them to turn on the meter! Otherwise they can charge you whatever they want, and they will, as well as refuse to give you change. To be safe, make sure you always have few small bills (less than a 100,000 IDR note) when cabbing with a bird-fraud.
Alternate Transportation Tips:
- Go-Jek is an amazing transportation and delivery app, which we use all the time. Its services include food delivery, moving trucks, sending packages, hiring a cleaner, getting a masseuse or beautician at your location, and sending a motorbike driver to to give you a ride wherever you need to go.
- I’m guessing you already know about Uber and Lyft, and GrabTaxi is the same concept. However, apparently all of these companies are now considered illegal in Indonesia, so don’t count on them sticking around for much longer. 100 lame points for the Ministry of Transportation!
You may not think you need tips for walking in Bali, but let me tell you… you’re wrong.
- The sidewalks here are a drunk person’s nightmare. Giant gaping holes in the road are literally everywhere, and come with no orange cones of warning. If you fall into one of these (and apparently it does happen), you’re not only falling into a deep concrete hole of darkness, but also a puddle of human shit. Hooray! The lesson being, watch your fuckin’ step.
- Also, this is not the island to take a leisurely walk with headphones. You need to be super aware of your surroundings when walking, and hear as many as possible. Zooming cabbies, sidewalk scooters and surprise construction projects do not make for easy walking.
Boozing It Up
You know what generally goes well with life? Cocktails.
However, Indonesia has an insanely high tax on imported beverages (it’s also home to the largest Muslim population in the world), and because of that, alcohol is laughably, ridiculously, depressingly expensive.
Things to Note:
- This also includes bottles of wine (I know, total bummertown). Plaga and Hatten are the cheapest brands to buy or try once you’re here, though they also pretty much taste like it. Jacob’s Creek costs around $22 USD/bottle, just for some perspective.
- A bottle of Jack Daniels can easily set you back $60+ USD in Bali. I kid you not. I even witnessed a bottle of Triple Sec for $75 USD at the duty-free area in the airport. Whaa?!? <insert head explosion>
- Bintang is the best (and cheapest) local beer around. However, you’ll find that 6-packs, 12-packs, and cases of beer do not exist here. We asked about the price of a case at a grocery store once, and they simply said they’d ring up 24 beers individually and we could be on our way.
- A final thing, and this doesn’t seem to happen that often, but there have been instances of methanol poisoning in the bars in Bali and on the Gili Islands. Avoid drinking ‘arak’ – a kind of Balinese moonshine – as well as any liquor in dodgy bars (what up, Kuta), and you should be alright. I ordered a Grey Goose on the rocks one night and was given something definitely not Grey Goose on the rocks. Thankfully it wasn’t methanol, but just play it safe and stick to bottled beer and/or expensive bars if you want to properly booze it up.
Wifi & Directions
When we first arrived, I figured I could just tell the cab driver the address of the place we were staying and we’d be set. Wrong. There are a kajillion streets, alleyways and hidden neighborhoods here, and the name of your condo, villa, or even street name tends to mean absolutely nothing.
Anytime you have wifi access, use it. Take screenshots of the area you’re going, as well as how to get there, and make a note of the phone number so your cab driver can call if needed. The fact that my iPhone map still tracks me when I’m offline has been a lifesaver in more cities than I can count, but still plan ahead to avoid coffee shop wifi pitstops several times a day.
For the most part, Bali is a pretty easy place to be. Whether your goal is to float merrily in a pool, climb a volcano, learn Balinese dance, catch some waves or die in a hole of human feces, just make sure you’re having a good time doing it. And remember that no one likes sweaty self pity. Happy travels.