A Little Adrift

A Little Expat Living… Cost of Living in Bali, Indonesia (2017)

Moving to Bali is the stuff of travel dreams. The Indonesian island has a reputation for its gorgeous setting, delicious food, and fascinating Hindu culture. Popular culture has done a wonderful job selling the island’s most idyllic aspects, but there’s a bit more to Bali than simply an island paradise. While many expats have chosen Bali has their long-term homebase, others visit and then prefer to keep Bali as the stuff of vacations: sunny, warm, and fascinating, but not a good lifestyle fit. Where might your own plans fit into the mix? It really depends on what you are hoping for when you look at moving to Bali.

Generally, there is a mix of lifestyles for the expats in Bali. The costs of living in various parts of the island plays a big role in why expats choose to move to a certain city. There are touristy areas that are completely overrun with a partying backpacker vibe. But there are other areas where expats can live smack dab in the middle of a rice paddy, within a short bike ride to the center of town. The lifestyles vary hugely, but as of 2016, it’s a fast-growing spot for expats looking for a nice quality of life for a low cost of living.

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Why Bali?

On my own stint in Bali, it all played out a bit differently than I had planned, and I left Bali far sooner than I anticipated. It happened for a range of reasons. I had planned to move to Bali for three to six months in late 2010. Once I arrived, however, a confluence of events led me to choose a different path. Many readers have emailed me wondering how I could have possibly been willing to give up living in Bali? The short answer is that I got a job offer with a nonprofit that wanted me to jump start their community initiatives in the U.S. This is reason enough to have packed up and headed back to the states. It’s not the only reason, however. The bigger question for digital nomads, expats, and those working online is this: Is Bali a good spot to run a remote business, a blog, or any sort of location independent lifestyle?

In 2010, the answer was a resounding “no.” The internet infrastructure was just too slow and power outages during rainy season were cumbersome if you needed to make an online meeting. Now, that has changed. Ubud boasts coworking spaces and a growing digital nomad community. It still has a more basic infrastructure than places like Chiang Mai, Thailand (which is hugely popular with expats and digital nomads). We’ll get into that a bit more in the quality of life section, but suffice to say that it’s still only moderately ideal for expats hoping to run a business online.

But there are a ton of other reasons to move to Bali, and if you’re not a digital nomad or entrepreneur, you might just love calling this tiny island home. I am often asked: “Should you move to Bali?” This spot is unique to other places in Southeast Asia and there are a good number of digital nomads, entrepreneurs, yoga enthusiasts, and families who happily call Bali home.

Cost of Living Range: $650 to $1,700 per month for a single person, families and couples sharing rental costs will save a bit. And it’s possible to spend significantly more on a higher lifestyle.

Currency: Indonesian Rupiah; pegged roughly 1:13,000 with the US dollar (IDR rate here)

Expat Scene: Bali is the playground for Australians since the flights are so cheap. There is also a solid expat scene of both short-term expats (3-6 months) and those living full-time on the island. Ubud has a growing startup scene and as of 2016 was vying with Thailand and Vietnam for this crowd of expats. By and large, Bali is popular with Aussie spring-break backpackers and those in their 30s. The island has a very different vibe from the scene in the Thai islands, and although there is a budget new-age crowd in Ubud, much of Bali’s expat scene caters to those in on a comfortably middle class budget. Those living on the low-end of the cost of living range are generally short-term expats as you will pay for the creature comforts that most expats prefer in a homebase.

Average Local Salary: The minimum wage salary for a local in Bali is about $140 per month; those in high paying jobs bring home around $500 per month.

Visas: The most common visa for Bali is a paid tourist visa ($35), which lasts for 30 days and you can pay to extend it to 60 days. At the 60-day limit, you must leave and re-enter. This usually works for short-term expats. Long-term expats often opt for the the social-cultural (sosial-budaya) visa, which lasts for 60 days and can be extended for 30 days up to four times. Retirees will likely qualify for a residence visa, but this is very hard for non-retirees to secure.

Water: Tap water is not drinkable. When you live there, you will buy reusable jugs of water. If you’re visiting on a reconnaissance trip, consider a SteriPen or LifeStraw.

Internet: High speed internet is not widespread throughout Bali. Although you can find internet in every corner of the island, Ubud is your best-bet for a solid, reliable connection. Smaller towns and the beach communities have internet access, but it can vary wildly. Expats in rural areas often rely on satellite internet.

Safety: Relatively safe. Motorbikes are the preferred style of travel; while this is convenient, it is also dangerous. The “Bali Kiss” is the name given to the muffler burn and road-rash on the bodies of travelers who don’t understand how to properly use a motorbike. Motorcycle accidents are common; it’s advisable to carry an insurance policy that covers such accidents.

Possible Issues: Burglaries of expat villas is possible since most villas do not lock securely. You will either pay for better/secure accommodation, or opt for security guards. I also highly recommend gear insurance — I carry this for my laptop and high end camera. Many beaches have riptides and few lifeguards, you will need to use your own ocean safety knowledge to avoid problems. The weak medical infrastructure is a also concern for many retirees.

