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Moving to Bali: tips and tricks

As mentioned in my recent article ‘Moving to Bali: A Brit Abroad‘, I will be shortly making the big move to Bali along with my partner in crime.

The process has been, at times, emotionally draining but exciting and liberating none-the-less. Alongside the greater impact decisions I have had to consider, there have been practicalities that have popped up along the way.

There is a romantic urge within me to simply pack a bindle, hop on an airplane and see where I end up.

Equally, there is a very tiny but very rational goblin that sits on my shoulder and repeatedly convinces me to slow down for the speed bumps. The reality has dropped me somewhere in the middle, with no set abode or itinerary but a fairly solid set of choices. So as I prepare to depart with my goblin holding my hand (although she doesn’t really like being called that), and the creature of reason sitting astride the bindle I have bundled, here are some of the tips to consider if you are moving to Bali:

Where to Live?

Settle down in gorgeous Gili or unwind in Ubud? Chilled out Canggu or crazy Kuta? I know, its a toughie. Firstly you need to consider why you are moving to Bali and for how long. Are you a backpacker who wants to spend six months seeing what the island has to offer or a retiree who is looking to settle in the sun? Are you the kind of person who finds their paradise and clings to it or the kind who worries there may be an even more idyllic paradise just down the road? Eat Pray Love or Eat Pay Leave?

If your heart leads you down the path of adventure and exploration then there is good news!

Guesthouses in Bali start very cheap and months spent paying by the day won’t set you back much more than renting for a whole year, though what you gain in freedom you may lose a little in luxury.

Mid-range villas in all but the most lucrative areas of Bali start as little as $100 a week for a private house and even cheaper if you are willing to share. I’ll be opting to move around and see everything that is on offer before I settle anywhere, so it is a comfort to know that in doing so I won’t be hemorrhaging my hard-earned.

What to bring?

Red wine.

Seriously, what to bring?

Red wine. As far as I know, you can’t get good red wine on the island, so I’ll be bringing one prized vintage for a celebratory treat, to be cracked open at the peak of my pining for wining. Other luxuries worth considering are an E-reader or at least a stockpile of good books. There are bookshops dotted around, alongside backpacker book exchanges, but if you are a big reader it is worth noting that the selection to be found may not be as varied as you would like.

Decent earplugs or noise canceling headphones are a must. While the cities are no more noisy than you may be used to back home, build quality in Bali is not quite as high. As a result, you can expect early morning traffic noise or late night bar beats to sneak through the single glazing and porous walls. And its not just in the cities. Early morning birdsong can be beautiful but a crescendo of bird squawks and barking dogs at 5.30 every morning can leave you a gibbering wreck.

Other than the essentials (passports, visas, insurance and all of the relevant documentation) it really boils down to which luxuries and home comforts you can’t live without. Fresh crab and barracuda by the boatload and all manner of satays and sauces are endlessly appetizing, but sometimes you do just want a couple of slices of Marmite on toast.


Bali’s roads vary from crazy four lane carriageways to tiny, winding mountain trails. I recommend renting your own moped or car. Both are relatively cheap to hire but both will take some getting used to.

Driving in Bali, like many Asian countries, is a kind of organized chaos that must be embraced rather than fought.

Keep calm and it won’t take long to learn how the traffic flows around the island. Peak commute times should be avoided if at all possible and the one-way system in Kuta is an experience you will only try once, followed by a solemn vow never to drive anywhere again. Ever.

Helmets must be worn at all times when driving a moped, even if you see the locals getting away without them. If you are stopped at any of the regular police roadblocks and found without a helmet you can expect a hefty fine.

While on the subject of fines, it is important to remember that Indonesian law does not permit you to drive in the country without a valid Indonesian or international driving license. The international license must be applied for before you head to Bali. The price is around £25 ($40) in England and you can expect a similar cost from most other countries. Get caught driving without one and you can expect either a fine or confiscation of your moped.

Car rental usually costs around $300 a month with air conditioning and prices can often be negotiated. Check out one of the more popular rental sites here. A moped will cost around $50 a month and can seemingly be hired from the corner of almost any street. Obviously, both become cheaper if you commit to longer rentals.

Fuel is very cheap and can be bought from roadside vendors out of recycled glass bottles in the more rural areas, where petrol stations may not be readily available. This can be a lifesaver when you are exploring the island with a three liter fuel tank.

If you feel confident enough on two wheels then I recommend using a moped as your transportation. Most Balinese use mopeds to get around and the result is a much more difficult ride for the cumbersome cars that have to fight through the natural flow of traffic. Life is easier when you can jump in and ride the wave.

If none of this sounds like fun for you, there are the ever-present Bluebirds ready to swoop in and grab you in their talons.

The Language

Bahasa Indonesian is a relatively easy language to learn. Although in most parts of Bali you can get by with English alone, if you are planning on staying a while you should consider learning Bahasa. We use the same alphabet, the majority of spelling is phonetic and pronunciation is relatively easy. Cinta Bahasa schools are well established and can be found in Ubud, Sanur, Kuta and Canggu.

