Become a Digital Nomad in Bali: The Lost Guide

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Everything you need to know to become a Digital Nomad in Bali.
Table of Contents

If you live in a First World country chances are you’ve become a wage slave like I was before quitting a six-figure job to gain my independence. Or maybe you’ve already started freelancing and want to become a better freelancer. Whatever your reasons, becoming a Digital Nomad in Bali is not as difficult as you may think. But it takes preparation.

In this guide I will share valuable information and resources to help you decide if Bali is right for you, describe various move considerations, explain how to actually make the move and show you what’s necessary to get settled in.

The information contained herein is based on months of personal research and field work. It is written from the perspective of a first-time app dev gone nomad. Let’s begin, shall we?

Deciding if Bali is right for you

Making the decision to move to move to a tropical island half-way across the world is a very personal one, and will differ depending on your life stage, health, tastes, savings, income potential and skills. Before you commit to moving you should spend a few weeks living on the island first. Given its a popular tourist destination, many Balinese are multilingual. And if you speak English you won’t need to learn another language before coming.

To help you get here, and make the most of your time on the island, I’ve put together the Bali Travel Survival Guide. Unlike the guides you might see elsewhere, this guide doesn’t cost a dime and is written with the unique and fresh perspective of an individual who just made the move. Use the guide to plan a scouting trip to Bali before making a decision.

Once you’ve planned your trip, let me start by saying Bali is pretty awesome. You’ll see for yourself when you get here. Situated near the equator in Southeast Asia, Bali has a lot to offer for those wishing to escape the ho-hum routines First World countries make so easy to fall into. That said, it’s important to keep in mind Bali is still controlled by the Indonesian government. And though it enjoys liberties as a result of its thriving tourism economy, there are still some things that will make you say whoa. A few weeks here will help you identify any nonstarters, and should give you enough time to make an informed decision.

Move considerations

A few things to think about before moving. Rather than trying to capture everything I will focus on the things I feel matter most.

Relative costs

When you move from a first-world country to a developing nation you basically become rich overnight. For a freelancer just starting out, the extra money can mean the difference between barely scraping by and living in the lap of luxury. Just remember the more you make the more you spend so be sure not to let your newfound riches go to your head. Otherwise you may end of serving hamburgers at McDonald’s (yes, they have them here too).

Here’s a chart depicting relative costs before and after my own move to help you get a better picture of how far money can go in Bali. Though not everything is an exact 1:1 comparison, I did the best I could to match my style of living before and after the move for the purposes of building this guide. All figures provided are in USD for convenience.

Expense Bridgeport, Chicago Denpasar, Bali
Rent $650/mo. $216/mo.
Utilities $100/mo. Included with rent
Cable/Internet $60/mo. Included with rent
Vehicle1 $405/mo. $55/mo.
Gasoline $100/mo. $8/mo.
Cellphone/LTE $90/mo. $15/mo.
Drop-off laundering $10 + tip per load $1.90 per load
Cigarettes $12 per pack $1.80 per pack
Regular coffee $1 per cup $0.45 per cup
Water Free $1.50 per 12 liters
“Visa runs” N/A $165 bi-monthly

For the mathematically uninclined that’s a savings of more than $1,000 per month. It almost seems criminal to know what I was spending before the move – especially considering my rent was on the lower end of the spectrum in Chicago.

One budgeting gotcha to be aware of is the bi-monthly need to travel out of and back into the country to renew your Visa On Arrival (VOA). I will cover visa types and renewals in more detail in a later post.

Making the move

Once you’ve deciding if Bali is right for you and reviewed the move considerations, it’s time to set your intentions in motion. In this section I will describe how to make the move to the Island of the Gods.

Shedding the weight

First off, if you’ve decided to move, you’re going to need to start dumping many of your worldly possessions. When I made my move I arrived with a carry-on, one checked bag and a personal item. Everything else I sold or stored with family before leaving. Here’s how I handled shedding the weight.

Furry friends

Probably the most difficult decision I made before moving was figuring out what do with my furry friends (two youngish Ragdoll cats). My research has shown getting them here safely will require some expensive and carefully-timed procedures, smuggling them from Jakarta to Bali and isn’t something I would recommend trying until you’re settled in.

