This is a guest post by Nico, a fellow digital nomad who’s spent enough time living in Bali to be able to show us around.
So you’re thinking about moving to Bali as a digital nomad? Good call. The Island of the Gods is a top digital nomad travel destination.
The nice weather, relatively cheap cost of living, beautiful beaches, rich history, strong spiritual identity and its traditions come together to make living in Bali that quintessential tropical paradise for location independent entrepreneurs.
This article offers a little more than your typical Bali itinerary for tourists and is written with digital nomads in mind. In it we’ll cover the following information;
- Digital nomad visa requirements for Indonesia
- How to find an apartment in Bali
- Internet speeds in Bali
- Language barrier
- Bali cost of living
- Getting around
- Meeting other digital nomads
- Drugs and other funny business
- Local tips
Digital Nomad Living in Bali Guide
It’s not all sunshine and Sangria. As a digital nomad who’s living in Bali, you’ll need to find your feet before you can have some fun.
To help you get settled on the island I wrote this guide that covers the key things you need to know if you’re thinking of living in Bali. We’ll start with the important, yet mundane –visa rules.
But before I do that, here’s a nice photo of a man on a swing to get you through the section.
A Look at Indonesia Visa Rules
Indonesia has one of the most forward-looking visa regulations for tourism in the world. People from 169 countries can get a free visa on arrival. This means you can come and explore Indonesia as a tourist with few restrictions and minimal planning for up to 30 days.
The 30-day tourist visa is great and I wish more countries had this approach to tourism. However 30-days is probably not enough for you if you plan to settle down living in Bali as a digital nomad. Below are the three most popular visa types.
60-Day Tourist Visa
If you’re hopping around the globe and you want to settle in Bali for a short amount of time the 60-day tourist visa is probably the best option. Plus it’s the easiest to get. You can apply for this visa at the Indonesian Embassy or just pick it up at the airport.
This tourist visa is valid for 30 days and can be extended for a further 30 days. It costs $35 for the initial visa and an extra $35 for the extension. You can extend your visa at any immigration office in the country. Once the visa expires you’ll need to leave the country. Supposedly you won’t be able to return for at least 90-days, though I’ve never heard of this rule being enforced.
If you are from an ASEAN country you cannot get a 60-day tourist visa on arrival in Bali. You need to apply for this visa from your home country or the country that you are currently passing through.
Sosial Budaya Visa
The Sosial Budaya Visa is widely used and abused. The visa is officially for visiting Indonesian family and friends. It is valid for 60 days and can be extended four times for a period of up to 30 days (basically it’s a six month visa). You can apply for the visa at any Indonesian Embassy with the correct sponsorship letter or get it in a day through a visa agent.
This visa is often used as an alternative to an official residency and/ or work visa by foreigners living in Bali. The Indonesian Department of Immigration know that foreigners misuse the visa. If you use a Sosial Budaya visa for the full six months you will have to do an interview with an immigration official and explain why you are in the country.
Residency and Working Visa
It’s notoriously difficult to get either a residency or working visa in Indonesia. Employers need to prove that they are only employing a foreigner because they can’t find an Indonesian to fill the position. In a country of 260+ million people that’s a tough sell.
Unless you run your own company or you are employed by a large multinational companies forget about getting a residency visa. It’s a shame, because going to immigration every 30 days for a visa extension is a pain in the ass.
Where to Stay in Bali as a Digital Nomad
The most popular places to live in Bali are within a one-hour drive of the local international airport. This is the part of the island I recommend you stay in.
The main urban areas in the South of the island are Kuta, Canggu, Seminyak and Ubud. Each area attracts a certain crowd.
Kuta is mostly budget travellers looking for a nice beach holiday. It’s busy, there’s nightlife and cheap booze. Ubud is cool highlands with rice terraces, laid back yogis and over priced bohemian shops. Canggu is Ubud by the sea with a surfboard and more hipsters, while Seminyak is where the rich people live.
I’m generalising a lot, but you’ll understand what I mean when you visit.
Take your time choosing where to live in Bali. Where you live will impact the kind of people you meet, the things you do and the experiences that you have. Plus when you find your group it’s all too easy to get stuck in your local bubble (that’s not a bad thing, but it’s a thing).
Renting an Apartment in Bali
As long as you have money, finding a place to stay in Bali is easy. Airbnb has the most options for places to rent. You’ll struggle to find a nice place for under $800 a month. If your budget is $1,000+ for living in Bali, you’ll have plenty of choice.
Just to give you an idea, my definition of a nice place on a budget is a small villa with a kitchen, dining room and/or sitting room and a single bedroom. Really nice places, like the kind of villas you see on holiday adverts normally set you back $2,000 a month and upwards.
For longer term rentals or unusual deals hit up the Facebook groups. My favorite is Bali Housing and Accommodation. There are some great offers published in that group. Plus you can find the occasional short-term rentals and house shares.
Finally there are the letting agencies. This is usually more stressful as you can only arrange your accommodation once you arrive in Bali. Still, it’s not too bad.
Most letting agencies are quite international. The staff will normally speak passable English and if you’re patient you can get a good deal.
Internet Speeds in Bali
For a digital nomad living in Bali the internet speed is directly proportional to your happiness. Just in case you doubt me, here is a graph I found from a study on Internet nomads just published by a group of Harvard PHD students.
The good news is that Bali passes the Netflix test. You can stream video, run webinars and upload content to your website without any issue. You’ll find that pretty much every villa, hotel, cafe and restaurant has a Wi-Fi connection so you can work from anywhere.
I’d recommend picking up a local SIM card while you’re living in Bali.
There are two main providers; XL and Telkomsel. You can buy a SIM card pretty much anywhere. You’ll need to ask a local to register the card for you (the cashier will normally do it if you ask nicely).
