Indonesia has officially approved digital nomad visas, and Bali is already crawling with foreigners chasing work-life bliss

guest article

guest article

Bali with its rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, spiritual retreats, and warm hospitality is a famous vacation spot for many Australians.

But for a lucky few, it has also become the perfect place to work from home.

Foreigners who flocked to the popular tourist destination during the pandemic have been making use of the island’s hotspots to sit poolside with a laptop or conduct Zoom meetings from a cafe.

And now Indonesia is hoping to cash in on this trend by turning Bali into the digital nomad capital of the world.

After more than a year of discussion, the Indonesian Government has announced that remote workers will be allowed to conduct online work for up to six months, without paying tax, by using an existing B211A visa.

The government’s original proposal for a longer-term digital nomad visa — possibly up to five years — is still under discussion.

The hope is to attract more foreign freelance and remote workers to the region by creating a concrete legal framework that gives both remote workers and the businesses that employ them more peace of mind.

Indonesia is not the only country considering such a move. In fact, more than 25 countries and territories have now launched digital nomad visas, according to a new Migration Policy Institute report.

But there are some unique elements in Bali’s favor that might help it compete on the global stage.

Read more: Bali Sun-Seekers Make Way For Digital Nomads, Spiritual Tourists

The pull of logging in poolside from Bali

Putu Sudiarta manages Genesis Creative, a brand new co-working space at Canggu that caters largely to foreigners. It provides music, film, and photo studios for online content makers, and recording equipment for podcasters. 

“When the pandemic happened, the number of clients increased, because so many people started working online,” he says.

“In the past year, we have had about 3,000 bookings.”

Canggu, on the island’s southwest coast, was one of the few places in Bali which maintained a sizeable population of foreigners throughout the pandemic. 

Australian Phoebe Greenacre moved there with her husband more than a year ago, after they left the UK to escape the COVID lockdowns in London.

She now makes a living entirely online, producing meditation podcasts at Genesis and yoga videos for subscribers overseas. 

“When the pandemic hit, it was just a big kind of wake-up call like, ‘You’re nearly 38. What do you want to do with your life?'” she says.

“And the lifestyle here is just so much more amazing than living in a city.”

Now Ms. Greenacre works barely 5-10 hours a week but earns more than she did working full time in Australia.

“People think inside small squares, and they follow either what their parents did or their friends,” she says.

“Coming to Bali, or just seeing or meeting people that have this lifestyle, it really shows you that it is possible. 

“The work-life balance here is amazing.” 

Ms. Greenacre is on a residential visa in Indonesia, known as a Kitas, that allows her to live longer-term in Bali.

Most other self-styled digital nomads are only on 30-day tourist visas and typically have had to leave and re-enter the country every month if they wanted to stay. 

Others are on visas that also restrict their right to work or stipulate that any income — even earned overseas — is taxable in Indonesia. 

Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno believes the change to allow visitors to set up and work from Indonesia more easily will have a positive impact on Bali’s economy and help generate 4.4 million jobs in Indonesia by 2024. 

“I am increasingly convinced that the number of foreign tourists who are interested in staying in Indonesia will increase, and will automatically have an impact on economic revival,” he says. 

Since January this year, more than 3,000 foreigners have used the B211A visa to work as digital nomads. 

The biggest source countries are Russia, Britain, and Germany, though Mr. Uno says Indonesia plans to promote the new scheme in other countries including Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore. 

There are also separate plans for a longer-term Second Home visa, which would allow older expats to live in Indonesia. 

Digital nomads are changing the Bali landscape — and some say, its soul


Canggu and surrounding areas in Bali have seen the phenomenal construction of new villas and apartments to accommodate the influx of digital nomads. 

When the pandemic hit Melbourne, Dan Lawson quit his high-paying job in affiliate marketing and moved into a brand new villa in Canggu to set up an online business as a coach and mentor. 

A New Zealand passport had allowed him to leave Australia at the height of the pandemic, just as Melbourne and much of the country faced tightening COVID restrictions. 

These days he spends more time at the gym than working. And when he does work it’s often from the comfort of a cafe.

“I work less than I’ve ever done,” he says of his new life in Bali. 

“I do more of everything that I love. I go to the gym every day, so I feel great. I look forward to it. The relationships in my life are incredible.”

Tobi Konopka, a German-born property manager in Canggu, says increasing numbers of Balinese have sold their land or property to developers, to feed an insatiable market for villas, mostly built to accommodate digital nomads. 

“The villa market exploded over the last five to seven years, especially pre-COVID,” he says.

Mr. Konopka says villas are making many Balinese people rich, while still representing an economical option for foreigners to rent. 

“It would be somewhere between 20 and 35 million rupiah [a month], which is equivalent to $2,000-3,500 roughly,” he says. 

“And if you look at the long-term or if you’re sharing it with people, it’s way cheaper than renting a hotel or booking yourself into a resort.”

The downside, he says, is that Bali’s famous rice paddies and iconic green vistas are fast disappearings. 

“Two years ago when we moved in, this was just rice fields,” he says, pointing to a wide landscape behind his own home at Canggu.

“If you look around, now everything is villas.” 

But it’s not only Canggu’s rice paddies that are in danger, he warns. 

“The culture of Bali and spiritual beliefs and all its religion, which in Bali is very strong, they’re disappearing with all those villas coming up, and holy land or holy plants are getting replaced or cut off.” 

It’s a concern shared among many local Balinese. 

I Wayan Suarsana, the head of culture and tradition at Canggu’s local banjar, or village government acknowledges concerns that Bali is in danger of losing its soul.

“I worry about the erosion of our culture,” he says. 

“Our society has been over-exposed to foreign influences, and we worry that our children are becoming detached from their own culture. It’s a concern. 

“But we have to get with the times. We can’t deny these developments. 

“I need to think about how we can mitigate these problems, with our cultural programs.”

Should digital nomads be held responsible for Bali’s cultural shifts?

Some of the strongest opposition to the influx of digital nomads comes from other Balinese residents, including hotel owners in Canggu. 

More than 7,000 people have signed a recent petition objecting to extreme noise and disrespectful behavior associated with the proliferation of all-night bars and beach clubs that cater mostly to foreigners. 

Petition organizers are demanding that Bali authorities, as well as Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and Mr. Uno, take action to preserve the area’s tranquillity and cultural heritage. 

“Many of these clubs and bars are located directly adjacent to temples, including Pura Kahyangan Jagat, which are some of the most sacred in Bali,” the petition reads. 

“And next to it, indecent and disrespectful acts have been occurring, from drunkenness, sexual behaviors, urinating in the temple walls area, and possibly consumption of illegal substances. 

“Not infrequently, there were fights and also speeding drunk motorcyclists, which had ended in fatal accidents.”

The petition calls for officials to consider introducing rules that prohibit loud noise after 10 pm and disrespectful behavior, with fines for those who violate them.

Mr. Lawson says as a digital nomad he feels some “level of responsibility” for the loss of Bali’s iconic rice paddies and native landscapes.

But at another level, he says it’s the local government — and the Balinese people themselves — who ultimately decide what they need. 

“We live in a world where it’s very capitalistic, and they’re doing the best that they can to generate the income that they need,” he says.

“From another sense, I feel like I’m responsible for actually helping the communities to improve their lives by bringing in outside money and capital into these communities. 

“What they choose to do with that and how they structure it, it’s not my responsibility. I can’t control that.”

Article source: Indonesia has officially approved digital nomad visas, and Bali is already crawling with foreigners chasing work-life bliss

Share this post