How to Work Abroad and Find Overseas Jobs

A Little Thought… On Why I Left to Travel, How I Pay for It, and How to Work as an Expat

Mythology and story, new cultures, and finding just the right way to describe what it feels like to watch a new day begin as the the sun warms the streets of an unknown city . . . these are the things I usually think about when writing new posts. How can I transport other people into a new place?

Since many readers won’t make it on a rickety bus rocketing through the dry deserts of India, I share that with words and photos. It’s those travel moments that compelled me to keep up travel blogging—the want to share the experiences and the stories along the way.

What I rarely talk about is a bit less glamorous and a lot more personal. More pointedly: my job. I’ve only mentioned my work a handful of times on the site, but after many emails from the ALA community about how to save for travel—and more specifically, how I afforded a long-term route around the world for a year! And then for another nine years and counting.

Now, I decided I have something to say to the countless travelers and dreamers emailing about how to work remotely, and how to build a digital nomad lifestyle, or work internationally.

How I’ve Worked Online for 13+ Years

Watching Titanic in 3D in Phnom Penh
My niece and I visited an expat friend who lives and works full time in Cambodia. The three of us found a theatre playing Titanic in 3D and yes, oh yes, we went to see it!

To those not keen to live as a digital nomad, why not try on life as a true expatriate.

After months backpacking Southeast Asia, my niece and I stayed with Anna Jura, a traveling expat friend living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She works in the public health sector and navigates the ins and outs of finding expat work abroad. As an aside, having Anna (my friend) and Ana (my niece) share names made for a fun week of confusion and I often elicited raised eyebrows pointed in my direction since the dynamics of talking to an 11-year-old are a far-cry different from talking to another adult! :-)

Anyways, Anna opened her door to us with a spare bedroom, opened her evenings to us with wandering rants about local Cambodian politics and culture, and with enthusiasm she showed us the tastier eats around her city.

More than that though, she showed me what it is like to truly work abroad an expat in a city you’re in because you like both the city and your work.

cambodian food

A simple veggie fare for lunch...not really Cambodian, but delicious!

Why You Should Work Overseas

Chalk it up to lack of critical thought on the subject, but in my narrow world, it hadn’t fully occurred to me to encourage people to find work in their field of study. To actually take their University degrees and apply for work abroad.

Over the years, I have given a lot of advice in emails always encouraging people to embrace online, remote-based work.

I wrote to one questioning traveler: “Think about all of your unique skills and leverage those into remote-based consulting.”  And to another I emailed that she could “build up freelance gigs in one of her skill-sets or consider teaching English abroad.”

breakfast
My niece and I cooked a thank you breakfast on our last day for Anna and her neighbor!

All of this is good advice if you want to work from a laptop;  and that is my primary frame of reference. I have said it before in places on this website, what differentiates me from many round the world and gap-year travelers is that I worked the entire time.

In the past six years, I have only truly taken two long breaks from my SEO consulting work, my freelance online work, and the weekly upkeep on this blog. One break was in 2009 on my RTW trip for a ten-day Vipassana Meditation course in Nepal; I spent ten days in complete silence and they locked all our gadgets and notepads in the center’s storage areas for the entire ten days. The other break was in Myanmar earlier this year; I knew the internet was intermittent in the country and welcomed three weeks offline, only checking in once or twice to make sure there were no fires to squash.

How to Work Abroad and Find Overseas Jobs
My “office” is usually a wifi cafe somewhere in the world . . . and the best cafes have fellow blogging friends gracing their tables like Jodi of Legal Nomads and James from Nomadic Notes!

My “office” is usually a wifi cafe somewhere in the world . . . and the best cafes have fellow blogging friends gracing their tables like Jodi of Legal Nomads and James from Nomadic Notes!

It’s worth noting that I left back in 2008 to travel knowing this was my reality, knowing I wouldn’t have the same freedoms of other 20-something backpackers who had spent years saving up, then quit their jobs and traveled unhindered and free to indulge in each travel moment. It’s a great story, the quit my job and traveled story, but it’s not my story. I have no regrets, and the fact that I can work remotely regularly makes it on my daily gratitude list.

