Exploring Bali can be difficult to do on someone else's schedule; if you're seeing Bali as part of a tour group, you can't make a detour or change your mind about your destination. However, if you have an international driving permit, you can circumvent these difficulties by renting your own car.
If you've planned your own itinerary in Bali, you can use your self-drive to play tour guide to your friends or family and see the sights on your own time. Read about transportation in Bali, and check out some valuable Bali safety tips before you visit.
Driving Requirements in Bali
Before hiring your own car to drive in Bali, make sure you’ve got the following in place:
International Drivers Permit (IDP):
An absolute necessity when renting a car for self-driving purposes in Bali, the international driver's permit offers legal coverage to drive on the island as well as access to major international car rental agencies.
The IDP is only valid if presented together with a valid driver’s license from your home state/country.
Tourists with American citizenship can obtain an IDP through the Automobile Association of America (AAA) or American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA), the only authorized IDP issuers in the United States.
Tourists from the rest of the world should consult the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) for an Automobile Association in their country that issues IDPs.
Car rentals do not always include insurance in the package. You should always check with the rental agency about the insurance coverage they provide; often this will be charged as an additional item over the hire fee.
Your insurance is only likely to cover damage to or theft of the rented vehicle; personal injury or liability is likely not covered.
You should remember these before you commit to renting a self-drive car:
- Check the car for damage or any other problems before you sign on the dotted line. The rental agency might blame you for any pre-existing damage to the car if you drive away without bringing it to the agency's attention.
- Test-drive your rented car before paying up. You'll want to make sure the brake, handbrake, and clutch pedal all work as specified.
- Gas/fuel is not usually included in the price.
Rules of the Road
Driving in Bali can be quite confusing for the first-time tourist driver. The unwritten rules of the road far outnumber the written ones.
- Use of horns. Balinese use their horns quite liberally, mainly to let you know they’re about to overtake you or to warn you that they’re on your blind side.
- Right of way. Balinese motorists don't recognize the usual rules of right-of-way, often giving way only if their vehicles are smaller than yours. Motorcycles swerving into your lane without warning will happen far too often.
- Safe following distances. Balinese are aggressive overtakers, and use any gap between vehicles as an opportunity to cut in.
- Lights. Watch out for Balinese drivers flashing their headlights or using their hazard lights. The first means they’re asserting their right of way; the second means they’re planning to go straight when the lane calls for them to turn.
- Intersections. In Bali, red lights are often simply ignored by drivers in a hurry. Local drivers also pay no mind to the conventions of turning at intersections—drivers in the left lane often turn right, and vice versa. Right of way belongs to whoever takes it first: At an intersection, absent a traffic light, whoever noses in ahead of everyone gets right of way.
- Drunk driving. While Indonesia has no laws specific to DUI, Law No. 14 of 1992 on Traffic and Road Transportation penalizes acts that threaten road safety (which is often used as a catchall for drunk driving arrests). The law prescribes a jail sentence and a ban on driving in Bali.
- Closures. Roads may be arbitrarily closed to give way to ceremonial processions, especially during holiday seasons like Galungan.
- Road markings. Most Balinese drivers pay them no mind. Balinese police, though, will gleefully ticket (or attempt to extort) drivers who inch over the white lines at intersections.
- Roadside parking. Street parking is widely available outside the more populated areas like Denpasar and Kuta. Deputized locals may collect parking fees hardly more than 2,000 Indonesian Rupiahs per car.
These may all seem like a recipe for chaos, but this results in a surprising level of order. Balinese drivers are aggressive, perhaps overly so for motorists used to American or European rules of the road. They do know their place on the road, and instinctively know when to drive aggressively and when to give way.
Drivers new to Bali’s roads will only survive if they learn to drive like a local—and adapt local attitudes and manners while driving. To play it safe, generously yield when you can, and be super careful of motorcycles, who outnumber cars and tend to go like they own the road.
In case of emergency: Bali’s equivalent to 911 is 112; if you’re using a foreign phone set to roaming, add +62361 before this and every other number listed here. Dial 118 for an ambulance and 110 for the police. BIMC Hospital offers a 24-hour emergency hotline: Dial 761 263 (Kuta) or 3000 911 (Nusa Dua).
Should You Hire a Driver in Bali Instead?
Driving in Bali is nowhere near the same experience as it is in the U.S. or Europe. Motorists on the road tend to follow different rules; to the untrained eye, it almost seems as if no rules are in effect.
The road network can be quite confusing if you're not used to the Balinese road network. Signs are at best unclear, at worst nonexistent. Wide roads may gradually squeeze into narrow streets. One-way, one-lane roads are common, necessitating driving a long way to return to a given location.
All told, you need exceptional skill and patience to drive safely in Bali, so you better give the matter a good deal of thought before committing to that self-drive rental. First time drivers should get a car with a driver to shuttle them around.
Car-and-driver packages in Bali are easy to hire, whether by using your hotel’s service, going online, or going by word of mouth. You can hire anything from a compact car to a large van, and intense competition keeps the prices relatively low.
Leave the stress and anxiety of figuring out Bali’s roads to a driver who already knows them by heart. When hiring a driver, keep these tips in mind:
- Be very clear on your departure and return times, what your itinerary covers, and what price you’ll pay for the driving package. Allowing wiggle room may cause your costs to go up.
- Learn to say no when the driver insists on taking you to souvenir shops—this is an old trick for drivers to collect commissions for bringing customers their way.
- Download WhatsApp (a messaging platform commonly used in Southeast Asia, which the driver will likely have, too) so you can keep in touch with the driver if you step away from the vehicle
Tips for Driving in Bali
- Exercise caution when approaching intersections. Drivers from side streets might not look when joining your road, and some drivers even consider traffic light signals to be mere suggestions.
- Use navigation apps like Waze (Apple, Android) or Google Maps to help you get around; the curvy streets can be confusing to navigate.
- Avoid driving on Balinese roads late at night—the back roads tend to be unlit, and the street signs are hard to read in the dark.
- In Bali, the larger vehicle has right of way.
- Honk your horn when going around blind curves; many drivers drive in the middle of the road. Feel free to blow your horn as you drive—the locals don’t consider it rude at all.
- Watch out for price rigging at smaller gas stations. Foreign drivers may be overcharged. Stick to refueling at major fuel stations, where prices are standardized and prominently displayed.