Imagine cruising along sun-spotted roads, through emerald-green rice paddies, and narrow streets of slender palm trees. This iconic image of driving in Bali has been sold to us hundreds of times on Instagram. But, as usual, social media has focused on the aesthetics rather than reality. You’re more likely to have to dodge loud sputtering motorbikes going the wrong way, as they overtake slow trucks carrying precariously loaded gas bottles.
Exploring Bali on a scooter is exciting, exhilarating and easy – as long as you know how to flow with the traffic. Here are my best tips and a complete guide for driving in Bali, and managing the chaos.
Why You Should Drive in Bali
Sure, it’s possible to come here and not drive, however you will be raining on your own parade. Driving in Bali might seem like a daunting task but it’s so much better than relying on motorbike taxis or, god forbid, cars.
Renting a scooter gives you the freedom to come and go as you please. Even if you’ve never driven before, riding a scooter is easy: no gears, just a twist of a throttle and two hand brakes. Almost every long-termer drives on the island.
For my first few months living here, I didn’t have a scooter. Now, I’m so used to driving around that the idea of not having one seems ridiculous.
Walking anywhere is near impossible! Only a few streets have sidewalks, and the traffic quickly becomes more dangerous to pedestrians than drivers. Distances are long, and the tropical heat guarantees that a stroll won’t be a pleasant experience.
After the initial learning curve, you’ll notice that it’s not as hard or scary as it seems at first. The chaos has a rhythm to it, a certain ebb and a flow; once you get used to the seemingly erratic driving of others, you learn how to adjust your own movements to it.
Is Bali a Good Place to Learn to Drive?
Is a circus a good place to learn to juggle? Perhaps, but you might get overwhelmed and drop all your balls.
Traffic in Bali is heavy, chaotic and unpredictable. It’s not an ideal place to learn to drive. However, most foreign drivers are in the same situation as you, so it’s definitely not impossible. Scooters are very simple to drive.
If it’s your first time driving a scooter, or you are unsure if you have what it takes, here are my best tips to get confident driving in Bali!
Get driving lessons
Believe it or not, there are driving schools in Bali. You can also find unofficial driving teachers. Ask around on blogs and Facebook groups for recommendations.
Practice at home
You can prepare in advance and get used to scootering around on the streets you already know! Driving in Bali will be vastly different, but at least you can be confident with a bike.
Rent a low-powered bike
Sure, motorbikes look cool – but you really don’t need one. A basic Scoopy or Vario is a low-power, standard scooter that’s lightweight and easy to handle even if you’re a beginner.
Keep to the left
In Indonesia they drive in the left lane, but if you’re slow or a beginner driver, keep to the left side so faster traffic can get by. No one minds if you’re puttering along the shoulder slowly and calmly – just watch out for potholes.
Keep to the small roads
Don’t try to drive to Denpasar before you’re confident. The traffic on big roads can be overwhelming. There are plenty of small roads and side streets that are quiet where you can practice before hitting the crazy traffic.
Get a driving buddy
Ride behind a friend who already knows what they’re doing. This helps you to focus on the driving technique and takes some of the pressure off knowing where to go. You can even choose an imaginary chaperone at busy intersections: if you’re not sure when to turn through oncoming traffic, just follow close to another driver when they start to cross.
Use your signals as much as possible – but don’t assume that people see it
Not using a blinker (or using it wrong) is one of my biggest pet peeves. Indicate every time you’re turning to let others know what you’re doing, but always check your mirrors before actually turning. Some drivers don’t bother looking at your signals, they just blatantly ignore them.
GoJek, AKA Indonesian Uber
If, after all this convincing, you’re still not comfortable with the idea of driving in Bali, no fear. The next best thing is a motorbike taxi!
You can get a motorbike taxi on the roadside, or order one online to a given location. There are two main apps, GoJek and Grab, that work on the same principle as Uber. In addition to motorbike rides, they also have cars and food delivery services. A 10-minute trip costs around $0.70-$1.40 so it’s cheap and convenient!
Dealing with rideshare apps can sometimes be a hassle. The locals taxis still hold a firm grip on the central areas of Canggu, and they do not like how popular GoJek is. Getting dropped off isn’t a problem but to catch a ride back, you usually have to walk a little outside of the main area.