My Backstory (Exactly How I Pay my Bills)

For a season of my life, I worked at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. I do believe those three-and-a-half months qualify as my only “real job” after college. Well, the only 9 to 5 I’ve ever worked, I should say. I took the NYFA job to help myself transition between Florida and California.

I moved to LA just after graduating college in 2006, and, like so many other young actors, ambition, naïvety, and likely a hint of narcissism fueled me through the move. But, even back then, I had lucked into fully online based work through a series of happenstance connections shaped by the people, professors, and friends I met while studying at University.

So, I took a location-based job. And I did it simply to meet new friends and find an instant community in a town where finding a community is the only way to survive the crushing anonymity of living in a city with nearly four million inhabitants.

Graduating college in 2006
Graduating university and just a month before I decided to pack up and spontaneously move to Los Angeles, California to pursue acting and continue my online work.

I had worked with NYFA on their annual summer program in Orlando, Florida, so they were a logical choice when I wanted part-time work. It was a three-day-a-week job that necessitated a blouse, skirt, and super cute heels. The outfits were the best part of that job. That’s not to say anything about the company, my colleagues welcomed me, the NYFA students were bright and passionate, and the work was challenging.

But I hated the lack of power, the oversight of a boss when I’d only previously justified my time-management on projects to myself. And lest you think I simply didn’t like work and skated through University on a trust fund, I got a full merit-based scholarship to the University of Central Florida, and I waited tables, bartended, and nannied to pay for the other costs; each of these was a job I loved aspects of, though the former two were jobs I swore I’d never return to again once I graduated.

Back to Los Angeles. I found myself in the routine, packing my lunch each day, the same smiles, the same jokes with friends, and after-work exhaustion, or happy hour on a good day. And it didn’t feel like me. There was a restlessness stirring inside of me, fighting the constraints in the daily routine.

So I quit. Okay, not quite like that, I finished the project . . . my fancy title was the Assistant Director of New Programs, and what it boiled down to was me co-writing an application to grant MFA degrees from one of the NYFA programs. With the project finished, rather than stay on, I gave a cheery goodbye ( still on good terms). Then I went back to my online work, nannied for two families in LA, and spent another year and a half toiling through life as an actor in Los Angeles.

I had an epiphany of sorts, in a conversation with my dad . . . I told him how I was itching to move again, and since I had enough SEO consulting work I was thinking of moving to Boston for a change of scenery. He said “Well, you can pretty much work from anywhere, so I say do it.”

And to this day my dad maintains that he never imagined the sorts ideas that conversation would spark. Within two weeks I had embraced the concept: I bought a one-way ticket to Australia, gave notice to my landlord, and decided to leave acting behind for a while and instead travel and work.

hollywood sign, los angeles
My last day in the US back in 2008, just before leaving Los Angeles to Australia for my RTW trip. I hiked Runyon Canyon with my friend Lisandra to say goodbye to the Hollywood Sign (in the far background)..

I left just five months later, in November of 2008, with a conservative sum of money I gained from: selling my belongings, my modest savings, and extra work I crammed in the last couple months. To fund the full year of travel I had planned, I knew I needed to bill about 25 hours a week on average for most of the trip, and slightly more than that once I arrived in Europe, where the cost of living is higher than in Asia.

Since that time, I have continued many of the same jobs (still doing SEO, online marketing/SEO consulting, freelance writing, and this blog), while also diversifying my work and income (I have a volunteer site in the works and a book publishing later this fall . . . more on that soon!). Through it all though, I have always and will continue to work remotely, from my laptop, for the foreseeable future.

Back to the Present: Living Abroad as a Working Expat

From my background and experience, I have given career advice in countless emails to steer people into working remotely. And in some responses I noted that you could find work abroad, but I never really understood all that it can mean to live as an integrated expat until I lived with Anna Jura for a week.

I am not fond of “real” jobs—ie. office jobs with bosses and clocking in, but that’s just me.

