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Finding work in Bali as an expat

The following is an interview I did with Amber who is working in Bali as an IT manager. You can read more about her travels in Bali and around the world on her blog: www.dreamingtrack.com

When did you first come to Bali and what made you want to live here?

This isn’t going to be a very romantic answer, but although I’m very happy we chose Bali, I wasn’t hooked on the idea of living here in particular. I had only spent a handful of days in Bali before we moved here in May 2010. My husband Doug had come here frequently since 2001. We’ve both spent a lot of time in Asia, but I’d never specifically come on a holiday to Bali, just passed through. I’d been enamored with the idea of settling down in Asia for a long time, and had seen just enough of Bali to know that it might be “the one”.

Bali was a practical choice within Asia. It’s inexpensive and ridiculously easy to get established because every conceivable service & commodity for expats already exists here. It’s a quick jump home to Australia and Indonesia is an exciting place to be with huge potential.

Doug already had a lot of affection for Bali and it has plenty of attributes that make it an outstanding place to live – the people are great, a large part of the island is very lush and pretty and the culture is unique.

The clincher was seeing how relaxed Doug was in the short time we were here together. I knew then that we had to make it happen – and why wait?

work in Bali

Most people find living in Bali completely different from visiting on holidays, how did you find the experience?

I might upset a few folks when I say that I don’t think Bali is an *outstanding* place to holiday. It is an excellent value destination and everyone can find something to enjoy here, but I’ve travelled all over the world and Bali is not among my top holiday destinations. It is, however, a superb place to live, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be long term.

I think that in some ways not being attached to Bali as a holiday place gave me an advantage when it came to adapting to the realities of living here. I came expecting challenges, change and an opportunity to build a great practical lifestyle – not massages, cocktails & endless beach days ;)

Bali, like anywhere else in the world, is what you make it (it just gives you really good stuff to work with).

You said in your blog that you found your job through your employer in Australia. What advice would you give to a foreigner hoping to find work in Bali?

There’s opportunity here, but it’s not a walk in the park. If you have good skills, tons of motivation & initiative and you are prepared to work hard and network to find something, you’ll probably be fine. I haven’t seen it work out for anyone who thinks they can live on local wages though – only a local can do that! You’ll need to convince a foreign company you have what it takes before coming here – which shouldn’t be hard if you have the skills and you’re committed.

Are there any opportunities for foreigners to work in the IT industry in Bali?

I know there will be more in the future. There are already a quite a few Australian & European companies outsourcing IT work to Bali and they will need competent managers and team leaders. The economics of outsourcing give those companies an edge, so it’s likely their competitors will follow. I’ve seen a couple of jobs advertised for foreigners in the industry, but approaching a company who doesn’t outsource and presenting them with the idea wouldn’t hurt. The company I work for is already growing way faster than expected and we’ll have four foreigners working in management next month.

Have you come across any other areas which foreigners can find work in Bali?

Obviously there is hospitality, though it’s also the most competitive area. There’s work in sales for products (e.g. spa products, villa furnishings) that need to be marketed directly to foreign-owned establishments. There’s also the high end of the real estate market – I’ve seen a lot of “imported” architects & interior designers, though they are often based partly here, partly in Singapore or Thailand. There are recruiters who assist foreigners looking for work in Bali (Concord Services for example) so people who are interested should definitely contact them.

Do you see the trend of western countries outsourcing to Indonesia growing in the future?

Absolutely. It’s very difficult for labour intensive industries to compete unless they do. As soon as one company does it successfully, and supplies a comparable product at a lower price, competitor companies don’t really have a choice. I think those who jumped straight into the outsourcing boom got their fingers burned a little because there were lessons to be learned about what is and isn’t possible. As the industry becomes more mature and those outsourcing companies who have survived and improved offer a better standard of service the advantages will be indisuputable.

What advantages do you see in Indonesia over traditional outsourcing centers such as India and the Philippines?

The best country to outsource to is always going to depend on the requirements of the individual company but Indonesia is very competitive. It offers great quality of life for foreign managers. I don’t think there’s any getting around the fact that the best person to manage a team here is someone who is very familiar with client needs and the working culture in the home country. The last thing you want is having managers considering their time overseas a “tour of duty” because they’ll fail to establish a rapport with the team and won’t work effectively. High turnover in management could easily kill an outsourcing arrangement. So it definitely helps that most expats here find so much to improve their lifestyles.

I’d say Indonesia can offer at least everything that India does – low wages, a well educated workforce that is keen as mustard to learn, improve and be involved in foreign ventures. It’s within hopping distance of major Asian financial centres like Singapore & KL without any of their costs. Bali also has a fairly high number of foreign language speakers.

