An Insider’s Guide to Retiring in Bali
I retired in Bali… can you?
Retirement crept up on me. I had excellent health, meager savings and a severe case of age-appropriate denial. Then, three friends died of cancer within eighteen months. I wasn’t yet sixty-one. All younger than I, they had unrealized dreams and unfinished lives.
“What now?” I wrote in my journal that January morning. “Is this all there is? Work until I lose my health, or my mind, or both? What do I want more than this?”
I gave myself all morning to write and wonder. While the wind whipped eddies of ice crystals against the window, I penned my inner dialogue, only stopping when something I wrote caught my attention. “I hate winter,” I scribbled at one point. “Then what are you doing in Minnesota?” I snapped back at myself.
Retiring in Bali Took Some Planning
It was a revealing exercise and by the end of the day I had a plan. I remembered how I loved to travel, and how I wanted to be a writer but never believed I could earn a living with words. I ran the numbers. What would it take to give myself more of what I loved? Guts, right? It would take everything I had and then some. But something had shifted and I was on fire.
It took a year. I sold everything I owned. As I continued to journal my questions, answers came. Bali. I would move to Bali, a place I had visited only once but the longing to return never left me.
On the internet, I found the Ubud Writers Group, and contacted them saying that I was a writer (speaking it into truth!) planning to spend a couple of months in Ubud. They e-mailed back and invited me to visit them when I arrived.
I Love My Life in Bali
Now I live permanently in Ubud and have created a life that far exceeds my wildest imagining. I’m a free-lance writer and editor and have completed a suspense novel and my memoir. (Hopefully I’ll find a publisher!) And I’ve regularly posted to my blog about this amazing life.
But what about you? Could you retire in Bali? Here’s what you might like to know:
You Can Have it Any Way You Want it
There are Westerners who come and recreate their previous life here on half the money and twice the glamour as the one they left. And there are others who embrace the culture, learn the language, and have as many Balinese friends as they do Western ones, if not more.
The Essence of Bali is Feminine and the Overarching Energy is Spiritual
How could it not be? The Balinese Hindus live their religion twenty-four hours a day. Offerings appear on the sidewalk in front of shops, in family temples, at intersections, by cash registers, at bridges, the list goes on.
In an effort to maintain balance between the benign spirits and darker energies, the Balinese people offer prayers and incense throughout the day, every day. Their calendar is a holy almanac recording the dates for every ceremony, auspicious days for building, marrying, planting, buying a rooster and killing a pig. A Balinese person wouldn’t consider doing any of these things other than on a day so noted for that particular purpose.
Can You Afford to Live in Paradise?
As a person fifty-five or over, you are eligible for a Retirement KITAS, a special type of visa. As with almost all other visas, you are not allowed to work or even volunteer in Indonesia. You must have an income that you can prove or sufficient assets so the Indonesian government is assured that you can support yourself. The requirements for the retirement visa are listed on this helpful ex-pat website.
My suggestion is that you enter the country on a 60-day tourist visa secured from your nearest Indonesian Consulate. Once you arrive, immediately employ an agent or an agency to assist you in obtaining the KITAS.
Among other things you’ll need a sponsor and an agent can provide that service. A retirement KITAS is renewable every year for five years. The cost of the agent to take care of it for you is usually between 5,000,000 to 7,000,000 rph each year. ($375 US – $530 US)
Foreigners are not allowed to own property, but the long-term lease is a common solution. Once you enter into a lease for ten, fifteen, thirty or more years, usually paid for up front, you essentially ‘own’ that property and can do with it whatever you please provided you observe local guidelines.
If there’s an existing house you can remodel it, or tear it down and build new. If it’s raw land, you can build. Bear in mind, however, when the lease expires whatever is there reverts to the owner. You can’t take it with you.
Renting is also an option. There are very affordable accommodations where you can stay for $500 US/month. It’s usually one room plus an en-suite bath. The price will often include breakfast.
A studio apartment or bungalow can run from $500 – $800/month in Ubud and more if it’s in one of the popular beach towns. Villas complete with pool, furnishings, and staff, cover the gamut in price depending upon location and services included.
You can live well on a shoestring or abide in the lap of luxury depending upon your financial resources.
Food is inexpensive if you (or your staff) buy fresh vegetables and fruits from the local morning market and cook your own meals. A vegetarian can eat well for $80 -$100/month. Meat is more expensive and shopping at the local grocery stores to create a Western diet will cost as much or more than your normal food expenditures at home.
