April is about to end, only two months are left of our Bali-year. At this time last year, we were grappling about a lot of things regarding what transitioning to Bali would be like. By now we feel experienced and thought we`d grab the opportunity to share some tips and advice for those of you out there, who might be on your way to Bali for a long term stay.
Before you even decide whether to go though, please pause for a moment and consider the carbon footprint of a Bali expat. Read our post from November here and seriously think through your decision. If you still decide to come, please take the carbon footprint into consideration when you grapple with which visa type to choose and how many friends or family you shall encourage to come to visit you. Reducing our amounts of flights is a great way of reducing carbon emissions.
If you`ve enrolled you kid at Green School I really recommend you read the info they send you thoroughly. There is a lot of useful info in a pdf-file they send out to all new families! Some of the info below is Green School specific, but most of it generic for anyone moving to Bali.
Wow, there`s a lot to talk about, I don`t really know where to start, so let`s just do this sort of chronologically. And bear in mind; this is not a full list of how to prepare and what to remember, it is some just tips for things that I wish I had known and thought of along the way. A useful website to check for practicalities like visa etc is The Bali Expat Guide.
Before we left for Bali I pictured myself becoming a healthier version of myself. I envisioned doing yoga almost every day, and I thought I`d eat superhealthy, mainly raw and vegetarian food. Morten saw himself become this fit surfer dude, and both of us had this idea we would have a lot of extra energy from our new and better lifestyle.
Well, you can shovel all of those expectations down the drain. At least we could. Unless you`re already a near-vegetarian and strongly committed to daily workout routines, I have come to realize that expecting to be able to change all of your food and work-out routines just as you are in the midst of transitioning to a completely different culture, `and know nothing about your hood, is overly optimistic. Naïve even.
Realize that Bali is full of noisy tourists on noisy motorbikes. They are super fit and like to show off, often times causing you to feel miserable. The cafés and restaurants have healthy options but are filled with unhealthy, tempting choices. Your self-discipline will be challenged every day. The air is hot, humid and polluted. Doing yoga, or go for a run, is not necessarily the first thing you are gonna feel like doing while you are still a mess inside and the heat is overwhelming. Your kids will be missing the food they are used to back home, and you are gonna curse the loud music they play everywhere.
Once you get to Bali, you will have to remind yourself not to be too hard on yourself or your kiddos. Give everyone time and patience, but also make sure you give yourself some time for self-nourishment. Whether you prioritize that yoga lesson a couple of times a week or go for a spa session or whatever does not really matter. Just be gentle, trust that a healthier lifestyle will come as you regain more energy to make those intentional choices` and focus on one day at a time. There is no way you are gonna be able to make all the intentions happen simultaneously anyway. And for me; I never became the fit yogi I was hoping for. The heat still gets to me and I have nowhere near the same amount of energy as I have in colder climates. -But that’s ok too.
Dogs and rabies and vaccination
Bali is full of dogs. It is estimated that around 500 000 dogs populate the island. The dogs of Bali were originally pure Bali Dogs. A breed that goes all the way back to before Bali was separated from Eurasia around 12 000 years ago. The heterogeneous gene pool that these dogs hold is vital for them to continuously adapt to changing conditions, but they are unfortunately gradually being diluted with the sparce genes of “pure breed” dogs from the Western world. They are streetsmart and healthy, as opposed to the Western “pure bred” dogs, and are compareable to the Dingos of Australia or the African Wild Dogs.
The Balinese people keep their dogs very differently from people in the western communities and let their dogs roam freely, and you’ll meet them around every corner. If you are allergic or afraid of dogs, I would seriously consider not to come. You cannot avoid them, they are even on the Green School campus. Around 90% of Bali`s dog population has an owner, and more than 80% of them are in acceptable physical condition. To read more about the Bali Dogs please check out our post about them here.
Until 2008 Bali was rabies free, but as the borders were opened for import of dogs in 2004, Bali was unfortunately also hit by the terrible disease of rabies. There are still a few human reports of rabies every year, and more than 90% of them are due to dog bites. This typically happens in more rural areas, but there is no way you can be guaranteed that a dog you are in contact with is rabies free. The government does mass vaccinations, and dogs wearing a red collar indicates they were vaccinated in 2018.