Some people thrive under the structure and work 9 to 5 on projects they love. This is not a novel concept to most of my friends, who love their homes, love having evenings off, and love a structure giving them weekends free of work concerns.

But maybe I finally get it. Anna and her roommate both clock into “real” jobs each day.

By choice.

Given the option to switch jobs with me, they’d choose their job.

Sunset phnom penh palace
Sunset over the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from one of the walks Anna took us on around the city

Every expat I met through Anna while in Phnom Penh was highly educated, most were specializing in development work of some sort, though some in marketing, or business, and all were content with their work and life as an expat in Cambodia. 

In the past, I’ve met disgruntled expats, those frustrated or with their jobs and ready to take the money they earned working abroad, do a last hurrah of travel until it ran out, and then move home. But the community I met in Phnom Penh changed my perception; these people found a place for their specializations, for their college degrees. Beyond that, the prospect of living and working in this particular foreign city excited them. Their work is not a means to an end as it often is for those teaching English abroad or some such (the end usually being traveling). These are jobs for the love of working in a subject field, and, ultimately, professional work satisfaction.

So much of the travel community is “rah, rah travel, rah, rah save up and take a massive trip . . . or work remotely and travel perpetually.”  That’s just one option. There are also opportunities abroad for those with wanderlust and a wish to have a home-base, set-up shop, live, raise a family, and truly enjoy life as an expat abroad.

Small Thatched Cottage, Ireland
The thought of living in this thatched cottage, cozying up with a daily up of tea, finding new friends and settling into a new rhythm makes Ireland’s rural Western coast appeals to me if I ever want to go off the grid as an expat :)

That’s my new advice. Try on your University degree and see if it fits abroad. Or try consulting and build an online business. Or save up a chunk of money, travel, and return to home-base. My point is, I heartily support travel and think anyone with the opportunity and inclination should take it . . . and think outside the advice anyone might give you and follow your own path to that end.  :)

How to Find Work Overseas

How to Find Work Overseas (And How I've Work Remotely for 13+ Years) — Extensive tips and firsthand advice for #digitalnomads

I’ve never worked for a traditional company abroad, but I have many friends who have. This page on A Little Adrift does a very deep, thorough dive into how to find specialized expat work from people who have done it. If you’re looking to work online, I recommend that you start here with your research as it covers every step from deciding what work is good for your skills, to finding work, to how to travel as a digital nomad if you choose remote-based work.

How to Work and Travel as a Freelancer or Digital Nomad

If you’re interested in moving overseas, that job hunt is a different process. These resources will give you a better idea of where to find overseas jobs, as well as how others have done it before you.

International Organizations & Databases

  • Escape the City: A London-based company that has a weekly newsletter you should sign up to have the best-of-the-best job recs that the week. It has some great resources if you are looking to change careers, or just find new work in your same field—just from a more interesting location!
  • Cool Works: The site’s tagline is “Jobs in Great Places” and there are a lot of sorting options—seems like a good place to peruse. The site specializes in seasonal and shorter-term jobs all over the world. (And if you’re looking at seasonal work, you can learn more about it at Job Monkey).
  • ReliefWeb: Start here for many development jobs all over the world—it’s easy to search and full of opportunities in many fields.
  • InterNations: A huge global community. I haven’t participated, but I know they host events and have active forums.
  • Modern-Day Nomads: This has a range of both remote-based jobs as well as location-based adventurous job opportunities in interesting places.
  • The Working Traveller: You’ll find more seasonal work here listed in their JobSpy category that is updated regularly for opportunities all over the world.
  • Go Workabout: Seasonal jobs for foreigners in Australia; it’s a great database. This is especially handy if you’re considering applying for the fairly-easy-to-secure one-year Work Holiday Visa for those under 31 years old.

Information Sites

  • Expat Focus: A good starting point, you will find yourself lost in this site for hours as you start plotting and planning a move. Though there is a free membership part to some of it, you can search through country information without logging in.
  • Expat Finder: A full service site that has information on every part of the move.
  • Expat Exchange: A robust site with information on a wide range of countries.
  • Expatica: Nice all-around resource for every side of the process, it has job boards, community forums, tips articles, and is a well-trafficked site and it looks like there is pretty dynamic content!
  • Four Ways to Become an Expat: A few paths you can look at for finding jobs and a type of work that will take you overseas.
  • Transitions Abroad: Dense with information; I didn’t like that they don’t link out to other job boards and that such, but has a range of possible topics covered.


