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What life in Bali is really like full-time

Come and live the dream in Bali. Soak up the Indonesian sun and chase the endless supply of coconuts, palm trees and waves, day in and day out. Eat nasi goreng and drink Bintang nonstop at the islands neverending Happy Hour. Bali is an eternal holiday paradise for travellers.

But what about living here? What is it like to live in Bali permanently?

Bali is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, meaning there is a continuous stream of people flowing through. I live in Canggu, which was once a sleepy dirt track village. Now it is the biggest hotspot on the island for parties and debauchery. This place never sleeps. At first, it was fun but I kept the party going on much longer than I should have. Before I knew it, I had drunk my body weight in alcohol every day for the first three or four months. Just like any holiday destination, it is hard to find the balance between having fun and being sensible. It’s difficult to say no to the parties just as much as it is for other people to understand that I’m not on holiday here, this is my life.

Fly-in friends

With the river of people coming in and out, developing friendships tend to be more complicated than elsewhere. It’s difficult to meet other long-termers that live here full-time. Usually, it pans out with you meeting some pretty cool people in the first few months and you have the best time. But then, they don’t choose to live in Bali. Instead, they leave.

You then have to start all over again with island-newbies while longing for your old pals back. Since living here, I have become desensitized to goodbyes and rarely shed a tear despite everyone else around me putting on the waterworks. My (rather small) friendship circle has taken many years of filtering through the fly-in-fly-outs.

Work visas

So, living in Bali full-time would suggest you need to get a job of some sort.

There are a few options available: be fortunate enough to have a remote job already, join the masses of teaching online, or try to get a job on the ground. The majority of people living in Indonesia are on a tourist visa despite working here, which is, of course, illegal. It took me months of hard grind to prove myself to my employer that I am worthy of a KITAS (a work permit). And even then, they had to jump through hoops and provide masses of documentation, along with money, to make it happen. After all this draining process, I am finally staying legally in Bali.

Other long-termers in Bali opt for the ‘visa run’ strategy which involves flying out every two months to renew the tourist visa. I admit I had to do this for some time to stay here at the beginning. Every time you pass through the interrogation gates, also known as passport control, immigration workers ask about your travel plans and what you’re doing in Bali. Here, you have to lie. So life in Bali full-time is essentially one step down the criminal path, and risks deportation every day.

Of course, the main reason why people want to live in Bali full-time is for the surf. But, perfect waves cost a heavy crowd.

The perfect wave

Canggu has slowly become the notorious holiday home of kookslams. With every competent surfer in the water, there will be about ten complete beginners who have never seen a surfboard before in their lives. Passport control must evaporate all common sense out of most of the tourists that enter. These ‘kooks’ have no fear and zero knowledge of etiquette in the line-up. The other option is to head out to other breaks, like Uluwatu, Medewi, or even Keramas. The crowds are a fraction thinner but instead are fuelled by localism and competitiveness. 

Good luck with living that endless summer dream you had in mind. I have mastered how to read the crowd, in and amongst the waves, to survive, and you won’t have the choice but to learn it as well.


Was that a rooster?

Another thing you have to learn to live with is the constant background noise. If it’s not a bar’s super amped speaker in Canggu, then it’s the screams of pimped out motorbikes keeping you up at night. There is also a never-ending construction scene in Bali. New buildings appear overnight, resulting in hammers, saws and what sounds like the village idiot grinding on stones all day. Even in an escape to a peaceful, secluded hideaway, there will be roosters that don’t give a damn about the sun calling at 3 am. They will also croak all day, so forget about that poolside nap time.

Professional frauds

At the end of the day, Bali is still a Third World country. It has been painted up nicely over the last few years, but in this paint is the rise of medical clinics dotted around the place, complete with well-scrubbed up nurses and doctors that always look equally as puzzled as to the next. Generally speaking, their main priority is money. The whiter the tourist that walks in, the higher the bill is going to be (this is also the same for shopping in markets, but that’s a different story).

Life in Bali leads to a basic study of medicine, jungle illnesses and self-treatment. I quickly learned not to trust the doctors after being told I have a ruptured eardrum, only to find out several hours later it was sand caught in the wrong place. I once saw a misdiagnosed dengue fever case that could have ended up with my friend being dead. Your medical knowledge will grow and expand more than you can imagine.

Next on the list of professionals is the police. Similar to doctors you cannot fully trust them. When I first moved here, I was taught to drive with two wallets in my bike. One with a small amount of money in it and my real one tucked away somewhere well out of sight. The reason is quite simple: bribe money. The police need no reason to pull you over and will then make up a problem like “you don’t have an Indonesian license”. They then continue to take everything in your wallet; there are no fixed fines. In saying that though, it does come in handy. I once paid the station two packets of cigarettes to get a police report typed up for a “stolen” phone.


Can you do it?

And now my final word of warning: life in Bali also comes with the constant anxiety-inducing fear of possible earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, malaria, dengue, typhoid, rabies, political riots and extremists, scooters, machetes, robbers, faulty boats and planes, and of course the dreaded Bali Belly*. After going through the huge earthquake of 2018 that destroyed our neighbor Lombok, I was adamant the ground was still shaking. Sometimes, even now, I feel the tiniest of tremors. Someone recommended black magic to me. I won’t say any more about that.

But despite everything I have just said, I wouldn’t change Bali for the world. This has become my home but it has not been an easy ride. It’s true, Bali is not for everyone. You need to be thick-skinned and have a strong stomach (not only for the Bali Belly). This island gives a paradise to those who respect it. For those who don’t follow the rules, she will kick you out faster than you can say deportation.

*Bali Belly is essentially an upset stomach with similar symptoms to food poisoning.

Read next: A Journey to Sumbawa, Indonesia

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