The following is an interview I did with Amber who is working in Bali as an IT manager. You can read more about her travels in Bali and around the world on her blog: www.dreamingtrack.com
When did you first come to Bali and what made you want to live here?
This isn’t going to be a very romantic answer, but although I’m very happy we chose Bali, I wasn’t hooked on the idea of living here in particular. I had only spent a handful of days in Bali before we moved here in May 2010. My husband Doug had come here frequently since 2001. We’ve both spent a lot of time in Asia, but I’d never specifically come on a holiday to Bali, just passed through. I’d been enamoured with the idea of settling down in Asia for a long time, and had seen just enough of Bali to know that it might be “the one”.
Bali was a practical choice within Asia. It’s inexpensive and ridiculously easy to get established because every conceivable service & commodity for expats already exists here. It’s a quick jump home to Australia and Indonesia is an exciting place to be with huge potential.
Doug already had a lot of affection for Bali and it has plenty of attributes that make it an outstanding place to live – the people are great, a large part of the island is very lush and pretty and the culture is unique.
The clincher was seeing how relaxed Doug was in the short time we were here together. I knew then that we had to make it happen – and why wait?
Most people find living in Bali completely different from visiting on holidays, how did you find the experience?
I might upset a few folks when I say that I don’t think Bali is an *outstanding* place to holiday. It is an excellent value destination and everyone can find something to enjoy here, but I’ve travelled all over the world and Bali is not among my top holiday destinations. It is, however, a superb place to live, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be long term.
I think that in some ways not being attached to Bali as a holiday place gave me an advantage when it came to adapting to the realities of living here. I came expecting challenges, change and an opportunity to build a great practical lifestyle – not massages, cocktails & endless beach days
Bali, like anywhere else in the world, is what you make it (it just gives you really good stuff to work with).
You said in your blog that you found your job through your employer in Australia. What advice would you give to a foreigner hoping to find work in Bali?
There’s opportunity here, but it’s not a walk in the park. If you have good skills, tons of motivation & initiative and you are prepared to work hard and network to find something, you’ll probably be fine. I haven’t seen it work out for anyone who thinks they can live on local wages though – only a local can do that! You’ll need to convince a foreign company you have what it takes before coming here – which shouldn’t be hard if you have the skills and you’re committed.
Are there any opportunities for foreigners to work in the IT industry in Bali?
I know there will be more in the future. There are already a quite a few Australian & European companies outsourcing IT work to Bali and they will need competent managers and team leaders. The economics of outsourcing give those companies an edge, so it’s likely their competitors will follow. I’ve seen a couple of jobs advertised for foreigners in the industry, but approaching a company who doesn’t outsource and presenting them with the idea wouldn’t hurt. The company I work for is already growing way faster than expected and we’ll have four foreigners working in management next month.
Have you come across any other areas which foreigners can find work in Bali?
Obviously there is hospitality, though it’s also the most competitive area. There’s work in sales for products (e.g. spa products, villa furnishings) that need to be marketed directly to foreign-owned establishments. There’s also the high end of the real estate market – I’ve seen a lot of “imported” architects & interior designers, though they are often based partly here, partly in Singapore or Thailand. There are recruiters who assist foreigners looking for work in Bali (Concord Services for example) so people who are interested should definitely contact them.
Do you see the trend of western countries outsourcing to Indonesia growing in the future?
Absolutely. It’s very difficult for labour intensive industries to compete unless they do. As soon as one company does it successfully, and supplies a comparable product at a lower price, competitor companies don’t really have a choice. I think those who jumped straight into the outsourcing boom got their fingers burned a little because there were lessons to be learned about what is and isn’t possible. As the industry becomes more mature and those outsourcing companies who have survived and improved offer a better standard of service the advantages will be indisuputable.
What advantages do you see in Indonesia over traditional outsourcing centers such as India and the Philippines?
The best country to outsource to is always going to depend on the requirements of the individual company but Indonesia is very competitive. It offers great quality of life for foreign managers. I don’t think there’s any getting around the fact that the best person to manage a team here is someone who is very familiar with client needs and the working culture in the home country. The last thing you want is having managers considering their time overseas a “tour of duty” because they’ll fail to establish a rapport with the team and won’t work effectively. High turnover in management could easily kill an outsourcing arrangement. So it definitely helps that most expats here find so much to improve their lifestyles.