Renting a Car or Driver in Bali
The first thing to know about renting a car in Bali is – don’t rent a car in Bali.
The streets are small, congested and dominated by the scooter folk zipping in and out of the traffic flow. It can easily take two or three times longer to get to where you’re going in a car. If you’re mainly staying in the Canggu area, renting a car is a pretty bad idea.
Of course, there are exceptions. If you’re travelling in a group, with small children or need to cover long distances and you’re unsure of your scootering skills, then renting your own car is a good option.
When you’re unfamiliar with the terrain, it’s a better option to rent a driver. It isn’t expensive and takes a lot of stress off your shoulders!
Pro Tip: Wherever you are in Bali, sort out your transport with Made (MAH-day). He arranges cheap airport transfers, tours and bike rentals. I’ve used him for years now! Let him know Will sent you when you message him on WhatsApp: +62 813-3824-9193
Road Safety in Bali
Anywhere can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Traffic in Bali is a little more chaotic than in your average city, so keep your head in the game, and eyes on the road!
Traffic Rules in Bali
The most important thing to know is that they drive on the left in Indonesia. Other than that, the roads are pretty lawless with road rules that aren’t necessarily enforced.
The speed limit in urban areas is 50 kph, on rural roads 80 kph and on highways 100 kph. After one year of living in Bali, I actually had to look this information up as it’s definitely not widely announced, there are no street signs telling you how speedily you should be cruising.
Wear your helmet (and shirt!) on the scooter and seatbelt in the car. You may look super cute and not want to mess with your hair, but that’s not very useful when you get into an accident. Helmets are the best way to survive motorbike accidents – don’t let a good hair day ruin your life!
Is It Safe to Drive in Bali?
Well, yes and no.
Bali doesn’t rank anywhere close to the most accident-prone areas in the world. Having said that, the traffic here is a circus with very little rules and many inexperienced or careless drivers. Driving in Bali is an adventure.
Out in the countryside and mountains, the congestion eases up a little, but you’ll still have to pay close attention to road conditions.
There are 3 big dangers to avoid when driving in Bali:
- Road conditions
- Other drivers
- Dogs, chicken, children!
Even the best roads are in slightly questionable condition. Cracks, potholes and broken roads become everyday hurdles – and keep your eyes peeled for loose sand or gravel!
Canggu is (in)famous for its shortcuts, especially the one between main Canggu and Berawa. For new drivers, the shortcut is like a rite of passage. Once you’ve made it through, you’re (un)officially a Bali driver. This road is notoriously difficult, but was renovated in 2021 (let’s hope it stays that way!). Just wide enough for a car and a scooter to squeeze past each other, it often happens that cars attempting to cut through quickly topple into the rice field below – and it happens to scooter drivers, too.
In addition to existing damage, the roads become just a bit more perilous every time the weather gets bad. During the rainy season from December to March (or even up to May), roads can flood up to waist level, and the water can carry anything from loose debris to sea snakes.
Even if you are the best driver in the world, you can never predict what others are going to do in the Wild West that is Bali’s roads. Many locals learn to drive from their families and don’t have an official license – but neither do many foreigners. Inexperienced drivers and crazy traffic are not the best combo, and you’ll definitely have to watch out for bumbling bules trying to find their lane.
Never assume you’re safe just because you are in the right lane. With fancy city jeeps and trucks are on the road, you’ll be dodging scooters overtaking slower traffic in the opposite direction all the time.
On top of all this, drink driving in Bali is unfortunately pretty common. There aren’t really rules about blood alcohol levels. Of course drink driving is illegal, but other sources say that there’s no legislation about it. Either way, it’s not enforced, so a lot of drivers feel like they can get away with it.
On Friday and Saturday nights, popular club areas in Canggu, Kuta and Seminyak are full of drivers who’ve had “just a few”, and while some of them might be able to handle themselves, some become a downright danger to others.
Do the responsible thing and call a GoJek – or risk becoming that blacked out Russian girl a friend of mine had to pull out of a rice field babbling incoherently at 3 a.m.
Literally, Anything Else:
Bali traffic knows how to throw metaphorical bananas on your race track. From stray dogs to chickens suddenly dashing across the road, and fallen coconuts needing you to swerve around, you never know what’s going to happen next. I’ve almost ran straight into a cow in downtown Canggu in front of one of the fanciest restaurants in town!
