The ABC of moving to Bali

Keep reality top of mind before relocating to the island paradise, writes Ian Neubauer.

Year-round hot weather. Dreamy views. Cheap housing. A robust economy. These are just some of the reasons more than 10,000 Australians have flown the coop and moved to Bali.

Thinking about joining them? Here are some important things to keep in mind before you relocate to the Island of the Gods.


There are half-a-dozen visa options for foreigners residing in Bali. Two-thirds of the Australian expat population opt for tourist or business visas that require them to leave Indonesia every 60 days. Over-55s can apply for retirement visas that are valid for one year and can be extended for up to five years. The rest apply for “kitas” or employment visas that must be sponsored by an Indonesian-based company and reissued every six to 12 months.

The average fee for a six-month entertainment kitas is about US$2000. If you have a spouse or children, they'll require separate non-working visas linked to the primary kitas application.


Most travel insurance companies will only insure expats for their first year abroad. After that, you'll need to pay big bucks for international medical insurance — or get creative.

“I have Indonesian hospital cover in case of accidents and take out travel insurance that covers me for 12 months so long as I return to Australia every 90 days,” says Deborah Vanderhoek of Eden, a medical spa in the Seminyak neighbourhood.

Deborah's experiences with medical care in Bali have been hit and miss: “Specialist services are not good and pharmaceuticals are limited. There are some good dentists but the dentists in Australia are better trained.

“The hospitals, even the really expensive private ones, are shocking,” she says. “I fractured my foot and they wanted to stick a pin it. I flew home instead and was told surgery was unnecessary.

“Another time I had a bulging disc in my spine and they had no idea what to do. The third time I went into hospital here was when I caught dengue fever — they knew exactly what to do because it's so common in Bali.”


There's no way to sugar coat it — traffic in Bali is a nightmare. Most roads were designed for motorbikes or horse carts and haven't caught up with urbanisation.

“Scooters are the most convenient and economical way to get around,” says Will Meyrick — the renowned Street Food Chef — who runs five restaurants, including fine dining Sarong Bali, kitchen bar lounge Mama San Bali and Ubud eatery Hujan Locale.

“You can buy a used scooter for $1000 or hire one for $60 a month,” he says. “But scooter riders are also very vulnerable. The tyres don't have great grip and the brakes are not fantastic, especially during the rainy season, which lasts up to six months.

“Getting around in a car is much slower but a godsend during heavy rain. And as a father, I'm always glad to have a car for my kids,” he says. “Cars cost about the same as they do in Australia. A new Suzuki or Toyota APV (all-purpose vehicle) is about $40,000 or you can hire one for $350 a month. You can also hire a full-time driver very cheaply in Bali for around $300 a month.”

With lush green scenery and winding river valleys, Bali is also a great place for mountain biking. “But only on the backroads,” Will says. “It's not a good idea to commute as a cyclist day-to-day because you never know what's coming up behind you.”


“The potential opportunities and rewards of starting a business in Bali, especially in the hospitality sector, are much greater than in Australia,” says Ben Cross, the Australian co-owner of Fishbone Local and Mason, two of the most successful restaurants in Canggu, Bali's hippest neighbourhood.

“But as you are in a foreign country, it's never going to be easy and you need to be careful about who you go into business with. In my case, I was lucky enough to have great partners who are strong in the areas where I’m not so strong.”

Another advantage of running a business in Bali, Ben says, is lower labour costs. “Wages are much lower in Indonesia, which allows business owners to have more staff on the roster to do jobs that might be considered too labour intensive in Australia, like making your own salami or bread.”

The downside for business owners, he says, is that retail prices are also much lower than they are back home “Take a Barramundi dish for example,” Ben explains. “In Australia, it costs about $28-$40 in a restaurant. But In Bali, I couldn't charge more than $11.”


Renting a villa with a tropical garden and pool for the same price as an apartment in an Australian capital city is one of the most attractive things about living in Bali. But buyer beware: tenancy agreements are very different in Indonesia.

“Leasing residential property in Indonesia is more like leasing commercial property in Australia. Typically you will have to pay 12 months rent in advance instead,” says Mitchell Ansiewicz, owner of Ohana's, a new boutique hotel and restaurant on Nusa Lembongan, a satellite island of Bali.

“Maintenance and repairs of rental properties are different, too, with the onus being on the tenant to take care of most problems that can arise, like leaky faucets (taps) and roofs.”

Mitchell says it's vital to engage a notary who comes recommended by other expats before signing a residential lease in Indonesia.

“Leases need to be registered with the government and the only way to do that is through a notary who'll also make sure the documents are properly drawn up,” he explains.

“Every second expat in Bali has a story about a dodgy lessor who didn't have the correct land title or never had a building approval. Try cutting corners and you will get burnt.”


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