Is the party over for Bali’s digital nomads?


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Sstand still at all times in Bali and you will hear a constant stream of scooter engines, roaring chuckles and crows of free-range chickens, sizzling street carts cooking local treats like gorengan and térang boulan, a myriad of tongues of enthusiastic tourists sailing to the nearest beach alongside local communities going about their daily rituals. It is this intoxicating mix that typically attracts over 16 million tourists to the island’s coasts each year.

Before the pandemic, the Indonesian island had a reputation for hosting thousands of remote workers in hot spots like Canggu, Ubud and Uluwatu to decorate their coworking spaces and niche cafes with laptops and wireless headphones. . According to remote work tool Nomad List, at least 5,000 digital nomads were working in Canggu, Bali’s zeitgeisty neighborhood, before Covid struck.

This was also before the current travel ban and the recent expulsion of two travel influencers, which could mark the end of an era for digital nomads in Bali.

Experts have estimated that there are millions of people who now see themselves as “digital nomads”: according to consulting firm Emergent Research, 10.9 million Americans were working remotely in 2020. While “digital nomad” Once referred to someone who simply worked remotely, the term has evolved into a glamorous, fleeting lifestyle where the freedom to travel is top priority.

I should know – I moved to Bali in August 2017 for yoga teacher training, landing in Ubud, the jungly town in the center of the island. I stayed in a villa owned by a friendly local man named Dekking (meaning ‘second born’ as Balinese children are often named after birth order). He taught me basic Indonesian phrases that helped me develop my relationship with the locals I interacted with. apa kabar? (how are you?) can make people smile. I got to know many friendly locals who taught me about their religion, food, traditions and way of life. I was greeted with open arms by people who wanted nothing from me except to exchange cultural experiences and kindness.

Local hospitality gives Bali its reputation as a welcoming island for tourists and digital nomads

(Stephanie Conway)

It is this local hospitality that gives Bali its reputation as a welcoming island for tourists, expats and digital nomads, but there are times when that welcome has been mistaken for ultimate freedom.

In December, Russian influencer Sergei Kosenko filmed himself riding a motorcycle from a jetty into the sea for his five million Instagram followers. He was then deported for organizing an illegal mass gathering of people. Or there’s Kristen Gray. Last month, the American influencer and digital nomad was kicked out of Bali for tweeting that the island was “gay-friendly” and encouraging others to settle there during the pandemic. Jamaruli Manihuruk, of the Indonesian Ministry of Law and Human Rights, said his tweets had “disseminated disturbing information to the public”, which was the basis for his expulsion. These two cases have raised complex questions around the status of these remote workers in Bali.

(Stephanie Conway)

“Bali is an amazing place and we’re so lucky to be able to call it home, even for a short time,” says Luke Temple, a digital nomad who runs marketing company Victus Digital. “Some people clearly don’t understand this and it can certainly backfire. These isolated incidents can put the whole story in a bad light and could spoil it for others.

Before the outbreak, Balinese authorities unofficially turned a blind eye to digital nomads remaining tax-exempt for longer periods. While many countries, including Barbados and Thailand, have introduced longer-term digital nomadic visas to attract visitors, Indonesia’s current visa policy gives remote workers a tax loophole.

Indonesia considers long-term visa for international visitors and digital nomads for up to five years

(Stephanie Conway)

Typically, digital nomads arrive on tourist visas and ‘extend’ their stay by making short visa journeys to neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore. But while this loophole may be financially beneficial for digital nomads, it leaves room for scrutiny by taxpayer members of the community. “If someone really wants to stay in Bali, they need to get a business visa and invest in the local community,” says Michael Craig, owner of Dojo Coworking in Bali.

That may soon change. Indonesian Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno and Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly announced this month that they are considering a long-term visa for international visitors and digital nomads up to five years, which would require a deposit of 2 billion Indonesian rupees (approximately £ 103,000) per individual or 2.5 billion per family. The government hopes that the new visa will make tourists stay longer, but also have the side effect of increasing the “quality” of tourists.

Bali has been one of the worst affected provinces in the country as tourism has sharply declined due to the pandemic

(Stephanie Conway)

After all, Bali has long been heavily dependent on tourism. As international travel began to dry up as the pandemic set in last year, Bali’s economy shrank 1.14% in the first three months of 2020, according to central bank figures. Indonesia, making it one of the worst affected provinces in the country.

These digital nomads don’t have to worry too much. Other destinations quickly sprang into action to attract an influx of remote workers who fled elsewhere due to the pandemic. Costa Rican Tourism Minister Gustavo Segura has announced plans to encourage remote workers to stay longer; the Portuguese island of Madeira is developing a “digital nomadic village” with coworking spaces, rental accommodation and remote work events; and several Caribbean islands, including Barbados and Antigua, have unveiled similar programs. A warm welcome from these remote workers could be key to boosting international economies when the lockdown loosens.

As for Bali, hard lessons have been learned from recent deportations, and it is hoped that this new visa will ensure a level of respect towards the communities that welcome visitors to their island.

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