Anyhow, if you`d wish to adopt or foster a dog on Bali, or volunteer at a dog/cat shelter you MUST be vaccinated. The minute you are in contact with a dog that has a known history less than 6 months back in time, there is no way you can know if it is rabies-free. Vaccinating a dog does not make it rabies-free if it has already been smitten, even though it seems perfectly happy and healthy. The disease has an incubation time of 2-6 months, most commonly around 4 months.
We chose not to vaccinate ourselves before we came, trusting that the girls would learn how to be careful around dogs and tell us if they ever get bitten by a dog or any other animal. In retrospect, I think we should have vaccinated ourselves. All the times the girls have been wanting to cuddle a puppy and I have had to say no because there is no guarantee it is rabies free. The puppies we could have fostered and the nervousness each time the girls approach a dog we don`t know. It would have been worth the investment.
For more info on rabies and how to act if you or your beloved ones are potentially exposed to the virus, check out the World Health Organization info here.
Does your kid speak English?
If not, I recommend Green School English (GSE) for the first 6 months for those aged 9ish and below. I wish we had known about it and would probably have signed Dina up for that for her first semester if we did. It is a much softer way to learn English and get to know Green School than just jumping into a regular class. Also useful if the kid is not supposed to attend Green School afterwards as it prepares your child for any international school enrolment.
For Karla, who was 11 when we arrived, GSE would not have been necessary. By that age most kids know enough English to become fluent very quickly, maybe unless you`re from countries like Japan, France or Spain…?
We were lucky to kind of know someone whose house we could rent for the first two weeks here. We made this agreement well in advance, and the guy working in the house turned out to be super useful to help us out with practicalities upon arrival. For those of you who don`t have this opportunity, I`d recommend renting something in advance, on AirBnB, for at least two weeks, maybe even a month. Do not under any circumstances rent long term without seeing the house with your own eyes. Pictures often and usually lie!
We really enjoyed getting rid of things as we packed down our house. Coming to Bali really makes you realize how little you need and knowing that everything left back in Norway are proper things we will actually use once we get home, is a good feeling. For Bali, we only brought clothes, some toys, and books. That is really all you need. Just remember; no synthetic clothes! They are sticky and very uncomfortable to wear in this hot and humid climate. Only pack thin cotton, linen or other natural fabrics!
There is not a single thing you can`t get whilst on Bali, just be prepared that some things are more expensive than at home. Things like sanitary pads and tampons, and sunscreen for instance. However, mooncups are a big thing here, and by using them you reduce your plastic waste bigtime, so I recommend buying a couple of them and get used to using them before you leave!
If you are a big reader I suggest you bring a Kindle or another e-reading device. Book-availability is limited and nothing can be bought online from abroad here as things get stuck in customs. I personally read on my phone though, that works too.
-And; download WhatsApp on your phone before you leave. All communications happen there.
When to leave
We left Norway almost three weeks before school started. We had been told that the house search would take time and wanted to be all settled by the time school began. That was a mistake and we started becoming impatient for the school to start after just a week or so. I think arriving a week before is enough, and rather leave the house hunting to when the kids are at school. It is going to be time consuming and stressful, so do not rush it and avoid bringing the kids if you can.
Culture shock and acclimatizing
Do not stress the acclimatising and getting over the culture shock. Bali is busy, polluted and loud. I had this feeling I had to get to know my neighbourhood instantly and got super stressed by the fact that I didn`t know my way around. Remind yourself that you are here for a long time and don`t rush things. Allow yourself to see Bali as if you were a regular tourist. The place you are staying in the first few weeks is not the hood you are likely to spend the rest of the year in anyhow, so try to go with the flow! It will take you at least three months to get settled and another three months to feel at home!
Download Google Maps Bali offline, and you can find your way around easily without being online. If on a scooter; plug in earplugs and follow the instructions from the voice of Google Maps as you make your way around.
