John and Kerry
For many, Bali is a wonderful retirement option. The climate is perfect, the culture fascinating and the cost of living relatively low. In addition, the Balinese warmly welcome foreigners. You can choose to relax or you can become involved in the social and cultural life of the community. Here is the story of two people who decided to embark on a new adventure and retire in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. They wish to remain anonymous, so for the purpose of this story, we’ve changed their names.
John’s Bali story started with his wife’s 40th birthday. To celebrate, Kerry wanted a change from their usual Californian holiday. As a teenager, she had read in National Geographic that the Balinese were ‘the nicest people in the world.’ Bali became their holiday destination that year, and every year to follow.
When it came time to retire, John and Kerry packed up their home in Northern California.
There are many stories of expats encountering problems when leasing (you cannot buy) land, but the couple used a trusted local advisor and it all went smoothly.
Happy not to be using up rice field land, they secured some unused land overlooking a river. They paid for the building of their home in installments linked to phases of construction. John commented, “The money I spent here for a nice home would not have built anything much in California.”
When John and Kerry reached 55, they were able to take advantage of the five-year Indonesian retirement visa. This is renewable annually for around US$600 plus agent’s fees. (A big tip: use a reputable agent for visas as they can be invaluable in dealings with Immigration.)
John and Kerry receive combined pension payments of US$3,500 a month. Annual expenses include local village dues and tax of about US$150, payable in kilos of rice, but if you don’t grow rice you can pay in cash and a small property tax.
John explained, “We often eat out for around US$10 to $15 each, but warungs cost around US$1.50 for standard Indonesian fare, like fried rice. Eating at home costs considerably less, however, beer is more expensive than the USA.”
John also elaborated on transport costs. “To fill a motorbike is US$1.10 a tank. You can rent a car for around US$17 a day for trips to the capital city of Denpasar or vacations to seaside spots like Amed. Most people opt to hire a driver and car for day trips (about US$40) as it’s pretty stressful driving. Stopping at red lights seems optional, and there’s a plethora of hazards requiring very close driver attention at all times. Our local transport averages Rp.5,000 for a bemo (30 cents) and Rp.50,000 (US$3.50) for a taxi ride.”
A reasonable but not extravagant lifestyle in Bali, according to John, costs “around US$250 per person, per month.” He adds, “However, cooking at home or eating at local warungs would save a huge amount.”
Describing his typical day, John said, “I love to ride my bicycle through the back roads, clocking around 22 kilometers a day. For example, I often ride to a lovely local waterfall.”
Bali is a friendly island, and John usually looks for people who are already out on their bicycles who may want to join him. He has made dozens of friends from all over the world this way.
He says the couple’s biggest daily dilemma is which of the hundreds of Ubud cafes, warungs or restaurants to choose for lunch. “In the evening I watch a little satellite TV, and Kerry and I talk to friends by email, Skype or Facebook.”
Regarding health insurance, like many people who have worked in a government job in the USA, John and Kerry have been able to stay on their federal retirement health package and claim some local medical expenses. Bali now has world-class hospitals with state-of-the-art facilities where you can obtain tests like MRIs and consult with specialists at a fraction of the cost of a hospital in the USA. For example, a mammogram at Siloam Hospital is only Rp.200,000 (about US$15).
John and his wife feel safe in Ubud. “There are trouble areas, but they tend to be in the south of Bali,” John explains. “Our home village, Bedulu, is virtually crime-free. The places we go on excursions to also seem safe. I have had no trouble with the police and got a driver’s license fairly easily,” he added.
Penny is 88 years old and never considered anywhere else for retirement. She elaborated, “I seem to have always known about Bali as it is so close to my own country, Australia. Retiring here was a natural process.”
A free-spirited person who has travelled extensively, Penny only had to discuss with her children to prepare for her move to Ubud, all of whom were living outside Australia at the time. Penny moved to Bali permanently seven years ago.
Although on a retirement visa, Penny sometimes wonders if this is really necessary. She confided that it might be a welcome break from the routine of daily Bali life to regularly jump on a plane and go overseas to obtain a six-month social visa instead.
Penny also uses an agent to process her retirement visa every year, but she still has to make trips of almost an hour to Denpasar as part of the process. She commented, “It is now a rather complicated process.”
When asked what she did all day, Penny responded (and you have to love this answer), “Not very much at all, but it takes all day to do it.”
Penny’s monthly expenses include US$350 for rent, US$280 for utilities and food and US$70 for transport. She says of health expenses, “I might visit the doctor once a year. I return to Australia if I need treatment, as the system here is questionable. There is no health insurance in Bali for my age group.”
Overall she noted, “Living in Ubud, a popular tourist area, is expensive compared to traditional village living. The daily living costs in Ubud have almost doubled over the last five years.”
Penny feels secure, choosing to live in a traditional Balinese compound so she always has people around her. She observed, “Life is relaxed here, though the cultural differences can be a challenge. It’s wise to remember, as a foreigner in this country, you have no rights.”
She added, “My life here is better than it would be in Australia. I really feel part of a local community which includes both the expats and, to a lesser degree, locals.”