The main language in Bali is Indonesian, closely followed by Balinese (you don’t need to say Bahasa Indonesia as Bahasa just means language). Indonesian is an easy language to learn, but the accent is a killer to master.
Outside of the expat crowd, most people living in Bali can speak a bit of English. This is especially true for the younger urban generation. Head into the villages though and there’s a good chance you’ll have to rely on hand signals to communicate with the locals.
While you don’t need to speak Indonesian to live in Bali I’d recommend doing at least a week of classes. People will appreciate you putting in the effort. You’ll get a lot more smiles and it opens up the chance for some fun interactions.
Daily Cost of Living in Bali
The cost of living for digital nomads in Bali is really one of those ‘how long is a piece of string questions.’ Food can cost anywhere between $1 for a meal at the bottom end through to $50 for a starter at the top end. For most people though the cost of living is somewhere in between.
Personally I’d budget around Rp 150,000 – Rp 250,000 a day per person for living costs in Bali (that’s about $10 to $20 US dollars). This will cover you for three nice meals eating out, a coffee and a beer or something to drink in the evening. Sometimes your budget will be well over that and sometimes it will be under.
I should mention that you can save money by cooking at home, which is standard practice in the West. Truth be told though in the seven years I lived in Indonesia I almost never cooked at home and when I did it was often more expensive than eating out.
Getting Around the Island
If you’re going to be based in Bali for any amount of time you’re going to need some wheels. The most popular way to get around the island is a scooter. You can rent a bike for around Rp 80,000 a day pretty much anywhere. A month long rental would probably cost you around Rp 50,000 per day.
Make sure to ask for a decent helmet if you’re renting a bike and check the outside for scratches and things like that. I’ve never had any problems when renting a bike, but it’s just good practice to be cautious so you don’t end up with problems.
The other thing that you’ll need if you’re renting a bike is an international driving license. A national license is not good enough. No license is unacceptable.
A lot of people do drive scooters without the proper papers. The police in Bali do regular spot checks to catch people breaking the law. If you do drive without a license you will be taken to the police station and have to pay the proper fine for breaking the law you’ll probably have to bribe the policeman.
I don’t suggest you pay a bribe, that would be illegal. But just to give you an idea, the standard underhand payment for driving without an international license is somewhere between Rp 50,000 – Rp 200,000. Don’t be fooled into paying more than that.
Meeting Other Digital Nomads Living in Bali
Living in Bali is a great place for networking as a digital nomad. It’s easy to join a tribe and make some great friends. The obvious place to start meeting people is by visiting some of the co-working spaces around the island. Tech In Asia has a nice article covering the best co-working spaces I suggest you check out.
The co-working spaces in Bali are pretty expensive. For around Rp 200,000 a day you get access to a nice working area, good Wi-Fi and some pretty bad coffee. To put it in perspective, you can go to a cafe for a day with a nice ambience, get a tasty coffee and free Wi-Fi for Rp 30,000.
What you’re really paying for is the company. The co-working space is a place to network, meet fellow freelancers and business owners and create opportunities for yourself. For this reason I’d recommend you either pay for a whole month access at the start, or just drop in once a week or so to network and meet people.
Drugs and Other Funny Business
What you do in your spare time is your business. If you like to smoke a spliff in the evening to relax or pop a pill in a club on the weekend that’s fine. In Europe, North America and Australia the most the police are likely to do for possession is send you to the cells for the night.
In Indonesia you’re looking at five years in jail as standard. That’s five years in a shitty cell you’re never going to get back. So my advice, while in Indonesia, put the drugs on hold. You can enjoy a smoke and pop some pills and put whatever you want up your nose as soon as you leave the country.
Broke Down Palace and Return to Paradise come to mind, so evaluate your risks carefully. Read our site policies, because you agree to them by visiting Hobo with a Laptop. Back to you, Nico – Mike
A Few Local Tips
What’s a good guide about a place without a few personal recommendations? In no particular order, here are a few of my favourite things about Bali.
One of my favourite local places to eat around Ubud is Warung Bahagia. It’s a street side food stall at the bottom end of town. You’d skip it if you’d never heard about it, which is a crime. The place serves some of the best Nasi Campur in Bali and the owner is a great guy.
If you’re into culture, just outside of Ubud is a little temple called Gunung Kawi Sebatu. It’s a water temple with a couple of huge ponds and some pools where you can swim. The place is beautiful and normally almost empty. Check it out, you’ll like it.
For a good continental breakfast head over to Mr. Spoon. It’s a chain of French style patisserie and coffee shops. I like the one in Canggu, though the Internet there is really hit and miss. Make sure to try out some of their chocolate tarts.
If you get the chance to see a Royal Balinese funeral in Ubud take it! I’ve been lucky enough to see two of them and they were incredible spectacles. The funerals showcase so much of what makes the culture of Bali unique and special.
Looking for the in spot? Head over to Mrs. Sippy. It’s got that Instagrammable vibe. It gets busy from the late afternoon into the early evening. They have a great pool that you can use. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the tropical island holiday feeling.
Finally if you’re looking for some easy holiday presents for family head over to Anomali. It’s an Indonesian chain of coffee shops. They serve a mean single source Toraja. I always buy a few packs for family and friends when I’m coming back from Indonesia. It’s a no brainer present.
I spent a year living in Bali and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The weather is great, there’s plenty of surf, good coffee shops and a nice international crowd of people to meet. Basically it has that perfect mix of weather, culture, fun and networking opportunities for a digital nomad.
I’ve tried to cover the things I would like to have known about before I started living in Bali. But this is an article and not a book, so I’m obviously missing stuff.
If you have any questions about living in Bali hit me up in the comments below and I’ll try my best to answer your questions.