Additional Resources for How to Work as an Expat

  • The End of Jobs: An essential book for anyone who wants to work as an expat or digital nomad; speaking to why MBAs and JDs can’t get jobs, research on integrated living, and more.
  • Big Magic: You don’t have to be a fan of Eat Pray Love to enjoy this book. An inspiring read about creativity that is helpful to expats, digital nomads, and bloggers.
  • Four Hour Work Week: No doubt you’ve seen it for years, but if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Some of Tim Ferris’ viewpoints are very counter to how I live my life, but I will give him this: his book changed my perception about what is possible in building an online business. It’s still a primer read for a reason, it’s worth having that knowledge and perspective in your head as you move forward.
  • The 80/20 Principle: A good companion to the Four Hour Work Week, this book talks about how 20% of your efforts will generate 80% of your results. As an expat or digital nomad working smarter, not harder, is key and this book provides a good base.

If there is ever anything that I can do to help, please do reach out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and let’s talk about how we can make your travel dream a reality.

A Little Chiang Mai Living…Routine is It’s Own Adventure

A routine forms when you hunker down in one place, when you pick a spot and decide “hey, I’m going to live here; not just travel through, but live here.” Is it safe to admit I thought the routine and normalcy would still elude me? Coming to Chiang Mai was the next leg in my wanderings; I didn’t realize that the entire pace of my life would slow back down into a routine.

I’ve been in near constant motion for more than two years; my months home this fall were a break of sorts, but even then I was busy bouncing between busy state capitals, countless couches, guest bedrooms, and even a floor or two as I visited friends and family around the U.S.

I was still on the roller coaster adventure of perpetual travel.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="654" caption="A monk's daily routine at the Silver Temple: taking the offerings off of Ganesh each evening"]A monk at the Silver Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand takes the offerings off of Ganesh for the evening.[/caption]

Now I’m here, living in Chiang Mai, and it’s so very normal.

I have a home. A really cute one too. I have an address and rent, my trusty backpack is shoved deep in the corner of my room from lack of use and the street vendors near my house smile and wave out of familiarity.

I have a routine.

Curious emails have begun to flit into my inbox:

What do I do here every day? Why Chiang Mai? Is it what I expected?

This is the first time I’ve stopped and actually lived somewhere outside of the US.

And I like it, a lot. There’s a community here in Chiang Mai; friends, food, and decent wifi are the constants.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="654" caption="My favorite vegetarian street food vendor - no MSG and always served with a big smile!"]Veggie street food lady in Chiang Mai, Thailand[/caption]

And yet it’s not what I expected entirely either. The normalcy makes it easy to  float through days in a routine without paying close attention to what’s happening…and then sometimes very little actually happens. Sadly that has included work; I get distracted by the food, people, and culture maybe even more regularly than I did on the road. Now that wifi and work aren’t challenging (easy connections, tons of time on my hands) less seems to get done.

But then again, that’s partly why I came here, just to see what it’s like to live somewhere else. So I can report back to you now, people over here live in routines too.

I’ll appease those wondering souls concerned about what it’s like to live here in Chiang Mai. It looks something like this…

A day in Shannonland, Chiang Mai Edition:

4:30a – The smell of frying garlic from the restaurant next door suffuses the room and I dream of food.
6:30a – Wake up! The sun’s up, the birds outside compete in a loud and aggressive morning chirping contest and I’m hungry enough to eat an entire garden (don’t feel like the “hungry enough to eat a horse” analogy fits?!).
8a -12:00p – Ponder the Thai National Anthem as it blares through the street speakers around town at 8am every day…then work. The internet is only good in the morning at our house, so it’s a Western breakfast of yogurt, fresh fruit, and work.
12:00p – Scoot over to the veggie lady’s buffet nearby for a spicy lunch with an assortment of tasty and convincing fake meats; their complete mastery of seitan here in Thailand is, in a word, delicious.
1p-6:00p – Thank the heavens for the 99baht ($3) coffee and wifi buffet – a few afternoons each week I buffet it up for hours and hours.
6:30p – Team Chiang Mai (all the expats in town) meet for dinner a nearby night market so we can all find our favorite foods (that way the rest of the team isn’t forced to eat at veggie restaurants all the time). Then it’s a free-for-all for the rest of the evening…sometimes a local festival, other days just chatter over drinks.

