Known as the “Island of Gods,” Bali is known for its volcanic mountains, rice paddy fields, and coral reefs. It’s also home to thousands of Hindu temples, beaches, and waterfalls. The natural beauty makes it an ideal getaway for those who want to live outside of their native country.
This island in Indonesia has been attracting nomads and expatriates since the 1980s with its stunning beaches, rice fields, and natural scenery. Bali is a dream destination for many travelers and expats who are enchanted by its culture and beauty.
Living in a place this beautiful, must be expensive, right? This leads many people to ask, “how can I live in Bali cheaply?”
I have a personal connection to Bali as I was born and raised in the neighboring island of Java, in the eastern part. I have visited Bali many times during my 19 years living in Indonesia. From my senior high school trip back in 1986 to my last 20 years of scuba diving in the northern part of Bali.
I have seen the many changes in Bali over these last 50 years, especially to the southern more touristic part of the island of Bali. But, Bali has not lost her charm. That is why there are more nomads and expats calling the island of Bali, their home away from home.
You can live in Bali fairly cheaply if you know how to plan and manage your finances well. It also requires living more like a local than a tourist.
If you plan on living in Bali, it helps to know more about the island’s cost of living so you can properly budget, prepare for, and enjoy your overseas expatriate adventures. This article will give you direction on how to live on Bali with a smaller budget, even though it may not answer all your questions.
Here are some tips on how to live in Bali cheaply as an expat.
Rent a Homestay
Without a doubt, living accommodations will be your largest expense in Bali. Fortunately, there are many housing options. They range from small rooms in homestays to large, expansive private villas.
Before setting out to find a place to live, you’ll want to consider many things. How much room do you need? How important is privacy? Do you want to live in a busy, trendy, and touristy part of Bali or in a rural area where rent is likely to be much less expensive?
(Side note: What does it mean to “rent a homestay?” A homestay is when you stay in a home with a family who lives there, instead of staying in a hotel or a hostel. It is a way to learn about the culture and the language of the place you are visiting. For example, you can do a homestay in Japan and live with a Japanese family for three weeks as a tourist or longer if you are going to Uni. Many homestays allow you to rent a room, sometimes with a bathroom to yourself or shared with others, for longer periods of time such as for 12 – 24 months. The word homestay is not exclusive to Asia, but it is more popular in some Asian countries than other places in the world. Do keep in mind that you can also rent more than one room in a homestay. Depending on the floor plan, you may be able to rent out a part of the house to also include use of the kitchen.)
Not only are homestays a low-cost option, but they allow you to save even more by connecting you to locals. You can learn how to live cheaply in Bali, discover where to get the best deals on groceries, learn how to cook local dishes and get tips about the most popular (and affordable) night spots or attractions.
When browsing your options for homestays, look for those located away from popular beaches and tourist attractions, as these are likely to be more expensive. Also, consider looking for living accommodations inland for cheaper rent.
Ubud, Denpasar, Sanur, Badung, and Amed are some of the more affordable neighborhoods in Bali. Many of these neighborhoods also offer hostels, which may offer lower fees than homestays.
Do realize that the more north you go on the island of Bali you will be living more like the locals? This has both its advantages and disadvantages.
Cheaper living for sure but spottier internet and more traditional stores and markets. Living away from the trendy parts of Bali will for sure help you sharpen your Indonesian language as well as the local island language, called Balinese.
Use websites like Trip.com or Booking.com to find homestays in Bali. These sites allow you to browse reviews of each homestay and also sort them by price. Both sites also run special offers on homestays in Bali from time to time, so keep an eye out for those to save even more money.
Eat Locally Grown Produce
Local foods and ingredients will always be far less costly than imported foods, regardless of where you live in the world. When you move to Bali, prepare your taste buds for a large variety of new dishes and flavors you may never have tried or had access to in your native country.
Mango, guava, and papaya are some of the many locally grown fruits that may be costly in other parts of the world, but not in Bali. Also, mangosteens, rambutan, dragon fruit, noni, and boni are some of the many other affordable fruits you can buy. There are also vegetables, including green beans, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and carrots.