Whether foreign investment in outsourcing grows substantially will depend on Indonesia’s commitment to improving communication infrastructure – particularly internet. There are only 3 major roads in Bali where fibre optic internet is available so there wasn’t much choice in locating our office! However, there are definitely plans to extend this range.

What are some of the main cultural differences you find between working in Australia and Bali?

I wouldn’t swap the team of programmers I work with here for an elite team at home – not if you paid me twice as much. The cultural differences are largely things that make it easier to work here, not harder. I find employees are very loyal – there’s much lower turnover where conditions are good. My team are extremely respectful, pleasant, easy-going and willing to work as hard as I ask them to.

However, there’s no real culture of initiative here. You need to provide a lot more structure and ensure a worker knows exactly what is expected of them and what they should be doing all the time. You can’t take it for granted that anything will be done just because it’s a logical step of initiative that a western employee might take. That’s not a problem if you provide proper training, checklists and frequent reminders. In fact, if you make it perfectly clear what you want, you are more likely to have every step completed than if you gave a foreign employee a more general task. Just remember to make sure you have been understood, because a nod of the head doesn’t necessarily mean you have ;)

As long as you can accept responsibility if you didn’t explain something specifically, rather than instantly blame the employee (and I’ve seen this happen far too often in foreign owned businesses) then cultural differences won’t get in the way too much and any problems that arise will be quickly resolved.

What advice can you give to people for finding suitable rental accommodation in Bali?

Talk, talk, talk to the locals. We just found a place we have taken for the next 3 years through a friend of the local bookshop owner – but we looked at many places belonging to friends of friends of our Balinese acquaintances.

Take something short term if you can to give you time to look. Then mention it to every Balinese you run into (just be clear about what you are looking for). The beauty of such a chatty, helpful culture is that you’ll run into a lot of people who want to talk without much effort. Before you know it you’ll be visiting a lot of potential places, probably with free tea & advice.

If you are looking for something more upmarket you’ll want to try the Bali Advertiser real estate wanted section or one of the many villa rental offices in all the popular locations. Also, expat oriented hangouts and supermarkets will always have villas advertised on a convenient wall or pole.

How difficult was it to get a working visa in Bali?

It was very easy, though not cheap. If you already have an Indonesian employer and you’re willing to pay for an agent, they’ll take all the hassle out of it for you. Our agent (Concord Services) are just now getting my husband’s KITAS converted to a working visa. It’s an extremely complex system, but the agent knows it back to front, so the only thing we’ve had to do is hand over the money and book a return flight to Singapore.

I’ve heard it does depend a little on the industry you are in – the agent you pick needs to know what job description to give you to ensure the process goes smoothly. It doesn’t matter how legitimate your title is, if the exact name is not on the list of acceptable occupations you’ll run into trouble.


You mentioned just coming back from Papua can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

Very challenging but an amazing, unforgettable experience. We made a lot of new friends and we’re keen to help them get their homestay enterprises off the ground over there. At the moment 95% of tourists to the area stay in a handful of resorts that are well organised, but very, very expensive, completely foreign owned and putting very little back into the region. We stayed in a few local homestays including a new ecology research centre being built as a joint project between a German university and one in Jayapura. The animal life and diversity of environments there was mind blowing. We took a local guide, paid women in the villages to cook and deliver food to us and we really feel that life doesn’t get much better, even if it was very rustic ;)

For anyone who is wondering whether it’s worth going out to “the edge of the world” – we’ve been to beaches & islands all over Asia, including dozens of Indonesia’s eastern islands, and these are very hard to beat. The brilliant flash of a red bird of paradise in the green canopy, the thrill of watching a giant manta glide beside you, realising there are uncountable species in a few square metres of reef, your own bungalow on a deserted island – there’s nowhere else in the world quite like it.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking of moving to Bali whether for work, starting a business or retirement?

Look into your heart and run this quick checklist:

Do you genuinely like people?
Can you forgive them their foibles and appreciate their differences?
Are there things at home you will miss more than you will enjoy new experiences?
Do you have the energy and enthusiasm to overcome the challenges that you will face? (Don’t worry, not big ones, just everyday stuff)

If you can answer yes, yes, no and yes, then you’re ready. Get stuck into your planning and make it happen. Everything else is just logistics!

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gusgreeper/6749975333/

Comments

comments

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27 Responses to Finding work in Bali as an expat

  1. East Asia Travel June 6, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    Great story. Many people are unprepared when planning a big move.

  2. sebaqua June 6, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    hi there.Intersting interview.You mentioned a new environmental research centre in Papua… could you give me maybe a name or a email address of this centre?Thanks ,Sebas

  3. chris spyropoulos June 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I particularly liked the checklist as it is exactly the type of logic I have applied to my own venture.

