Bali is the rock star of Indonesia’s 18,307 islands, and people from all walks of life are starting to whisper about this fabled place. With its tropical, semi-humid climate, and temperature varying from landscape to landscape, there is something for everyone in Bali.
From trendy cafés to five-star restaurants to quiet coastal towns, this tourist hotspot has it all. Of course, there’s more to Bali than just wonderful nature, beautiful beaches, great surfing and tasty food. It friendly locals have maintained their traditional ceremonies and laidback way of life.
Bali is like no other destination in the world. There is a spiritual energy surrounding the island that immediately relaxes you and improves your mood. Nicknamed “the Island of the Gods”, it has a history going back 2,000 years. You’ll find a rich mix of Chinese, Indian and European cultures.
Southern Bali is split into districts and villages, and, as the island population has grown over the years, these independent districts and villages have merged into two very distinct geographical areas—southeast and southwest Bali.
The southwest of the island is full of trendy cafés, restaurants and stylish shopping boutiques. The southeast is quieter, older and more exclusive. Bali’s capital, Denpasar, is farther east and inland while Bali’s oldest upscale resort area, Sanur, is a mature beachside town with good restaurants, quiet cafés and white-sand beaches.
Inland, the town of Ubud, and the lush region surrounding it, is the cultural heart of Bali. The weather here is cooler, and you’ll find an international community of expats savouring the best of the island’s traditions, crafts and art.
The north of the island is dry and volcanic. This area attracts adventurous expats, and has possibly the lowest cost of living in all of Bali. There are some great marine parks in the north and good diving sites where the main activity is dolphin-watching. The south of the island, by comparison, is lush and green, has good surf, and lots of smaller islands to explore just offshore. It is also where the majority of great restaurants and stylish cafés are located.
Cost of Living in Bali
In Bali a couple can live like royalty in most towns for $2,500. If you choose to live right by the beach in a three-bedroom villa with a pool, it’s sure to stretch your budget. Forgo the pool and you could save yourself a few hundred dollars…but it is a good thing to have since the weather is hot and humid all year long.
Eating meals out can cost you just a few dollars, especially if you eat out at the local warungs, or restaurants. But if you prefer international food it gets a little more expensive, although still affordable compared to prices back home. The most cost efficient way to shop is to go to the local daily markets. You’ll find them in every town the produce usually comes from nearby farms, so you’re not only getting the freshest food, you’re also helping to support the local community. There are international grocery stores throughout Bali, naturally imported goods are more expensive, but many people are happy to splash out on the few products they might miss from back home. You’ll find all the fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat and fish at the local markets and a trip to the grocery store for other basics like coffee, milk and cheese will stock the cupboards nicely.
Buying a car can be rather expensive in Bali, so most people hop in a taxi or use scooters to get around. The benefit of having a scooter is that when it’s high season and the traffic is bad, you can zip past all the cars to the front of the line. If you are planning to move to Bali, it makes good sense to buy a scooter than to rent one, it’s more economical. However, until you find your perfect set of wheels, you can rent one daily for about $5-10, depending on where you live. Gas for scooters is often found for sale in front of someone’s little corner shop, or toko, and is sold out of old water or vodka bottles. Just pull up, ask for 1 or 2 bottles ($1) and they’ll pour it right in for you.
When it comes to choosing a place to settle down, Bali has lots of options to suit all budgets. Seminyak and Ubud are the most touristy towns, but they also have the most amenities and are very close to the best hospitals on the island, Siloam and BIMC. As a result, renting a villa in Seminyak or Ubud will cost more than in places like Sanur or Uluwatu.