Oh, and there are a lot of speed bumps on residential roads. And, they’re definitely not well indicated. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled and slow down enough to not eject yourself off your seat or scrape the bottom of your scooter.
Pay attention to signs on the road. The Balinese culture is rich with celebrations and ceremonies, and often these spill out onto the roads. You might spot anything from a lady laying down an offering in the middle of a crossroads to a full-blown parade! Watch out for street signs, especially ones that say “Hati-hati” – this means “caution” or “drive carefully”.
The best way to stay safe is to reduce speed to give yourself more reaction and braking time. But that’s really all you can do, other than grab your crystals and manifest empty roads.
Robberies While Driving in Bali
While Bali is generally a safe place to live, petty theft is still common around tourist areas. The whole Covid situation has made it much worse, and a lot of foreigners reported getting robbed while driving in 2020 (which has unfortunately filtered into 2021 and 2022).
The best way to protect yourself, and stuff, is to keep everything under the scooter seat when driving. Forget about shoulder bags – those are the easiest thing to grab.
Wear wireless headphones! A visible headphone wire tips a would-be robber that you have a phone in your pocket, and that’s their number one target.
Losing your phone is a nuisance but drive-by robberies can be a real danger if the thief causes you to crash. It’s a good idea to cover up so that if you do fall, you’ll avoid road rash. And, follow the number one rule of the road: Always wear your helmet!!
Dealing with Balinese Police
Even if you’re doing everything right, you might still get pulled over. Just don’t panic and stay friendly.
Stopping foreigners is a bit of a scheme in Bali. Usually foreigner drivers get pulled over for not wearing their helmets or shirts, and the police will want to see your international driving license. If you’ve forgotten your license at home, (or in many cases, “forgotten your license at home”), you’ll then be told that you have to pay a fine of IDR 1 MIL (about $70).
Bribing officials is illegal, so we’re not recommending you to do that. We’re just saying that usually this fine goes down to 100k ($7) real quick if it’s paid directly to the officer.
A note on licenses –
An international driver’s license is perfectly valid for driving in Bali. Although sometimes foreigners are told it isn’t and they should have an Indonesian driver’s license. Even if you’re technically in the right here, you might still have to pay the fine/bribe.
The best way to avoid getting pulled over is to wear a helmet, a shirt and, currently, a face mask. You’re required to wear one while driving a scooter.
Travelling even to the safest countries is never 100% secure, and Bali is no exception.
If you get into a bad accident, you might rack up a phenomenal hospital bill – getting medical treatment on the island is not cheap.
Always make sure that you travel with a good travel insurance policy. Check the conditions especially if you’re driving a motorcycle. Some policies might count this as “extreme sports” and you’ll need to pay extra to cover motorcycle accidents. Your insurance might not cover you if you were driving without a valid license.
A great travel insurance policy is worth its weight in gold if your bike gets stolen, damaged or wrecked – otherwise you’re left paying for the whole thing yourself.
Driver’s License in Bali
“Can I drive in Bali with a ___ licence?” Whatever you’re filling that blank with, the answer is a big NO. Unless the word you were looking for is “international”.
How to Get a Tourist Driver’s License
You will need an international driver’s licence to drive in Indonesia, including Bali. You need to think ahead and apply for this in your home country – you can’t get it abroad.
Sure, most visitors to Bali drive without the appropriate license (scooter rentals don’t usually ask for a license, or they accept original ones from your home country). But that’s illegal – and if you’re stopped while driving in Bali without a license, you can get a huge fine. You can usually bribe your way out of the situation, but considering bribery is also very much illegal, it’s best to just be a responsible globetrotter and sort out your license before getting on the plane.
How to Get an Indonesian Driver’s License
You can get an Indonesian driving license at the police station in Denpasar if you have a KITAS or a KITAP visa. You’ll be required to have a copy of your passport, your current visa, a health certificate, and your current license. You’ll also have to complete a theory test (in Indonesian!), and if it’s your first Indonesian license (not an extension), a short practical test.
Renting a Scooter in Bali
Now you have the right driving license, you’re ready for your first scooter rental.