  4. Amber June 9, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    @Sebaqua: If you want to stay at the research centre, the best person to email is Robben, a wonderful guide in Raja Ampat and a good friend of the owner of the station (a local). You can contact Robben on ransiwor@gmail.com. Tell him Amber & Doug sent you ;)

    If you are interested in the research, you will need to contact the Biodiversity and Ecology Centre of the Georg-August university in Germany: http://www.biodiversitaet.gwdg.de/index_english.html

    @Chris: Thanks!

  5. paul June 10, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    thank you for the advise very help full…

  6. jasephine June 30, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    Ohh Mate, thanks for sharing this story. I’m Malaysian that willing to gain some working experience in Bali. The first visit in Bali makes me feel great, especially cultural and people there. But seems like not really easy fly over to Bali to have an opportunity to work. I was sent out over 100 emails applied hospitality jobs there but unfortunately only 2 replied. They not willing to consider foreigner worker there, especially that what you said, Visa fees. They not going to pay it. So sad… =(

  7. sheryl ann August 1, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    hi this information helps me alot… could you please tell me where can i find a good agent… ive been here for almost 8 months in bali and been to jakarta for almost 10 years…. just want to ask if u know some good agents here and pls let me know, not for me but for my cousin he’s coming here and i want him to stay with me… anyone pls… thanks alot…

  8. Isabel November 4, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Hi,

    We are looking for Travel Consultants that would specialize Bali as the destination, If you happen to know anyone or if you are interested please send your CV’s to angel_moon22@yahoo.com. Great Offer awaits for qualified applicants.

    • Resat Aksun February 18, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

      Dear Isabel,

      i am living in China Hainan Sanya, know English, German, Russian. My native language is Turkish, i worked as region director of one biggest tour operators from Russia. Now i left my job and a searching an opportunity in Bali. please let me know if you can cooperate with me, if yes i can send you my CV.

      kind regards
      Resat
      age: 54, divorced, male
      experience: 20 years expeience in tourism, from sailing to MICE and tour operation, owe sailing licence..

    • sabrina August 18, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      which country are your tourists from? and what kind of tourism, the mass one or the sustainable one? bye thanks

  9. I love bali March 4, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    The Bali tourism industry opens a door of job opportunities for Bali expats. Many of my bosses work in there. I really hope I would work there someday.

  10. things to do in Bali May 4, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Really interesting. I want to relocate to South East Asia but i am still not sure about country.Maybe Indonesia.

  11. Susan Arcadipane May 14, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    My husband and I are very excited about the move we are about to make from Australia to Bali later this year.
    The check list was easy to tick, so I felt good about that.
    I have ideas for business regarding health issues or should I say the post illness .
    We in Australia are at epidemic levels of depression anxiety mental illness . I would very much like to open a retreat for those who need the care . Almost like summer camp!! Doing all the things that we forget is important to our very survival. Sharing time with each other, cooking a meal together, singing dancing walking through the paddy fields.
    This is my dream

    • sabrina August 18, 2012 at 11:52 am #

      hi, I don’t know where you are going to move to in Bali, but if in the future you want to give to your hosts in your retreat good massages from local men, very good in curing body problems and very good in understanding the mental mechanism which stays behind the body block…please ask me. A naturally talented masseur, grandson of spiritually powerful man, a sensitive and intelligent boy of 35 ys.o, humble and good hearted, father of 4, 2 handiccaped boys, 2 girls. He lives in Tanah Lenggis, Tirta Gangga, Ababi, Karangasem, Bali.
      I have lived in Tirta Gangga area for 10 yrs, I am an italian woman of 48, I am fond of many local families around there, I helped many children go to school, I created also a recreational house for children to learn through playing. This young men I am proposing you for body and soul masseur has a family to support, ha has no land to cultivate, his wife is busy in taking care of the handiccaped children, he has a poverty-typically sad story in his private life, and nowadays work continously is a problem for poor people in bali.
      When backpackers where fulfilling Bali he could earn enough giving massages (and advises on how to unblock psychically), but too many years now that no backpackers travel in bali, and Karangasem area is not offering many alternative jobs. So, if you are interested in knowing him (who is good also in cooking and taking care of everyday house matters), please write me. I can tell you much more, and give evidence of the sincerity of what I tell you. Bye, and good luck for your change

  12. Firefly5401 May 20, 2012 at 3:12 am #

    Thank you for some great information! I am thinking of retiring to Bali in the next few months and am bring to find out as much as I can re this goal….research is everything at this stage. Again thank you so much!

