The 19 Best Things About Being A Bali Expat

If you are laboring in the context of unrequited ambition or some pent-up dream, Bali can be the perfect place to address The Project, however you define it.

A tropical vacation is fun and rejuvenating, but stay in a place like Bali long enough and it just might trigger a larger sense of perspective in you. Be warned: removing much of the pressing need for income and heavy clothing under which you have been been straining for a lifetime can have ontological ramifications.

Glimpsing a less-constrained you in very different circumstances, even if only for a moment, hints at a larger, fuller life that you might otherwise have lived. It suggests a life that you might–being still alive–still live.

For me years ago, the word ‘expat’ meant being Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka, Graham Greene or Hemingway in Cuba, or even Bogart in a Casablanca nightclub. I have my moments but I never feel as distinguished or well-dressed as any of those guys.

But when an old friend came to visit us in Bali recently and mentioned with just a hint of fraternal sarcasm, “Hey you’re an expat now”, it got me thinking. I bought my little base here in 2005 and have been in Bali nearly continuously since mid-2008. Had I passed some arbitrary time requirement? What does ‘expat’ mean in 2013?

A 21st century expat in Bali or elsewhere in Southeast Asia can enjoy the exoticism of his chosen location without many of the attendant inconveniences, deprivations or even dangers endured by those iconic figures from another time. OK, so call me soft. Still, talking to friends via free Google video chat or flying inexpensively to Singapore for a visa run and authentic masala dosa is something I wouldn’t swap for doing it the way they did 50+ years ago.

Being a Bali expat is an exercise in having it both ways, sometimes almost embarrassingly so. Having said that, the frustrations and negative aspects built into expatriate life in Bali keep me from getting too smug. Today I’ll just tell you about the good stuff, the 19 best things about being a Bali expat, according to me. In no particular order: Continue reading

A Social Visa For Long Stays In Bali, Indonesia: What You Need To Know

Over the years I’ve had lots of people ask how to go about staying in Bali for six months or more, or long-term stays in Indonesia generally, with respect to a visa.

Nowadays Bali especially is seeing a huge influx of foreigners looking to save by renting an apartment or house by the month (or by the year!) and work on a project, look into possibilities for making a base in Bali or simply take an extended break. My aim with this article is to remove visa-related question marks as barrier to doing this.

The Sosial Budaya, or Social Visa is an answer, and for many people it’s the best option. Costing approximately US$60 in 2014 depending on where you apply, it allows you an initial stay of 60 days, then is extendable every 30 days for about US$25, up to a maximum stay of six months without having to leave Indonesia. A stipulation with the Sosial Budaya is that you must apply for it while you are physically outside of Indonesia. You also need a letter of invitation from an Indonesian citizen. This is simpler than it might sound.

I’ve applied for quite a few Indonesian Social Visas in several cities around the world, so I might be in a position to elaborate, but I must emphasize that my info is current through 2014. Please check online with the Indonesian embassy through which you’ll apply for current information. Interestingly, different embassies sometimes have different application forms and slightly different requirements.

Bonus Tip #1: Even when the process seems clear on the embassy website, I always call first to confirm that I understand exactly what I’ll currently need. This has saved me time and money in the United States for example, where you’ll find you must apply to the Indonesian embassy closest to your permanent address.

The Sosial Budaya or ‘Social Visa’

In 2014 residents of most countries can get a 30-day ‘Visa on Arrival’ (VOA) stamp at the airport, which is extendable once for a maximum stay of 60 days. It requires no arrangements in advance. If you’re new to Indonesia you might be inclined to get a VOA initially, and once you’re here you’ll undoubtedly make the acquaintance of Indonesians who might provide you with the letter of invitation you’ll need for a Social Visa.

Once you have a brief invite letter and you’ve decided to stay longer, you can apply for the Social Visa yourself and save money. In my experience, expressing a desire on the application and in the invite letter to visit Indonesia for extended travel and to visit friends is enough reason for the authorities to give you one.

Alternatively, if you’d like to have a Social Visa in hand when you first arrive in Indonesia, there are travel agents who will handle everything for you before you leave home. Check the Bali Advertiser online or the print edition if you’re in Bali, but do shop around because prices can be exorbitant. You might email my friend Sinta at She can help with Social Visa applications, even if you haven’t yet left home, as well as visa extensions once in Indonesia.

After either your 60-day stay in Indonesia on your VOA (or up to a 6 months’ stay on the Social Visa for that matter), you’ll be obliged to leave the country, but if you fly to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, etc. you can apply for a(nother) Social Visa immediately. It is normally a three-day turnaround, but if you want to be careful, call the Embassy to which you’ll apply and ask for the current wait time.