Balinese dishes like satay, babi guling, and tempeh are made with many local ingredients. As long as you embrace Bali’s cultural traditions, your diet should be relatively affordable. When you’re out and about, try eating at warungs. These are small local eateries and food stalls where Balinese cuisine is generally lower in price than in tourist-heavy areas.
(Side note: Warungs are an essential part of daily life in Indonesia, especially on the islands of Java and Bali. A warung is a type of small family-owned business that can be a retail shop, an eatery, a simple café, or even a wheeled 3-legged cart (gerobak). The carts may have a make shift tarp to keep the hot sun from beating down on you as you eat standing up or sitting down at a makeshift table. Warungs can be found everywhere in Indonesia, from urban streets to rural villages. They can be permanent structures made of bricks and concrete, or portable tents made of wood, bamboo or tin. Some warungs are attached to the owners’ homes. Warungs are where locals go to buy daily necessities, enjoy cheap and authentic food, or socialize with friends and neighbors. Eating at warungs are not only a great way to live in Bali cheaply, but also a way to eat delicious authentic Indonesian meals. Armed with a spoon and chopsticks in my school bag, I would frequent warungs throughout the week, especially after a long school day. Popular Indonesian meals I would love to eat at warungs are nasi goreng (fried rice), nasi campur (a plate of rice with various side dishes like tofu, chicken, veggies), mie goreng (fried noodles) sate ayam (chicken sate – meat on a wooden skewer), gado-gado (vegetable salad with peanut sauce), and when in Bali, babi guling (roasted suckling pig) to name a few.)
If you want something a bit fancier than warungs, you can try restaurants called Rumah Makan, which means “eating home” or “house food” in Indonesian. You might also see them abbreviated as RM. These places are more expensive than warungs, but they offer more comfort and amenities, such as ceiling fans or air conditioning. In Bali’s touristy areas, these restaurants can resemble small eateries that you would find in the U.S.
If you are looking at cooking at home, then check out Pepito Market. Pepito Market is a major grocery chain in Bali with locations in the southern part of the island including in Badung and Ubud. You can find a wide section of Balinese ingredients there.
However, one of the best ways to save money when buying groceries in Bali is to visit the local market in your village first before going to a larger grocery store. Markets are set up in the streets at least once a week and offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, fish, and home goods.
For example, if you are living in Sanur, visit the Sanur Morning Market just off the beach to stock up on fresh fish, crab, and your favorite produce. One of the best ways to experience the local culture and cuisine of Bali is to visit the street markets that are scattered all over the island.
You can find them in both touristy and non-touristy areas, selling fresh produce, snacks, clothes, souvenirs and more. The best time to go is early in the morning, before 8am, when you can see many villages hosting their weekly “open” market along the busy roadsides.
Install a Water Purification System
I grew up in Indonesia, where mom used to boil water every day for us to drink. That was how we did it back then. But now, thanks to modern technology, we have more options to get clean and safe drinking water in our homes.
In many places, like Indonesia, the tap water is not drinkable because it contains harmful substances such as toxins, parasites, and microplastics. Buying bottled water can be expensive and inconvenient, not to mention bad for the environment. So, what are some better alternatives?
One way you may want to consider when trying to live cheaply as an expatriate on Bali is to look towards technology to help have great tasting and safe drinking water. When moving to Bali, look into your options for using an at-home system that provides clean drinking water.
You can purchase a reverse osmosis (RO) water purification system or a water filtration system that can be easily installed on your kitchen sink. You may end up paying more upfront for a quality water purification system, but it should save you a lot of money in the long run.
Or, you can buy one of several water purification systems before going to Bali, such as those made by Pur. These can be easily installed on any sink. Pur also offers easy-to-use pitchers that filter your water.
Use a Bike or Scooter for Transportation
There is not an amazing public transportation system in Bali. Therefore, you’ll need to get around by walking or relying on modes of transport like vehicles, scooters, and bicycles. When determining the best mode of transportation, factors to take into consideration include distance and frequency of travel.
