Living in Bali, Indonesia as an Australian Expat

Living in Bali, Indonesia as an Australian Expat

From my minutes of landing in Bali 20 years ago, I remember a feeling that I hadn’t felt before, one of excitement and connection to the Island and its people.  My first visit to Bali was just a tease and left me wanting to return ASAP, which I did. I continued to visit Bali with friends, with my new husband, with my babies as I had them, it seemed it didn’t matter how many times I visited, my love for the Island only grew and my desire to spend more time there only increased. Luckily being Australian and only having a short commute it was easy to visit Bali often, and I did at every chance I got. I could have never imagined that one day in the future I would be living in Bali with my family. 

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Eight years ago, I had arranged for a group of my friends to come to Bali on a “mum’s break” holiday for a week. I loved planning the trip and showing off Bali to them all. It was at the end of that trip that one of my friends encouraged me to start a Facebook page to share all of my tips about visiting and enjoying Bali. Little did I know at that time, that idea and that Facebook page would turn into two businesses, and see my family relocating and living in Bali full time just a few years later. Bali Buddies has become both a travel agency and an online guide to Bali. We moved over four years after I started the Facebook page, and continue to stay on and live and love the Island just as much as ever. Now staying up to date with all things Bali is literally my job and what I get to do every day. 

living in bali restaurant

Moving to Bali

There were quite a few factors that led us to moving to Bali full time, it was like the planets were aligning. Not only was my business growing and getting to a point where we would have enough funds to sustain a nice lifestyle in Bali, but I was also feeling like my kids were growing up way too quickly and I wanted to find a way to really savour the years we have them with us before they become adults. I felt like the mouse wheel of school and work life was making the weeks pass by way too quickly, and the weekends disappeared in the blink of an eye. I dreamed about slower, calmer mornings, family days on the beach, lots of sunshine and lots of travel adventures with my family. That’s when I started to get serious about exploring the possibility of relocating and living in Bali full time.

We had never lived in another country before and there were a lot of aspects to consider – visas, schooling, insurance, housing, finances etc. Luckily in this day in age though, there is so much information available on the internet and there are always people who have done it before you. Having run Bali Buddies for four years already from Australia, I also had made a lot of contacts on the Island who helped with my many questions.

Getting a Visa for Living in Bali

For our family it made sense to open a company in Indonesia, which would also allow us to access residents’ visas. There are other types of visas you can stay long term in Bali on, but opening a company was the solution that best fit our needs. This was not only the easiest visa route for us all, but it was also helpful for Bali Buddies to have an Indonesian office when it came to working with various venues across Bali. 

living in bali expat family

Finding the Right School for Our Children in Bali

When it came to schooling, I saw the move as a chance to move away from traditional schooling. I had come from 15 years of being a teacher in Australia, and I was sick of the school year dictating our lives to us and having to make all of our decisions of when to travel based on the school calendar.

We enrolled our children into Distance Education, where the school is based out of Australia. We liked this idea as there were other expat kids in this school and the children could do live lessons, so they are in interactive classes, just across the computer instead of a classroom (albeit they do start school at 6am to account for the time difference…..when schooling from home though, pyjamas are a perfect acceptable school uniform).

The moment I knew this was the right decision was when my eldest daughter completed one of her first assessment tasks, to create in a group a commercial about teenage mental health. She was in Bali, one of the other girls in Nepal and the third in Australia. If you saw this commercial you would never have guessed these three girls lived in three different countries, it was amazing. It cemented for me that we had made the right decision.

Years on, I still feel that way and in 2020 when COVID has disrupted schooling worldwide, absolutely nothing changed for my kids, school went on as normal. 

Preparing for a New Life in Bali

When we made the decision to move, we knew it would be for the long haul and we committed to that mindset. My husband and I had been together for almost 20 years at that point, so we had accumulated a lot of “stuff”. We managed to get it down to just a few boxes of memories and everything else was either sold, given away or trashed. It was the most cleansing experience I’ve ever been through, realising that in the bigger picture, we really didn’t need most of the things that we’d spent years collecting. We got down to 150kgs total for the four of us…..and that was our lives, in 6 suitcases. 

living in bali housing

Adjusting to a New Life and Living in Bali

The adjustment to living in Bali full time was much easier than we’d anticipated. We’d spent so much time here already that we knew a lot of the tips and tricks and we already had a lot of local and expat friends. We’d found a lovely villa that felt safe and secure in and we already knew the area we moved to.

The kids were able to make friends through their sports and activities, and they adjusted to remote learning like seasoned pros. Many people worry that children will be socially affected if they don’t go to a traditional school, but I can confirm that is not the case. They actually have to work harder at the skills of friendship building, as they are not spending six hours a day in a classroom with other kids. I feel this has been a great skill for them to learn though, how to meet someone and initiate a friendship. This is a skill that they will use for the rest of their lives.

Needing only a computer and WIFI to be in school means that they’ve schooled in several different countries, hotel rooms, home stays, luxury villas, airports and more! As they start school so early, it means they finish early too (some days at 10am!), this means we can travel and explore and get school done too. 

