So you’re planning to move to Bali - maybe you’re a freelancer or a digital nomad or you simply want to experience what life is like on the Island of Gods.
We can’t say we blame you.
The idea of moving to Bali sounds like a dream. And in many ways, it can be. There are amazing aspects of life in Bali that have enticed us for years.
A few years ago, we visited Bali for a short trip and instantly fell in love with the island. Since then, we have lived in Bali for months at a time on and off.
Expectation vs. Reality of Living in Bali
Most people (including us!) are guilty of depicting a very one sided picture of Bali as some utopian paradise and it seems like you only ever hear about the good parts about life in Bali.
We mean, how could you not?
- Stunning scenery and beautiful rice fields? Check.
- Amazing weather and the way the sun only shines in Bali? Check.
- Super friendly locals? Check.
- Great vegan and Balinese food? Double check.
- An abundance of beaches, surfing, and yoga? Triple check.
You get the point.
As two people that fell in love with Bali as soon as we arrived and have been unable to stay away since, we thought it would be interesting to cover some of the not so glamorous Instagrammable parts about living in Bali to offer a bigger picture.
So what’s life like in Bali behind the Instagram lens? You’re about to find out…
Traffic in Bali Will Push Your Patience to New Heights
You’re idea of Bali is probably deeply rooted in a feeling of tranquility.
Maybe you’ve been dreaming about renting a scooter, zipping down small jungle roads without a worry on your mind, stopping for a swim in the sea whenever the opportunity arises.
The truth, however, is far from this picturesque idea of driving around Bali.
You are more likely to spend your days stuck in the blazing hot equatorial sun dripping of sweat while filling your lungs with exhaust from a sea of vehicles running on questionable petrol.
In the past 4 years, we have experienced the traffic situation in Bali develop from bad to completely unbearable.
Massive buses full of tourists try to squeeze by a never-ending stream of minivans and cars transporting more tourists. Add a few thousand scooters and you're stuck in a traffic jam of epic proportions.
The issue is that the roads in Bali were never intended to handle more than a few of the locals’ scooters and there seems to be no solution in sight.
Popular places to live such as Ubud and Canggu were once a collection of small villages that were never designed to withstand the constant barrage of traffic.
Lately, it has become very clear to us just how bad the infrastructure in Bali really is.
The Cost of Living in Bali is Rising
Bali is often touted as a cheap place to live but it truly depends on how you want to live.
If you want the same quality of life you’re used to at home, you’ll need to budget accordingly. To put things in perspective, what we spend in a month living in Bali is on par with what we spend living in Europe in places like Rome and Warsaw.
Let us break it down.
Cost of Housing
The cost of living in Bali varies greatly depending on your accommodation.
Many factors will go into the cost of a villa including whether it is shared, if you have a private pool, if it includes staff, etc. We’ve written a comprehensive guide on how to rent a house in Ubud and what to look out for, you can find it here.
Today, it's common to spend between $600 to $1,200 per month on rent and the prices are increasing rapidly.
A local explained to us that many Balinese people build houses on credit and that the cost of construction has gone way up. In turn, this means that a lot of locals don't actually own their villas and so they are pushing up prices to cover their loans.
Price of Food in Bali
Eating out in Bali can be rather inexpensive, especially if you eat local food. In most restaurants, you can get a really good meal for a few dollars.
In addition, Bali is known for the incredible amount of vegan restaurants on offer. However, meals at Western restaurants can quickly add up and you’re often looking at spending $6 + on a meal.
Although, in comparison to buying groceries, eating out is quite affordable.
Many products that you are used to from home will typically be double the price at grocery stores. Things like soymilk, canned beans, pasta, and bread are often imported and therefore priced higher than you might expect.
Surprisingly enough, the same is true for produce. Vegetables are pricey, and even worse, the quality is typically subpar.
On the other hand, fresh tropical fruit such as dragon fruit, jack fruit, pineapples, and papaya are abundant and extremely affordable.
As you might have guessed by now, it’s not very cheap to cook your own food when moving to Bali, and a meal at home can easily set you back more than a meal out.
Obviously, that's fine for a shorter visit but after awhile, if you’re anything like us, you’re going to miss making a good home-cooked meal.
The standard way of getting around Bali is by scooter. We always rent a motorbike and the monthly price is usually between 600,000 – 700,000 IDR ($42 - $50) which is very affordable.
Petrol is also very cheap at about 20,000 IDR ($1.5) for a full tank. But make sure you only buy gas at the gas station. The stuff they sell in glass bottles is low-quality gas sold at an inflated price.
With that said, as soon as you start moving around the island without a scooter, getting around becomes more complicated.
You see, there is no public transport in Bali so if you need to go from one place to another you have two options.
