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So You Think You’d Like to Live in Bali?

Breaking away from the stressful city life and escaping to a sunny tropical island sounds like an idyllic fantasy. Most people acknowledge that it’s just a fantasy and would never pursue the idea. Many of Bali’s visitors say they love the place but couldn’t live here. Others, however, claim that they feel a strong affinity with the island: “As soon as I arrived, I just knew that I wanted to stay”…“I felt very strongly that I was meant to be here”…“Immediately I got off the plane, I felt like I had come home”.

If you’re really considering the possibility of living here you’ll have probably already spoken to some or many of the Westerners who already do. You’ll have probably heard some mixed reports; most expats will have had many similar experiences. You will have heard some incredible, heart-warming, magical stories, you might have been told about the great business possibilities - or the numerous business initiatives that have failed. You’ll have heard some scary stories and some horror stories. You’ll never really know what living in Bali is like until you try it. A two-month holiday or a series of two-month stays might help, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing!

The truth is that Bali is not entirely the Paradise that people imagine, it’s stressful – but in a different way from the West – don’t expect things to run smoothly. It is expensive - sure you can buy street food for as little as Rp 3,000; but visas, imported commodities, education, and medical attention are all expensive requirements. Paradise is hot, wet, dangerous, exciting, challenging, scary, and wonderful. You can fulfil your dreams here or you can drown in a treacherous sea.

If you make this momentous decision as part of a couple or a family, you can help and support each other, but if you don’t share the same passion for the place it won’t work. If you come here on your own, you will only have yourself to consider, initially. But during those difficult early days you’ll have a lot of challenges to face alone. There is so much to deal with like making friends, finding somewhere to live, securing a means of making some money, learning your way around, mastering the language and understanding about the way things work here. If you’ve never lived in Asia before the first six months will be a culture shock. You won’t think of it as culture shock, you might think you’re coping well, but you’ll wonder why your emotions are so intensified. Why do you feel so happy, joyful, tearful, angry, frustrated and scared?

If you’re financially comfortable, you may find yourself a target for the rip-off merchants. You can make things easier by employing someone to help you deal with the complicated necessities of living here. But isolate yourself too much from the reality of everyday life in Bali and you might find that you’re not learning the essential lessons. Moreover, you will be ill equipped to cope with some of the challenges that you are presented with.

On the other hand, if you’re struggling to survive on a tight budget, you will probably find yourself living in fear of the immigration department - in the house from hell - with an unreasonable landlord - and a demonic employer. In fact, if you’re hoping to find employment here, it’s not an easy road. It becomes a bit easier after you’ve lived here for a while, have made the appropriate contacts and speak the language.

If you try to fight the system you will just stress yourself out, there’s no point in getting angry with every taxi driver who says he hasn’t got any change, or the supermarket check-out girl who gives you candies instead of coins. The frustrations of living in Bali and attempting to conduct business here are enough to try the patience of a saint. Why is everything so complicated? Why isn’t it possible to pay the bills by direct debit? Why does so much incoming post go astray? Why don’t things work properly? Why is everybody always late? Why are there so many power-cuts? Why is the traffic so terrifying?

Make friends with the local people, learn the language, acknowledge the dangers, take care on the roads, accept the things you can’t change, embrace the challenges, explore the island and the culture, and be open to the intense spiritual energy here. Bali is full of magic and wonder, if you truly want to be here you will find a way to make it work. There are a lot of lessons to be learned on the way, but if you have a passion for Bali, the joy and rewards of living here are immeasurable.

Good luck!

by Rachel Greaves

Bali: From Celebrated Island of the Gods to Deteriorating Tourist Shanty Town?