21 Things to Know Before Moving to Bali
If you’re planning on moving to Bali, Selamat (congratulations)!
The Island of the Gods is home to 4.3 million residents, stunning mountains and beaches, an exciting and delicious food culture, and a rich, distinctive way of life.
32,911 people in Indonesia moved there from the UK (United Nations, 2020), so you’ll have a ready-made community of expats nearby. But there are still plenty of things you should be aware of before you get here – and we’ve got you covered.
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The awe-inspiring Pura Ulun Danu Beratan is a major Hindu temple
1. It’s a tourism hotspot
Indonesia has 17,500 islands, but Bali is by far the most popular for tourists, with more than six million visiting per year before the pandemic.
Tourism makes up 80% of Bali’s economy – and it’s easy to see why, with the number of exciting attractions and beautiful landscapes.
But if you’d rather avoid the crowds, that’s completely possible – just visit the central mountains, go to the north coast of the island, or head west to delightful locations like the West Bali National Park.
2. The weather is wonderful, but it does rain
Bali is a glorious paradise that soaks in 2,670 hours of sunshine per year – around double the amount we receive in the UK.
The island does also get about 30% more rainfall per year than London does, with the majority of this precipitation arriving during the rainy season from December to February.
But when you’re enjoying temperatures that, at worst, drop to a lovely 25°C, a bit of rain is less of a nuisance and more of a refreshing relief.
3. The main religion is Hinduism
Bali is the only majority-Hindu province in this Muslim-majority country – but it comes with a difference.
When declaring independence in 1945, Indonesia guaranteed freedom of religion for its citizens, but this was quickly limited to just monotheistic faiths.
Balinese Hindus adapted to this unjust rule, successfully arguing that Acintya was their supreme deity. This allowed their religion to be viewed as monotheistic – and therefore valid – by the government.
4. The healthcare system is poor
Indonesia’s healthcare ranks 138th in the world, according to a study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
You’ll still be able to enjoy the benefits of universal healthcare as part of the Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional (JKN), but without the level of quality on offer in the UK.
This system covers 84% of the population, including expats, who must register with the programme if they’ve lived in Indonesia for at least six months.
Once you’re registered, you can access a wide range of services from appointments with your doctor to emergency care, maternity services, and treatments like chemotherapy.
5% of your salary will go towards the health service – 4% from your employer, and 1% from you.
We’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in Bali. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.
Get a free quote and start building a customised plan to protect your most important assets – you and your family.
5. Prepare yourself for a unique food culture
Balinese food is delicious, flavourful, and proudly unique.
Make sure you order nasi tepeng – a rice porridge dish with spicy lemongrass chicken – as soon as possible, so if you like it, you can enjoy it every morning.
If you’re a fan of peanut-flavoured food, get some lilit satay, which is minced fish or meat wrapped around a skewer and marinated in a mouth-watering sauce.
Pick up babi guling from a roadside food stand, and savour this delectable, perfectly spiced suckling pig. Then for dessert, try laklak, a small pancake topped with shredded coconut and sugar syrup.
Babi guling will make your mouth water – that's our guarantee
6. Learn some of the local languages
We will always recommend learning at least a few phrases that will help you communicate with locals, and it’s no different in Bali.
In fact, the tourist-heavy nature of the island means that you can easily strike up a rapport with Balinese people simply by memorising several words in both Bahasa Indonesian – the national language – and Balinese, which is the local language.
Fortunately, around 10% of locals also know fluent English, thanks to the importance of communicating with the roughly 1.8 million English-speaking tourists who visit the island each year.
7. Be aware of Bali’s traumatic history
Make sure you’re sensitive to the painful parts of Balinese history.
Over the past millennium, Bali has repeatedly been colonised and won back its independence.
In the early 20th century, the Netherlands massacred thousands while conquering Bali, which they ruled until Japan occupied the island during the Second World War.
After the war, local revolutionaries started the four-year-long Indonesian National Revolution against their Dutch colonisers, eventually succeeding in winning independence in 1949.