In the meanwhile, obtain a pet foster and ensure you have a back-up foster (ideally a family member) ready in case your primary foster has unrealistic time expectations or an emergency requiring travel. Using a foster will give you peace of mind and help provide the wiggle room needed to orchestrate the move.

CABIN HACK. Depending on your country of origin, moving pets to Indonesia may be a tax-deductible expense. If you can, plan the timing of your move, which may also be tax-deductible, at the end of the tax year in order to ladder costs so you don’t get hit with everything all at once.

To learn more about current pet import requirements and quarantine procedures use a combination of the following:

  • During your initial scouting trip find a pet-loving friend and work with them to help you find information not readily accessible via search engines.
  • Do your own research, but don’t trust everything you read. During my search I wasn’t able to find much of any current information, though I was happy to have found this article on Having Pets in Indonesia.
  • Reach out to at least two vets in your country of origin and ask them for comprehensive, detailed quotes and time expectations for preparedness for import to Indonesia.
  • Contact an agency in Indonesia which specializes on the safe import of your furry friends. The one I’m planning to work with is called Groovy Pet Transport, who will help get your pets into Jakarta but who informed me they no longer helped move pets to Bali.
  • Understand which airlines are pet-friendly. In my search I found Qatar Airways to have a more pet-friendly disposition when compared with other airlines.

Once your pets are here safely, they will likely need to take on a dietary shift, so keep that in mind if you’re planning on moving elderly pets – who may not respond as well to the change. And, according to my Balinese source, Sunset Vet in Ubud is a trusted vet by expats.

Selling your stuff

This part was trickier than anticipated. Budget at least two months to sell all your stuff, and make plans early to donate large items you’re not planning on selling so you don’t have to move or trash them later.

Here are a few techniques I used to get rid of my stuff before moving to Bali:

  • Download and list as much as you can as soon as possible using Letgo. When listing items, be sure to take several photos of each item in natural daylight to boost appeal and increase sales. And though not advised by Letgo, be sure to invite prospects into your home to browse your super sale.
  • Have a moving party. Entice individuals with free giveaways. Before the party buy some little, colored Post-it notes, and mark items not-for-sale in one color and use the other colors to mark items for sale. My party netted me a cat foster, a few hundred dollars and some pretty decent booze.
  • Hit the coffee shop and tell the baristas what you’re doing. This, for me, was my largest – and most unexpected – source of item sales. In fact, one enterprising barista alone spent over $400 buying my used stuff.
  • As your move date approaches, have your automobile appraised by CarMax or similar. I’ve sold two cars to CarMax in the past and always felt I got a reasonable price without any hassle. Just beware appraisals with CarMax are only good for one-week before they expire, so don’t have your auto appraised until your ready.
Planning ahead. If you have a sleeping bag be sure to hang into it so you have a place to sleep once you sell your bed and get rid of your mattress.

All in all, and despite the time involved selling everything, getting rid of stuff can be a huge lift off the shoulders. Shedding this weight will help you understand the difference between that which you truly value, and that which you do not.

Tying up loose ends

After leaving you cannot go back without incurring large capital expense. And you don’t want to have to worry about tying up loose ends when you’re busy settling in. Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure you tie up all your loose ends and don’t find yourself making an abrupt return trip.

I recommend you keep a running TODO list of these items to better manage your progress as your move date approaches. Here’s the list of loose-ends I tied up to give you some ideas for building yours:

Use the Notes app on iOS and macOS to manage your list and keep it synced effortlessly between devices. And if you’re still not sure what to bring check out the Digital Nomad Carry On Packing List for ideas on what to bring.

Making a soft landing

While you’re tying up loose ends it’s also time to start planning ahead to make a soft landing when you arrive. Here are some free resources you can turn to while you’re getting ready to jet.

Finding a place to stay

Housing options in Bali are plentiful, and if you know where to look there’s something for every budget. From villas in Ubud to homestays in Sanur, you’re only limited by your imagination. But you need to know where to look.