Blissfully normal, right?!

I came here for the ability to hunker down and maintain a work schedule while still abroad and in a different culture. And I’m welcoming a routine and framework for my life. I like it. And I love the smiles of recognition and genuine warmth from the locals I encounter on a daily basis.

Delicious steam squash and taro sit on a street cart in Chiang Mai, Thailand.Sweet desserts at the Chiang Mai Gate Night Market.

So, why Thailand for this first foray into expat-ism?

Because establishing a mini-life and routine here in Chiang Mai is an adventure of its own and I wanted to see if I like it. My roomie and I navigate the street food stalls with expertise – we cobble together a mish-mashed dinner from our favorite street food vendors. An ear of corn from the grinning lady at the edge of the night market, a wave to the man selling chopped fruit.

The nods of acknowledgment and smiles makes it a bit like the Cheers sentiment. I like it here because “everyone knows my face” (not so much my name, I’ll admit, we haven’t gotten that far yet ;-).

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="My roomie and I zip all over town on our scooters :)"]Motorbiking with my roomie around town is the norm in Chiang Mai, Thailand[/caption]

Everyone here is living their lives too, they have their routine and for the first time in a long time I’m slipping into a routine with those around me, fitting my life into my surroundings, and the familiarity of food I know, a constant culture (less chance of embarrassing snafus like my roomie’s recent “May I fart?” debacle).

This venture into a more sedentary nomadism is, well, progressing. I can’t yet decide if I’ll pick back up traveling or move to another place…who knows?! Still figuring that out.

Any burning questions for me? The next post in the series I’ll share the costs of living here in Chiang Mai, arguably one of the more appealing reasons I moved her too!

A Little Twist…Turning Tail & Traveling to Thailand

The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
`To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.’

Tree over Pushkar

This fragment of a Lewis Carroll poem wandered into my wayward thoughts as I sat down to write tonight;  I often quote these lines to my niece and nephew when they spout nonsense…

…but worry not, I’ll keep away from nonsense and instead note that my travel plans, like the winds of the world, have changed direction.

Several months ago I was giddy at the thought of heading to the Middle East and traveling through Syria, Israel, and Turkey with a couple of fellow travel bloggers – we hatched the plan over beers but all were serious about seeing if we could make it work. Although I have been talking about settling in somewhere since last March, it didn’t take much convincing to forgo that notion for new travel plans.

And then plans changed, and I find myself confounded by the fact that the very first plan I hatched up during my sad travel fatigue session in Guatemala last April is finally coming to fruition.

The New Travel Plan

My plane sets sail for Thailand in mid-January (mixed metaphor, I know) and I am pleased as punch with this development.

Actually, I’m content, excited, and enthused in a way I haven’t been in ages.

Thailand was the very first location that floated into my consciousness when I dreamed about an ideal location to both relax and work.

I instantly connected with the promise of a vibrant expat community and delicious (cheap) Thai food.

Curbside Balinese offering

And then for some reason I went to Bali instead.

Don’t get me wrong, Bali’s character, culture and charisma stunned me. The smiling locals, the fragrant frangipani wafting up from the dozens of nearby offerings – all experiences and memories were measured and logged, recorded and remembered.

I enjoyed Bali.

I will go back to Bali one day for a bit longer than the mere two weeks I spent this past fall.

But Southeast Asia is alluring in a way I simply can’t name or number…

So why all of these sudden changes?

