If you follow any expats living in Bali on social media, it can seem like endless days of surfing, breakfast bowls, and invitations to the latest new bars on the island. For short to medium stays, the life is certainly possible. The longer you stay however and put down more roots living in Bali, you will inevitably face more challenges. Here is my top ten list of the some of the more difficult aspects of living in Bali that you might encounter.
Visas are an inevitable part of living overseas. The problem in Indonesia is that the rules are never clear and you can often get conflicting information depending on which immigration officer you speak to. Thankfully, more information is available on the internet listing the requirements and steps to get the visa. There are many agents who handle the whole process on your behalf, which can help you to keep some sanity. If you are planning on staying long term, it can be a good idea to deal with immigration and apply for visas yourself, without the help of an agent. The government is getting more serious about overstays and there are plans to increase the fine from 300,000 rupiah to 1,000,000 rupiah per day.
2. Importing goods
Just before Christmas last year, my mum sent my kids some presents. Unfortunately they never made it to us, instead, we received a letter from customs saying we need an import license to pick up the presents. While I can understand the perspective of supporting local businesses, if the goods simply are not available in Indonesia, what option do you have other than buying them from overseas? One way around this was to get friends who were visiting Bali to bring them in for you. Customs are even clamping down on this, even with people bringing in used clothes and toys to be given to charities.
3. Work restrictions
Indonesia has made it pretty clear that they want as few foreigners working in the country. They are happy to take foreign investment dollars, but not foreign labor. With some occupations, you can only get a 6 month visa, where previously 12 month visas were granted. Since it can take a while for the visa to process, you basically need to start the renewal process as soon as your visa is granted. If you are starting a new business, there can be quite a time lag between getting the business established and getting your work visa. Under no circumstances can you start working in the business until your visa is granted.
Like most governments, Indonesia loves paperwork. When you prepare three copies of your passport, they will ask for four. While some computer systems exist and there are initiatives such as the electronic KTP (Indonesian identity card), most bureaucratic processes involve a stream of paperwork. IT infrastructure is not great and breakdowns in the computer systems are common. While there have been some efforts to improve processes, such as applying for business permits, approvals can take months or in the worst case years.
As more people buy cars to drive around, the traffic situation is becoming unbearable. Short trips can take hours. While some infrastructure is being developed, it is likely not going to keep up with demand.
Just as the problem with corruption in Indonesia seems to be getting better, it is still a case of two steps forward one step back. If you follow the rules and laws, you can avoid the issue. The problem is that so many things in Bali operate in a “grey area” that it sometimes can be difficult not to face at some stage.
7. Medical issues
While there has been an improvement in medical facilities in Bali, any kind of serious condition needs to be treated overseas. Rabies is still an issue on the island. There were reports recently of the government providing vaccinations for Japanese Encephalitis which is nice to see that they are being proactive, but it is worrying that they see that this is a problem that needs to be addressed.
8. Ups and downs of the tourism industry
For expats with businesses in Bali, you need to be ready for wild fluctuations in tourist numbers. The mild eruption of Mt Agung last year brought the tourism industry to its knees as many tourists canceled their Bali holidays. Located along the Ring of Fire Bali is fairly susceptible to natural disasters.
9. Lax rule of law
Minor and serious crime is common in Bali and many people would say it is no different from any other place in the world. While there are occasional arrests and criminals paraded for the media by the police, most crimes go unsolved. Most people feel there is little worth in reporting a crime unless it is for insurance purposes. While I am not so cycnical, many expats will say “report a stolen chicken, lose a cow” when talking about reporting a crime in Bali.
10. Waste management
Every year Bali’s beaches become strewn with garbage. Just as social media has popularized Bali with breathtaking pictures of rice terraces and temples, its reputation is being similarly damaged by pictures and videos documenting the disaster. While the situation is at crisis point there seems to be no motivation by the government to tackle the problem.