I check Air Asia‘s website well in advance for cheap flights leaving on Monday (much cheaper than Sunday usually), as early as possible, so that I can get to the embassy to which I’ll be applying that same morning. By applying on Monday I have my visa in hand before the following weekend, and avoid paying to stay longer while I wait for the visa.

Bonus Tip #2: Be aware that outside of Southeast Asia, the process will take longer if you aren’t a citizen of the country in which you apply. It’s another reason why it is imperative to call ahead.

If you’d like to avoid the conventional few-day ‘visa run’,  a one-day turnaround for Social Visa processing is possible in Singapore. Ismail Hamdan is a Singapore visa consultant specializing in same-day service. I have used him myself. Taking an early-morning flight from Bali or Jakarta can land you in Singapore with enough time to make it to his office by the 11 AM cutoff. As I’ve already paid for a return flight ticket I always call his office in advance to check the most current procedures/costs to avoid problems:

Ismail Hamdan – Singapore Visa Consultant
Address: 190 Clemenceau Ave, Singapore 239924 (in Singapore Shopping Center across from Dhoby Ghaut Station)
Phone: 65 6334 5520

Ultimately the Social Visa/Sosial Budaya is a terrific way to stay in Bali for longer stays, or to do some serious travel to other parts of Indonesia entirely. In an archipelago this far-reaching and varied, spending even six months would be just a start!If you have any further questions, please ask in the comments below. If you found this article helpful, please Retweet it. And, if you’d like boots-on-the-ground info about getting started as an expat in Bali, you can get my e-guide ‘Bali on the Cheap’ for free by signing up for my newsletter, below. And don’t worry, I’ll only email you when I have something worthwhile to share. is re-launching! After years of answering readers’ questions as to how to make an income as an expat, I am expanding the scope of this site. Get the full story by clicking here.

The Ex-Prostitute’s Mindset, Part 1

Learning specific methods to succeed as a freelancer or an entrepreneur is escapism if you are still caught up in the mindset of a prostitute. You might be inspired by the Four Hour Work Week and legions of ‘lifestyle design’ bloggers offering tips on seizing destiny manifest in Thailand–or simply working for yourself–but they’ll remain abstractions to you if you still see doing things you dislike for a salary as acceptable.

Here’s a list of qualities and attitudes that might mark the psychological shift to assuming responsibility for one’s own ends, rather than unhappily being the means to the ends of others. I know the implied scope of my list feels larger than a professional redefinition. These ideas have been foundational for me as I’ve reset myself toward a sort of vertical integration of my whole life, in an effort to put energy into micro-economic constructs of my own devising, as it were.

Fortunately–or hopefully–most people are not actively dissatisfied with employment per se, especially in light of the solvency it affords them. There are times in life where economic self-determination might be less attractive and maybe less appropriate than it would be before we have kids for instance, or before we are inspired to pursue an idea whose time has come, for us.

So to be clear: most employed people probably have no need of this article. Are they prostitutes? Do they have a choice? Who am I to say? Doing it for money doesn’t make you a prostitute. Hating it and continuing to do it just might though. Take it from me. Continue reading

Get Free Epiphanies: Vol. 1


You’ve decided there’s a stand to be made, some flag to be waved, a song to be sung on mountain tops at the top of your mortal lungs, boy.

All that stuff.

You huffed and you puffed and you made a calculated and arbitrary decision that a reasonable response to all you know was not satisfaction; that you would reject satisfaction even if your best friend thought you’d chucked your capacity for calm contentment with it; that you would drag your ass and dying wit and perspective around the whole world for some small surprise, an interesting death and a mirror that would show you a face you could look in the eye.

Can You Quit Google?

Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

This post from ex-Google employee Jean Hsu on why she left Google caught my eye. She quit Google just two years out of college, without a firm plan but inspired by her husband, who’d also left the company two years previously to work on iPhone apps. Hsu is enthusiastic about her prospects even without a specific plan. I think she sees that new directions might never present themselves if she doesn’t leave the comfort of Google.

The food is undeniably delicious, and I really miss the heated toilet seats. In the end, what it came down to was that I felt too young to work at such a corporate job indefinitely. I felt that if I stayed, I would look back at this time years down the road, and wonder, what else could I have done?

I thought that for her it was less about rejecting Google than about embracing the unknown. What we think about life’s latent possibilities will play heavily into our assessment of her move. Is an endless horizon and its uncertainty dangerous, or full of promise? Don’t let anyone else answer that question for you…
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