Living in Bali as a Digital Nomad

Posted on March 21, 2017 by

Is living in Bali all it’s made out to be? I’m currently spending a couple of months living in Bali with my husband and our two-year-old baby. Here’s what I like (and dislike) about living here as a digital nomad.

living in bali

Greetings from the island of Gods! After a month or so of traveling in Singapore, Laos and East Timor, we have now found a comfortable rhythm in our temporary home, Bali. We have already spent a month living here, catching up on work and enjoying quality time with my family while slowly exploring every nook and cranny of the island.

So why Bali? I know, everyone is moving to Bali. Living a life of yoga, surfing, smoothies and raw food. It all just seems so cliché. And I’ve always been one to seek out unusual places and experiences. So why am I following the trend and moving to yogi-saturated Bali?

For one, I’ve always loved Bali — no matter how touristy it has become.

Bali has certainly changed since tourism dominated the island, but the ‘real Bali’ still thrives — and like the scent of incense, cloves and flowers, it permeates every corner of the island. The unique culture of Bali is resilient, persistent and very much alive, not only in its small villages, but also in the towns and cities, where ancient traditions blend with a burgeoning global lifestyle.

Besides, Bali is fast becoming a hub for digital nomads like myself, with a growing community of location-independent and remote-working professionals living here. Plus Bali has developed tremendously over the past few years, with a new airport and more cafes and cool Airbnbs than before. It is a great location to live cheaply, work remotely, learn about a rich culture and enjoy the great outdoors.

Bali has certainly changed since tourism dominated the island, but the ‘real Bali’ still thrives — and like the scent of incense, cloves and flowers, it permeates every corner of the island.

living in bali

If you’re still not convinced, here are some reasons why myself (and other digital nomads) are all choosing to set up their temporary base in Bali:

What We Love about Working and Living in Bali

Cheap Prices and Affordable Housing

Bali is one of the cheapest places I’ve been to (and I’ve been to 113 countries!). We get by on around US$30 a day per person, including accommodation, meals and transport. You can probably spend even less if you’re on a tight budget. Eating local food at a warung (simple diner) will set you back at just US$1 or 2 per person, while an Uber ride around south Kuta usually costs no more than $5 each way. A look at Nomad List, which compares cost of living in different cities around the world, will show you that your money will last longer here in Bali.

Accommodation here is really affordable and great value for money. Beautiful villas backdropped by an infinity pool and surrounded by green rice paddies are easily available and cheap. For instance, you can get a great villa, for as little as US$30 a night. Some of the hotels we’ve stayed at only cost US$20/night and they even have swimming pools, restaurant and air-conditioning in the room.

This hotel only cost us $20/night

Balinese Culture is Rich and Beautiful

Bali is a very spiritual place with an infectious energy unlike anywhere else in the world. Traditional culture is the reason why keep returning to Bali, and the underlying fabric of all Balinese culture is its religion. Although referred to as Balinese Hinduism, it doesn’t much resemble the Hinduism you may be familiar with. The Balinese version is a syncretic one, with many threads sewn into a rich tapestry. It shapes every aspect of Balinese life, from their architecture to traditions.

In most of Bali, you needn’t go far to learn about and appreciate Balinese culture. Just take a walk and you’ll see ceremonies and rituals being carried out on a daily basis. Even in the most touristy corner of Kuta, we found plenty of beautiful temples with intricately carved exteriors, layered pagodas and stone statues of the barong (a lion-like creature that is highly revered in Bali). There’s always a traditional ceremony or ritual going on somewhere.

Plenty of Beautiful Sights

From ancient temples and fascinating museums to verdant rice terraces and white-sand beaches, there’s so much to explore on the island whether you’re a culture vulture or beach lover. Since we’ve got so much time here, we tend to just spend mornings exploring (usually to a temple or interesting site) and then I’ll work the rest of the day while Alberto and Kaleya swim or just hang out. Most attractions are within 30 minutes to an hour’s drive from the main hubs of Seminyak and Ubud.

