Bali has long been Australia’s favourite holiday destination. Pre-pandemic, a million of us went each year to the Indonesian island and, in March of this year, arrivals were ramping up once again. Around 90,000 Aussies visited Bali that month, a 13.5% increase on February, making us far and away the largest national visitors, followed by India on 28,000 during the same period.
Although tourism supports some 80% of the economy of the tropical island paradise, Governor Wayan Koster has been on something of a personal mission to limit the chaos and the carnage brought to Bali by badly behaving foreigners.
Over the past few months, his government have made major announcements that could see tourist activity severely curbed on Bali with significant restrictions placed on the behaviour of foreigners.
Many of these announcements follow a spate of troubling behaviour from foreign visitors which has both the locals and the government concerned. Although the Balinese are typically very friendly, easy-going people who are unlikely to speak up, in private there is something of a mood shift towards those who don’t respect local customs.
While Bali is predominantly a Hindu-Buddhist island, with much of the conservative social dictates from the predominantly Muslim rest of the country being rejected, the island is still very much steeped in local tradition. This means revealing clothing, public drunkenness, and general debauchery are frowned upon. In recent months, those frowns have been growing deeper, prompting the government to act.
So, here’s a quick rundown of the upcoming rule changes that Governor Koster has announced that are worth keeping in mind for your next trip. Although none of these have yet come to pass, Bali is looking like it could be headed in a very different direction to the one we have all possibly been taking for granted.
Do You Need a Visa For Bali?
Australians do need a visa to enter Bali, but it can be arranged quickly and easily after you step off the plane.
As it stands, Australia is on the list of 92 countries eligible for the visa-on-arrival programme. With one of the most accessible visa-entry systems in the world, Indonesia allows nearly half the world’s population to simply rock up and get a 30-day trip upon landing.
The visa-on-arrival system costs IDR 500,000 — around $50 — and is valid for a month. It can also be extended once per trip for an additional 30 days, something that can now be done online.
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However, just last month, Governor Koster announced that he wanted to see an urgent review of the visa-on-arrival system after concerns about the “quality” of tourists visiting the island.
“we will immediately hold a meeting with the Central Government to address and evaluate together this Visa on Arrival policy so that its implementation does not make Bali tourism seem cheap, which in turn will harm the image of Bali tourism,” Koster said at a press conference last week.
Primarily, these changes are aimed at Ukrainian and Russian tourists, whom the Governor said he wanted to see removed from the VoA system. This is because the island has seen a sharp spike in tourism from these countries, primarily people fleeing the ongoing war, who the locals deem as behaving disrespectfully. One Russian influencer is currently facing six years in jail after posing naked on a tree considered sacred to the locals.
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This, coupled with a rise in tourists overstaying their visas and working without permits, has led to the creation of two tourism task forces to stamp out bad behaviour. One is aimed at tackling the abuse of the visa system while the other seeks to ensure tourists respect local customs. So far, 92 foreigners have been deported this year, 24 of them Russian and six Australian.
Still, these task forces have been in the works since 2020, well before the influx of Russians and Ukrainians and the Indonesian tourism Minister recently said that Bali will continue to roll out the red carpet for foreign visitors.
Bali Vaccine Requirements 2023
As of March 2023, Indonesia still requires all foreigners entering the country to show health documents confirming three doses of COVID-19 vaccinations on arrival.
According to Garuda Indonesia, the country’s national airline, tourists must be able to prove they have had at least three doses of the vaccine given at least two weeks before arrival.
Those who are unvaccinated will need to provide written evidence from a medical practitioner as to why they are unable to be vaccinated. Failing that, unvaccinated people will be required to quarantine in a registered isolation facility in the country for five days at their own expense.
Vaccine rules do not apply to those under the age of 18, provided they are with a parent who does have a full vaccine record.
Indonesia no longer requires visitors to show a negative PCR test on arrival.
Renting a Scooter in Bali
Renting a moped, scooter, or motorbike in Bali is an easy and effective way of getting around. However, it’s currently in a bit of a legal grey area as new rules come in for Aussies and all international visitors.
The rules state that only rental operations which are part of the transport renting association of Bali will be allowed to hire vehicles to foreigners. While there are hundreds of these places, there are an equal number of informal operations too.
In order to hire a scooter, you’ll need an international driving permit (IDP). These can be acquired through the Australian Automobile Association and have to be applied for before leaving for your trip. They’re valid for 12 months, cost $42 dollars plus postage, and are delivered to your door in 3-5 business days.
In addition, you’ll need to have a motorbike licence before you go. Doing so in Australia takes a minimum of two years for an unrestricted licence and is a similar process to getting a driver’s licence for a car.
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Now, all of this is to say these are the legal rules in Bali. However, there are many unscrupulous tour operators who will be willing to overlook these details and rent scooters to unqualified drivers.
If you ride a scooter without these permits, you run the risk of being pulled over and fined or even deported, something that local police are increasingly watching out for. The same goes for riding without a helmet, something Australians are currently being pulled up on.
In March, Governor Koster announced that he would be seeking to ban foreigners from hiring vehicles not rented from official agencies in Bali and, last week, further details on the ban were laid out.
“Tourists have to travel, walk, and use cars to travel. It is no longer allowed to use a motorcycle or anything that is not from a travel agent,” Koster said.
The ban, which appears now to be in effect, at least legislatively, forbids foreigners from hiring private transport. This includes bikes, scooters, and cars and even extends to local travel options like Grab and Gojeck, which allow foreigners to jump in vehicles driven by Indonesians.
On the ground, though, things are a bit different. While the ban was set to take effect from 1 June, in the days following, little appeared to change. In the popular coastal region of Uluwatu at least, dozens of impromptu rental places continue to operate.
Whether or not this changes as Koster ramps up his crackdown on foreign visitors is another matter.
In another round of sweeping reforms set to change the nature of a Balinese holiday, Governor Koster has also announced a ban on setting foot on mountains in Bali.
As of June 2, a blanket ban has come into force forbidding entry to all of Bali’s 22 mountains and volcanos. The peaks are considered sacred and, following incidents of public nudity and other actions considered disrespectful, the government said in February that it would be stopping all people, not just foreigners, from walking on them.
“This [ban] is in effect forever and local regulations will be issued to regulate everything. [The ban is] not only for foreign tourists but is including domestic tourists and local residents,” Koster told the press near Mount Agung, Bali’s biggest volcano.
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No one will be allowed to access the mountains “unless there are religious ceremonies or disaster management and special activities that are not for tourism activities.”
Back in February, the Governor said that legislation, which, confusingly, has yet to come into effect, will be designed so that “activities on the mountain can be controlled.”
“Entry is no longer free, it is [not] used as a tourist destination to go up to playing by motorbike to the top of the mountain.”
As it stands, however, tourism operators are still running treks up the mountains, anxiously awaiting the new laws. Again, these changes have yet to formally come into play, despite the governor’s announcement. But it may not be long until a trip to Bali looks very different indeed.