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Meet Jules the Expat: Retired and Living in Sanur, Bali

Profile: Jules Thomson
Originally from: Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Arrived in Bali: December, 2019

Where is Home in Bali and Why?

Sanur on Bali’s east coast.  I have always enjoyed the laid back and casual lifestyle of Sanur.  It is a wonderful community bordered on one side by the beach and lush green rice fields with Mt Agung in the distance on the other. 


It is only about 20 minutes from the airport and 30 minutes, depending on traffic, by car or scooter to Seminyak and the busier more touristy areas.  There are quite a large number of expats that also call Sanur home, many that have become close friends over the years.  There is a real sense of community here in Sanur not only among the expats but also among the locals’ families.  I have been welcomed into Sanur and my new neighbourhood is like an old friend and I am truly grateful to be a part of the Sanur community.

A jukung docked at the beach in Sanur, Bali.

How long do you plan to stay in Sanur?

How long is a piece of string!  I don’t really have a timeline, so for now I will say indefinitely.


What made you move to Bali?

With its close proximity to Australia, Bali has been my second home now for a few years with multiple trips a year for both business and pleasure. From the very first trip, I was in love. The beautiful people, the indelibly ingrained culture and traditions along with the relaxed lifestyle captured my heart right from the start so when the opportunity to relocate and run my women’s’ tour business remotely, the decision was easy. I run and host tours to Bali recently adding India as a destination, so to base myself here just made sense.


It’s only a 6.5-hour flight from Brisbane, where my adult children live, so I can always get on a flight and be back there within a day if need be. The cost of living is considerably lower here compared to Australia, for example. You can live quite comfortably and in relative luxury, if that’s your thing, for a lot less in Bali than in the western world.  


A group of women relaxing and smiling as part of Australian Expat Jules Thomson’s Indah Escapes Bali Tour Group


Is it hard to find a Villa in Sanur, Bali?

It’s not hard to find a villa at all. There are a number of reputable agents who have a continuous turnover of villas for rent both yearly and holiday lets on their books. There is a huge choice available from high end luxury to the more modest and practical villas.  It all depends on your budget and location choice but you can find villas just outside of the main tourist areas for a lot less.


In my case, I was directed to my villa via a friend who had inquired on my behalf on a local community Facebook page.  I only looked at one villa, decided it was perfect for me and located in the neighbourhood I preferred, so I took it straight away.


My tip: start by setting your budget at your maximum and working backwards from there.  Make a list of what you can’t live without such as a pool, closed in or open living, whole house air conditioned or just the bedrooms, furnished or unfurnished etc. Consider renting a short term/holiday let in the area/community of choice and really get to know the people and the neighbourhood before committing to a year-long or longer lease.


The view out the front door of Jules the Expat’s Villa in Sanur, Bali.

What is a typical day for you in Sanur?

When I moved to Bali I was determined to keep my life simple and not be ruled by the almighty busy status of the western world and my previous life.  I try not to focus too much on any set routine preferring instead to keep my day-to-day options fairly open to be able to take advantage of each new day as it comes.


Prior to Covid19, a typical day would have me up early where I would head to the beach for a walk/run in time to capture and enjoy the beautiful sunrises Sanur is so well known for.  Other days I might do a CrossFit class. I have a leisurely breakfast by my pool every morning and then spend time working online and catching up on emails etc.  I run a boutique travel company providing travel experiences for women in Bali and India and you can often find me out and about, researching and checking out venues and locations.


Other days I meet friends for coffee or lunch dates and some days I just chill by the pool.  Every day here is different and that’s just how I like it.

Jules Thomson, Australian Expat of Indah Escapes, enjoying an afternoon with a member of her tour group at La Lucciola in Seminyak.

What are you enjoying most whilst living here in Bali?

Before COVID19 and its effects on daily life here, I would have to say that what I was enjoying the most about living in Bali is the calm, relaxed and slow pace of living.


Slowing down has given me time to reflect on what really matters to me and I am learning to not sweat the small stuff.  That can mean accepting an 11 o’clock appointment that might turn up at 12, or someone isn’t available and has to have the day off because of a ceremony and you just have to roll with it.  It’s called “Bali Time”. I am trying to embrace and accept this as a normal part of life here.


The health benefits that naturally come with a relaxed and stress-free lifestyle are also an added bonus – and did I mention the fabulous “summer all year round” weather!


The seen and unseen elements of daily life that successfully blend the modern world and traditional Balinese culture continue to captivate me.  From the daily rituals to ceremonies and processions that stop traffic, I love it all.  I don’t think I will ever tire of suddenly finding myself caught up close and personal, sometimes right in the middle of the action.

A local Balinese woman in Sanur carries Canang sari to do her morning blessing.

What visa are you on?

I am here in Bali currently on a 6-month social visa while I sort out my Kitas (working visa). Of course, COVID19 has thrown the visa situation into a bit of a tailspin with the closure of the borders and immigration so that is an ongoing situation. I use the services of an immigration lawyer as the rules here change often and this eliminates any confusion.

Describe Your Expat Experience

I mentioned earlier that there is a large expat contingent here in Bali and, in particular, Sanur. Some have business interests, others are retired.  Some have lived here for a long time, others not so long.  But something that stands out for me is friendship and the willingness to accept others into their community.  They are quick to share information and to help each other out, include you and take you on face value no matter where you are from.