Remember, a move to a new country means integration into local life, not self-segregation which can place limitations on your experience.

Learning at least the basics of the language will open many more doors to meeting fantastic people and experiencing the moments you may never find without. Semoga beruntung!

Internet Access

A bugbear of almost every Bali expat. Although Bali is by no means technologically destitute, a solid internet connection does often depend on geography and willingness to invest. Internet cafes across the island provide pretty fast broadband, and many bars and restaurants offer free (but slow) wifi. Home internet connections will cost you a lot, however. Considering the fact that a private villa may only cost $150 a month, I have known people to pay as much as double their rent to add a home connection to that package.

Visas and Work Availability

It is very difficult to get a job in Bali. The government rightly enforce an obligation for employers to hire Indonesians as a precedent. Therefore, if you do not have the funds to sustain yourself then making the move to Bali is a bad choice.

Our visa guide will help you decide which visa is most appropriate for you, and with the rest if South East Asia on your doorstep and very cheap flights available from Air Asia, monthly visa runs can be a great experience. Long weekend in Hanoi? Go on then, if I must.

Pack Light

Considering bringing that prized piece of furniture with you? Don’t. Customs rules for Indonesia are pretty strict and will limit the amount you can bring into the country. Presumably, if you are the kind of free-spirit who is considering the move, you won’t be the kind of person who needs to bring a shipping container full of possessions. Besides, you should not underestimate the shopping in Bali. You will be able buy any items you need, often cheaply.

One of the pleasures of moving to a new country can unexpectedly come from these restrictions. Forcing yourself to take stock and complete an inventory of importance allows you to purge yourself of many of the items that aren’t essential.

Ask anyone who has pushed themselves through the liberating experience of starting from scratch with just the bare essentials, and they will invariably tell you that what little they brought was still too much.

Sports and Recreation

Bali is well known for it’s health-conscious recreational activities. Yes, there are surf spots for the wannabe So-Cal’s and yoga retreats all over the island, but did you know about the smorgasbord of sport clubs and hobby hubs available? I play rugby back in the UK, so I was delighted to find the Bali rugby scene is fairly strong, with teams that train weekly and play as often as they can arrange. There’s even the odd beach rugby tournament for the more casual player. More information can be found here and here.

Running, trekking and mountain biking clubs lure enthusiasts from all over the island and take you on some of the endless hidden trails that may be impossible to tackle, or even find on your own. Bali even caters for the more obscure tastes like mud wrestling and ultimate frisbee.

The newly opened Canggu Club boasts indoor and outdoor activities for everyone and has recently seen a multimillion dollar investment in development. So, whether its rugby with the locals, surfing with the So-Cal’s, or yoga with the low-cals, the choice is plentiful.


I don’t have any myself but I am aware that they exist.

My partner has been hoping to find teaching jobs and our research into schools around Bali has shown us that the level of education is very good. There are several well-respected international schools and even The Green School, the 2012 award winner for ‘worlds greenest school’. And if you are thinking extracurricular, there are endless fun things to do for children on the island, from play gyms and animal parks to spas that offer treatments for children. Check out our top 10 things to do with kids!

Health and Tropical Diseases

Mosquitoes in Bali are as much of a pest as in any other South East Asian country. DEET up on an evening, buy a mozzy net to cover your bed and never relent your war on mosquito-kind. Nothing can be taken to directly immunize against dengue, so consider covering up for prevention. Dengue is usually contracted in the busy, built up areas of Bali, where they often like to bite during the day. If you are anything like me, the midday heat means you will be as naked as legally possible, so take care around stagnant waters and other mozzy hangouts.

Malaria is almost entirely nonexistent on the island of Bali but those considering the Gili’s or Lombok, even for weekend trips, must consider the risk. I am not a fan of the often illness inducing anti-malarials though I do use DEET like cologne. Wear enough DEET to choke not only any mosquitoes but any person unfortunate enough to be sitting within ten feet of you. Just try not to lean too close to any romantic table candles, in case you light up the night in a ball of flames. Mind you, at least it would kill the mosquitoes.

If you need specialized medication or items like contact lenses, spare spectacles or hearing aids, make sure to bring enough for your entire stay as they may be very expensive to acquire once in Bali. Make sure this medication is clearly labeled and accompanied by a physicians letter which describes any conditions in detail. This will help with import as mentioned earlier.

A rabies vaccination is highly recommended. Although it can be quite costly and transmission is unlikely, there are animals that carry the disease that you may come into contact with. Dogs aren’t the only carriers of rabies and the most likely culprits are the cheeky monkeys that inhabit the island. Monkeys are great fun but, I’ve heard, rabies is not.

Most of the hospitals in Bali are of a decent quality but there are some that offer a slightly better standard of care for a higher cost. These specifically fall within international care guidelines. As a final tip, remember there is no national health service in Bali, so costly medical bills are often charged in cash, following any procedure. Make sure you not only have good health insurance before setting off, but an emergency fund available in case you need to pay the bills up front.