Bloodshed revisited Bali in 2002 though, when a terrorist attack on a local bar and nightclub killed 202 people.
8. Living costs are wonderfully low
Bali is a fantastically cheap place to live, particularly if you’ve managed to secure a UK-level salary for your stay there.
Everything costs less on average, from eating out and clothes to your energy bills – as long as you avoid the tourist hotspots.
Plenty of fantastic activities are free, like going to the island’s beaches, rice fields, and mountains, but the generally low cost of living also means you’re able to splash out to experience everything Bali has to offer.
9. Throw yourself into Balinese sports
There are plenty of extreme sports you can enjoy in Bali, including canyoning down waterfalls, white water rafting, and flyboarding, in which you use a water-propelled jet pack.
These are all plenty of fun, but the truly Balinese experiences come from watching local sporting events like Makepung, an annual buffalo race that’s as colourful as it is thrilling.
Speaking of colourful activities, go see the island’s incredible kite-flying displays in action. This sport, called Layangan, is best viewed during the Bali Kites Festival, which usually takes place in July or August on Padang Galak Beach, near Denpasar.
You should also check out Mepantigan mud wrestling, in which competitors utilise a Balinese martial art to try to take their opponent down – all while trying to keep their balance while standing in muddy water.
You’ll see rituals involving face paint, music, chanting, and possibly a duck – just go with it, and you’ll have a great time.
10. When you’re smiling, the whole island smiles with you
Our best advice for making friends and living your best life in Bali is to just keep smiling.
Like many other Asian communities, Balinese people place a special emphasis on looking happy and calm, both to create a pleasant atmosphere and to avoid losing face.
The downside to this is that if you’re visibly angry or upset in public, you may be ignored or even shunned. Even in stressful situations, staying calm and smiling will help you win people’s respect and achieve a better outcome.
Because everyone smiles, it naturally follows that women in Bali smile more at strangers than women in most cultures, because they’re not worried it’ll be misinterpreted. Don’t ruin this by viewing a smile as anything other than polite friendliness.
11. Welcome to the land of
1,000 10,000 temples
Bali is known as the land of 1,000 temples, but the true figure is closer to 10,000 – and you should visit as many as you can.
The beautiful architecture, the history, and the cultural education you’ll receive at any of these religious sites can tell you more about Bali than any guide book. Just bring cash, and a sarong if you have one – though you can often pick one up at the temple entrance.
Don’t miss Goa Gajah, a 1,200-year-old temple whose name – which in English is Elephant Cave – refers to its intricate stone carvings, and also visit Pura Luhur Lempuyang on top of Mount Lempuyang, which is one of the six holiest places in Bali.
The stunning Pura Luhur Lempuyang, in front of Mount Agung
12. Explore this gorgeous place
This island is about four times smaller than Wales, so there’s no excuse not to explore it to its fullest – and you’ll love what you find.
Tour around the dazzling rice terraces and water temples, which have been made a UNESCO World Heritage site for the way they bring the traditional Balinese subak system of egalitarian farming techniques to life.
There are also incredible mountains in central Bali, as well as flower gardens, hidden canyons, sacred rivers, and waterfalls all over the island.
If you’re worried about exploring by car – and you should be, considering the chaotic way people speed through the streets and how easy it is to get lost – just hire a driver.
13. The beaches are glorious
Bali is far more than just its beaches – but its beaches are breathtaking.
If you like white sand, head to Jungutbatu Beach, as most of Bali’s beaches are beige or grey because of the island’s volcanic history.
If you don’t mind what colour your sand is, relax on Jimbaran Beach, where you can experience sun, sand, and warm waves before tucking into the barbecued seafood which local restaurants serve on the beach.
14. The nightlife is exciting and varied
As you’d expect from an island that hosts six million tourists per year, the nightlife is excellent, with enough options to keep everyone happy.