As mentioned, house hunting is time consuming and stressful. We used a couple of local agents for the Canggu area, and highlighted to them that it had to be near the Bio-bus stop. The things I would recommend to look for, in addition to whether it is at all anything like the pictures are:
- A closed living room with aircon -the humidity, mosquitos, heavy rain and heat during the rainy season can be overwhelming. Remember; the kind of house you`d like for a two week holiday is not the kind of house you need for a full year.
- A proper kitchen -most kitchens are small and with either a tiny oven or no oven. If you like to cook, a decent kitchen is essential. The burners are often small too, only allowing for two pots to be cooking at a time.
- Consider thoroughly if you`d like open-air bathrooms -some people find that the mosquitos do become a problem, as well as the humidity, although the open bathrooms usually are super charming.
- Noise -is there a temple nearby? Is the neighbour a farmer with a rooster or pigs on the other side of the fence? What about traffic on the other side of that fence, or an AirBnb-house with partying Aussies? Sit down quietly and really listen -and ask the people already living there for some honest answers if you can. Bali is noisy though, and you will probably not find a villa with no noise around. Even the crickets and frogs in the jungle can get on your nerves….
- Do you wish to live in something Balinese or modern and rent long or short term?
- We chose a traditional house for a full year. A lot of things on Bali are new and overwhelming and playing with your psyche. If I was to choose again I would have chosen a modern house which soothes my aesthetics and allows me to “escape” from real Bali when I am at home. I would only rent it until the Christmas break. Although the rent is a bit higher if you don`t rent long term, you save one month of rental during that month you most probably will be travelling anyhow. And by the end of January, you know a lot more about what sort of house you want and where you wish to live. Bali is full of nice villas and I really wish I had gotten to try to live in at least one more villa before we leave.
- Are the bedrooms in separate buildings or all rooms in one building? Many people underestimate how scary their children will find it to sleep in separate buildings. It is surprising to see how common it is to build many small buildings instead of everything under one roof here, and it looks nice but often doesn`t really work for kids that aren`t used to such a setup.
- What does the rent include? If not included, these are costs that we have to add to our monthly expenditure (per April 2019):
- Gardener 3mill IDR full time (our garden is unusually large, but do expect at least 1 mill IDR)
- Pembantu (housekeeper) 3mill IDR full time
- High-Speed Internet 400 000 IDR
- Garbage collection 150 000 IDR
- Banjar security 100 000 IDR
- Pool maintenance 900 000 IDR
- Electricity really depends on how much aircon you use etc, most people spend around 50 000 IDR per day, so let’s say 1,5-2 mill IDR if you`re in a moderate size villa
NB! Be aware that the landlords usually require the full rent, for the whole period you`ve rented the villa, in advance. This is common practice and ok to do as long as you`ve seen the house and have a proper contract!
Waste management and air pollution
Waste is a major problem in Bali. The locals mainly throw it in nature or burn it. During the dry season, the plastic waste-fires are everywhere and the air is heavily polluted. During rainy season all the waste that has been piling up in the dry river beds end up on the beaches where you`d like to swim or surf.
The waste that you produce will be collected from your villa, but it is simply transported to a huge landfill and a lot of it will then end up in nature or the water. Be mindful with your waste! Recycle as much as you can, avoid plastic wrapping and use reusable water bottles! If you are a part of Green School, make sure to return your waste to Kembali! Try to go as close to zero waste as possible!
Believe it or not; Bali is, in fact, suffering from water shortage. More than 4 million tourists visit the island yearly, and the amount of water required for the hotels and villas that accommodate them is enormous. Add to that the fact that chemical rice farming has caused the soil of the rice paddies to collapse. This prevents the water to sink back into the ground, and it evaporates instead of filling up the natural springs. Many rice farmers have already been forced to change into less water consuming crops. Be mindful when you use water, avoid long showers and unnecessary taps running.
For drinking water; Balian is the healthiest choice amongst the gallon-options. We only use Balian, also when we cook, as the calcium from tap water ruins the pots.
Find a local friend!
Be it your gardener, houskeeper, driver or neighbour; find someone local who speaks English to turn to for small practicalities. The Balinese people are super helpful and trustworthy.
If you join some of the Facebook groups like Canggu Community or Ubud Community, be prepared for a lot of expat bullshit, but they can be useful for posting specific questions you might have.