Finding Housing in Bali

When we rented our first house in Bali there were staff already working there doing the housekeeping and gardening. If we chose not to keep them on, they would have been out of work, and compared to Australia their wages were not a stretch for us to accommodate in our monthly budget. This turned out to be one of the biggest differences of living in Bali. In Australia domestic staff are a luxury and super expensive.

Most weekends in our Australian lives were spent cleaning the house, catching up on the laundry and ironing and getting the yard work done. Suddenly with life in Bali, we didn’t need to do any of that anymore. I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t miss domestic duties one bit and I’ve loved having more time to cook, play and explore with the kids, rather than worrying about catching up on housework.

It is actually quite a shock to the system when we go back to Australia for a few weeks and I’m back to washing, ironing and cleaning. If we ever move back there full time, doing domestic duties again will definitely be something I’ll have to get used to. 

Making Friends in Bali

We often get asked if we have local friends in Bali and the answer if yes. We have just as many local friends as we do have expat friends. When we decided to live in Bali, we chose the relaxed, seaside area of Sanur to base ourselves in. Sanur is an area that was the original expat area of Bali, but it still has a real village vibe and tons of local owned businesses.

We find Bali in general really easy to meet people. The majority of locals and expats that we know don’t work a traditional 9-5 job, so everyone is on “Bali time” and never in a huge rush. This means that often when we head out for a bite to eat or are down the beach, we will strike up a conversation with someone, and that is how we have met a lot of our friends. 

zip line bike living in bali

The Expat Community in Bali

Sanur’s expat scene is a lot of families and retirees, but lately we are starting to see many younger expats make the move to this side of the Island too. It is definitely not the party side of the Island though. The expat party scene can be found in Canggu, Seminyak and Uluwatu…that is where we head on our girls’ nights out!

There are Facebook groups for each of the areas of Bali (eg: Sanur Community, Canggu Community, Bali Expat Community), we use these a lot for asking questions, but of course it’s like any social media, it does bring out the crazies and the trolls. These pages are good sources of information for quick answers to questions though, like who can recommend an electrician etc.

As for Bali Buddies, it has always been a guide for tourists to enjoying Bali, but what I didn’t expect is that it would also become a guide to Bali for expats and Indonesians. As we’ve lived here and are more connected to the Island, it’s been lovely to see the growth of our platforms being used by Indonesians and expats in Indonesia to keep up with all things Bali! 

Fitting In and Getting Around in Bali

As a native English speaker, living in Bali is super easy language wise. The Balinese are so clever, and most can speak at least basic English, and many are completely fluent. That being said we do take weekly Bahasa Indonesia lessons; it helps to speak the language when negotiating prices on things, not to mention the locals love when you can converse in their native tongue.

Religion plays a huge role in the day to day lives of the Balinese and living here you can’t help but to be immersed in it in some way. Our first home in Bali had a temple inside the yard and the landowner would come to pray and place offerings at it around once per week. He had a key to our gate and would let himself in, sometimes we would chat and other times we didn’t. This can feel intrusive to some, but we really quite liked it. The house we live in now doesn’t have a temple inside, so we will come out of our gate to the offerings laid in front of it each morning. Understanding and being respectful to the customs and religions of the locals goes a long way towards fitting in in Bali. 

Getting around Bali is fairly easy depending on your preferred mode of transport and where you live. In Sanur where we live it’s really easy to get around the immediate area on a bicycle, and the beach also has a 7km pathway which is lovely to take a ride along too! Most people ride a motorbike or drive a car, I don’t do either, but instead use apps like GRAB to order rides (on both bikes and cars). This is a really inexpensive and reliable way to get around the South of Bali.

The Cost of Living in Bali

The average cost of rent in Bali

We are always getting asked about how much it costs to live in Bali, and the answer is ‘How and where do you want to live?’. You can rent simple rooms as cheaply as $50 USD per week, you can also rent luxury villas for up to $50,000 USD per year! If like us you want to be close to the ocean in a 3-4 bedroom villa with a pool, you are looking at around $14,000 USD per year (give or take depending on the area of Bali and luxury level of your home). 

living in bali apartment costs

The cost of transportation in Bali

You can buy your own scooter for around $1500 USD and petrol will only set you back a few dollars a week. Renting a car starts at around $230 USD a month. I spend around $40 USD a week on GRAB bikes and cars, but I do commute around the areas of Bali more than anyone I know too! Food can vary in price just as much as accommodation. 

An avergae food budget in Bali

You can get a delicious street food meal for as little as $1 USD or do a full degustation at a world class restaurant for $100 USD.

Mid-range restaurant usually see the meals between $3-$8 USD per dish (you can get these takeaway or dine in).

A beer on the beach is $1.80 USD, but if you are enjoying it in a luxury beach club you may pay up to $4 USD per bottle. Coffee is similar, if you drink Bali Kopi, you get this street side for around 40 cents USD, but if you order a cappuccino from a café it is more like $2.00 USD.

I spend around $80 USD a week on groceries, but we cook a lot more than most expats I know. Often it works out cheaper to get takeaway than it does to buy your own groceries and cook. 