Eating out is the same. If you frequent the local warung your dinner may cost under $1. Similar fare at a restaurant may be $6 – $10. But you can also spend $100+ on a gourmet meal with imported wines, exquisite service and presentation that would challenge the most glamorous restaurants in Paris!
A KITAS holder is required by Indonesian law to employ at least one Balinese person to help with household chores. Either male or female, that helper will typically cook meals, clean, shop for groceries, do laundry and ironing, make beds and change linens.
The minimum wage varies depending upon location in Indonesia. In Ubud it is currently 1,807,600 rph/month, (at today’s rate of exchange $137/month US) for a 40 hour week.
What About the Lifestyle in Bali?
Make friends with the Balinese and the door will open to a culture that is complex and rich beyond imagining. You will be invited to weddings, cremations, house blessings and treated like royalty. But the privilege comes with responsibilities that are revealed over time.
This is a communal culture: the good of the greater community comes before personal need. There is no other way. Sometimes our Western privacy is challenged by this concept! But once you’re adopted, the loyalty, generosity, and kindness of the Balinese people is unparalleled.
It’s good to come with a hobby, or interest, like writing, painting, weaving or cooking, for instance. But outside entertainment comes in many forms.
Traditional dance and gamelan performances can be seen every night and the price of a ticket is under $7.00. Nightclubs or street bars usually have no cover charge and world class performers will sometimes show up unannounced, just because they’re in Bali. Latin music and dance has become popular here as well as jazz and reggae.
Liquor in Indonesia, a Muslim country, is taxed heavily when imported so it’s expensive. There are several local Bali wines and beers that are affordable. And there’s arak, a deadly Balinese rot-gut made from rice that contains a walloping 50% alcohol. It’s a favorite drink in the Kuta Beach area of Bali that has a reputation for the hard-partying crowd. Seminyak, Sanur, Legian and Canggu are somewhat more subdued towns with beautiful beaches, top-notch restaurants and a colorful nightlife.
Spas and salons by the dozens offer everything from watsu to mink eyelashes! In Ubud, movies used to be shown in private locations once a week and were usually documentaries. But now there’s Paradiso with nightly offerings. Buy your ticket for 50,000 rph (around $3.75 US) and that goes toward any food or drinks you order.
Bar Luna on the main street in Ubud features open mic night as does Bali Bohemia in neighboring Nyuh Kuning just the other side of the Sacred Monkey Forest. For the more adventurous there’s trekking, bicycling, ATV off-roading, white water rafting, tubing, snorkeling, diving, surfing, and ziplining. Or you can ride horseback on the beach.
If you have a favorite organization at home, check the Internet. It may have a branch here. Rotary Club, AA, are everywhere, and the InterNations community is a great place to meet and mingle with other ex-pats at their events in Denpasar, the capital.
If you wear anything over size 6 – this is Asia, after all – you’ll have trouble finding clothing to fit. But new stores are coming to the larger malls almost daily and a selection of more realistic sizes is on the increase.
Delicates (bras, panties, and such) are things best brought from home. Stock up. I can’t speak for men’s undies since I don’t need to shop for those!
But, if you’re in need of a corset, Bali’s the place to buy! That little number is a must-have for any self-respecting temple goer and the colors and styles are mind-boggling! But if you measure larger than a European 44, you’ll have to engage the help of a custom bustier maker.
What is the Weather Like?
This wouldn’t be complete without a note about the weather. Bali is tropical. That means there is a rainy season, November through March, that arrives with thundering downpours and 100% humidity. The temperature hovers perilously close to 90 degrees Farenheit (32.2 degrees Celcius). It rains almost every day, sometimes just a cooling sprinkle. Often a thunderstorm rolls in at dusk.
This is followed by the dry season, April through October. Delightful breezes, everlasting sunshine, and cooler temperatures provide a welcome change. There are some days when a sweater feels good. Tourism peaks during these months and people from all over the world flood into the cities and villages of Bali.
If that all sounds enticing and lovely, this could be the place for you. It’s a good idea to come and spend several weeks first. One size does not fit all. What nurtures one of us, poisons another. But, if she calls to you, enfolds you in her lush, green arms, seduces you with her beauty and whispers her secrets, you’ll know you’ve found your home.
Does the idea of retiring in Bali sound intriguing to you? Why or why not? What is the one thing holding you back from considering Bali as a retirement destination? Please join the conversation.