Many of the scams in Bali are the same old tried-and-true traps for tourists that just keep working. Bali is the most visited island of Indonesia's massive archipelago, so there's no shortage of fresh targets. The never-ending turnover of tourists prevents hustlers from having to be too creative.
But that's good news! Knowing about a few of the most common scams you'll encounter in Bali will save you some money and frustration.
Although you should treat everyone with courtesy, be wary of anyone who crosses the street with perfectly calculated trigonometry to intercept you with a smile!
Rideshare Drivers Go Rogue
Bali's public bus system is very limited. You'll be relying a lot on taxis and rideshare drivers for moving between top destinations on the island.
Ridesharing services such as Grab (Southeast Asia's answer to Uber) are technically forbidden in many places such as Ubud. But that doesn't prevent them from being the best option for getting around. The local taxi mafia gives the drivers their share of threats and trouble.
Unfortunately, not all Grab drivers are honest. Unlike Uber, you'll be paying the driver in cash. Many drivers have made a habit of asking for additional money, as much as triple, what you were quoted in the app.
After waiting for the assigned driver, some tourists just opt to pay the extra. Doing so perpetuates this annoying scam in Bali. You'll either have to negotiate with the rogue driver or wait on another driver to arrive (who will probably try the same).
Fake Blue Bird Taxis
As is often the case elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the taxi drivers in Bali have mastered the art of hustling tourists. But the taxi companies in Bali take the cheekiness to the next level.
One taxi group stands alone as the most trustworthy and reputable on the island: the Blue Bird Group taxis. Drivers prominently display identification and promptly use meters without any fast talking. They often dress in a more professional manner than the local taxi mafia drivers do. Choose to use Blue Bird taxis whenever they are an option.
The less reputable taxi companies (there are many) know about Blue Bird’s shining reputation. They attempt to mimic Blue Bird to fool travelers. Most of the taxis in Bali are painted a sky-blue color now. Some even have a similar-but-different blue bird logo on their “taksi” sign.
These fakers aren’t a part of the official Blue Bird Group. Beware of rogue taxi drivers from other companies that place “Blue Bird Group” stickers on windshields to confuse tourists. They aren’t the real deal.
Regardless of the taxi company you use, ensure the driver agrees to use the meter. Be aware that some meters on the island have been altered to run faster as you sit in island traffic, often at a standstill.
To ensure you get a Blue Bird taxi, have the hotel call one for you. You can also download the official Blue Bird app (it works much the same as Uber and Lyft). But beware—there are fake Blue Bird apps out there, too!
Currency Exchange Scams
Signs for “official” money exchanges line the roads in Kuta, Legian, and other popular tourist areas. The advertised rates on these signs are sometimes higher than the current international rate—in your favor!
Many boast no commission or fees. Don’t believe you’re going to make a profit by swapping currencies in Bali. You aren't trading the Forex and will undoubtedly come out on the bottom.
The staff at these kiosks are expert at slight of hand. They may count money in front of you but still manage to drop a 50,000-rupiah note behind the desk without you noticing. Sometimes damaged or invalid banknotes are passed on to tourists. Inspect the money you're given before walking away.
Using the ATMs will usually land you a better rate anyway. Unlike the exorbitant ATM fees ($6 or more) in Thailand, the ATM fees in Indonesia are still reasonable. Many bank ATMs have no fee at all. You'll still have to pay international transaction fees to your bank, but these can be as low as 1 percent with some credit unions. If you decide to exchange money, do so at a real bank branch—not in a shop.
Tip: Most ATMs in Bali dispense denominations of 100,000, but a few will give 50,000-rupiah banknotes. Look for machines with "50,000" stickers on the front; smaller denominations are easier to use.
Beach Hustlers and Touts
The wide, popular beaches of South Bali are home to an endless procession of sellers. Smiling women walk the sand offering bracelets, hats, massages, and pedicures. Men sell fruit, surf lessons, and sometimes dangerous toys (real crossbows and blowguns!) to tipsy beachgoers.
You may have trouble finding your Vitamin D Zen when there's literally a queue of people waiting for your attention. Pretty well whatever you're offered can be found cheaper and with better quality elsewhere. If you buy anything on the beach at all, it's a matter of convenience.
The persistent “aunties” offering mani/pedi services use cheap polish that usually doesn't survive a day at the beach. Once you've extended an appendage, you’ll have to endure plenty of high-pressure upselling as they work slowly. Many won't take "no" as an answer. They'll sit down next to you and won't leave until you buy something.
Understand that the children selling items on the beach are possibly forced to do so by family members or bosses. They work tourists rather than go to school. Buying bracelets or trinkets from children may inadvertently support bad practices. Avoid making them profitable.
Temple Entrance Fees and Guides
The entrances to popular temples and photogenic places are a gauntlet of hustlers hoping to intercept you (and your money) before you enter.
Sometimes individuals will stand near Hindu temples to demand entrance money. The person asking you for money may not be associated with the temple. Always go forward to see if there's an official ticket window fist.
Sometimes you’ll be hassled to pay a guide to walk with you around the temple grounds. If anyone latches on at the entrance or inside, they'll inevitably ask for a "donation" later.
