Health & safety in Bali
Security increased after the 2002 and 2005 bombings but has tended to fade after a while. The odds you will be caught up in such a tragedy are low. Note that large luxury hotels which are part of international chains tend to have the best security.
As for all destinations, you might want to check your government’s travel advisories before you depart, and listen to local advice when you arrive.
A few other things to note: outside the Mataram/Senggigi area on Lombok, emergency services may be nonexistent, or a long time coming. Don’t expect an ambulance to collect injured surfers from the southwest coast. The Gili Islands don’t have a formal police force. Bangsal, Mawi and Kuta have problems worth noting.
Australia Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
Canada Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk)
US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)
Don’t assume that activities operators are looking out for your well-being. Travellers have died with the sports activities operators in Tanjung Benoa and dive mishaps occur everywhere. The iconic volcanoes claim trekkers, especially Gunung Rinjani on Lombok. The moral: keep a healthy scepticism about you if others bear responsibility for your safety.
You may be approached by beggars in Kuta, Legian or Ubud – typically a woman with one or more young children. Pause and they might literally latch on.
Numerous high-profile drug cases in Bali and on Lombok should be enough to dissuade anyone from having anything to do with illicit drugs. As little as two ecstasy tabs or a bit of pot has resulted in huge fines and multiyear jail sentences in Bali’s notorious jail in Kerobokan. Try dealing and you may pay with your life.
You can expect to be offered pot, ecstasy, shabu-shabu (methamphetamine), crystal meth (yabba), magic mushrooms and other drugs in nightclubs, beaches and while walking along tourist-area streets. Assume that such offers come from people who may be in cahoots with the police. That some foreigners have been able to buy their way out of jail by paying enormous fines (US$50,000 and up) should indicate that nabbing tourists for drugs is a cottage industry.
It’s also worth noting that clubbers have been hit with random urine tests.
Hawkers, Pedlars & Touts
Many visitors regard the persistent attentions of people trying to sell as the number one annoyance in Bali (and in tourist areas of Lombok). These activities are officially restricted in many areas but hawkers will still work just outside the fence. Elsewhere, especially around many tourist attractions, visitors are frequently, and often constantly, hassled to buy things. The worst places for this are Jl Legian in Kuta, Kuta beach, the Gunung Batur area and the over-subscribed temples at Besakih and Tanah Lot. And the cry of ‘Transport?!?’, that’s everywhere. Many touts employ fake, irritating Australian accents, eg ‘Oi! Mate!’ Pirate DVDs and CDs often don’t work.
The best way to deal with hawkers is to completely ignore them from the first instance. Eye contact is crucial – don’t make any! Even a polite ‘tidak’ (no) encourages them. Never ask the price or comment on the quality unless you’re interested in buying, or you want to spend half an hour haggling. It may seem very rude to ignore people who smile and greet you so cheerfully, but you might have to be a lot ruder to get rid of a hawker after you’ve spent a few minutes politely discussing his/her watches, rings and prices. Keep in mind though, that ultimately, they’re just people trying to make a living and if you don’t want to buy anything then you are wasting their time trying to be polite.
Bali has such a relaxed atmosphere, and the people are so friendly, that you may not be on the lookout for scams. It’s hard to say when an ‘accepted’ practice such as over-charging becomes an unacceptable rip-off, but be warned that there are some people in Bali (not always Balinese) who will engage in a practised deceit to rip you off.
Most Balinese would never perpetrate a scam, but it seems that very few would warn a foreigner when one is happening. Be suspicious if you notice that bystanders are uncommunicative and perhaps uneasy, and one guy is doing all the talking.
Here is a rundown of common scams.
Friendly locals (often working in pairs) discover a ‘serious problem’ with your car or motorcycle – it’s blowing smoke, leaking oil or petrol, or a wheel is wobbling badly (problems that one of the pair creates while the other distracts you). Coincidentally, he has a brother/cousin/friend nearby who can help, and before you know it, they’re demanding an outrageous sum for their trouble.
Friendly locals will convince a visitor that easy money can be made in a card game. Anyone falling for this one is a prime candidate for what happens to fools and their money.