Lovina, on the northern coast, is the least expensive place to live that still has most of the western amenities you might want. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom pool villa in Ubud might cost $1,000, but the same in Lovina might be $400. A lot depends on the location you chose and how close you are to the heart of a city or a beach. No matter where you decide to live, negotiate your rent. The longer the rental, the lower the rate will be but as with anything in Bali, drive a hard bargain and you’ll reap the rewards.
|Villa (three bedroom, three bath, pool)||$500-800 (depending on the town)|
|Maid/household helper||$50-80 a month full time|
|Local dinner for four no alcohol||$10|
|Upscale international restaurant dinner for two with wine||$20|
|Electric with AC usage and a pool||$120|
|Home Internet/Pay TV||$50-80|
|General doctors visit with meds||$11|
|Water (with a pool)||$13|
|Petrol 1 tank car/scooter||$6.50/1|
Living in Bali
While Bali has been a hotspot on the tourist map for decades, it’s still managed to retain much of its distinctive culture and traditions. The Balinese form of Hinduism is unique to this treasure of an island in that it was created blending animism, Buddhism and ancestral worship, with an Indian form of Hinduism. Every day you will see the local women traditionally dressed in beautiful lace tops and long skirts, walking to the temple with baskets of handmade offerings—canang sari—on their heads. Once there, they perform their daily rituals.
There is a mysticism in Bali that is unlike most other islands in Southeast Asia. Karma rules their daily lives, so there is a constant need to lead a balanced life and be a respectful person. There is a Zen-like air that seems to permeate the atmosphere. Maybe it’s the wafting scent of incense that fills your senses as you walk through the streets, the women sprinkling holy water at the shrines or the gamelan music playing at every household or temple that contributes to this heady sense of being in a trance. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful.
Living in Bali can afford you a lifestyle that you might never have at home and at a fraction of the cost. Dreaming of a two-bedroom villa with a pool? Well—depending on where you live—it can be a reality from as little as $400 a month.
Many of the expat areas have all of the same modern amenities as you’d find at home…so moving there won’t cause too much shock to your system. A full-time cleaning woman, whose services include grocery shopping, will cost $80 a month…not bad for such a luxury. That still leaves plenty of cash for all of the spa indulgences that abound on the island or a road trip to the black sand beaches of Amed or even a few adventures farther afield. Overall, a great lifestyle can be had in most places for $2,500 a month.
Another benefit of living in Bali is that it’s a small enough island to explore but big enough that there’s real diversity which keeps day-to-day life interesting. One day you could be gliding a bicycle down an active volcano and end up in the heart of lush emerald rice paddies, the next you could be scuba diving a shipwreck or chasing the elusive—but enormous—mola-mola fish that can weigh as much as 1000kg. How about learning to meditate in Ubud or taking a surf lesson in Kuta or Uluwatu? The possibilities are endless.
Bali’s central location in Indonesia makes it an easy hopping off point for travel. Take a 90-minute flight to the volcanic island of Flores and then catch a boat to the islands of Komodo and Rinca to see the magnificent Komodo Dragons. Another 90-minute flight will bring you to Java to visit the awe-inspiring temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. The Ngurah Rai International Airport services 57 cities with direct flights so besides the other 6000 plus inhabited islands to discover within Indonesia, destinations like Japan, Australia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines are easy to explore.
Moving to Bali
Bali is one of the closest holiday hotspots to Australia…and the most popular. It’s brimming with Aussies, in fact, there are signs in some areas stating that businesses are “Australian Owned” to draw in the home crowds. In some towns, you’ll even hear people call out “Hey mate” and turn to find a local Balinese talking to you!
An Easy Transition
Besides the throngs of Australians making it feel even more like home, moving to Bali is a smooth and easy changeover. Unless you opt for more off-track areas like the West coast, you won’t feel like you’re in a wildly foreign land. There’s no real culture shock, Bali has most, if not all, of the amenities you’d find at home. Plus, because it has been a tourist destination since the 70’s, most people speak English, making everyday life a breeze.
Bali’s climate is hot and tropical year round. The average temperatures hover around 27 C with high humidity during the wet season, from October to April. The dry season, May-September, has the lowest humidity. The mountainous region through the centre of the island is cooler year round.
There are various hospitals throughout the island. When in need, most expats stick to the private hospitals as the quality of care and attention to detail are generally more in line with Western standards. The two best private hospitals on the island are BIMC and Siloam, both located in Kuta. For a cold or minor injury, there are local doctors and clinics in every town.
Getting to Bali
There is only one international airport in Bali, Ngurah Rai International Airport, in Denpasar. With direct flights from Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin and Townsville from as low as $200, it makes for a quick getaway. Quantas, Jetstar, Air Asia and Virgin Australia are just a few of the popular airlines that fly regularly.
