The Truth About Becoming A Digital Nomad In Bali

You’ve just quit your corporate job and you’re ready to finally start living life as a digital nomad. You know, making cash online as you simultaneously visit some of the world’s hottest travel destinations. But, where do you go first? Somewhere with great WiFi, lots of other digital nomads, and a cheap cost of living.

You check NomadList and see that Canggu, Bali is the No. 3 best place for digital nomads. Then, you browse through Instagram. You become enamoured by the endless posts that paint a portrait of a life filled with flower baths, vibrant smoothie bowls, poolside meetings and beachside beers as you finish up that last blog.

If you’ve seen anything about becoming a digital nomad in Bali, it sure looks like a dream. But, is that the reality? As a Big 7 Travel staff writer, I had the opportunity to head to Bali and work as a digital nomad for two months. And, here’s what it’s really like…

The Promise Of A Digital Nomad’s Paradise

Just by looking at the NomadList ranking alone, you’d instantly think that Bali is a pretty prime place for remote working. And, in a lot of ways, it is. It ranks really high for WiFi speed, of course. But, it also ranks high for nightlife and the fact that nearly everybody on the island speaks English.

However, in the Age of Instagram, you’ll find that not everything is as it seems. Browse through any of the most popular Bali Instagram accounts and you’ll be instantly flooded with photos of picture-perfect vistas and other digital nomads and Instagram couples laying out by the pool as they finish up a photo shoot or close on a marketing deal over Skype.

Like many others, I too was allured by the promise of a paradise for remote workers (okay, and the flower baths didn’t look half bad either). I did my research for nearly six months, watched all of the videos and read all of the blogs. Everything seemed to check out. Why not head to Bali, break up my daily routine as a remote worker elsewhere and taste a little slice of paradise for myself?

digital nomad bali
The allure of verdant rice fields and warm weather entices thousands of digital nomads to Bali each year.

Becoming A Digital Nomad In Bali

It might help to preface this all by saying that I am no stranger to remote work. I’ve been remote working all over the world since 2015 when I quit my “normal” job in Los Angeles. I flew straight to Thailand and got thrown into rural Thai life almost immediately (so I’m also no stranger to life in the rough and tumble world that is remote Asia).

From there, I’ve worked remotely in Colombia and in Madrid. And, while I truly do hate to destroy the idyllic image most people have of Bali, both Colombia and Spain are better adept than Bali at satisfying the needs of serious digital nomads. Here’s why.

Becoming a digital nomad in Bali looks great. Then, you arrive and you’re automatically hit with the reality of life on a very touristy tropical island. Troves of tourists pour out onto the already over-crowded streets. Traffic stops for the Instagrammer just trying to get a cute shot on her moped. And, torrential downpours halt life as you try to throw a poncho on as fast a possible to avoid drowning your computer in tropical rain through your backpack.

And, all of that is one truly beautiful adventure. It’s balanced out by fairly cheap food, some great beach bars perfect for stunning sunsets and the chance to immerse yourself in a rich culture with locals that are warm and welcoming. But, as a digital nomad coming straight off the heels of working remotely in South America and Europe, it just didn’t seem to live up to all of the hype.

Becoming a Digital Nomad in Bali
Bali traffic is notoriously bad. On one excursion we made it 5 km in the span of an hour and a half.

Bali’s Incredibly Distracting Insta Culture

Ahmed Hammad, a freelance data scientist from Italy, told one news outlet that “only about 10 per cent of digital nomads in Bali today are earning real money. The rest are just floating around and trying to make ends meet with “soft-tech” [as] bloggers, Instagrammers, low-level coders and social-media managers.”

And, as soon as you land in Bali, this becomes evident. You can head to one of the island’s most Intstagrammable cafes and that’s exactly what you’ll see. Hoards of Instagram couples order colourful meals and wait 20 minutes to eat it as they position it perfectly for a photo. Bloggers order a matcha latte, throw a photo of it up on their social media stories, crank out one blog and then head to the beach. Or, wannabe photographers wander the crowded streets snapping photo after photo for their zero-traffic blog.

And, listen, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. At all. You do you. Seriously, follow your dreams. But, as a digital nomad working a full-time job, that culture just won’t cut it. It’s distracting and quite honestly, disrespectful in most situations I was able to witness. Visitors seemed to have no respect for local culture or customs. All they cared about was getting the “perfect shot.” They didn’t seem to care about immersing themselves into the local culture or (gasp) getting any real work done.

The Insta famous Bali sunsets are no doubt striking. But, there has to be more to island life here than just snapping photos for social media.

Where To Live As A Digital Nomad In Bali

So, let’s start with the costs of being a digital nomad in Bali. If you’re older than your mid to late-twenties then chances are you won’t be sharing a room in a hostel during your stay in Bali.