High Rates - No Commission
Many travellers are ripped off by moneychangers who use sleight of hand and rigged calculators. The moneychangers who offer the highest rates are usually the ones to look out for. Always count your money at least twice in front of the moneychanger, and don’t let him touch the money again after you’ve finally counted it. The best defence is to use a bank-affiliated currency exchange or stick to ATMs.
Kuta Beach and those to the north and south are subject to heavy surf and strong currents – always swim between the flags. Trained lifeguards do operate, but only at Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Sanur and (sometimes) Senggigi. Most other beaches are protected by coral reefs, so they don’t have big waves, but the currents can still be treacherous, especially along the coast running north and west from Seminyak. Currents can also cause problems off the Gilis.
Water pollution can also be a problem, especially after rains. Try to swim well away from any open streams you see flowing into the surf.
Be careful when swimming over coral, and never walk on it at all. It can be very sharp and coral cuts are easily infected. In addition, you are damaging a fragile environment.
Violent crime is relatively uncommon, but there is bag-snatching, pickpocketing and theft from rooms and parked cars in the tourist centres. Don’t leave anything exposed in a rental vehicle. Always carry money belts inside your clothes and bags over your neck (not shoulder). Be sure to secure all your money before you leave the ATM, bank or moneychanger. Also, beware of pickpockets in crowded places and bemo (small minibuses).
Hotel and guesthouse rooms are often not secure. Don’t leave valuables in your room. Thieves will often enter through open-air bathrooms, so be sure to fasten the bathroom door. Most hotels offer some form of secure storage, such as in-room safes or central safety deposit boxes for guests – use it.
Many people lose things by leaving them on the beach while they go swimming.
On Lombok, theft and robbery are more common. Certainly there are hassles in Kuta, east of Kuta and west of Kuta around Mawi.
Apart from the dangers of driving in Bali, the traffic in most tourist areas is often annoying, and frequently dangerous to pedestrians. Footpaths can be rough, even unusable, so you often have to walk on the road. Never expect traffic to stop because you think you’re on a pedestrian crossing.
The traffic is much lighter on Lombok than in Bali, but there is still a danger of traffic accidents.
The visa situation in Indonesia seems to be constantly in flux. It is essential that you confirm current formalities before you arrive in Bali or Lombok. Failure to meet all the entrance requirements can see you on the first flight out.
No matter what type of visa you are going to use, your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of your arrival.
The main visa options for visitors to Bali and Lombok follow:
Visa in Advance – citizens of countries not eligible for Visa Free or Visa on Arrival must apply for a visa before they arrive in Indonesia. Typically this is a visitors visa, which comes in two flavours: 30 or 60 days. Details vary by country, so you should contact the nearest Indonesian embassy or consulate in order to determine processing fees and time. Note: this is the only way people from any country can obtain a 60-day visitor visa.
Visa on Arrival – citizens of over 50 countries may apply for a visa when they arrive at the airport in Bali. There are special lanes for this at immigration in the arrivals area. The cost is US$25, collectable on the spot. It’s easiest to hand them the exact amount in US currency. This visa is only good for 30 days and cannot be extended. Note that only EU citizens who carry passports issued by the countries listed below can use visa on arrival. You can also obtain a seven-day visa this way for US$10, but go with the 30-day one unless you know for sure you’ll be out of Indonesia in less than seven days. Eligible countries include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, The Netherlands, UK and the USA.
Visa Free – citizens of Singapore and a smattering of other countries can receive a nonextendable 30-day visa for free upon arrival.
Whichever type of visa you use to enter Bali or Lombok, you’ll be issued with a tourist card that is valid for a 30- or 60-day stay according to your visa (if you have obtained one of the coveted 60-day visas in advance, be sure the immigration official at the airport gives you a 60-day card). Keep the tourist card with your passport, as you’ll have to hand it back when you leave the country. Note that some travellers have been fined for overstaying by only a day or so (officially it is US$20 per day for up to 60 days past your visa, after which it can mean jail) or for losing their tourist card.
The vast majority of visitors to Lombok first pass through Bali or another Indonesian city such as Jakarta so they already have tourist cards. There are, however, a few direct flights to Lombok from other countries so in these instances the same visa rules outlined above apply.