Head to the Motel Mexicola in Seminyak and try the tacos, rollitos, and heavenly pescado frito Oaxaca before downing some tequila or mezcal and dancing the night away.
If you’d rather take a more relaxed approach to your nights out, check out Singlefin in Uluwatu, where you can sip delicious cocktails while you watch the sun go down on one the best views on the island.
15. You can drink as normal – mostly
Indonesia is a strict, often intolerant nation, which has led to a high tax rate on alcohol that makes drinks cost more than you might expect.
However, Bali is home to the country’s most relaxed attitude to alcohol, so as long as you’re over 21, you can drink as much as you want, within reason – and there are plenty of delicious local options to try.
Order a few different flavours of the tasty Bali moon cocktail, drink an extremely sweet Ballo – which is made with fermented sugar sap – and sip some arak, but be careful. This alcohol is powerful and dangerous, so only buy it at established bars.
Speaking of dangerous drinking, don’t consume the tap water unless it’s been boiled and filtered first.
16. Be polite at work, and you’ll make friends
One of the best ways of making friends in Bali is by being pleasant at your workplace – and fortunately, there are a few easy ways to make a good impression.
Firstly, respect your elders, both in terms of your behaviour, and the way you address them. Call women ibu, and men bapak or pak, whether they’re in a senior position to you or not.
Also, say selamat pagi (good morning) when you arrive. This is an easy way to win over your Indonesian colleagues.
Go to lunch with them, and don’t be afraid to share. Balinese people aren’t usually scared of talking about personal issues with colleagues, so follow their lead and you’ll make friends in no time.
And if that doesn’t work, make friends after work. This is a youthful country, after all, with 65% of people aged 40 or below, according to the 2020 census – compared to just 40% in England and Wales.
17. National holidays are plentiful
You can look forward to 16 national holidays per year in Bali, compared to the relatively measly eight we receive in the UK.
This high number comes from the diverse nature of Indonesian society, and a strong emphasis on freedom of religion, even if this is limited to monotheistic faiths.
As a result, you can expect to get a day off work for Good Friday, Buddha’s birthday, the ascensions of both Jesus and Muhammad, Chinese New Year, Eid al-Fitr, and Christmas, as well as secular holidays like Indonesian Independence Day.
18. Don’t expect punctuality here
Like many other places in the world with a casual approach to time, Bali has its own name for its lack of punctuality: Jam Karet, which means Rubber Time.
Time isn’t money here; it’s flexible and slow. If you set a time to meet someone, they may well be a couple of hours late, so bring a book or chat to strangers while you wait.
If you fight against Jam Karet, you’ll be constantly angry. It’s better to give in and adapt to this more relaxed way of existing, where everyone uses bad traffic as an excuse for being late, and no-one questions it.
19. You can travel around the island, but it’s not easy
We’d recommend hiring a car, as well as a driver if you’re not totally comfortable navigating through these dangerous, often confusing roads.
You can also order taxis, though these are mostly limited to south Bali.
If you’re after a cheaper option, you can ride around in Bemos, which are minibuses that take people all around the island – though you’ll likely be charged more as a foreigner. The only good response to this is to haggle.
20. Bali is LGBT-friendly – to a point
LGBT+ expats should feel safe in Bali, especially compared to the rest of Indonesia.
However, same-sex marriage and adoption isn’t legally permitted, and anti-discrimination laws are practically non-existent.
Public displays of affection are also frowned upon, but this is true of all couples, whatever their genders. In general, LGBT+ visibility in Bali is low, but there are plenty of LGBT+ bars and nightclubs.
21. Social customs are important
Follow a few local customs, and you’ll settle quickly into Balinese society.
When greeting someone of the same gender, a handshake is common – but make sure to loosen your grip, as an Indonesian handshake is typically much softer than its European counterpart.
Say hello to the oldest people in the room first, and work your way down through the ages.
Don’t point your finger at anyone, wear your shoes in someone else’s house, touch a person’s head, give insincere compliments, or laugh at someone else’s mistakes, as all of these are seen as impolite.