Shopping for utensils and other stuff you realize you or your house needs
Yes, you will have to add to your house. I have not heard of anyone who`ve found that their villa comes with all they need.
Try Pepito Supermarket or Cocomart first, then ACE Hardware. If no luck, try Carrefour on Sunset Road. Beachwalk Mall in Kuta and Bali Mall Galeria near Denpasar also have a lot.
If you don`t mind the hunt though, most things can also be bought locally from all the little shops along the roads. Anything from mattresses to fans and kitchenware is probably sold in a local shop near you and by shopping there you support your local community…..
One of the things we still struggle with is finding an organic/environmental friendly shampoo and conditioner option. The crappy stuff at the supermarkets, or the expensive ones at the hairdressers, together with the calcareous water makes a mess of our hair and is a bad option for the planet, both chemically and plastic waste-wise. The organic stuff we`ve found so far leaves us feeling just as dirty as before we showered. If there`s an option somewhere on this island that works for us and Mother Earth, we`d love to hear about it!
Car or scooter?
Driving a scooter is nowhere near as scary as it looks. Get on that scooter the sooner the better, it gives you completely different freedom! The Balinese people are patient and the traffic seldom exceeds 40 km/h. Just drive slowly and pay attention. You can rent electrical scooters from Skute here!
Once on that scooter; always bring your international drivers` license and wear a helmet. Most accidents happen during nighttime when drunk tourists are roaming around. Avoid driving at that time of the day if you can, and never carry your purse across your torso if you do. Put it in the seat of your scooter or in the space between your feet. There are reports of people having their purses ripped off by bypassing motorbikers at night time.
A car can be nice (during the rainy season) though. I sometimes wish we had a car where I could “hide” from the heat and humidity and transport myself from a to b in aircon-dry air, sort of protected from reality on longer rides. The air is either humid or polluted or both, and arriving sweaty, dirty and exhausted from a long scooter-ride is sometimes not what you wish for. On the other hand; you can do a lot of taxi-rides for the same amount of money renting a car (and a driver?) costs per month.
Consider downloading Grab (Bali`s version of Uber) on your phone, if you don`t mind not using the drivers in your local village. We have really bad experience with GoJek and would by no means recommend them!
If you`re a Green School family; sign your kids up for the Bio-bus if at least one of them is in grade 4 or above. It is climate friendly and gives you the freedom to not having to go to school twice a day…..
Food, cooking and grocery shopping
Cooking in Bali is nothing like home. Lower your expectations and be prepared for food to be pretty expensive. We spend on average around 700 000 IDR per day on food, incl brekkie and lunch, 4 peeps. Canggu is more expensive than living in Ubud I hear, and you can obviously make it on a much lower food-budget. It depends on how important food is to you I guess. Also, be prepared to go to multiple shops to get what you need. Be happy if you`re able to cook once or twice a week at home, and find yourself some favourite places to eat. Kids like the routines and predictability of eating in the same place on for instance every Monday.
For Canggu-specific tips check out fellow Green School mum Isabelle McAllister`s Hipster Guide to Canggu.
-And do consider to have a cook come to your house a couple of times a week. Most people I know who have done that find it very comforting and it is not expensive. We`ve not done that though.
Bali Direct is an online grocery store worth trying out! They deliver on your doorstep in 24 hours and wrap their veggies in banana-leaves. I also like some items at Bali Budda and Alive in Echo (Jalan Pantai Batu Mejan), and do some bulk shopping at Zero Waste Bali. Canggu Station in Berawa is also a nice grocery shop. Pepito Supermarket is, however, our most frequented grocery shop. Also, check out the Farmer`s Markets around. You can get organic food there, as well as a lot of other nice stuff, and they are quite nice. There is one every second Friday at Green School, Sundays on Samadhi Yoga and a ton of others around Canggu and in Ubud.
Some people like GoJek. You can practically order any food from any restaurant there. However, the amount of plastic waste take away food produces is repulsive, and personally I don`t like semi-warm food packed in a box. I`d rather eat out, and we never order from GoJek.
Ask your Facebook community (Canggu Community, Green School Parents group etc) or one of your Whats App groups.