I’d say Indonesia can offer at least everything that India does – low wages, a well educated workforce that is keen as mustard to learn, improve and be involved in foreign ventures. It’s within hopping distance of major Asian financial centres like Singapore & KL without any of their costs. Bali also has a fairly high number of foreign language speakers.
Whether foreign investment in outsourcing grows substantially will depend on Indonesia’s commitment to improving communication infrastructure – particularly internet. There are only 3 major roads in Bali where fibre optic internet is available so there wasn’t much choice in locating our office! However, there are definitely plans to extend this range.
What are some of the main cultural differences you find between working in Australia and Bali?
I wouldn’t swap the team of programmers I work with here for an elite team at home – not if you paid me twice as much. The cultural differences are largely things that make it easier to work here, not harder. I find employees are very loyal – there’s much lower turnover where conditions are good. My team are extremely respectful, pleasant, easy-going and willing to work as hard as I ask them to.
However, there’s no real culture of initiative here. You need to provide a lot more structure and ensure a worker knows exactly what is expected of them and what they should be doing all the time. You can’t take it for granted that anything will be done just because it’s a logical step of initiative that a western employee might take. That’s not a problem if you provide proper training, checklists and frequent reminders. In fact, if you make it perfectly clear what you want, you are more likely to have every step completed than if you gave a foreign employee a more general task. Just remember to make sure you have been understood, because a nod of the head doesn’t necessarily mean you have
As long as you can accept responsibility if you didn’t explain something specifically, rather than instantly blame the employee (and I’ve seen this happen far too often in foreign owned businesses) then cultural differences won’t get in the way too much and any problems that arise will be quickly resolved.
What advice can you give to people for finding suitable rental accommodation in Bali?
Talk, talk, talk to the locals. We just found a place we have taken for the next 3 years through a friend of the local bookshop owner – but we looked at many places belonging to friends of friends of our Balinese acquaintances.
Take something short term if you can to give you time to look. Then mention it to every Balinese you run into (just be clear about what you are looking for). The beauty of such a chatty, helpful culture is that you’ll run into a lot of people who want to talk without much effort. Before you know it you’ll be visiting a lot of potential places, probably with free tea & advice.
If you are looking for something more upmarket you’ll want to try the Bali Advertiser real estate wanted section or one of the many villa rental offices in all the popular locations. Also, expat oriented hangouts and supermarkets will always have villas advertised on a convenient wall or pole.
How difficult was it to get a working visa in Bali?
It was very easy, though not cheap. If you already have an Indonesian employer and you’re willing to pay for an agent, they’ll take all the hassle out of it for you. Our agent (Concord Services) are just now getting my husband’s KITAS converted to a working visa. It’s an extremely complex system, but the agent knows it back to front, so the only thing we’ve had to do is hand over the money and book a return flight to Singapore.
I’ve heard it does depend a little on the industry you are in – the agent you pick needs to know what job description to give you to ensure the process goes smoothly. It doesn’t matter how legitimate your title is, if the exact name is not on the list of acceptable occupations you’ll run into trouble.
You mentioned just coming back from Papua can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
Very challenging but an amazing, unforgettable experience. We made a lot of new friends and we’re keen to help them get their homestay enterprises off the ground over there. At the moment 95% of tourists to the area stay in a handful of resorts that are well organised, but very, very expensive, completely foreign owned and putting very little back into the region. We stayed in a few local homestays including a new ecology research centre being built as a joint project between a German university and one in Jayapura. The animal life and diversity of environments there was mind blowing. We took a local guide, paid women in the villages to cook and deliver food to us and we really feel that life doesn’t get much better, even if it was very rustic
For anyone who is wondering whether it’s worth going out to “the edge of the world” – we’ve been to beaches & islands all over Asia, including dozens of Indonesia’s eastern islands, and these are very hard to beat. The brilliant flash of a red bird of paradise in the green canopy, the thrill of watching a giant manta glide beside you, realising there are uncountable species in a few square metres of reef, your own bungalow on a deserted island – there’s nowhere else in the world quite like it.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking of moving to Bali whether for work, starting a business or retirement?
Look into your heart and run this quick checklist:
Do you genuinely like people?
Can you forgive them their foibles and appreciate their differences?
Are there things at home you will miss more than you will enjoy new experiences?
Do you have the energy and enthusiasm to overcome the challenges that you will face? (Don’t worry, not big ones, just everyday stuff)
If you can answer yes, yes, no and yes, then you’re ready. Get stuck into your planning and make it happen. Everything else is just logistics!