The Prospect of Long Term Living in Bali

Staying Connected with Friends and Family

In normal times, we have Aussie visitors almost every week. They don’t stay in our home because they are on holidays and we are working and schooling, it would be too disruptive. Instead we join them for dinners, lunches and activities. 

We typically go back to Australia two or three times a year for different events. When it’s not possible, we are thankful for the internet, video chats and groups messaging. No matter how often we return, we feel very connected to our friends and family back home. Bali is home to us now, we have a house and pets and staff.

We’ve been able to explore so many parts of the Island and the culture of the Balinese, which is something I’m continually in awe of while living in Bali. Bali is a great base for exploring South East Asia, we love exposing the kids to new cultures and new areas. We’ve been lucky that Indonesia is full of domestic travel destinations, you never run out of new destinations. 

What is it Like Working in Bali?

I find Bali to be a really collaborative place to do business. No matter what idea you have, someone always has time to sit down and listen to it. Bali Buddies has been able to work with some really big corporate companies, because someone took the time to sit and have a coffee with me and listen to our ideas.

Business is also a lot more informal than how we operate in Australia. Up to 90% of my business in Bali is done via WhatsApp, and there is no such thing really as working hours. I always remember being shocked when I got a call from a Tourism Board inviting me on a familiarisation trip in Indonesia at 9pm on a Friday night. Now that kind of thing isn’t surprising anymore. 

Owning a Business in Bali

In Bali if you can dream it, you can do it! Last year one of my Balinese friends came to me asking me to help him put together an experience that highlighted his village. The Balinese are immensely proud of their villages and it’s their favourite place to be. My friend, who had for many years worked in the South of Bali in hospitality wanted to be able to spend more time in his village, and to be able to share what he loved about it with others.

We spent a week exploring his village and the area around it and working with other villagers who wanted to be involved with the project.  We created the Balinese Village Experience, an experience which focuses on seeing life through the eyes of a Balinese Villager for a day.

You get to experience their food, rituals and their home. It has proved to be very popular with both domestic and foreign visitors to Bali and is one of the things I’ve been most proud of doing since living here. 

Managing Employees in Bali

My first love of teaching is something that has always stuck with me too. Now instead of teaching a rigid curriculum in a stuffy classroom, I get to teach my interns how to create digital businesses around something they are passionate about. Internships in Australia are not so common and are mostly seen as exploitation if their role is unpaid.

An internship in Bali is very different, almost all companies accept interns, while these roles are mostly unpaid, the experience and knowledge that you can gain for working inside a company can far outweigh any research task you can do. I have helped many of my interns to either create full time lives in Bali or continue their work in the digital field. I love to be inspired by my interns and I love teaching them everything I’ve learned throughout my time owning Bali Buddies. 

Final Thoughts on Living in Bali as an Expat

Expat life in Bali has been very kind to us and has given us experiences and friendships we could have only ever dreamed about. When I was working in a classroom in Australia, I couldn’t have ever imagined being paid to stay at high end resorts and villas with my family to write about them. I couldn’t have imagined that I would love so much slowing down my mornings and ditching the crazy school run.

I love being able to go adventuring or exploring on the weekends without thinking about when I’ll have time to the housework. I’m also thrilled to have my kids involved in such a big part of my work and my business (at ages 10 and 15, they both have paid roles in Bali Buddies).

Now that I’m living it, I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon. If you are planning on visiting Bali, for however long, be sure to connect with us at Bali Buddies. 

karlie cummins

Karlie Cummins

Karlie Cummins is an Australian lady who came from a teaching background, but now has a career in the digital marketing world. She moved from Australia to Bali full time four years ago. Karlie and her husband and two daughters call Sanur home in Bali. She moved her family to Bali to expand her travel business Bali Buddies and to explore more of the island she fell in love with 20 years ago. 

If you’re moving to Indonesia, currently living in Bali or just curious about life abroad, leave your questions for Karlie below in the comments.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jackie

    Hello. My sister and I just love Bali, our dream is to finally live there full time. We absolutely love there way of life there culture and there beautiful island, it truly is our happy place. We would love to find out more info on how to turn our dream into reality ?

    1. Karlie Cummins

      Hi Jackie,

      Yes that’s definitely how we felt and still feel about Bali too! First and foremost is figure out how you are going to make money. Jobs for foreigners in Bali are very, very rare and mostly not paid so well. That leaves you with opening a business here (like we did) or being able to make a remote income online (which lots of people do here). Once you have an income stream sorted the rest gets a lot easier! Feel free to drop us a message at Bali Buddies, we are happy to help!

  2. Megan

    Great article, I was wondering if you could go into property leases sometime. We have just looked at a villa under Hak Milik and looks too risky, so just a general overviews on all the freehold leases, loans and nominees. It looks easier to have an existing business first.Cheers

    1. Karlie Cummins

      Hi Megan you don’t need to have business to lease safely. You do need to do due diligence though and make sure you use an independent and trusted notary to execute your lease deal for you. I also don’t recommend leasing anything that you haven’t seen in person yourself.

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