A Guide to Safety, Laws & Culture in Bali, Indonesia

10 Oct 2021

Covid restrictions may change at short notice. Check the situation before you travel and use the UK FCO website for advice.

Bali is generally safe for travellers. Many thousands of UK tourists travel to the Indonesian island every year, and most encounter no serious problems. But as with any destination, you should always exercise caution, use your common sense, and not be complacent about potential dangers.

Here’s our guide to safety, laws, and culture if you’re considering a trip to Bali.

Theft, fraud, and scams

The most common crimes travellers experience in Bali include pickpocketing and snatch thefts. Precautions you should take to guard against this include keeping valuables like passports, cash, and credit cards in a hidden money belt. Keep hold of your possessions while on public transport; thieves can grab bags and mobile phones through open windows. Lock your doors if you're travelling by car or taxi.
Scammers can target travellers. Make sure your credit or debit card is in view at all times when you make purchases, to guard against skimming. Look out too for skimming devices attached to ATMs, as well as stickers displaying fake customer service phone numbers to call if your card gets swallowed; customers who call will usually be asked for their PIN by fraudsters.
Beware of people collecting money for non-existent orphanages. If you want to donate to a local orphanage, do your research first. Gambling is illegal in Indonesia, so any that does take place is often associated with criminal gangs. Stay away, as the odds can be heavily against you winning.

Violent crime 

Violent attacks on foreign travellers are rare in Bali, but they do happen. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings, and avoid unfamiliar areas at night, especially if you’re alone. Incidents of sexual assault and robbery have been reported, and these can take place late at night in bar areas, so avoid getting so drunk that you can't spot potential dangers. To minimise the risk of having your drink spiked, don't accept drinks from strangers, and never leave your drinks unattended.

Drugs, alcohol, and smoking

Indonesia has strict laws concerning the possession, trafficking, and manufacture of illegal drugs, and foreigners are not exempt from the authorities' zero-tolerance approach. Conviction for possession can lead to imprisonment, including at Bali's notorious Kerobokan Prison, while convicted drug traffickers will likely face a long custodial sentence, or even the death penalty.

Check with a doctor, or your nearest Indonesian embassy, before taking any prescription medications into Indonesia, as some, such as some psychotropic medications and strong painkillers, are banned and could be confiscated on entry into the country. Make sure you carry a prescription that covers the quantity of medication you're taking with you.

Bali has more relaxed alcohol laws than the rest of Indonesia. The legal drinking age is 21. Beware of counterfeit alcoholic drinks; criminal gangs can produce replicas of well-known brands that are contaminated with methanol in order to stretch supplies. Away from reputable bars, arak, a local alcoholic drink made from fermented rice or palm, can also contain dangerous chemicals.

Smoking is banned in public areas in Bali, including hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and places of worship. Breaking this law can lead to imprisonment and a fine.

Cultural sensitivities

The Balinese have a reputation for friendliness, but it's always best to be aware of how your actions could cause offence. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali's population is majority Hindu (around 86%), so the island has different cultural norms and religious celebrations. Nyepi, which takes place at Balinese New Year, is a public holiday on which all people on the island (with a few exceptions such as emergency service workers) must observe a day of silence. Working, entertainment, and shopping are banned, and people must stay indoors, make no noise, and turn off lights. Tourists are not exempt from these rules, with beaches off-limits and the airport closed. At any time of year, be careful not to step on offerings people leave on the pavement for the gods.

The idea of saving face is important to Balinese people, and arguments — or worse — can occur if you offend or embarrass someone, so always be diplomatic and respectful.

Different parts of the body have their own significance in Bali. The feet are considered impure, so don’t point them towards people, while the head is considered sacred, so refrain from touching someone on the head. Never hand over money or anything else with your left hand, and don’t point your finger towards someone as this is considered rude.

Wearing swimwear is fine on the beach, but wear at least a T-shirt and shorts in the street, and dress modestly inside temples, covering up your shoulders and knees, and removing your shoes where required.

Terrorism and political unrest

Indonesia, and Bali in particular, is politically stable, but events like elections can trigger protests, rallies, and demonstrations that could quickly turn violent. Therefore, stay away from such gatherings. Bali is not immune from the threat of terrorist attacks, and tourist areas have been targeted in the past — such as the 2002 bombings — so stay vigilant and keep up to date with news reports.

Natural dangers

Indonesia is on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes take place regularly, and there’s also a risk of tsunamis. Bali has active volcanoes, including Mount Batur and Mount Agung, that can erupt with little or no warning. The latter erupted several times between 2017 and 2019, and caused thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes and disruption including the closure of Denpasar Airport. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office currently advises against all travel to the area within four kilometres of the Mount Agung crater. Always heed local authorities' warnings regarding volcanic eruptions — ash, projectiles, hazardous gases, and earth tremors usually pose more immediate danger than any lava flows.

Exercise caution when swimming off Bali's beaches as heavy surf and strong currents can be dangerous. Swim where there are lifeguards on duty (Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua, and Seminyak usually have them) and stay between the flags. Take care when swimming over coral — cuts can easily become infected. Levels of water pollution can be high in the rainy season (roughly November to March), as water from drains and run-off from urban areas often end up in the sea.

Leeches are another hazard in the rainy season, so take care when trekking (visibility is often low in the mountains in rainy season, so it's not the best time for hiking anyway). At any time of year, be careful of poisonous snakes, spiders, and scorpions on jungle treks, so wear long trousers and sturdy footwear. Monkeys can snatch food and unsecured personal belongings, and sometimes become aggressive — bites, though rare, can transmit illness such as rabies, and cause infections. Do not feed them. Mosquitoes also pose a risk in Bali, as they can carry diseases like dengue fever (found in rural and urban areas), and Japanese encephalitis and malaria (mostly in rural areas), so take precautions such as wearing insect repellent.

Transport and activities

A UK driving licence is not sufficient to drive in Bali; you’ll need an International Driving Licence to drive and hire a vehicle. Remember that roads are likely to be less safe than at home, and road traffic accidents are common, especially those involving motorbikes, so consider hiring a vehicle and driver, or taking taxis, instead. Be careful when walking by the side of the road, as pavements can be uneven or non-existent. It's particularly dangerous at night, so carry a torch.

If you're taking a boat to other islands, such as Java or Lombok, remember that sea conditions can be dangerous, and ferries and speedboats often get overcrowded during busy periods. Always make sure the vessel is in good condition, and there's adequate safety equipment such as life jackets on board before embarking.

When taking part in activities like trekking and scuba diving, check that any hired equipment is in good condition, and that organisers are reputable and have the relevant safety certificates. 

General

Arrange adequate travel insurance before departure, covering any activities you’re planning, just in case something goes wrong. Also, at least eight weeks before your trip, check current health risks for Bali and what vaccines you might need by consulting a travel clinic.

Under Indonesian law, you must register your presence with local police if you stay in private accommodation, or you could face a fine. Hotels will register you automatically.

Before travelling to Bali, make a note of the local emergency phone numbers. The numbers for the tourist police in Bali are 0361 7540599 and 0361 224111, while the main emergency service number (similar to 999 in the UK or 911 in the USA) is 112.

For tourist information, visit the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism website.

For Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/indonesia, or to locate your nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission, visit www.gov.uk/world/embassies.

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