We’ve also been staying in various parts of Bali to experience different sides to the island — for instance, the laidback beach town of Canggu is great for surfing and hanging out at its cool cafes, Seminyak is awesome for its swanky cocktail bars. We also spent some time in west Bali near Tanah Lot as well as the upscale southern tip of the island, near Nusa Dua. We plan to head up next to the spiritual hub of Ubud, and then the dive mecca of Tulamben in the northern part of Bali. To explore it all in Bali, we’ll probably need a year or even a lifetime!

Safe and Comfortable Place to Live

Compared to other Southeast Asian locations, Bali is relatively safe. Going out at night is not a problem at all in most parts of the island, and most tourist areas have a vibrant night scene. Some travelers have their qualms about visiting Bali since the bombings in Kuta and Jimbaran in 2005 (by Jemaah Islamiyah, a violent Islamist group) — but security has clearly increased around the island and there hasn’t been any terrorist attacks in recent years.

Theft is rarely a problem — which can be a concern for digital nomads if you are traveling with expensive equipment. It is still important to stay at a decent hotel (with a proper safe) and have your wits about you.

Easy to Stay for An Extended Period

Most digital nomads or location-independent professionals don’t need a tourist visa to enter Indonesia for 30 days, but those who need can usually obtain it on arrival at the airport. The visa is good for 30 days and can be extended when it expires.

For those who don’t need a visa to enter but want to stay more than 30 days, most nationalities can usually get a visa at the airport and then extend it before the 30 days are up. Sadly, I only found out upon arrival that I couldn’t get a visa as a Singaporean so I’ll have to do a visa run before my 30 days run out.

High Speed Internet & WiFi Everywhere

In recent years, the availability and speed of broadband connections in Bali have improved dramatically, especially since the introduction of 4G and fibre optics. WiFi is easily available in hotels and cafes, and typical connection speed for WiFi  512kbps – 2mbps (some providers can offer higher speeds).

Mobile connection is also cheap and fast — we got a SIM card with 4 gigs of internet data for 90,000 Rp (US$6). The three main providers in Bali are Telkomsel, XL, and Smartfren. The typical connection speed on mobile is 1mbps – 15mbps. The speed of their connection is very location-dependent. In the southern part of the island (Denpasar, Sanur, Kuta, etc.), you’ll find better and faster connections in north or central Bali.

Abundance of Co-Working Spaces

Recent years have seen the number of co-working spaces in Bali mushroom, making it a very practical place for digital nomads. Although I personally haven’t used any of the co-working spaces here in Bali, I think they make great offices for digital nomads like myself that need to work remotely. Some of the most popular co-working spaces in Bali are Hubud (Hub-in-Ubud), Outpost also in Ubud, and Dojo Bali in Canggu.

These co-working spaces tend to offer the fastest connections on the island. Aside from comfortable workspaces, most of the island’s share offices also offer kitchens, conference rooms, private Skype booths, printers and scanners. Many co-working spaces also organize regular events and activities where digital nomads can meet each other, exchange ideas and get inspired. Most of them charge monthly membership fees but they also allow people to walk in and pay US$10-20 for a day’s use.

Cheap & Easy to Get Around

Uber is now a popular means to get around Bali, though there are some red zones where it’s not allowed to operate. Still it can be a cheap way to get around tourist areas like Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu and Ubud. Prices for Uber are almost half of taxis. For instance, it costs only around US$2 to get from Kuta to Seminyak on Uber.

Otherwise, most people rent either a scooter or a jeep to get around. A scooter costs around US$5 to rent for a day, and a jeep around $25/day if you’re renting for just a few days. We rented a Toyota Avanza (a popular vehicle here) for just US$350 for a month and a half, and it’s a comfortable and convenient way to explore the island with Kaleya as well as our families and friends who were visiting.

It’s a Great Place for Kids

Bali in general is a great place for families, as there are so many outdoor activities to do and plenty of kids-friendly restaurants and entertainment areas. Kaleya loves walking in rice paddies, visiting temples, exploring monkey forests (plenty of them everywhere!) and of course, playing on the beach. In Bali, it’s easy to find waterparks and indoor playgrounds — though we haven’t been to any as we prefer to show Kaleya nature. I’ve heard good things about Waterbom in Kuta and Peekaboo Kids Play Cafe in Sanur.