Officially, an onward/return ticket is a requirement for a tourist card (and visitors visa), and visitors are frequently asked to show their ticket on arrival. If you look scruffy or broke, you may also be asked to present evidence of sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay – US$1000 in cash or travellers cheques (or the equivalent in other currencies) should be sufficient.
It’s not possible to extend a tourist card unless there’s a medical emergency or you have to answer legal charges. If you want to spend more time in Indonesia, you have to leave the country and then re-enter – some long-term foreign residents have been doing this for years. Singapore is the destination of choice for obtaining a new visa on the ‘visa run’.
There are two main kantor imigrasi (immigration offices) in Bali. The Denpasar office (0361-227828; 8am-2pm Mon-Thu, 8am-11am Fri, 8am-noon Sat) is just up the street from the main post office in Renon. The airport immigration office (0361-751038) has similar hours.
On Lombok, the immigration office (632520; Jl Udayana 2; 7am-2pm Mon-Thu, 7am-11am Fri, 7am-12.30am Sat) is in Mataram. If you have to apply for changes to your visa, make sure you’re neatly dressed, but don’t be overly optimistic.
For visa advice and service, many expats in South Bali use the services of
Bali Mode (0361-765162; www.balimode-biz.com). Visa extensions (on legally extendable visas) average 400,000Rp to 500,000Rp.
If you have a good reason for staying longer (eg study or family reasons), you can apply for a sosial/budaya (social/cultural) visa. You will need an application form from an Indonesian embassy or consulate, and a letter of introduction or promise of sponsorship from a reputable person or school in Indonesia. It’s initially valid for three months, but it can be extended for one month at a time at an immigration office within Indonesia for a maximum of six months. There are fees for the application and for extending the visa too.
EMBASSIES & CONSULATES
Indonesian embassies and consulates abroad are listed at Indonesia’s department of foreign affairs website (www.depl u.go.id).
Embassies & Consulates in Indonesia
Foreign embassies are in Jakarta, the national capital. Most of the foreign representatives in Bali are consular agents (or honorary consuls) who can’t offer the same services as a full consulate or embassy but can at least assist you in figuring out where to go. For some, this means a trek to Jakarta in the event of a lost passport.
The US, Australia and Japan (visitors from these countries together make up half of all visitors) have formal consulates in Bali. Unless noted, the following offices are open from about 8.30am to noon, Monday to Friday. All telephone area codes are 0361.
Australia (241118; www.dfat.gov.au/bali; Jalan Tantular 32, Denpasar; 8am-noon, 12.30-4pm Mon-Fri) The Australian consulate has a consular sharing agreement with Canada, and may also be able to help citizens of New Zealand, Ireland and Papua New Guinea.
France (285485; firstname.lastname@example.org; Jl Mertasari, Gang II 8, Sanur)
Germany (288535; email@example.com; Jl Pantai Karang 17, Batujimbar, Sanur)
Japan (227628; firstname.lastname@example.org; Jl Raya Puputan 170, Renon, Denpasar)
Netherlands (752777; Jl Raya Kuta 127, Kuta)
UK (270601; email@example.com; Jl Tirtanadi 20, Sanur)
USA (233605; firstname.lastname@example.org; Jl Hayam Wuruk 188, Renon, Denpasar; h8am-4.30pm) A consular agent.
Most nations have an embassy in Jakarta (telephone area code 021), including the following:
Australia (2550 5555; www.indonesia.embassy.gov.au; Jl Rasuna Said Kav 15-16)
Canada (2550 7800; www.international.gc.ca/asia/jakarta; World Trade Centre, 6th fl, Jl Jend Sudirman Kav 29-31)
France (2355 7600; Jl MH Thamrin 20)
Germany (3985 5000; Jl MH Thamrin 1)
Japan (3192 4308; Jl MH Thamrin 24)
Netherlands (524 8200; Jl HR Rasuna Said Kav S-3)
New Zealand (570 9460; BRI II Bldg, 23rd fl, Jl Jend Sudirman Kav 44-46)
UK (315 6264; www.britain-in-indonesia.or.id; Jl. M.H. Thamrin 75)
USA (3435 9000; www.usembassyjakarta.org; Jl Medan Merdeka Selatan 4-5)