  13. jasephine June 19, 2012 at 2:04 am #

    Thank you for your information. I’m searching the concord service that you have mentioned it. is it concord service bali?

    Looking forward for your kind response.

    Kind regards,
    Jasephine

  14. Sally July 10, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    Thanks…great honest information…appreciate it

  15. George Kay July 28, 2012 at 3:01 am #

    Dear Susan Arcadipane,

    I am also interested in creating / working at a retreat or clinic in Bali – I am a qualified natural therapist from Perth – anyone please place a post and email me if you are also interested.

    Regards George gkay@iinet.net.au

    • sabrina August 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

      hi, I already mentioned to Susan a good bALINESE massagae man, very good in dissolving body blockes by massage also understanding the mental mechanism which stays behind the body block…I take the opportunity to inform you also, in case you need an assistant the moment in which you will work in bali as a therapist.
      A naturally talented masseur, grandson of spiritually powerful man, a sensitive and intelligent boy of 35 ys.o, humble and good hearted, father of 4, 2 handiccaped boys, 2 girls. He lives in Tanah Lenggis, Tirta Gangga, Ababi, Karangasem, Bali.
      I have lived in Tirta Gangga area for 10 yrs, I am an italian woman of 48, I am fond of many local families around there, I helped many children going on with school, I created also a recreational house for children to learn through playing. This young men I am proposing you for body and soul masseur has a family to support, ha has no land to cultivate, his wife is busy in taking care of the handiccaped children, he has a poverty-typically sad story in his private life, and nowadays to have a continous job is a problem for poor people in bali.
      When backpackers where fulfilling Bali he could earn enough giving massages (and advises on how to unblock psychically), but too many years now that no backpackers travel in bali, and Karangasem area is not offering many alternative jobs. So, if you are interested in knowing him (who is good also in cooking and taking care of everyday house matters), please write me. I can tell you much more, and give evidence of the sincerity of what I tell you. Ciao

      • pearl January 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

        I may be going to bali soon and looking for work as a teacher of languages or life coach. or in a spa hotel. any ideas? pearl, currently in -spain

  16. ennog November 11, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    Saya ennog dari Kecamatan Kumai-pangkalan bun, central borneo,indonesia dulu saya dan istri saya pernah tinggal di bali,kurang lebih 1 tahun. Dulu istri saya pernah bekerja di sebuah perusahan SEA FOOD,TUNA FISH,di daerah BENOA PORT. Sekarang ini saya dan istri saya masih mencari lowongan pekerjaan di bali tapi lewat internet, tapi kendalanya di bali agak sulit mencari pekerjaan yang sama dengan pekerjaan istri saya di montre’al(canada).
    Soalnya istri saya berasal dari montre’al,canada di canada istri saya sekarang bekerja di suatu perusahan HEMA QUEBEC,blood donor bank pernah di(maneger lab)sekarang ini di supervisor, bisa di posisi F & B di montre’al canada,saya ingin sekali mencarikan pekerjaan untuk istri. Saya perlu info mengenai pekerjaan yang ada di komentar saya ini. thank’s

  17. kylie May 11, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    im in hospitality at the moment but I am interested at looking for work in bali I was looking into teaching or maybe something in hospitality..could I get any help?

    Regards Kylie Hoffman

  18. David August 12, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    Hi Mike,

    Ok looks like this is an old article, not sure why the stories are emailed out so old.

    Anyway, do you have any contacts for IT jobs in Bali, I have +20 years experienced and will move to Bali to be with my wife (Indonesian) in March 2014. I clearly won’t get the money I’m on here in Singapore but to be honest money is way down on my priorities.

    Any IT contacts would be a great help.

    Thanks
    David

    • Michael Henry August 21, 2013 at 5:17 am #

      I am sorry I don’t have any contacts for IT jobs in Bali. The only way I think you would find like this (if it exists) is on the ground networking.

  19. I Made Widana February 15, 2014 at 4:09 am #

    Great article, i am a Balinese if any i can help in regards of any property on sale i can help you .. all property i have are direct owner guaranteed call me here+6281288183502

  20. Leo drioli September 3, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    Hi Amber, thanks for your great interview. My wife and I are newspaper publishers in Australia (InnerSelf.com.au)’ also meditation teachers and authors, we are planning to go over to live in Bali in the future.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Work and Jobs in Bali | Bali ExpatBali Expat - March 26, 2014

    […] While this market is still in its infancy, there are a few IT companies starting to open offices in Bali. It is still very low key and while you see quite a few advertisements for local programmers you are going to have to really get out and network to find opportunities as a foreigner. Here is an interview I did with one person working in an IT company in Bali. […]

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