The streets in Canggu are dotted with scooter rental places ,but the best way to find a reliable “scooter guy” is to ask around. If you already have friends in Bali, get their rental place’s number. If not, take to the Facebook groups. Groups like Canggu Community, Canggu Nomad Girls and Bali Digital Nomads are all great places to ask for advice.
What Kind of Scooter Should I Get?
There are a few great scooter options for beginners. A basic Scoopy or Vario are the most common ones available. They’re small and not very powerful, but super reliable – perfect if you’re planning to stay around town. Although I’ve taken many trips across the coast and mountains on my little Scoopy!
There are slightly bigger, better versions of tthese available. A bigger bike is somewhat more stable and powerful, but make sure that you can handle it. You don’t want to end up being another tourist upside down in a rice field.
You can get an NMAX or XMAX bike, which are basically just really big, really fancy scooters. They’ve got better suspension and more seat space, and my taller guy friends love them.
You can also rent a ‘proper’ motorbike. But if you’re looking for a simple ride, getting a motorbike is probably over the top since they’re unnecessarily powerful for city driving, and often described by regular Scoopsters or Vario-heads as “so freaking loud” and “very annoying”.
Getting a motorbike is great, only if you’re already an experienced motorbike rider. Enjoy long road trips and explore some more remote roads that regular scooters might struggle with.
Cost of Renting a Scooter in Bali
The price of renting a scooter in Bali depends on the place and the type of bike. You can usually budget around $40-$50 for your ride for a month. $35 is the absolute minimum, and I would kind of doubt the quality of a bike that cheap.
Bigger and more powerful bikes cost a little bit more. For an upgraded Scoopy or Vario, you might pay $7-$15 more than for a standard one. If you’re going for an NMAX, you’ll be shelling out about $70-$110 per month.
Some guest houses have scooter rentals included in their monthly prices, but this is rare.
And let’s not forget, petrol is cheap! I can fill up my little Scoopy for about $3!
Best Tips for Drivers in Bali
To send you off – here are my favorite tips on how to make the most out of driving in Bali, and survive the crazy streets with flying colors!
Fill up at official petrol stations
It’s cheaper, and often the petrol is better quality. (It doesn’t really matter if you fill up with Pertalite or Pertamax, though, they’re pretty much the same thing.) If you find yourself sputtering along the road, no fear – there are plenty of small petrol carts around the town and shops selling petrol in $0.70 bottles.
Get wireless headphones
This will help deter any lurking thieves as they will be hidden in your helmet. Only wear one though, you want to be able to hear if there’s someone revving up behind you. Also, don’t get a phone holder! Locals can get away with it, but foreigners get their phones snatched.
Buy a full-face helmet
The ones that you get from rental shops are usually the cheapest, most whatever-quality, and you don’t know if they’ve already been in a crash. Even if you just drop a helmet on the floor, it might cause a hairline fracture that makes the helmet pretty much useless if you crash. A new full-face helmet only costs about $40 – pretty cheap for saving your life.
Get a “scooter kit” that you keep under your seat
A thick raincoat, a spare face mask, your driving license and clear glasses. You never know when the rain will hit in the tropics, and even if your helmet has a visor, it distorts lights in the dark. Clear driving glasses will help you see better at night.
Pay attention to the “Balinese blinker” – and use it yourself!
Many locals signal that they are turning by extending one arm in that direction and waving it up and down. They aren’t saying hi, they’re letting you know they want to turn.
Spare the horn
If you’re from a well-behaved Western country, you’ll definitely hear more beeping than you’re used to. It’s not as frequent as I would have expected based on other Asian countries I’ve visited. You can use the horn to warn someone that you’re overtaking them but in general, you don’t need to be beeping left and right.
Nevermind the offerings
When I first got to Bali, I religiously (pun intended?) avoided crushing the offerings that locals leave on the roads every morning to not offend anyone. You really don’t need to. The Balinese believe that once the offering has been laid, whatever happens to it was intended by the gods. This includes it getting eaten by dogs, washed away with rain or ran over by scooters. Be careful where you step though – many offerings include burning incense sticks, and I’ve definitely burned my foot once or twice.
2 to a bike
As tempting as it might be to hop on a bike for a quick ride with 2 other friends, it’s an accident waiting to happen. You may see locals driving around with 4+ people on a bike, but don’t risk it..