You can either drive yourself which can be dangerous if you're not used to Asian traffic and it's limiting since you can't bring any bags. Otherwise, you have to take a taxi or minivan which isn't always ideal.
You need to keep this in mind because if you move to Bali and are not comfortable with driving a scooter, you will be very limited in where you can go.
Travel Insurance for Bali
More importantly, always make sure that you have a travel insurance that covers you in case of an accident which is more common in Indonesian than most want to admit.
Seriously, don't put yourself in a position that you'll regret. Having travel insurance is of the upmost importance when driving a scooter in Bali and will save you in case of an emergency and potential financial ruin.
We’ve been using World Nomads for years and are really happy with their coverage as well as how easy it is to make and handle claims through them.
Getting Skimmed in Bali is a Constant Worry
Unfortunately, everyone moving to Bali today should expect to get skimmed at some point or another.
We know it sounds harsh, but it’s a reality of living in Bali.
It happened to us, it happened to everyone we know who has lived in Bali, and we’ve read countless stories of others who have been skimmed from ATMs in Bali.
Behind this extensive ATM skimming effort is a gang with ties to Bulgaria that has managed to infiltrate almost every single ATM on the island. The only safe exceptions are certain ATMs located inside banks, which are only available when the said bank is open.
Since the problem is so widespread, most people, including ourselves, accept the fact that we will most likely get skimmed and try to take precautionary measures.
For example, you should never store large amounts of money on your debit card and try to do all of your transactions on a single card that you replace after you leave. More importantly, only use ATMs that are located inside banks, even though that’s usually easier said than done.
And remember that you’re not safe just because you weren’t skimmed while in Bali. When it happened to Adam last year, it had been more than 6 months since we had left the island which is why we recommend replacing your card as soon as you can.
In fact, it seems more common to be skimmed after you leave since it's less likely you'll notice it then.
Bali Belly is Inevitable But Diapet Will Be Your Best Friend
The infamous Bali belly is something everyone dreads and will experience at some point.
We used to think that the longer we spent in Bali the less sick we would get, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, we have had to adapt and learn new tricks for dealing with Bali belly.
During our last stint, while we were both bed bound from an especially stubborn case of stomach issues, we learned that whenever you get Bali belly, Diapet is your best friend.
Apparently, Bali belly doesn’t only affect people moving to Bali but also the Balinese themselves, and they have found a great solution to the problem.
Diapet is a pill made from natural herbs which drastically helps reduce the symptoms and calms your belly down, and so far, it's the best remedy we've ever tried.
Better yet, Diapet is sold over the counter at most mini markets in Bali making it highly accessible.
Burning Trash is a Way of Life Here
Sitting outside and enjoying the view of the surrounding rice fields is something everyone moving to Bali dreams of, and it sure sounds like a great idea.
But as soon as you’re hit with a waft of thick black smoke from burning trash, you’ll start questioning why you even bother going outside.
The fact that Bali is polluted is no secret, but what you might not realize is that burning trash is a way of life here.
The locals have burned trash since before tourists ever arrived but nowadays the burning has reached epic proportions. And with the excess amount of plastic thrown in the burning trash, the air becomes toxic.
With thousands of fire pits smoldering with trash, releasing fumes that reek of melted plastic, it quickly becomes overwhelming to spend extended periods of time outside.
Naturally, what you can do to combat this issue is to limit your own consumption but the matter of the fact is that the burning won’t stop until there is a system in place to discard or eliminate trash. And, unfortunately, little is done to combat the pollution in Bali, which you can read more about below.
The Garbage Emergency is a Real Threat
Today plastic waste is one of the biggest threats facing our planet, and nowhere is this as evident as in Bali.
It always breaks our hearts to experience how polluted the island is, and if you’re planning on moving to Bali, it’s something you’ll experience firsthand.
In early 2018, the issue reached a point where the Balinese government was forced to declare a “garbage emergency." And later that year a diver recorded a shocking video of himself swimming through an underwater cloud of trash.
As mentioned above, the biggest contributing factor of the trash emergency on Bali is the lack of infrastructure to handle the situation. There is no way for anyone to properly discard their trash on Bali and from what we hear little is being done to address it.
Therefore, most of the trash in Bali ends up in waterways where it eventually travels to the ocean. Whatever is left is burned.
So is Moving to Bali Worth it?
As you can see, the Island of Gods is more than just tropical smoothie bowls and breathtaking sunsets, and living in Bali is not always a walk in the park.
Although, with all that being said, Bali remains one of the most culturally unique and scenic places in the world as well as one of our favorite home bases.
Also, thanks to a good visa situation, some of the friendliest people we've ever met, and a climate that's always inviting, moving to Bali remains a popular decision among digital nomads and others living a location independent lifestyle.
So to sum it up, we hope that we've managed to show a more realistic picture of the often overlooked nuisances of everyday life in Bali.
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