Quickly understand of the lay of the land by leveraging the experience of long-time Bali expat Tom Mullaly. Tom is offering the first two chapters of his popular e-book How to Live in Bali free on his website. I read the chapters before moving and was pleased to find many housing resources only available on the “deep web”.

Securing travel insurance

If you’ve been doing your research it should come as no surprise that many expats choose to work with World Nomads for their travel insurance needs. And while I’m guilty of not having acquired insurance yet, one of the draws to World Nomads is the ability to obtain coverage even after you start traveling. World Nomads is also recognized in over 150 countries worldwide, which may give you some peace of mind while traveling to Malay or Spore for later “visa runs”.

Attracting a partner

Asians date differently than Westerners, though the Internet is changing things a bit. Instead of meeting through friends and family, it’s not as uncommon nowadays for individuals to meet online.

As I touch on briefly in the Bali Travel Survival Guide, and discuss in detail in How to Attract Beautiful Women on OKCupid, there are hacks for hooking up online. Cutting to the chase, so to speak, here are the two methods I’ve used to meet women online while in Bali:

  • OKCupid is a native mobile and Web application. Messaging is free and it offers in-app upgrades to help boost your visibility. It’s more likely to help you find a partner nearby.

  • AsianDating is a Web-based application. You can receive messages for free but will have to upgrade to a paid plan to respond. Exposes you to the whole of Southeast Asia. Using AsianDating I received messages from over 200 women during my first week of use and couldn’t help but pay for the upgrade.

So put your best foot forward, get out there and start your search.

Getting questions answered

If you have questions, but aren’t sure where to turn, head over to the /r/bali Subreddit for an eclectic and oftentimes amusing mix of answers to some of the most random questions about Bali. There’re also number of groups on Facebook you can join, covering everything from expat jobs to Ubud housing rentals.

Settling in

After you’ve finished making the move you will find yourself at Ngurah Rai airport getting ready to head to your homestay, apartment, kost or villa. So what’s next? Here’s how to get settled in to your new tropical island paradise.

Get your Visa On Arrival

First things first. You need your VOA. There’s a special counter for this, so head there first before going to immigration. At the counter, let them you would like your VOA and are planning to stay for two months. The VOA will cost you Rp 355.000 (about $26), or $40 if you pay in USD. Show your VOA to immigration and answer any questions they have. I entered without an onward ticket but was not questioned about it.

Hang onto your receipt. You will receive a stamped receipt after purchasing your VOA and passing though immigration. Though you likely will not need it when extending your visa, hang onto it just in case. Phone cases make a great place to store important paper items like this for safekeeping.

Get some cash

After leaving the airport you’re going need cash to pay for lodging. Rents in Bali are paid up-front, though it’s easy to find pre-furnished month-to-month commitments allowing you time to explore longer-term options.

Be sure you exchange enough cash to pay the bills and still have some left over for spending while you get your bank account squared away (more on that in a moment). Money changers in Bali work a lot like gas stations in the United States: depending on when and where you go rates may differ. So, if you’re changing a large sum of money, consider shopping around a little before you commit to an exchange.

Purchase necessities

Once you’ve moved into your place it’s time to shop for necessities. If you’re near Denpasar, head to Carrefour on Sunset Road to pick up a majority of the things you need.

Here’s a list of things you may need:

Use your credit card to save cash. If you don’t find everything you need at Carrefour head over to Ace Hardware for additional options.

Get a bank account

You can and should have a bank account in Bali if you’ll be here for any significant amount of time. A simple strategy for managing money is to keep your foreign account and open two accounts here:

  • Make one account in USD, or your foreign currency if offered
  • Make another account in IDR with the same bank for exchanges

Both accounts will allow cash withdrawals at ATMs, though you may prefer to transfer money between accounts when exchange rates are favorable and to avoid potential fees.

I opened my accounts with Danamon bank in Kuta. The entire process took two trips to the bank with a translator but, in the end, I got everything finished without even having an Indonesian telephone number. In fact, all I needed was my passport, a copy of an official document showing my TIN and someone to vouch for me.