Child Friendliness: Similar to other places in Southeast Asia, Bali is very child-friendly. There is a large family expat scene, and as such there are also a number of international schools. You can expect to pay dearly for some, however, so you’ll need to do your research. Prices for school range from 3K annually to as high as 20K per year.

Pet Friendliness: Bringing pets into Bali is iffy. There is a huge stray animal problem on the island and you can easily adopt a pet once you arrive. Due to the prevalence of rabies, it’s impossible to take your pet with you if you leave.

What’s the Quality of Life?

Bali is a small island with a heap to offer expats and locals alike. You can live in one area, and still easily spend a weekend exploring any other part of the island. The surrounding islands are also beautiful, so there’s a lot of life that expands out from your island home.

One of the best parts of living in Bali is just how small your life becomes. It’s a tiny island and you can live in one area but easily spend a weekend exploring any other part of the island. There are also boat trips to surrounding islands, so there’s a lot of life that expands out from your island home. Within a few hours you can get between most cities, and this is particularly true if you live in Ubud, which is where a lot of expats live. Generally, expats on a tight or moderate budget choose the lifestyle and convenience of living near Ubud, while many expats also live in the more resort-like coastal towns.

For me, I had planned to live in Bali for four to six months, at least. I had this wonderfully romantic notion of living outside of Ubud, taking yoga classes regularly, and powering through some new internet projects. And I was woefully reluctant to abandon the dream even when I saw Jonathan Fields’ post about his flee from Bali for lack of good internet just weeks before I was due to leave. That post is now outdated, but it did prove true for my trip. The internet was awful. The rest of my dream, however, did play out as planned. Ubud has a huge community of new age expats, entrepreneurs, and other expats from every walk of life. It’s an odder mix than many other places that I have lived over the years.

If you’re moving to Bali, then you have options on where to live. Ubud is the most popular spot in the country; the bulk of expats live in or around the central part of Bali. That said, the beach towns are also popular and budget and lifestyle will dictate which area of Bali you prefer to live. Denpasar is busy and lacking much charm. The only expats generally living in Denpasar are working for the government or organizations based out of the city.

Ubud has a reputation as a new age, hippy, spiritual town. Coffee shops and healthy cafes fill the city. Yoga is popular and you’ll have a surprising range of options considering the city’s small size. A friend who lived in Ubud for a season did a “Don’t Knock It ‘Til You’ve Tried It” series sampling the wide range of spiritual and physical activities on offer (from cleanses to kinesiology to meditation). Ubud is also home to arguably the island’s best restaurants. I love this list of vegetarian options. It has a hippy vibe and is undeniably touristy. But it’s also popular and expats tend to love it or leave it.

Seminyak is a popular beach town that mixes pockets of the local culture with a clean beach and nice accomodation. The beaches in Seminyak are quieter without the party scene of nearby Kuta. Vendors are also more low-key, and it’s an area popular with both vacationing couples and families. Kuta is known for it’s densely packed backpacker vibe. The maze of streets contain budget guesthouses and late-night bars, and the beach is a cluster of activity. Seminyak is a bit more upscale and expats might enjoy finding a place nearby here. You can still access any amenities in the Kuta beach zone, but the beaches are cleaner and the vibe is much calmer.

Balinese food is wonderful, and the traditional dishes are quite healthy (and vegetarian-friendly too!). The local restaurants, warungs, have affordable meals and tasty options. Many dishes contain rice, chicken, and even tempeh. You can each on a budget here if you stick to local spots. The fresh fruit and vegetables are also gorgeous, so it’s easy to buy local produce and cook at home. As a rice-based culture, it’s fairly celiac friendly too. With the number of new-age hippy types living in Bali, the locals are familiar with the concepts of vegetarianism and gluten-free. In generally, it’s a good option for those with dietary restrictions.

Notably for many expats is the cost of alcohol. Alcohol is highly taxed in Bali and it will not fit into those on an extreme budget. If you are looking to live somewhere both affordable in general, and affordable for a daily drink, consider other spots in Southeast Asia like Thailand and Vietnam.

Medical care is a concern for some expats considering moving to Bali. The main hospital, Sanglah Hospital, is located in Denpasar. If you have a major injury or illness, this is where you will need to be treated. Other areas of the island have clinics, but there is not a strong medical infrastructure and for a life-threatening injury you would be using the Denpasar hospital. Additionally, many expats report that they fly to Bangkok or Singapore for planned surgeries and procedures.

What Does it Cost to Live in Bali?

All prices on the right column are adjusted to form a best-estimate on the budget for a single person in that city. The case-studies, however, include a range of couples, families, and retirees. Additionally, most landlords offer rental discounts for yearlong leases. Several single expats in the digital nomad crowd report higher expenses than the rock bottom that is possible. In general, some of the digital nomad crowd, versus the expats or families, live in the trendier areas and splurge on a few extras. Areas for splurging include which district you live in, the level of westernization on the apartment, and A/C consumption.

In short, the cost of living in Bali depends on your lifestyle and which city you choose as rent varies wildly in places like outskirts of Ubud versus Seminyak. Lowest tier rent buys you a room in a family compound, a bit more affords a lovely bungalow in the rice paddies. Higher end rents afford more Western-style apartments with full A/C and kitchens. Living costs also depend on diet as Bali has an organic health-food craze and those meals are priced much higher than local fare. Case studies below show what a range of lifestyles looks like when living in Bali.