I am constantly amazed by my ability to embrace rapid change and planlessness in a way that is so not a pre-travel Shannon character trait. I still battle twinges of doubt and resistance every time a new idea pushes forward and an old one is abandoned, but split second decisions and the unpredictable nature of perpetual motion altered me at a core level. As long as I have the promise of an internet connection, sure, why not, let’s go!

I chalk this change up to an inherent attachment to certainty that we all crave, and conversely don’t crave at the same time. I want a plan. I want a bit of consistency. And yet I thrive on last minute decisions and the adrenaline rush that comes from rapid travel adjustments and a general “unknown” lying endlessly in front of me.

Another way to say all of this: I don’t know what the heck I’m doing with myself half of the time!

I follow whims, so when I announce new “plans,” I use the term “plan” pretty loosely :-)

So now I get the certainty of settling in Thailand with the uncertainty of making and breaking that decision for the past eight months.

It’s to Thailand with me on January 14th for near certainty (the plane ticket has been purchased!). And as much as any plan of mine actually forms fully into fruition, I am setting my sites on Chiang Mai for the next five months-ish.

Religious Statue in Luang Prabang

And in my Asian daydreams I am most looking forward to:

Mangosteen and rambutan – two delicious Asian fruits that will make up the cornerstone of my breakfasts.

Fragrant foods in plenitude from chatty street vendors.

Community and friends already living in the region as expats.

Culture and temples; I’ve been away from Asia too long, since I’m far from being “templed out.”

Hikes, mountains, tigers, animals, adventure.

People and places, new sites and smells.

Simply put, I’m excited.


Are you also in Thailand? Going to be in Thailand? Love Thailand? Have a great “that one time in Thailand story?” Do share!  :-)

should you move to Bali?

A Little Expat Living… Cost of Living in Bali, Indonesia (2019)

cost of living in bali, indonesia

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.

(Keen to access this information offline? Buy this as a handy and helpful downloadable PDF for $2.)

[twocol_one]Why Bali?
Quality of Life
Cost of Living Breakdown[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]
Resources & Advice for Moving
Trip Planning Advice
Cost of Living Comparison[/twocol_one_last]

should you move to bali?

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.

[twocol_one]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.[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]

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, some even from expats who thought it a grand idea to bring their pet from their rabies-free home country to Bali. Due to the prevalence of rabies, there have been times in the very recent past where it was impossible to take your pet with you when leaving. It’s a situation in flux and you should count on 14-day pet quarantining on one side or the other, and be OK with periods lasting months or years where you cannot leave the country with your pet. Rehoming your pet with family or friends could prove less traumatizing unless you are sure you’ll make Bali your permanent home.[/twocol_one_last]

temples and quality of life in bali for expats

What’s the Quality of Life?

[quote style="boxed" float="right"]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.[/quote]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 ExpensesCosts
Rent $300 – $1,100
Transportation (motorbike rental + fuel) $60
Food $300 – $550
 Activities (yoga, massages, diving, etc)$75 – $150

[threecol_two]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.

Darren and Shelley reports from 2017 bear out some of the older cost of living posts that exist for Ubud. They spent a total of $811 per month and $390 of that went toward a one-bedroom villa. The rest went to a mix of food, motorbike rental, and various other expenses that fall right in line with what most expats tend to spend on the budget end of the spectrum. They were not splurging, and so this is what you can expat if you are looking to enjoy your time but save money, too.

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.

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.

[/threecol_two] [threecol_one_last]Cost of Living: $700 – $1,500 [/threecol_one_last]

[threecol_two]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.

[/threecol_two] [threecol_one_last]Cost of Living: $900 – $2,000[/threecol_one_last]

[threecol_two]Canggu
Daneger and Stacey share their digital nomad costs of living all over the world, and in Bali they deviated a bit from their normal lifestyle. Dane lived in Canggu in a shared vila with other expats for $363 per month. His food costs came in at about $300 per month with a mix of dining out and groceries. Total costs were USD $782 for the month in Bali, but in his video he talks about how some of his choices were too budget to sustain long-term. For that reason, you’re likely looking at closer to a minimum $1,000 for a Canggu cost of living that you would maintain long-term.