Many locals and expats rely on apps like GoJek or Grab that allow them to rent scooters and bike taxis when they need to go short distances. That may be your best option if you live in an urban area. Bike and scooter rentals usually cost between $3 and $5 USD a day in Bali.
However, you may get a better deal if you rent bikes and scooters by the month, in which case you may pay between $45 and $50 USD for the entire month. Transportation prices are always changing, so you should shop around before signing up for any rental service.
Even though we are talking about living on the island of Bali cheaply, this is an area you may want to just splurge on, especially if your blood pressure goes up just thinking about driving in Bali. You can also consider renting a car or hiring a full-time driver, which is quite common in Bali. Most full-time drivers in Bali work six days a week and include the cost of gas in their fees.
You may want to work with other expats in your area and see about “sharing” a full-time driver and car for the week. This may not be your best choice if you plan to live cheaply in Bali, but it helps to know your options if you prefer a car for safety reasons. Car rentals start at $200 USD a month including insurance and servicing, while most drivers charge rates that begin at around $450 USD per month.
If you’re open to driving a motorcycle in Bali, that’s another option. In fact, this is probably the best way to get around the island of Bali. I used to drive a motorcycle when I was living in Jakarta and it gave me a lot of freedom to go when and where I wanted to.
One thing you will know, whether you drive or have some else drive in Bali is that the two most important things on a vehicle are your brakes and horn! The horn “helps” in getting others to move and in case they don’t listen to you, you have your brakes!
(Side note: You don’t need a big motorcycle to get around in Indonesia. Most of them have engines ranging from 70cc to 125cc. I used to ride a 100cc motorcycle when I lived in Jakarta during my high school years. That’s enough for city travel or short trips. If you want to explore Bali and other nearby islands, you might want a 125cc motorcycle. But anything smaller than that is fine too. In Indonesia, when talking about smaller sized engine motorbikes, they call these “sepeda motor bebek”, which means “duck motorbike” in English.)
To obtain a local license to drive a motorcycle, you must be at least 17 years old and have a resident permit (ITAS). Local licenses can be obtained at the nearest police station. Just be sure to bring a copy of your passport, a copy of your Indonesian visa, and a health certificate from a doctor.
In Indonesia there are two types of driver’s licenses (not talking commercial). The Sim A is for a regular car and the Sim C is for driving a motorcycle. If you want to learn more on how to get a motorcycle license in Bali, you should check out this helpful web article. It covers all the important steps and tips you need to know, although the prices might be slightly different now as the article is a few years old. The author also has a great website with more useful information on nomadic travels.
If you are going to be residing in Bali with your children, homeschooling may be your best way to educate them. And it will help keep you on budget while you live in Bali.
Homeschooling is so much easier than it was when I was home schooled back in the early 1970s in Indonesia. With the advent of the internet, a plethora of homeschooling options and additional teaching tools on the web, homeschooling might work best for your family. All you’ll need, besides your time and expertise, is a reliable internet connection at your homestay or rental.
Another option you and your family may want to look into are the different international schools. They are for children of expats and teach courses in several languages. My brothers and I graduated from the Jakarta International School (JIS – now called Jakarta Intercultural School) where we spent our last few years of childhood residing in Jakarta with our parents.
(Side note: This is the third name change of JIS. JIS, in the early days was started (like many of JIS’s sister schools throughout the world) by the U.S. embassy and western (U.S.) businesses. JIS was called initially as JES, Jakarta Embassy School. Then somewhere around the late 1970s (if I am not mistaken) the name was changed to JIS, Jakarta International School. The “Intercultural” change came somewhere in the early 2020’s, or maybe a tad earlier. JIS has her sister school (and the only other one in Indonesia) called SIS, Surabaya International School. My brothers and I also attended SIS back in the mid to late 1970s. But we had to move to Jakarta since at that time, SIS only went up to the 8th grade. Now SIS goes all the way up to grade 12.)