The photogenic temples near Mount Batur and Pura Besakih are popular places for this scam in Bali. On the way to Mount Batur, you will have already paid a relatively high entrance fee (per person and for the vehicle) just to drive into the Kintamani region. These are men who basically took it upon themselves to stand in the road and ask for money to proceed. Earnings are not spent to improve the area.
All of the Hindu temples require men and women to be cover their legs. Men will need to wear a sarong before entering. Dress modestly. Many women will try to sell or rent you a sarong when one is actually free to borrow at the entrance.
The key to avoiding a lot of the scams around popular sights is to walk forward and have a look for what feels "official." Don't believe what people loitering near entrances tell you.
Bonus Parking Fees
With so many vehicles on the roads, parking in Bali can be competitive. Again, this scam in Bali usually happens at the entrances of popular tourist places.
Local opportunists will set up a chair or even makeshift kiosk at places which ordinarily have free parking.
One such place is the giant parking lot for Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave. Another place this happens is along the road at the Tegallalang rice terraces just north of Ubud.
Your only option is to park elsewhere. Standing firm and refusing to pay means risking a chance your scooter will “accidentally” get knocked over.
Motorbike Rental Scams
Although motorbike rental scams are a problem throughout Southeast Asia, they occur frequently in Bali and neighboring Lombok. Individuals try to rent their personal motorbikes to travelers; you’ll turn down numerous offers every day.
These informal rentals are fraught with potential problems. A worst-case scenario is that the owner uses a spare key to steal back the motorbike. You’ll have to pay for the scooter. Other scammers may blame you for existing scratches or damage and demand that you make repairs.
Avoid renting from hustlers on the street. Stick to renting scooters from proper rental shops. If you can’t find one, ask at your accommodation desk about arranging a scooter for the day.
Fake and Corrupt Police
The police in Bali strictly enforce a helmet policy. That's fine; you should be wearing one regardless.
Unfortunately, many of the officers target tourists on motorbikes—including the ones with helmets—to pay fines. It begins with asking for an international driving permit. Even if you produce one (available for $20 in the United States), you’ll be told that it isn’t valid in Indonesia. The ones issued in the United States don't have Bahasa Indonesia as one of the languages. Tourists are expected to pay a fine on the spot. You can guess where the money goes.
Another problem on the island is the phenomenon of fake police. Men on motorbikes stop tourists, particularly on the roads to Mount Batur. They come across as somewhat official but also a little "Hollywood." They may be wearing aviator sunglasses and a leather jacket. If you look closely, the "Police" emblem on their motorbike may just be a sticker.
These fake officers will ask for your passport. Don't hand it over! Once they have it, you'll have to pay handsomely to get it back. Instead, stand your ground, waste their time, and eventually they'll give up.
These fake police often drive regular motorbikes with "Police" stickers in English stuck to the sides. Official police motorbikes look much more technical (they have integrated lights and sirens) and have "Polisi" painted professionally on the side.
Aside from avoiding police checkpoints when you see them, the only thing you can do to protect yourself is separate your money. Keep only a small amount in your actual wallet. The fines for being stopped aren’t fixed. The officer generally sees how much money you’re carrying and takes a sizable cut for himself.
Room Renewal Scam
The disparity between walk-in prices and internet prices for hotel rooms is bigger than usual in Bali.
You may score a great online deal for a room, but if you ask to extend another night or two, you’ll receive a significantly higher price than you paid before.
Even if the booking site still shows the lower rate, you’ll be charged the “walk-in” rate. To get the same rate as before, you’ll be asked to pack up, go somewhere, book the room online again, then check in again. Arguing the absurdity of the idea usually ends up in a face-saving situation with management that won’t work out in your favor.
This scam happens because the owners are hoping that you’ll be too lazy to pack and find a new hotel. Many tourists cave and just pay the extra to extend their stay.
Unfortunately, to lock in the online price, you’ll need to commit in advance and book the length of your stay. Booking a tentative night or two then extending if you like the place isn’t always as easy in Bali as elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Maybe the most dangerous of the scams in Bali is the practice of swapping arak for other alcohols in drinks to increase profit margins.
If you order a cocktail with a clear spirit familiar from home and it tastes funny, there’s a chance the bottle has been cut with arak or maybe switched altogether.
Arak is a clear, home-distilled spirit in Indonesia—call it the local “moonshine.” Because arak is cheaply produced, batches become dangerously contaminated with methanol.
Methanol poisoning from drinking arak is responsible for the deaths of tourists—and many locals—per year, mainly in the Gili Islands and Bali. As little as 10 milliliters can cause blindness; slightly more causes organ damage, kidney failure, and death.
Unfortunately, the problem of arak is covered up and kept mostly quiet. Tourism is vital to Bali’s economy, and tourists enjoy their drinks. Excessive taxation on alcohol causes establishments to look for ways to cut costs.
Although you can avoid cocktails such as the popular “arak attack” easily enough, sometimes arak is substituted for vodka in mixed drinks; it’s a lot cheaper. Free "welcome" drinks often have arak as an ingredient. Ask the hotel before you drink one.
The only real way to mitigate the risk is to stick to drinking beer or purchase bottles of imported spirits that are opened in front of you.
Note: The word arak comes from Arabic and is used in a multitude of countries to denote different kinds of spirits. The risk and context will be completely different outside of Indonesia.