[/threecol_two] [threecol_one_last]Cost of Living: $900 – $1,200[/threecol_one_last]

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.

[box type="info"]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.[/box]

Links & Resources For Moving to Bali

should you move 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.

  • A Better Life for Half the Price: A Mexican expat breaks down all the major expat spots in the world with costs, quality of living, and resources. I learned a lot and found a couple of countries I hadn’t previously considered. It’s worth buying if you’re still searching out which country is best for the life you want to live.
  • Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America: There are a lot of these general guides. The book above, Better Life is about where is a good culture fit, whereas this is the better of the lot of “move overseas” books that covers the practicalities and very hands-on information you need as someone considering living anywhere outside the U.S. If you’re new all the researching, this can kick-start your process. And if you are laser-focused on the retirement topic, versus moving overseas at a different state in life, this retirement guide has great advice.
  • The Tax Book for U.S. Expats: This is well-priced and unique to expats and retirees filing abroad. It gives a granular look at forms, terms, and sorting out exactly how to file — good for those with complicated tax situations. More recently released, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans goes broader and is aimed at younger expats and digital nomads still working and handling how to earn income overseas, pay taxes, and live a nomadic life. It doesn’t explain the terms or niche situations/forms as well as the other book, but instead acts as a guide for younger travelers. Depending on your situation, pick up a copy of one of these guides before you leave so that you will have a tax system in place that maximizes the opportunities to easily file.
  • A House in Bali: The story of composer Colin McPhee’s obsession with Balinese gamelan music after listening to a rare gramophone recording and his journey to Bali to experience the music firsthand in the 1930s.
  • Bali: A Paradise Created: This book is a fascinating read which acts as a bridge between scholarly works and popular travel accounts. A mixture of the history and culture of Bali, as well as a look at the foreigners who flock to it.
  • Bali Daze: Freefall of the Tourist Trail: Written by expat Cat Wheeler, Bali Daxe explores a side to Bali that few tourists see, and offers valuable advice and tips. As someone who has lived in Southeast Asia for 25 years, Cat is a valuable resource for anyone thinking of calling Bali home.
  • Digital Nomad Guide to Bali: This is a thorough post detailing what you need to know if you plan to work from Bali, completely with coworking recommendations and advice on how to find good wifi.
  • Overview of Ubud: My friends give a great look at various areas and offer up a list of activities and class you can partake in while you’re there.
  • Ubud has several coworking spaces, all of which have strong internet connections that usually guarantee you can get online if your own internet is dicey that day. These are also a great way to get to know the other digital nomads, startups, and entrepreneurs. The coworking spaces are: Hubud, Outpost, The Onion Collective.
  • Yoga: I took classes at the Yoga Barn and thoroughly enjoyed this yoga studio. There are other yoga studios too, however, so you’ll have options.
  • How to Stay in Bali (Semi) Long-Term: A well-written post outlining the various visa options if you plan to more there as a digital nomad, student, etc.
  • Ubud has a large expat community, consider joining their Facebook Group to find answers to questions and to seek advice.

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.

  • Make sure you have travel insurance like World Nomads. You will likely want to rent a motorbike to explore, and you should absolutely cover your personal safety before doing so. Take note that your travel insurance usually only covers you if you are legally allowed to drive a motorbike in your home country.
  • Airbnb is growing in popularity throughout the island and it’s a good way to see how you can live like a local by renting from a local.
  • Consider staying at Gerhana Sari 2 Bungalows for a nice mid-range place from which you can research. I stayed at the Artini Cottages, and they were very nice. They have a range of rooms at every price level (they run under a few names, Artini 1, Artini 2, and Artini 3 — check out each for the range of price options).
[box]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.[/box]

[threecol_one]Cost of Living PDF: Bali[/threecol_one] [threecol_two_last]Access this information offline along with additional information detailing the questions you should ask when comparing multiple destinations.

It’s all wrapped up nicely in a shiny PDF to make your cost of living research easier.

Buy the PDF for $2

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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.
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Cost of Living in Bali, Indonesia

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