Popular Expat Destinations
This is the shopping mecca of the island. Whether looking for crafts, art, homewares or clothing, you won’t be disappointed in the variety and artistry of it all. It is also a fabulous international food destination so after working up an appetite from all the shopping or a day at the beach, you can indulge in any type of cuisine you desire.
Situated in the southern portion of the island called the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu is a surfer’s paradise. Here the rugged coastline gives way to the blue seas and the big waves of the Indian Ocean.
Sitting on the southeast coast of the island, Sanur has a reputation for being sleepy, and while most bars and restaurants close at midnight, it’s far from boring. It’s small enough to get to most places on a bicycle but big enough to keep you entertained. There’s a narrow boardwalk that runs almost the entire length of the beach filled with various locations to dine from inexpensive local restaurants, or warungs, to fine dining.
On the northern coast, Lovina is probably one of the least expensive places to live on the island. With calm waters home to pods of dolphins, this not for the surf set, but perfect for divers and snorkellers. It’s a low-key place to catch up on life with nearby attractions like temples, waterfalls and hot springs.
An epicenter of the arts as well as the place for anything holistic and mystical, Ubud is often referred to as the heart of Bali. It where you can attend yoga retreats, go vegan and capture your inner designer at a jewellery making class. It is surrounded by rice paddies and 30 minutes’ drive to the nearest beach.
Retire in Bali
There are so many good reasons to retire in Bali. The Balinese are an enchanting people and their culture and religion is fascinating. Almost everyone speaks English which means there’s no language barrier and so daily life feels more relaxed. Plus, who wouldn’t want the conveniences of home, beautiful beaches, excellent shopping and delicious food for a fraction of the cost? Money stretches very far here, so you can live a luxurious lifestyle for pennies on the dollar. You could live in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom villa with a private pool for $400 a month! That leaves plenty of money for the little frills that Bali is known for…like lavish spa treatments or a snorkelling expedition. A household helper can be as little as $50 a month.
Ubud and Seminyak are the most popular places with expats and tourists. Both of these areas have all the western amenities that you could think of, making fitting-in here a breeze. Ubud, which is a 30-minute scooter ride from Keramas beach, is the bohemian and art centre of Bali. It’s utopia for free-thinkers and those that might appreciate living outside of the box. If you want to learn to meditate, make silver jewelry or balance your chakras, then Ubud is for you.
Seminyak is all about the beaches, nightlife and shopping. There are no shortages of boutiques for clothing or homeware, but be sure to tear yourself away in time to grab a spot on the sand and watch the magnificent sunset. Then, why not head to a top-notch international restaurant, and later, party until the sun comes up…
Sanur on the southeast coast is a small laidback town with calm waters and great restaurants. A pretty boardwalk along the beach makes this little city perfect for bike riding.
Uluwatu is the surfing capital of Bali. It’s generally not for the beginners as the waves can get intense, but it’s perfect for a seasoned surfer that wants to live the old-school surf lifestyle and hone their skills.
Lovina, on the north coast, has black-sand beaches where daily pods of dolphins can be seen frolicking in the water. It’s not a surfing spot but there’s great snorkelling and scuba diving on offer in the nearby waters. It’s small enough to know your neighbours but still has plenty to do to keep you occupied.
Bali offers various types of visas—tourist, business, employment, social and retirement visas—each with their own set of rules and benefits.
Requirements for the retirement visa include that you must be at least 55 years old of age, have proof of health and life insurance, proof of pension—a minimum of roughly $2,000 per month or at least $24,000 to provide living expenses while in Bali, proof of a rental agreement with the cost set at over $500 a month, a letter stating you agree to employ one Indonesian while you live there, an assistant, a household worker, etc., a C.V and a statement agreeing that you won’t work while in Bali. These rules and regulations can change so be sure to check for updates and additions.
By acquiring this visa you’ll be able to stay in Bali for one year and renew for five more…but that’s not the only benefit. You can also open a local bank account and get a local driver’s license—although an International Driver’s License is also valid. Some restaurants, tourist attractions, parks and hospitals offer discounts to those with the visa. Once you have lived in Bali for five years or more, you can apply for official residence.