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You’ve Decided to Become an Expat in Bali – Where to Start?

Bali attracts people who are at a crossroads in their lives, who want to escape something, or relocate to better climate.

It became even more popular since the 2010 American biographical film Eat Pray Love. From one expat to another; relocating here is good value for money, considering the quality of life you can achieve.

But Bali will test your patience – sometimes your love affair with the island becomes a fling. I will share some tips that will contribute to a long-lasting love towards Bali and may be helpful if you plan to stay longer than a short trip.

Start by checking over your passport validity and travel documents. If you are not tight with your budget, nothing overcomes the feeling of liberty and free movement that a working visa (KITAS) gives you (even if you plan to enjoy the island life more than work). Regular visa runs will be a common side-effect when you apply for a short-stay visa. These can become painful when you realise that you could be surfing or watching the sun go down instead. Unfortunately, it often happens that people relocate to Bali with a random, unsuitable visa, start working, and get caught.

Once you’ve figured out your visa situation, you are ready to proceed with packing! An average baggage allowance may not fit all your prized possessions. So, should you leave without them? Since I am a big fan of Marie Kondo and her teachings about minimalism, I’d say you won’t need half of the things you think you will.

I also believe that shopping hard is bad for the environment, but I still own more than two pairs of sneakers and a bunch of books (which now I mostly borrow and swap with friends). But my point is that relocating is a great time to start downsizing. I remember the time when I planned my relocation and noticed that half of the things that I was dusting every week were only there for that reason – to collect dust. It was very liberating as suddenly things were put into perspective, and only the necessary items put into my luggage.

But what if you plan on bringing along something that’s a bizarre shape or size, such as your favourite vintage surfboard or a vinyl record player? You can import personal items to Bali only if you have a KITAS. Thus, if you choose a short visit visa, you’d better travel light!

There’s plenty of crossing off to do on the to-do list before departing. One thing you shouldn’t forget is getting health insurance that covers your trip and stay in Indonesia. I’ve joked with some of my closest expat friends in Bali that if you don’t have proper insurance, you do not qualify as my friend. I have even “forced” some of them to get insurance. It’s not me trying to prove a point or rebuke my friends, rather about what I’ve seen throughout my years in Bali. Especially the frequent posts about one crowdfunding page after another for people who need money to cover medical expenses. Scooter or surfing accidents are common but I’ve also seen people suffering from dengue fever or other tropical insect bites.

When I first came to Bali, I used travel insurance for a while. And suddenly it hit me – I saw in my passport that I’d been in Indonesia for over 183 days. Hence, I was considered as a resident, not a traveller. What it also meant was that the insurance could easily leave me hanging. So, I changed my insurance provider – I didn’t need much convincing since I had a couple of surf trips lined up and proper coverage was a must. I also decided to get an Indonesian drivers’ licence for the sake of insurance support, in case of any accidents – no licence equals no coverage for driving accidents.

Whether an experienced traveller or a newbie, your trip to Bali will start paying off the minute you land. You’ll feel the hot breeze straight after stepping out of the plane. Plus, the welcoming nature of locals is immediately obvious with the taxi drivers who each want to get you in their car. This is when you need to already know your destination in Bali.

The bottom line is, understanding what you and perhaps your family primarily need access to. Is it your workplace or your kid’s school? Is a surfing beach a must? Or, would you like to be woken up by the sound of the jungle instead? If you’ve never been to Bali then best do some research beforehand.

You should know that 4km on the road in Bali is not the same as in LA or Sydney and being in a traffic jam is tiring. Unless you’re a big fan of audiobooks, podcasts, or love the wind (mixed with petrol aromas) blowing in your hair. Areas of Bali are very different so go around, get to know the island and choose the place that you vibe with most.
I recall someone asking for my help to find a beachfront property in Ubud. I had to kill this dream immediately – unless waterfalls qualify as the beach. Also, if you’re outgoing and like to party, Singaraja or Amed may not be for you, whereas you’d have plenty to do in Seminyak or Canggu.

The first room you stay in is probably a cute place you’ve booked online. But once you’re in Bali, invest some time in finding a solid, long-term home. You can share houses with other expats, rent a luxury property that comes with a chef and ten maids, or a one- bedroom house without hot water and a squat toilet.

My grandmother once saw a TV show about Bali which got her really excited. That’s until they introduced the traditional Indonesian bathroom facilities – she immediately assumed that’s how my household looks and the next call we had was about getting me tickets back to Estonia. We found a compromise where I jokingly explained that squats are not really that bad whilst also assuring her how my bathroom looked.

My tip for you is to check the property beforehand and be smart about the hidden costs (the pool guy, the gardener, etc.). Also, if you pay for a longer period upfront, do not have high expectations of the landlord. They are usually more motivated to fix things once the extension period gets closer.

What makes life in Bali so enjoyable are the easily accessible and affordable services. Using apps such as Go-Jek or Grab, you can get whatever you need without leaving your villa – food from restaurants, shopping, massages, and even a cleaner. I’ve tried multiple services but most frequently I use these apps to order food. It’s especially useful at the beginning of your relocation as you don’t know too much about what’s around you or how to get to places on your own.

Opening a local bank account will also greatly contribute to a comfortable life in Bali, such as paying for your commodities just like locals do. You should know that everything is prepaid in Bali – electricity, phone credit, etc. When you are about to run out of credit, without the local card and mobile payment option, you must take a trip to the nearest shop to recharge your empty account.

I sound lazy writing this, but going to the shop in the middle of the night when the electricity meter starts to peep can be bothersome. Trust me as I’ve done it several times; sleeping without AC on and thinking about the potential lake under the fridge to wake you up in the morning were not very appealing outcomes. A local bank account helps you avoid all that.

Which part of the relocation seems to be difficult for you? We’d love to hear feedback from you – please do not hesitate to reach out to Triin Tigane via email bali@emerhub.com.

See: Can a Foreigner Buy Property in Indonesia?

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