Bali is considered as one of the most beautiful paradises on earth, which is proven by the high numbers of tourists visiting this unique island every year. We love Bali and Bali loves us. Unfortunately also in this part of the world there is a chance to step into one of the unavoidable tourist traps… Where tourists go, scams arise to make money in a non-legal way.
But don’t let this stop you from visiting this incredible island and having the holiday of a lifetime. With these tips you might become more aware of the most common tourist-tricks and be able to avoid possible Bali rip-offs.
The streets of Kuta and around are filled with a popular timeshare scam. In fact, if you can go a few days without an encounter with a scammer, you should run out to buy a lottery ticket. The scam normally starts with an – apparently – innocent conversation with a sales representative on the street who will hand you a scratch-and-win ticket as a promotion for a hotel. In your group there will always be one winner of a (non-existing) big price. To collect the price the sales rep will invite you to a presentation at a hotel. By now, he will have collected your name, age and residency in Bali, so even if you turn down his invite they will start stalking you by phone.
The winning scratch card is just to lure you into their sales office where another sales person will apply hard sales tactics. The scammer will talk you into signing a contract for an expensive timeshare club membership, which you won’t be able to cancel!
The easiest way to avoid this scam is to (friendly) deny any scratch card or conversation with a sales representative. However they can be very persistent, so in that case you can tell them you are not yet 27 years old, which happens to be the minimum age for attending these presentation sessions.
- Money changer
After a day of sightseeing, shopping for souvenirs and a few refreshing beers, you suddenly realise that the stack of Rupiahs in your wallet has considerably shrunk. After one more beer, you will head for the first money changer with signs reading “no commission” and exchange rates that seem too good to be true. Well, they are too good to be true! It is easy for these seemingly reliable money-counters to scam a drunken tourist of some Rupiahs. And even sober tourist will have to attentively count and recount their money. Often these places pretend to not have any bigger notes than $10,000 Rupiah. And after counting the big pile of notes, they will skill-fully drop a few notes before handing it to you.
Avoiding this scam is to get your money from an ATM. Otherwise make sure you find a Money Changer that will give you only notes of IDR 100,000 – be the last one to recount and touch the money yourself to avoid any tricks.
To get an idea of the exchange rate, it can also be useful to have an app on your phone with the latest updated rates. Lastly, BMC is one of the reliable place to get your money change and you can find their counters all over Bali.
- Transportation scams
Of course you want to go to Lembongan, Gili or Lombok when in Bali and the way to get there is by booking a ferry or speedboat ticket. Also here some scammers found a way to make money from ignorant tourists. By pretending to sell you a ticket for a reputable boat company, once at the terminal it turns out that you bought a ticket with one of the less reliable boat companies. The usual excuse is that the boat is full or had technical problems. A personal story of one of our friends is that she was told that all tickets had sold out. “Luckily” there were people approaching her that had friends who could bring her to Lembongan. She ended up paying IDR 1,000,000 for a one-way trip for 2 people, which is more than 2 return tickets at a normal price!
A return ticket Bali-Nusa Lembongan, including ground transfer from your hotel should cost you about USD 30. More information can be found here.
Taking a taxi might seem cheap in Bali, but can end up costly due to the lack of taximeters, longer route, no change or extra charge.
When taking a taxi, choose one with a taximeter if possible and otherwise make sure you agree on a fixed price before getting in. The airport offers a reliable “official” taxi service for which you pay in advance or by voucher. To our experience, Bluebird is the most reliable taxi company in Indonesia, although you still want to ask for a metered taxi. Another option is to book an Uber taxi, which is usually cheaper as well (Airport to Kuta: by airport taxi around $50,000 IDR, by Uber taxi around IDR 25,000).
- Police pullover
Renting a scooter in Bali is a great way to see the island. You might feel like a local on a scooter, although the police will spot a tourist from miles away. By pulling you over, the police will instantly think of a reason to give you a “ticket”. They will tell you that the “fine” is higher when paying at the police station and therefore you will have to pay the police on the spot.
This is a notorious scam in Bali and a hard one to avoid, therefore you might want to reconsider renting a scooter (or car). If you decide to rent a scooter after all, always wear your helmet, stick to the traffic rules and bring your International Driving License. Also, it might be a good idea to carry some small notes in your pocket so you can pay the police straight away without them watching your big pile of Rupiahs fresh from the ATM. We advise you paying no more than IDR 100,000, be nice and friendly even though you might feel upset inside, smile to them and it will surely make the negotiation easier 🙂
- Overcharges on guides and tours
Temples are a must-see in Bali to get to know the culture. Unfortunately part of this culture is also the men who are waiting at the ticket office to convince you of their services. These “guides” will tell you that there is something like a religious ceremony going on – although these ceremonies happen all day – and charge you a hefty fee for guiding you around.
Golden rule in Bali that applies here is Bargain, Bargain and Bargain. You can surely bring the price down considerably, even up to 50% of the original price asked. Always check the license of the guide (a pass with photo) and ask for a receipt.
When pre-planning your tour, start with comparing prices (online). eOasia works directly with reliable operators and guarantees the best price. Here’s an extensive list of guided tours in Bali.