Australian Expat, Jules Thomson, of Indah Escapes, attending a Galungan ceremony at the beach in Bali.

If you had to Describe Bali in Three Words, what would they be?

1. Unhurried 2. Spiritual 3. Community


Jules Thomson, of Indah Escapes, wearing a kebaya attending a Balinese ceremony in a Hindu temple.

What do you miss back in Australia?

Besides the obvious, being my family and friends who I do miss terribly, I have to be honest and say that right now there is not a lot that I crave or miss from home. I am under no illusions that I am still in the honeymoon period and under the spell of a new and intoxicating life here, so perhaps ask me this question again in a year or two!

Jules Thomson, of Indah Escapes, at a local art piece in Sanur, Bali.

Living in a foreign country during COVID19 would have challenges. How have you managed it? Did you ever think to go back to Australia during this time?

This can’t be answered in a short version.

To be quite honest, there was only a brief moment where I did consider going back to Australia.  I was continually receiving the Australian Government Smart Traveller emails stating “the situation is worsening, if you are an Australian in Indonesia, now is the time to consider returning to Australia.” It was only then did I start to feel anxious about my decision to stay.

But for me and many other expats, we have chosen Bali as our home. We have homes, businesses and pets here.  Many now don’t have family homes to go back to and would rely on family or friends to house them or pay for expensive accommodation if they were to return.

At that point in time, my only option was a flight to Perth where I would have been required to quarantine for 2 weeks in a hotel and then what?  The borders between states are closed so I would not have been able to get back to Queensland, and if I did, I would be required to quarantine for another 2 weeks.  A month in quarantine may be necessary but it was certainly not appealing!! So, there were many things to consider, and one thing I feel is important for others to understand is that not everyone is in the same situation and it’s not always as easy as just getting on a plane and “going home”.

Indonesia may have been a little slow on the uptake with regard to COVID19 protocol implementation but, to put that into perspective, there are many other countries around the world that were also put into a tailspin when this disaster was thrown instantly upon the world and a situation where the goal posts were moved continually.

I, like most others, have now been in self isolation since Nyepi back in late March, only going out for essentials that can’t be delivered directly to home. I am vigilant about hand washing and social distancing.  It is now also illegal to go out in public without a face mask. 

Keeping in touch with family and friends via video calling has been extremely important and, for my mental health, I only read specific reports, sticking with the experts and their opinions rather than be sucked into the vortex of reading anything and everything that so called armchair experts are writing on the subject.

So how am I managing? Self-isolation in a foreign country could be disastrous for some –  luckily for me I am someone who does not mind my own company and can generally find something to keep me busy. So, to date, it has not been a huge issue for me but we have no crystal ball that will tell the world when this will all end and it could go on for an indefinite period of time so this is perhaps a question you could ask me again at a later date.

Jules Thomson’s Indah Escapes Tour Group at the Tirta Empul temple, a Hindu Balinese water temple.

How are the Balinese living during COVID19?  Do you have any concerns for their welfare?

Communities all over Bali are standing together as they do so well when faced with adversity. In an economy that lives hand to mouth they are looking after each other and making every effort to ensure no one falls into the gaping cracks that sudden and indefinite unemployment has brought upon them.  For those outside of the local community’s helping hands, there are many outside organisations that have sprung into action doing wonderful work supporting people with food supplies and meals.

There have been many businesses that have diversified and cottage industries have sprung up in response to the situation. So, I applaud their tenacity to make the most of a bad situation.

They are a community that is standing together and, as a westerner here, I may question their methods at times, but I believe Bali will overcome this.  The Balinese have this incredible sense of family and community that I don’t think I have witnessed anywhere else in the world. They are standing strong and quietly accepting without complaint what has been thrown at them. This resilience and resolve is something that should be admired by the western world. 

A Balinese mother and father, with two children, ride through Sanur, Bali, on a motorbike.

What do you think will happen to Bali when life goes back to normal after COVID19?

I am the eternal optimist. However, even I know that Bali is facing a very long road to economic recovery for a country that relies so heavily on tourism. It will not be as easy as opening up the borders and rolling out the welcome mat for tourists because the tourists have to come from somewhere and, dependent upon their country of origin, they may still have travel restrictions placed upon them for some time. Time is the only measure we have to determine how quickly the tourism industry and the economy will bounce back here.

My only hope is that everyone that loves Bali and refers to it as their second home will return and return in droves and maybe not barter and beat down local businesses with so much gusto as they perhaps once did. $2 is nothing to us but could be a meal for a local.


Jules Thomson, of Indah Escapes, enjoying the nature in Bedugul, Bali.

Do you have any advice for other families, retirees or Potential Expats making the move to Bali?

Holidaying here and living here are two very different things.

Do your research. Spend time in different areas and get to know the locals and the area before making a decision on where to settle.

Remember, first and foremost, that you are a guest here.

Accept that this is not a western society despite the obvious westernisation. There will be many things that will frustrate you and may not always be to your liking or understanding. Patience will be required.

Embrace the cultural differences.  If you can accept these differences and immerse yourself into the community you choose you will be welcomed with open arms.

Jules Thomson, of Indah Escapes, relaxing at the W Hotel in Seminyak, Bali.

All photos provided by Jules Thomson of Indah Escapes.

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