Bali lures digital nomads despite controversy
Nargiz Issayeva has just returned from a manicure. Sitting at her laptop, her freshly manicured fingers flit over the keyboard as she briefly gazes over the Indian Ocean. The 32-year-old runs a Kazakh marketing agency, yet lives and works in Bali, Indonesia.
She's a so-called digital nomad, one of more than 3,000 based on the popular tourist island.
"Bali is the best place on earth; when I came here I instantly felt at home," she tells DW. "When I want mountains I head north, and the beach is right in front of me. It's clear to me Bali is the digital nomad capital."
Indonesia is now making efforts to attract more wealthy foreigners. Starting at the end of 2022, anyone with the equivalent of at least $130,000 in the bank is eligible for a so-called "second home" visa, entitling them to live in Bali for up to 10 years.
The move is designed to entice well-to-do foreigners to come to Indonesia and boost its economy, says immigration chief Widodo Ekatjahjana. Indonesia is one of several countries, including Costa Rica and Malaysia, which have started offering long-stay visas to skilled workers, pensioners and other wealthy non-nationals.
These days, Indonesia — Southeast Asia's largest economy — is one of the most popular bases for remote workers. It has a reliable digital infrastructure and the standard of living is high while the cost of living remains low.
Digital nomads don't have to deal with much paperwork, either. Those with the new visa don't even need to pay taxes in Indonesia on income earned outside Indonesia.
Meanwhile, a basic "visit visa," B211a, is enough to live in Indonesia for 180 days while working for a foreign-based company. Not all foreigners know this, and many apply for a standard tourist visa on arrival, which technically does not allow them to do remote work.
This was the case for Daniel, from Belgium, who asked that his last name not be used. He has a tourist visa although he is working while in Bali. "This island is great, it's very international, and there is no better place for networking," the 25-year-old tells DW. He also enjoys the nightlife, he adds.
Digital nomad hot spot
Daniel lives in Canggu, a coastal village in southern Bali, which has become a digital nomad mecca. Here, remote workers can be found in practically every cafe and restaurant, hunched over their laptops.
Bali has welcomed them with open arms, given that fewer tourists have been coming due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even remote workers who are staying with a tourist visa don't really have to worry about repercussions.
"Monitoring foreigners working as digital nomads is possible only when a complaint is submitted," says Anggiat Napitupulu of the local immigration authority. "Immigration officers cannot search laptops and force people to tell them what they are up to."
Jeri, who set up "One More Wave" surf school on Bali's popular Berawa beach, is relieved authorities are not checking foreigners' legal statuses too closely. He says many digital nomads take surf lessons before or after work.
Party lifestyle angers locals
Yet ever more Balinese people are becoming frustrated by the island's growing after-work party scene. Some even started a petition addressed to the local government, saying it's almost impossible to rest or sleep in Canggu because of constant partying.
The noise coming from bars near Bali temples, it says, is so bad it leaves windows and doors rattling and shaking worse than during an earthquake.
The petition, signed by more than 8,000 locals, also criticizes public drunkenness, drug consumption, sleazy behavior and public urination.
Bali could lose its charm
Digital nomad Nargiz Issayeva understands this anger. She says anyone who decides to move abroad should prepare and educate themselves.
"Think about why you want to go to Bali, read up about the government, people and culture," she says. "That's what I did, and then decided I want to try living there." For now, she says, Bali still offers the right balance between rural tranquility and the party lifestyle.
But some hoteliers are also growing concerned over the influx of digital nomads. Privately, some fear Bali's unique charm could vanish if digital nomads and tourists take over entirely.
No hoteliers wanted to be quoted, however, fearing this could scare away visitors. After all, 70% of Bali's economy depends on tourism, directly or indirectly.
Professor Nyoman Sukma Arida of Bali's Udayana University thinks the island should have capitalized on the COVID-19 pandemic to diversify its economy.
"Bali placed all its eggs in one basket," he says. "But if there's a volcano outbreak, a terror attack or a pandemic, like now, the tourist sector collapses." He suggests Bali should focus on three pillars: tourism, agriculture and small industrial businesses.
For now, though, everyone on Bali seems relieved to see the island recovering from the pandemic fallout. The tourism association now projects that Bali will receive 6 million foreign guests by 2025.
Marveling at the sunset, Issayeva tells DW: "I love views; sometimes I work from a cafe, sometimes I go to a beach club — I try soaking it all in." Then she shuts her laptop and heads off to a yoga session.
This article was translated from German.