An expats guide to driving in Bali traffic
Let’s talk about getting around in Bali. Well unfortunately Bali traffic can be a nightmare!
The quickest way around Bali is by motorbike as cars can’t always take the same short cuts and drive through very narrow streets like motorbikes can.
When looking at google maps there can be a real discrepancy on how much time it will realistically take. It may look close on the map and the distance is not that far but the roads aren’t always super friendly and you have to negotiate things like rice fields, narrow lanes, stray dogs and everyday Bali life!
I clearly remember being very late for an after school soccer game with my son that was held at the Green School due to a massive ceremony.
There is a real problem with locals not wearing helmets. A lot of Balinese cant afford a helmet and it is not a priority. Sadly, you will see a young family on a motorbike with only the father wearing a helmet. A great charity called Helmet Man is campaigning for locals to wear helmets as they educate and fundraise so more helmets can be bought for locals.
As there are no specific road rules or they aren’t enforced you have to be extra alert due to the unpredictable nature of the traffic. Confidence is needed to merge into major traffic jams and work out sudden traffic changes and road closures.
At least you wont find any typical road rage in Bali, sure there will be the occasional sound of a horn but rarely considering what is happening! Most Bali traffic moves at a slow pace and therefore a lot easier to drive in if you choose to drive yourself.
Be aware the road infrastructure can be poor and navigating the tiny, narrow streets can be super tricky! Expect your car to have the occasional scratch or bump! Personally, cars are the safer option and can make life a lot less stressful – especially if you’re not the driver!
Hiring a full-time driver
Full-time drivers are very popular amongst expats due to their affordability but it can be hard to find a good driver. These drivers usually come as package where you pay a total fee for the car rental (he rents on your behalf) and his monthly salary. This package tends to be $600-$800 AUD per month plus petrol. In this case you are not expected to pay for any upkeep to the car, registration or insurance.
A typical working week for a driver is 6 days a week, Monday to Saturday and 8 hours a day.
An ad hoc driver is more expensive and would charge a day rate of about 600,000 IDR to 700,000 IDR ($60-$70AUD) per 8-hour day. Balinese drivers tend not to wear seatbelts and talk on their phones (they may also smoke or vape as well). Remember they have been driving a motorbike since they were teenagers so this is a walk in the park!
Pros and Cons of cars versus motorbikes
Of course there are pros and cons to car versus motorbike. With a driver you have the flexibility to drive anywhere and not have to worry about things such as traffic, parking, shortcuts and best ways to get from one side of the island to the other.
Being on a motorbike gives you a lot of freedom and independence as well as being a very cheap way to get around (about $60 per month). You also don’t have to rely on calling your driver to pick you up and travel to places slower.
We recommend that you come to Bali with an International drivers licence. They are simply an international version of what you can currently drive in your country and are inexpensive. So if you dont normally drive a motorbike then this will require a seperate licence. This is important when it comes to your travel and health insurance as most policies require you to have a current International drivers licence when claiming overseas. Please note every policy is different and it is important that you read the product disclosure statements.
According to the Balinese Police if you get pulled over (again why it is better to not be the driver) they can fine you (or you can pay your way out of it) for not having a valid local licence.
So how do you get a local licence?
If you hold a KITAS (1 year residency permit) or KITAP (5 year residency permit) you can get yourself a Sim A licence for driving a car or a Sim C licence for driving a motorbike. ‘Sim’ means drivers licence in Bahasa. You will need to visit the police administration centre and you can get yourself a five year licence.
A bike licence should cost about $80AUD and a car about double that but considering they last for five years it is reasonable.
Unfortunately you are forever hearing about motorbike accidents all you have to do is speak to an expat or check out all the Bali expat Facebook groups!
For safety, it is best to buy an Australian (or International) standard helmet and take it to Bali as opposed to buying a helmet once you arrive. Local helmets although inexpensive are poor quality, usually foam covered in thick plastic. If you don’t bring a helmet with you – you may also be able to pick up a second hand one through an expat selling one on Facebook.
Another example of safety is around women on scooters and the possibility of their handbags being snatched, so it is advised to keep your valuables inside the seat compartment.
Living the island life in Bali, you need to have an open mind and that goes with understanding that driving in Bali is very different. Each day can present you with a new challenge. One day there might be road works due to flooding and the next day there might be a cremation and the road is closed.
Other ways to get around Bali
We have used Go Jek (car or bike), Grab, Uber and Blue Bird. For example, you can order a Go Jek motorbike for as little as $2 a ride and they will provide you with a helmet.
They all have their own apps so make sure you download them in case.
Be aware, there are many tourist neighbourhoods that have signs made up by the Banjar (like a local council) stating ‘No Grab/Go Jek’ or ‘Uber’ taxi’s allowed here.
This is to stop competition with the local taxi drivers. So be aware that usually an Uber can drop you off in a tourist area but you wont be able to order one for your return trip.
When we first arrived and were getting around this way we were often caught in a location where we got there for $5 and had to return by spending $20! Local taxi drivers often have set prices (usually on a display sign) and tend to not want to use the metre.
It may be a combination that suits you and your family. For example, a family could have a full-time driver, drive themselves occasionally, have one motorbike and used Go Jek.
As you can see there is so much to talk about when getting around Bali. We also have a great checklist if you are going to hire a full time driver too so feel free to reach out to chat more.