Anytime you mention the word “international” in a school title we know that the cost will be higher than what we would like to pay out for each child’s tuition. However, we as parents know, there is no substitute for a great education. The fees for these schools range from a few thousands up to almost the cost of a U.S. private university tuition per year.
Tuition for international schools in Bali generally starts at around $8,000 USD per year and goes as high as $20,000 USD per year. According to web search results, there are at least 20 international schools in Bali, Indonesia. These schools offer different curricula and in different languages for students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12.
Bali Island School is one of the top international schools on the island. The school opened in 1985 and serves children from preschool to twelfth grade. The application fee for Bali Island School is just under $170 USD, the yearly registration fee is $1,005 USD. Tuition fees begin at $3,483 USD for preschool and go up to $18,645 USD for grade 12.
Green School Bali is another recognized international school in Ubud, with tuition fees starting at $11,190 USD for its youngest students and capping at around $22,312 USD for grade 12 students.
The above are a couple of the top-notch international school options on the island of Bali. Here are a few (not all) of the best international schools in Bali that you may be also interested in checking out.
- Green School Bali: A unique school that teaches a green curriculum through hands-on experiential learning in the natural environment.
- Canggu Community School: A school that offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and has a brand-new Junior School campus with modern facilities.
- Dyatmika School: A not for profit school that is a fully accredited Cambridge International School and Examination Centre.
- Sekolah (School) Lentera Kasih: A family school that cares about every student’s personal growth and self-development.
- Pelangi School: A private, not-for-profit school that is inspired by Waldorf education and focuses on holistic development.
As all expats know, one of the best ways to find the best school for your kids is to get on a local expatriate social networking site and ask other expatriates. Another way is to look online to discover more articles related to your questions about international schools in your area of Bali. One blog article I found that may help you all on your search for the best international school for your children in Bali is on this web article – Honeycombers web site.
Quality Medical Care
Siloam Hospital on Sunset Road in Kuta and the Kasih Ibu Hospitals in Saba and Tabanan are some of the highest-rated hospitals in Bali. These hospitals are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and offer high-quality medical care. As more and more expats starting making Bali their home away from home, there are smaller western style clinics that are opening.
We would be remiss if we did not share with you the importance of strong expatriate medical coverage. With all my travels to from Indonesia and all my scuba diving trips also to Indonesia, I always carry travel insurance.
For those of you who will be residing in Bali, we highly recommend expat insurance. Your expatriate medical insurance will cover you on the island of Bali. But in the off chance you may need more western style medical facilities or even specialized medical facilities such as those in Singapore, Thailand, and Australia, your expatriate medical insurance will cover you there also.
Even though medical care is by far cheaper in Bali than here in the U.S., other parts of the world are seeing higher medical care cost. Singapore is a great example of higher medical cost. Its even higher than the U.S in some medical centers.
But one thing expatriates forget is that the emergency medical flight, when needed, can be very expensive. Emergency medical evacuation can easily start at USD25,000. We have even seen it here at Good Neighbor Insurance go up to USD120,000. Especially when one needs a specialized plane to help stabilize one’s medical condition as they are flown to another country.
Since our founding in 1997, Good Neighbor Insurance has provided a variety of expatriate medical insurance options to fit one’s request and budget. And all of our expatriate medical insurance provides the vital emergency medical evacuation benefit!
Home to beautiful and breathtaking beaches, waterfalls, mountains, and volcanos, Bali will provide you with a living experience you’ll remember and talk about for the rest of your life. Following the tips in this article may help your money go a bit further during your stay there.
For more tips on how to live in Bali cheaply, consider joining an app like InterNations. This app connects you with other expats, who can share their own tips and experiences related to Bali. These “insiders” can make other useful recommendations for saving money while still enjoying all that Bali has to offer.
My wife and I at this time reside in the Phoenix metro area of Arizona. For now, we enjoy traveling to Bali for our vacations. But who knows, maybe the island of Bali will beckon us to make her our “new home away from home!”
We sincerely hope you all enjoy your expat travels to Indonesia and beyond!