Bali: just saying the name aloud conjures up technicolor images of pristine beaches, tall swaying palms and crystal clear seas. Without doubt, there can be few other places in the world that espouse as much allure and immediate appeal as this exotic Indonesian island to the east of Java.
Suffice to say, Bali has become a big draw for digital nomads over the last decade. Along with its outstanding natural beauty, Bali is blessed with an uber-friendly local population, mesmerising food, immense history and heritage and – if you know where to look – an incredibly vibrant social scene. Throw in some of the planet’s best surf spots and the extremely inexpensive cost of living (by Western standards) and it’s clear to see why so many wandering online workers tend to put this island paradise very close to the the top of their ’countries-to-tick-off’ wish list.
If you make your living online and have a penchant for travel, then you may well be one of them.
If this is indeed the case, then good luck to you. Bali is a wonderful place and heading there for a prolonged period will more than likely reward you with one of the most enjoyable adventures of your life. Like many other places in Asia, however, Bali presents a number of challenges to first-time visitors who are looking to live and work there for an extended duration.
Hopefully, the three steps outlined below will help you to find your feet that much quicker and ensure you get to make the most of everything this exceptionally beautiful and ever welcoming jewel has to offer.
Step 1: Get in
Many of the online workers heading to Bali for the first time arrive on a tourist visa. There are (at present) two types of tourist visa available: the visa on arrival, which is valid for 30 days and can only be extended for a further 30 days; and the visa in advance, which is valid for 60 days and can be extended for a further 120 days. However, it is important to note that this 120 day extension works in multiple 30-day increments, so you’ll need to make three separate visits to the Indonesian immigration office to get the full whack. Just to make things even more difficult, you’re also required to have an Indonesian national act as sponsor (using a travel agent is often the easiest way to jump through this particular hoop).
Of course, you can always embrace what many Bali-based online workers have been doing for years and ’do a visa run’ whenever your tourist visa is about to expire. This is dead easy and involves nothing more than taking a quick (and very cheap) AirAsia flight to Singapore and back, thus earning you a new visa upon arrival.
It is worth noting that visa regulations in Indonesia can be pretty ’fluid’ at times and that different offices sometimes interpret the rules in different ways. As always, seek consular advice and talk to other nomads in the locale (preferably via an Internet forum beforehand) if you are in any doubt.
Step 2: Get settled
After its staggering physical beauty and rock bottom prices, Bali’s wealth of accommodation options is arguably the island’s greatest plus. Indeed, the range of accommodation here is nothing short of mind boggling, with every kind of house, flat, hostel and hotel available to suit all budgets. In terms of locale, Ubud - a charming town located in the central foothills surrounded by rice paddies and steep ravines - is arguably the place for online workers to ensconce themselves in right now. Finding a property here is pretty straightforward as you can register an interest with a local estate agent or look through the property ads of foreign-language newspapers like the Bali Spirit and La Gazette de Bali. You can also find places to rent (and buy if you’re a lottery winner) in the Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe and the Bali Times, but these are generally geared toward the higher end of the market.
If you’re keen to stick to a modest budget then you may find it more beneficial to do things the old-fashioned way and walk the streets looking for some ’for rent’ signs and talking to a few of the industrious fellows (some would call them ’touts’) who invariably come and introduce themselves when they notice you investigating. You can also look in the windows of busy local supermarkets (the Bintang supermarkets in Ubud and Seminyak are good options). Pizza Bagus and the Pondok Pekak library also have info boards peppered with the latest accommodation offerings available in Ubud and the surrounding villages.
The cheapest digs and most basic hostels can generally be found in and around the bustling coastal resorts of Kuta and Legian, but these rarely turn out to be overly favourable long-term options.
Step 3: Get wired
Although much improved in recent years, fast, reliable Internet access is not one of Bali’s key selling points. Don’t get me wrong, it does exist; it’s just not always easy to pin it down. Many of Ubud’s better restaurants and cafes (as well as those in the south of the island in general) provide decent Wi-Fi, but it can be a bit sketchy at times. It is also the case that island-wide Internet outages do still happen from time to time and power cuts are far from uncommon. Domestic Internet is available, although, it too can be pretty slow.
On the positive side, there are plenty of decent coffices around, you just need to be prepared to do a bit of hunting to find one that suits your own particular needs (and hope it stays in business for a good long time). If your online work requires you to do nothing more than browse the web and upload a few small documents every now and then, chances are you’ll manage just fine once you get the skinny on a few decent hot spots. However, if your work involves transferring large quantities of data and/or dealing with clients via regular Skype calls, then you may well find Bali’s somewhat higgedly-piggeldy internet access to be unsuitable for your long-term needs.
If super-fast Internet isn’t a make-or-break part of your work mandate, then chances are you will find Bali to be one of the most inviting and memorable places you’ll ever get to live and work in. With life-affirming tropical vistas at every turn, food to die for, great nightlife, rural splendour of the highest order and decent long-term accommodation options costing no more than a couple of hundred US dollars a month, Bali remains a true island paradise for any digital nomad that is keen to put an exotic twist on their location independent lifestyle.
Are you an online worker currently living in Bali? If so, please feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences with us in the comments box below:
Image: Author’s own photo