There’s Something for Everyone

With its diversity and multi-faceted character, Bali draws in all sorts of travelers: from the yogis to the laid-back hippies, intrepid families (like us!) to the well-heeled traveler looking for exotic flair. Best of all, there is a corner of Bali for everyone.

Most party backpackers head to hedonistic Kuta (that was us back in those days…), while well-heeled vacationers congregate in chic Seminyak for cocktail bars and boutique hotels. Yoga enthusiasts and hippies tend to flock to Ubud in central Bali in search of their own versions of “Eat Pray Love”; hardcore surfers like to stay in and around Uluwatu as that’s where the best swells are’; scuba divers go straight to Tulamben in the North; and couples seeking romance and luxury often end up in Nusa Dua, at the southern tip of Bali. Digital nomads will usually find most co-working spaces in the Canggu and Ubud areas.

living in bali

What We Dislike about Living in Bali

But just like everywhere else, Bali isn’t perfect. Most online resources seem to completely leave out the difficulties or challenges that you may find living here. In reality, living in Bali is not quite the same as vacationing here. While Bali IS a great place to live and work remotely, there are also downsides to living in ‘paradise’. 

Chaotic Traffic

Traffic can be crazy in the built-up areas of Kuta, Seminyak, Jimbaran and Denpasar. Roads all around Bali tend to be narrow and windy, and drivers have absolutely no regard for traffic laws. Scooters usually zigzag their way around without any concern for their safety and that of others. It can take 30 minutes just to cover 9km at times, because of the traffic.

Trying to navigate these roads on a daily basis can be exhausting, especially if you’re commuting to a co-working space or just exploring amidst the heavy traffic. As a result, most people tend to find a base and spend most of their time in that area. We didn’t find it enjoyable to drive in Bali at all — it was stressful and annoying at times.

Intense Heat & Hush Climate

Living in the tropics isn’t quite as easy – or dreamy – as everyone thinks it is. The weather may be hot and sunny here all year round, but the heat can make walking around a pain (especially when you’re lugging a toddler like we are). I grew up in the tropics, so I’m used to seeing insects everywhere and having to clean everyday. But for some others, it can be quite a shock to find giant wasps and big bugs even in the most luxurious accommodation. When staying at a villa that was surrounded by the forest, our two-year-old daughter had an insect bite that got very swollen and red — we had to bring her to see the doctor for treatment. Thankfully, it was easy to find an English-speaking doctor. 

Haggling and Getting Bothered by Vendors Everyday 

It’s one thing to be haggling while on holiday, and another to do it on a daily basis. Everyday, someone is trying to sell you something. They’re not usually aggressive and they’ll stop after a simple ‘no thank you’, but when you live somewhere and every day of the year you are asked if you would like to buy something, it can get a bit overbearing. This is particularly true in areas like Seminyak, Kuta and Ubud.

Internet May Be Unreliable

While internet speed and availability in Bali has improved tremendously over the years, it’s still not quite as reliable as you would expect from home. We’ve stayed in different parts of Bali, including in remote areas where few tourists go, and we notice that WiFi can get very slow and sketchy once you’re out of the tourist zones. At two of the villas we stayed at (more than $100/night), the WiFi dropped several times during our stay. It’s best to stick to tourist hubs of Seminyak, Kuta and Legian if, like me, you need to work remotely with digital reliability.

Tricky to Find Electronics or Particular Items in Bali

Bali may be very developed as a tourist destination but there are still some things that can make living in Bali difficult. When our iPhone cable broke and when we lost Kaleya’s pacifier, we had to go on a hunt all over Bali to find them. Medication can usually be found in Watson’s or Guardian Pharmacy that have branches in most of the tourist hubs, but other than that, you’ll have to travel to Denpasar for electronics or a particular item.


About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

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