Need someone to vouch for you?
If you’re planning on opening a bank account with Danamon and need someone to vouch for you do not worry - Hack Cabin has you covered. We’ve made an arrangement with Bayu Pramana, who comes highly-recommended, and can help you open your account upon arrival. You can contact him using WhatsApp at +62 819-3608-9371 or connect with Bayu on Facebook.

One last thing to mention when opening your account. Be sure you clearly specify you want electronic banking access, and that you’d like to use token-based authentication for added account security. Otherwise you’ll need to have your own +62 for 2-factor authentication purposes when transacting online.

Transacting online. Besides the online banking portal Danamon offers, they also have a mobile app for smartphones, allowing you to do everything from making transfers to purchasing credits for your mobile carrier.

Switch mobile carriers

Timing is important here as some banks, like mine, will not allow you to activate international wires without a local phone number in the country of origin. Before you make the switch, be sure you prove out your banking workflow to ensure liquidity before making the switch. My carrier, T-Mobile, allowed me to put an extended travel suspension on my account about $15 per month (including taxes and fees), renewable for up to half a year, and assured me I could reopen my account at anytime if need be.

CABIN HACK. Instead of paying for an extended travel suspension, consider converting to a prepaid plan and hold your phone number as long as you like for as little as $3/month plus a $10 mandatory monthly top up with T-Mobile.

When you’re ready, head to a Telkomsel branch office and pick up a new SIM card with a 2GB data plan for about USD $10, good for a month. I used the branch office in Mal Bali Galeria and walked out with an Indonesian phone number in about 15 minutes.

Once your new SIM is installed, download the MyTelkomsel app from App Store or Google Play to manage your account and view your quotas.

CABIN HACK. Get your phreak on. Dial *363# from your phone to drum up prepaid plan options even without the app. Prepaid plans as low as Rp 40,000 (about USD $3).

For more info on carriers and plans head to Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki, and learn about simPATI.

Getting around

You can get around affordably and save money over a long-term scooter rental with GO-JEK. GO-JEK scooter transports typically respond within a minute or two, charge half the price of a taxi and reward customers with a loyalty program. Grab is another option, though I have not used them personally.

Staying in Ubud?
Traffic in Ubud can come to a standstill quickly. Be sure you’re using a scooter if you plan on getting around. I’ve provided short-term scooter rental information in the Bali Travel Survival Guide. For and idea of what you can expect to pay for a longer-term rental, check out A Digital Nomad’s Guide to Living in Ubud, Bali.

I will come back and update this section as more information becomes available.

Where to work

As you get settled in, finding great places to plug-in is simple. And given the number of cafes and coworking spaces in Bali there are many options to choose from. Check out some Bali Coworking Spaces for a list of some of the best places to plug-in and get wired.

Where to eat

Food options in Bali are bountiful. From bakso (meatball) stands to fine dining, the living streets of the island make finding food easy as using your olfactory system. But if you’re a foodie, you may at times find yourself searching for something more gastronomic than the nasi goreng (fried rice) permeating through the streets near your local warung.

Whether you have dietary restrictions or consider yourself a human garbage disposal, here are 50 breakfasts fit for a God.

Addressing language barriers

If you’re experiencing difficulty communicating, download the free Google Translate app for iOS or Android. The app is available in several languages, and has a feature which’ll facilitate conversations between English and Bahasa – making life easier should language barriers arise.

Wrapping up

That’s it for now! In this guide I shared valuable information on becoming a digital nomad in Bali. From planning to execution, I’ve covered how to decide if Bali is right for you, described various move considerations, explained how to make the move and showed you what’s needed to get settled in. From a new Bali nomad to you, I hope you found this information useful. And I can’t wait to see you on the island. Bali bebas!

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  1. Assumes total cost of ownership. Includes monthly auto payment, city sticker, plate sticker, tolls, insurance, regular maintenance but excludes gasoline. Note in Chicago a car is required due to the brutal winters whereas a scooter is a viable (and preferred) means of transportation in Bali. As a result, no adjustment has been made to the change in vehicle type.