This evening I’ll be booking tickets for a trip to some digital nomad hotspots. Ian and I will be visiting Manila, Cebu, Davao, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and possibly Hong Kong. Many of you who follow the South East Asian scene will have surely noticed the blogosphere lighting up with glowing reviews of Chiang Mai. Aside from Bangkok, which I think is badass, I’ve never been captivated by Thailand as much as it’s neighbors. That said- I’ve never even visited the North. I’m looking forward to it.
David is hanging out there for a month along with a huge crew of DCers and other bloggers. We did some comparing and contrasting on the phone today and it got me thinking about some of the downsides of Bali for digital nomads. I’m still a huge advocate for Bali, but I’d like to highlight some of the potential downsides of Bali if you are evaluating places to hang out for a few months or years!
1) You can’t run webinars or schedule important phone meetings from your internet connection.
My biggest problem with living in Bali is the cost of assuring a solid internet connection. If you wanted to drop some serious loot solving this problem, you could probably do it. Off the top of my head, I’d say it would cost you $500 to $1000 a month. It would involve getting a dedicated line with an ISP (like a call center would have) and securing a backup internet connection in case your dedicated line goes offline. A set up like that would probably work, but it would be a lot of contracts, set-up time, and other BS that nobody really wants to deal with unless they are digging in for the long haul.
I’ve got service through Biznet, which is one of Bali’s best ISPs. That cost me just over $100 a month. My average speeds are 2MEG up and 2MEG down. So why can’t I run webinars? Good question. I’m not tech geek, but I think it has something to do with packet speed or lag or similar. Either way, it’s unavoidable (so far) and unpredictable. I’d say about 10% to 15% of my Skype sessions suffer from some kind of internet lag. I cannot predict when this will happen.
For $100 bucks a month, the stuff I can do with confidence:
- Make outbound sales calls. Since service only lags 10-15% of the time, I can ensure my service is going fast, and dial away.
- Watch videos online and download music and podcasts.
- Do any and all online marketing tasks.
- Work with heavy online software (although you will experience some productivity problems if you move really fast).
- Schedule a phone call with a person or company with which I have some degree of familiarity (i.e., they’ll forgive me if my connection happens to suck).
The stuff I can’t do with confidence:
- Schedule and host large web events.
- Schedule phone calls with VIPs.
- Anything that would rely on high quality video feeds or conferences.
If you talk to long term expats in Bali, they are bullish about prospects for improvement. Internet service has been improving radically over the past few years. The Indonesian government has high profile projects in the works to improve the service level in Bali, as well as connect the country to a second major pipeline through Australia as well. Currently, Indonesia only receives service through pipelines to Singapore.
It’s unclear what this development mean for ISPs in Bali, but if you need to do anything on the latter list you’ll need to fly to a city or risk it with the best connection you can find.
2) The scene is more suited to those in their late 20’s and upward.
For those of you who haven’t yet visited South East Asia, you might not be familiar with the huge scene here for travelers. It’s a pretty magical place to be wondering around for a few years. If you’ve got a backpack, and a desire to see some of the world’s most interesting cultures and beautiful sights, you’ll find plenty of like-minded people to join you.
You won’t find much of that scene in Bali though. Similar to the Philippines, Bali didn’t make it to the standard backpacker trail. The currents of tourism are different here– Aussies dropping in for a quick vacation or spring break blowout (similar to how Americans would go to Acapulco or Cabo), Asian tourists, high-end tourists from Europe, and surfers from all around the world.
My friends who’ve stayed in Bali for a while skew very heavily towards the 30’s crowd. My best friend describes Bali as: “South East Asia for grown ups.” It does seem that most of the 20-something interns who come to visit ultimately preferred somewhere else.
3) The visa situation.
If you travel often, you’ll find that visas to Bali can be expensive and a hassle relative to many other countries in South East Asia. I overlooked this issue until I started hanging out with interns here in Bali who were required to visit the immigration office 3 times to extend their visa on arrival. The alternative is to pay a 50 dollar consulting fee. Even after all that expense in either time or cash, after 59 days you’ll have to spend a whole day flying to Singapore and back.
If you want to avoid all of this, you can get a social visa, which is cheaper, but requires visiting (or mailing) a foreign consulate. The visa you’ll get after all that only allows for one entry. It’s is a good option if you laying low in Bali, but it can be a serious pain in the ass if you want to do any international travel.
4) It can be hard to find a place to live, especially for short terms.
It can take a few days to a week of work to find a place that decent in a reasonable budget, never mind the challenge of ensuring a reliable WIFI connection. Whereas in Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam, you’d probably just post up in a hotel for a few weeks, Bali hotel rates would prevent many from doing that. Nice apartments and studio rooms in resorts with WIFI can range from $300 to $1200 a month, and are primarily found by calling classified listings (in real newspapers!) and by pounding the pavement.
If you want to solve these problems, you have to put up 12 months cash up front for rent on a house. You can get some amazing houses in Bali for 10-15K annually, but you’ll be out the cash up front. To further complicate it, once we rented our house, it took us 3-4 weeks to sort out a quality internet connection (the one our house came with wasn’t good enough).
Quick tip from my friend Tom— places in Bali carry a lot of weight on house exchange websites. You can swap your Bali house with home owners in other parts of the world who badly want to come stay in the one of the world’s premier island destinations. Never mind the fact that their place could easily cost 5X as much!
5) Although you can live in Bali for $1,000, the scene is geared for people spending more.
This one is a total judgement call, and obviously there are hundreds of “scenes” you could find yourself in here in Bali. I wrote a post a while back called “the real cost of living in Bali” where I laid out a budget to live in Bali for less than $1,200 USD. Although I believe that is relatively easy to do here, the feedback I’ve received from many of our interns is that they’ve struggled with this budget level. I realized I was the primary culprit here. The crowd I’m often around is living off a larger budget.
In Bali, the super cheap places are right next to the super high value amazing places. Today, for example, instead of eating local rice and chicken for 2 bucks, Ian and I ate at a gourmet salad joint right next door for 8 bucks USD (worth every penny). That kind of thing happens often. Temptation is everywhere and the value of Bali truly shines in the mid-range.
There are tons of other scenes to get involved in. Guys that hang primarily with locals or surfers will spend a lot less.
6) Drinking is expensive, ‘subdued’ partying, and dating.
Don’t get me wrong– Bali has a really solid nightlife. I never feel like I’m running thin on options here. If you are a party animal (as, ahem, many of us are) Bali doesn’t can’t really compete with Thailand and the Philippines. Spirits are also are taxed heavily. Prices range from $5-12USD for a cocktail, and 2-3 USD for a beer. The dating scene in Bali is good (talk about a high quality problem), but it probably doesn’t compete with many other spots in South East Asia. Depends a lot on your taste and demographic.
7) Traffic and transport.
If you like the action of Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak, you pretty much need a motorbike to get around. That means you’ll be sitting in some sweltering traffic jams and risking your life on a daily basis. It’s flat out dangerous to drive a motorbike in Bali, and it worries me bringing others into our house here knowing that they’ll be encountering that risk. If you are laid back and dig Sanur or Ubud, no motorbike required. But if you are living in the central areas and don’t have a bike, you’ll be missing out.
I still have nothing but love for Bali! Just thought I’d share with you some of the downsides. I love evaluating locations for business and lifestyle. Would love to hear your thoughts, as always.
PS, Follow me on Twitter and be amazed how so much self-promotion fits into 140 characters.