Monthly Cost of Living in Bali, Indonesia for one person: $650 to $1,700

Monthly Expenses Costs
Rent  $300 – $1,100
Transportation (motorbike rental + fuel)  $60
Food  $300 – $550
 Activities (yoga, massages, diving, etc) $75 – $150

Ubud
When I landed in 2010, within a few days I knew that the party vibe on Kuta beach was too much for me. I headed inland to the cultural heart and booked a few nights at the Artini guesthouse, which are dead center in town. Once I started wandering around town, I found an enourmous expat community able to help me find long-term accommodation. Many coffee shops have notice boards. You can use a real estate agent, or you can wander through the outskirts of town asking for rentals. I had lined up a small one-bedroom private accommodation in a rice paddy for roughly $300 U.S. Friends staying in town were living in a bedroom in a family compound for $100. Even in the week I stayed in Bali, however, I knew that food would become my real expense. Although local food is quite affordable for foreigners, the number of fancy, organic restaurants are enticing. It’s easy to go into town for an afternoon and end up spending $8 for an organic lunch, $3 for single-origin coffee and another $10 on a yoga class or activity. For this reason, although Bali is budget for many, most expats will end up closer to a mid-range budget if they live in Ubud.

My friends Simon and Erin lived in Bali for a season in 2015. They have a similar lifestyle to my own, which is a vegetarian diet, limited partying, and the bulk of outings are cultural activities. They stayed in Junjungan village, which is a bit outside of Ubud but still accessible. You will likely need to rent a motorbike to navigate between the two, but Erin reports that it was quite easy and she navigated into the city for yoga classes. Their cost of living budget splurges on nice accommodation, and Bali is no exception. They found a beautiful, quiet spot and paid about $900 per month for their rental, and spent $40 per month for a motor bike rental.

Other expats in the digital nomad/entrepreneur crowd report expenses in the $1500 range for a short-term stay of a few months. This is a bit high if you are moving to Bali permanently as the costs of flights and accommodation are averaged out over a longer time period.

And if you’re a family moving to Bali, the Benders report in that their family of four lived in Bali for about $2,000 per month. They only spent a month in Bali, which means they did not get a long-term rental discount, and spent about $1,400 on their 2-bedroom villa that included wifi, daily cleaning, television, and breakfast.

Cost of Living: $700 – $1,500

Seminyak
Seminyak has a lot to offer for expats with a mid-range budget. This family shared how they travel Bali with kids. Although they don’t share their costs, they report that of the beaches — Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dusa — that their family prefers Seminyak. As an expat, you’ll find the local warungs with affordably priced food, and the less touristy places that make Seminyak more like home than like a tourist haven. Another family, Stewart is the owner of the best site about traveling Southeast Asia, Travelfish. He has lived in Bali with his family for many years.

In the expat forums, the general consensus is that you can find a long-term rental in the southern beach areas for about $500 per month. You can spend a whole lot more than that too, but that’s a good baseline.

Cost of Living: $900 – $2,000

Overall, living in Bali is comparable to a few other spots in Asia in terms of costs, but there are clear differences in the quality of life. While it is possible to live on $600 per month in Bali on an uber, bare-bones budget, many expats will need more than that for a comfortable lifestyle with Western amenities. The huge expat scene in Bali means that it’s very easy to spend more on luxuries like fancy restaurants, diving, and yoga. Places like Vietnam and Thailand are better for uber budget expats; you will enjoy life more by expanding your budget and allowing for extra activities and events.

A baseline of $1,200 a month is reasonable for a nice life in many desirable areas of the country. And while all this research gives a good baseline of vibes for each place and possible costs, I can’t tell you how much I recommend that you plan a trip to Bali so you can do your research in person. If you have the time, consider spending your tourist visa as a research trip. You could visit the island for two months and see a whole lot.

If you’re still researching various expat spots, check out our other Cost of Living Guides for a close look the what it takes to move to the world’s most popular expat spots.

Links & Resources For Moving to Bali

These resources will help you more thoroughly each aspect of moving to Bali and what it might look like in your own situation. Other expat cost of living breakdowns can only roughly approximate what your expenses might average if you move to Bali.

Planning a Research Trip to Bali?

I highly recommend that you take a research trip to Bali before you decide to go through the process of moving your life there.

Recommended Cultural Reading: If you’re hoping to fully immerse in the local culture, then there a few good books you should read. This Earth of Mankind is an acclaimed novel written by an Indonesian novelist about the Java colonialists. A Little Bit One O’clock: Living with a Balinese Family is a great option for those who like reading memoirs that illuminate culture. If you want a thorough accounting of the island’s history, bar none read Short History of Bali.

 

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Cost of Living Comparison

Still researching the right spot to live? Our Cost of Living Guides share extensive resources or all the major expat spots around the world. These guides include thorough breakdowns of the culture, quality of life, vibe, and — importantly — budget breakdowns so you can better plan which spot in the world best meets your needs.