- Airport scams
Arriving at Bali airport after a long international flight, all you want is to get to your hotel to drop your luggage and freshen up. Sometimes you are even too tired to still think clearly. And this is when scammers are at their best! At the carousal in the airport a man will be waiting for you with your luggage on his back or head. This might seem like nice Balinese hospitality, but you should realize that nothing is for free in Bali (nor in the world). Once he has put your luggage in your taxi, he will look at you with his puppy brown eyes and asks for tip.
To avoid this scam is to simply reject their service. Kindly thank them for taking your luggage from the carousal and carry your luggage yourself from here on. However, if you really don’t feel to carry your luggage, IDR 10,000 or 20,000 should be the appropriate price for it (approx. USD 1).
To avoid the taxi scam (see no. 3), take a reliable taxi from the “official” taxi service at the airport, for which you pay in advance or by voucher. Or book your airport transfer in advance with a reliable company such as eOasia. Prices start from only $23 USD with an English-speaking driver.
- Shop & dine in touristy locations with high prices
Surely you will bring home a souvenir for yourself or your loved ones at home. But where to find the best souvenirs? There are plenty of markets popular with tourists, where you will find the same tourist-made items with an exorbitant number on the price tag. Bargaining will get the price down, but still you will have paid a lot more than at other markets where the price before bargaining is considerably lower. In the same manner, dining in a tourist area means paying tourist prices for tourist-made menus.
Unless you like tacky items made for tourists and paying a high price for international cuisine, we recommend that you avoid crowded tourist places and go local! Aside from the positive feel about the fair price you pay, we guarantee that the experience will be much nicer: meeting locals, shopping where locals shop and eating the delicious food locals eat. A good deal for souvenirs from Bali could be to visit the Krisna shops where all kind of souvenirs are sold at reasonable prices.
Read the article “Top 10 Non Touristy Things to Do in Bali” for more local experiences.
- Beach scams
The real holiday-feel kicks in as soon as your toes hit the warm sand walking to your beach chair with the sun on your face. Listening to the sounds of the ocean with your eyes closed, suddenly you wake up to see the face of a local woman close to yours talking to you. This “ibu” or auntie will most probably try to sell you a massage or manicure/pedicure. What might sound like a good deal at first will then seem a cover up of the final and outraged price you need to pay in the end. The same trick is known for renting a surfboard, long chair or buying batik (Indonesian textile).
Best way to act in these cases is to kindly nod and smile to the woman to then close your eyes again to get back into your ocean-sound meditation. If you do want a massage, you will need to bargain for some time showing that you are aware of the prices. Reasonable prices should be between IDR 25,000 and 100,000, depending on the length of the massage.
Another great trick is to use the sentence “saya mau harga local” and you won’t be mistaken for a first time tourist anymore ☺ Check out our Indonesian travel dictionary for more useful sentences.
For renting a long chair or surfboard, compare prices of the many rentals first. A surfboard can be rent from IDR 50,000. Or book a surf lesson if you like to improve your skills with the help of an instructor.
Thinking of buying batik? Explore a local market to find the nicest piece for a cheaper price.
- Drinking Arak or untapped alcohol bottles
Arak is a traditional Balinese spirit made from toddy palm leaves, a popular drink among locals during festivals or ceremonies. Arak can be bought legally in many places around the island, from local drinking holes to high-end bars and restaurants. Nonetheless in recent years, occasional cases of methanol poisoning have occurred due to the consumption of Arak. Unscrupulous vendors cause this problem, as they mix methanol in the spirit, which is cheaper than alcohol. Consuming this mixture may cause blindness or death…
Be very careful when drinking Arak or even better: avoid drinking Arak at all. If you do wish to try this local spirit, only drink it at a reputable bar after having checked its source from the bartender.
- Guides/drivers getting commission
Moving around Bali in a hired car with driver and/or guide you meet near your hotel might seem cheap, but can end up costing much more. If you are not totally clear on the intended route and not persistent on directly going to the places you want to go, there is a good chance the driver or guide will take you to places like an art gallery, coffee plantation or other shopping attraction. He will get commission bringing you there and you will end up spending precious sightseeing-time in a place you don’t want to be, feeling obliged to buy something nevertheless.
Hiring a car with driver is a comfortable and safe way to see the island, but always make sure you clearly explain your itinerary and don’t wish to visit other places. Also agree on a price (in total, not per person or luggage-item) before the start of the tour. You can pre-plan your transportation easily by booking with a reliable company, so you can be sure of the quality of the service. Prices on eOasia start from only $4 USD per hour with an English-speaking driver.
Avoiding Bali scams
With these tips we hope that you will now be able recognise possible scams in Bali and enjoy your holiday even more. Balinese people are lovely people, but due to tourism there are some locals who know how to get the money from your wallet into theirs. Just keep an eye out for this and you will be coming back home recommending Bali to all of your family and friends!
If yourself have faced any similar scams in Bali, then please share your experience below so first-time Bali travellers can be aware and enjoy Bali fully 🙂
Enjoy your holiday and stay scam-free!