There is nothing like escaping the winter of Melbourne, Australia, for the warmth and relaxation of Bali. The beaches, the rice terraces, the mountains, the beautifully kind people, the food, the vibe – there are so many reasons to make Bali your next holiday destination. But, what if you want more than a holiday?
As a ‘wanna be’ digital nomad, in 2018 I developed a 5 year plan that would see me living and working in Bali from 2022. My thinking was this – by 2022 my 3 kids would have finished high school, they would all be adults and I would have less strings attaching me full time to Melbourne. My oldest would be 22 and I figured I would have a good 8 years before a first grandchild came along to lure me back. The plan was to base myself in Bali for 3-6 months of Melbourne’s colder months and in Melbourne for the warmer months.
My plan was perfect. And then along came a global pandemic.
With 2022 scuttled, I have pushed my plans out to 2023 to commence the dream. But recently I headed to Bali for a research trip to check out the lay of the land. Here’s what I found.
Bali and Covid
Covid hit Bali hard. Prior to the pandemic, the UN World Tourism Organisation estimates that tourism directly accounted for 53% of Bali’s revenue. When the world closed, Bali’s tourism ecosystem was devastated. 96% of Bali’s hotels closed at least temporarily with occupancy rates less than 10%; 70% of Bali’s SMEs from the food and beverages sector as well as from the creative economy sector closed; 90% of tours and travel providers stopped their operation; and 80% of informal workers were laid off.
Every single Balinesian I spoke to – taxi drivers, waiters, the ladies offering massages on the beach, people selling sarongs from the road side, the operators at the tourist attractions, the hosts at co-working spaces, restaurant owners, villa managers, the motorbike rental guy, the men selling tickets to the beach – literally every single person thanked me for coming back to Bali.
They spoke of the devastation of the pandemic on their livelihoods – in Bali, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. The luckiest spoke of employers who kept them on at half pay or provided accommodation for free. Others returned to family farms to live. Everywhere I went the traffic was half what I am used to. Many shops are still closed.
The stories from the locals put the disappointment of my 12 month delay into perspective.
The silver lining
Because, to be fair, Covid only cost me a year. Moreover, while the pandemic was horribly challenging for many, many reasons, from the perspective of my business as a Time Management and Productivity Speaker, Author and Coach, it also had a shiny underbelly – helping to eliminate three of the biggest hurdles in realising my plan: (1) how to convince my clients to work with me online rather than f2; (2) how to stay in Bali long term; and (3) how to choose where to live and work.
The Online Hurdle:
Thirty months or so after the pandemic commenced many of us – especially solepreneurs in service industries – are very adept at and comfortable working exclusively online. More importantly, Covid has normalised the online service delivery for our clients. For a period, it was literally impossible (at least in Melbourne Australia which had one of the most restrictive isolation protocols in the world) to work with clients face to face. And then once things opened up a little, and then a lot, engaging with clients online was suddenly the new normal. No explanations required.
As a speaker, I have delivered well over 100 speaking gigs and workshops online – prior to Covid, these opportunities would have been exclusively face to face. As a coach, working online using Zoom is a breeze and has opened up my business to more offshore clients. As an author, I can of course write from anywhere.
Hurdle one, down.
The Staying in Bali Long Term Hurdle:
Foreigners can not live and work in Bali long term. As a tourist, you can enter Bali on a 30 day holiday Visa (VoA) (roughly $AUD50, $US35) which is available for purchase on arrival at Denpasar airport. If I want to stay longer, things become slightly more complicated. You can extend the VoA once for 30 days but the process is cumbersome and can take up to 2 weeks. Alternatively, you can purchase a 60 day visa, which is not extendable. Some expats living in Bali undertake a regular ‘visa run’ – exiting Bali for a nearby country such as Singapore or Kuala Lumpur – for a day or so and then re-enter Bali and start the whole process again. Another option is to obtain sponsorship from a local citizen which provides a 60 day visa which can be extended by 30 days four times for a total of 6 months.
Excitingly however, and most likely in response to the recent devastating impacts on Bali tourism, the Indonesian government has just last month announced plans for a new five year ‘digital nomad’ visa. This visa will allow freelancers to live in Bali, provided their earnings come from companies outside of Indonesia, for up to five years without paying taxes. Sign me up.
Hurdle two down.
Where to live
Bali has long recognised the value of providing infrastructure for digital nomads – but this was almost exclusively the domain of the major tourist hubs of Canggu and Ubud, both of which house a number of co-working (and in some cases, co-living spaces). However, these locations are not at the top of my list of where I want to base myself.
South Kuta has always been a favourite destination. Uluwatu and Bingin have a laid back, surfer vibe and operate at a slower pace than the northern ‘party towns’. Perfect for a holiday, but could I work here? Last time I was in Bali (2019), the answer was a straight up No. The wifi in Bingin was touch and go at best and apart from a few local eateries that were happy for you to log into their (also touch and go) wifi over a cold smoothie, there were no co-working spaces here in 2019.
In 2022 I found three.
My favourite – ‘The Space’ – is described as Uluwatu’s first co-working space. Nesting next to an (also new) eatery – Chela – the Space is a beautiful venue which is essentially a cross between a yoga studio and a co-working space. Membership plans allow you to buy a bundle of hours which include access to the space, data, printing, Skype booths (and weirdly, or not, yoga and reflexology). A large air conditioned space sits alongside a glass meeting room, or you can pull up a private desk in the garden next to the meditation ‘sound dome’. Roughly $AUD100 provides you with 50 hours of access a month.
Hurdle 3 down.
And so I will continue my research, find somewhere to rent long term, sign up to co-work, keep tabs of the launch date for the new digital nomad visa, and wait until next May when the Melbourne weather signals it’s time to live the dream.
Written by Kate Christie.
Have you read?
Unite and Conquer by Leo Bottary.
A Sustainable Plan Toward Profitability by Rhett Power.
4 Ways IT Can Make or Break Your Business by Yama Habibzai.
Why Remote Work Will Win This Fall by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky.
Why self-awareness is your best friend & 4 tips to get better at it by Roxanne Calder.
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