What Is Driving Like in Bali, Indonesia?

With Bali, Indonesia opening its doors to international visitors following the lengthy shutdown from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, eager travelers aim to flock to the beautiful island once again. The most popular mode of transportation in Bali is motorbikes or motorcycles. Before you hit the roads and cruise along the coast and rice terraces of this popular tourist destination, find out what it is like to drive in Bali.

Driving in Bali is chaotic and dangerous

People on Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia as the sun sets over the ocean
Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia | Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images

If you’ve never been to a developing country like Indonesia, in which many of the traffic laws are rarely enforced, you’re in for a shock. The roads of Bali are very chaotic, especially in the crowded and narrow streets of Kuta and Denpasar. The concept of the right of way is fairly nonexistent. Many times the right away is just whichever vehicle is bigger or moves forward more forcefully. Also, another shocking thing about driving in Bali is that cars rarely stop or slow down for pedestrians. Additionally, the use of car horns is very prolific.

Unfortunately, the dangerous driving conditions have a great cost. Motorbike accidents are the number one cause of death for international travelers in Bali. Also, Indonesia has one of the highest motorbike and motorcycle death rates in the world, ranking only behind Thailand, according to the WHO. If you choose to ride a motorbike or motorcycle in Bali, drive carefully and be sure to wear a helmet.

Bali is a very beautiful place to drive

Panoramic view of Tegalalang rice terrace in Bali, Indonesia
Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Bali, Indonesia | Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images

Get away from the chaotic streets of Denpasar, Kuta, and other tourist hotspots and drive on some of the more off-the-beaten-path parts of Bali. If you do, you’ll be treated to some breathtaking scenery. Along with the famed beaches of Bali, the island has lush vegetation, tranquil lakes, cascading waterfalls, many temples, and elaborate rice terraces. 

Driving and traffic rules in Bali

As mentioned earlier, traffic laws are loosely enforced in Bali. However, there are some basic driving and traffic rules in Bali:

  • Horn honking is very common, but usually, it’s not a form of aggression. Drivers generally use their horns to alert other drivers or pedestrians to their presence.
  • Many roads in Bali don’t have signs. Be sure to carry your smartphone and utilize a map app such as Google Maps for navigation.
  • There is little to no concept of right away. Cars can overtake you at any time, and in some cases, cars and motorbikes coming from the opposite direction will use your side of the road.
  • Drivers routinely change lanes without using turn signal indicators and will sometimes drive through intersections with red lights. 
  • The roads of Bali are very narrow. Making travel even more difficult, you’ll often have to share the road with animals such as chickens, dogs, and cows, as well as fallen coconuts and processions of people.
  • Road quality is very poor and sometimes can deteriorate rapidly, especially during the rainy season (November to March).
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously or get angry or offended by other drivers. Driving conditions are likely more chaotic compared to your home country, so if you accept this as the norm in Bali, you’ll have a much more enjoyable trip. 

Driver’s license requirements in Bali

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All foreign drivers in Bali are required to get an international driver’s license. You can’t just use your normal driver’s license from your home country. To get an international driver’s license, you must apply to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). If stopped by a police officer in Bali, you’ll need to show both your normal license and international license. The one exception to the international driver’s license requirement is holders of KITAS/long-term Indonesia visas. In this case, you can get a temporary Balinese driver’s license. 

The rules and regulations for international travelers can change at any time, especially with the fluid coronavirus situation, so be sure to check with the local Indonesian consulate before you travel to Bali. Be safe when you drive in Bali, and enjoy the beautiful scenery and cultural depth of this spectacular island.

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