Most blogs state that you can find accommodation for as low as $300-400 a month. The place I stayed in Ubud was a room on a local family’s property. For a room right next to a very vocal rooster and without aircon, I would have paid just under $500.

The guesthouse I stayed at in Canggu was pretty basic and the property didn’t have a swimming pool (a requisite for most who just can’t leave Bali with the iconic “laying out at the pool with a unicorn float” photo).

A full month there in a room with aircon costs about $530. Both the room in Ubud and Canggu were about the cheapest I could find, but if I had stayed longer I would have taken the time to ask around and meet with locals to find better, non-touristy prices.

A room with aircon at a standard guesthouse located in central Canggu will cost you about $500 USD per month.

How Far Does Your Dollar Go In Bali?

In general, my dollar didn’t seem to stretch as far as it does in South America (obviously) but not near as far as it also seemed to in Madrid. It goes without saying that food is obviously cheaper in Colombia. It’s hard to beat South American prices.

But, I was surprised to find that I spent just about the same amount of money on food and transportation in Bali as I did in Madrid, a European capital city. In Madrid, I could wander the entire city safely on the metro (just €54.60 per month, or a little over $60, and find numerous quiet, quaint cafes to work from.

In Bali, you’d have to spend about the same to rent a scooter and fill it with gas, brave the insane traffic and hope you could find a spot at a cafe with outlets and aircon. And, those colourful smoothie bowls you see? Pair it with an iced latte at any cafe and expect to get a bill close to $10 each time you head out for breakfast.

A smoothie bowl like this in Ubud will cost you about $5 USD. Add a normal latte to your order and you can easily spend close to $10 per breakfast.

Finding A Cafe With Aircon, WiFi & Outlets In Ubud

After hours and hours of research, I’d made a pretty comprehensive list of the best places to work in Bali, both in Ubud and Canggu, where I’d be spending one month each. Like any self-respecting travel writer, I went to and worked from them all. And, while they’re all fantastic, beautiful places where you can enjoy a really well-prepared cup of coffee, none of them were great for serious remote working.

In Ubud, nearly every blogger and digital nomad will list Anomali Cafe, Seniman Coffee Studio, Watercress Cafe and Habitat Cafe as all of the best cafes to work from in Ubud. Anomali Cafe was the only one that had a small space with aircon. It became the cafe I worked the most from, but I had to arrive as soon as they opened each morning to snag a spot with air conditioning and a power outlet nearby.

Seniman Coffee Studio was lovely and boy do they pull deliciously perfect shots of espresso. But, the entire cafe opens out onto a loud street and the chairs aren’t comfortable for long working hours. In general, Ubud seemed far less remote work-friendly than Canggu.

After exploring Ubud on foot to ensure I didn’t miss any prime spots, I found Gangga Coffee. It was easily the best spot to work from. It’s a little outside of the city centre, but it’s easy to walk to and even easier to get to on a moto. They have fantastic WiFi, amazing coffee, aircon and lots of space.

A few remote workers finish their work for the day at Lazy Cats Cafe in Ubud.

What About Remote Working Cafes In Canggu?

As for Canggu? It was a little more digital nomad-friendly, a little more modern. You’ll find that most sites list Tropikale, Peloton Supershop, Cinta, Hungry Bird Roasters and The Mocca as their go-to spots for remote working in Canggu. And, I tried them all, eager to enjoy a more work-friendly environment than in Ubud.

And, sadly, I encountered all of the same problems. No cafe had everything you need to crank out a full eight or nine-hour work session. Great WiFi, accessible power outlets, good chairs, and a space that I wasn’t dripping sweat in…it was hard to come by.

It’s worth noting that Hungry Bird Roasters and Peloton Supershop are actually decent spots for working, but I could never work a full day at either. I took breaks and switched from one cafe to the other, which was actually nice on some days.

After a little more exploring, I also found Gowes Coffee in Canggu. It ended up being the best spot to work in Canggu for me. The place is small but I was always able to get a spot with an outlet. Plus, the coffee’s fantastic, albeit a little expensive.

bali digital nomad
Gowes Cafe in Canggu easily topped the list for the best cafes to get work from in the area.

The Actual Best Spots For Remote Working In Bali

So, you’re probably thinking, “Well, just go to a co-working space then, my gosh!” I did. Hubud is one of the most well-known and popular co-working spaces in Ubud. I stopped by to scope it out. And, perhaps it was just the day I visited, encountered more horseplay and chatting than working and entrepreneurship.

The environment was distracting, to say the least. And, yes, $200/month for their unlimited membership isn’t that expensive. If you’re a full-time remote worker, you can likely swing it. But, the point is that I never needed to join a co-working space in Colombia. And, I definitely never felt the need to in Madrid. Endless quiet cafes exist in both places where I can enjoy cheap coffee while also being able to focus on and tackle a full day’s work.

It’s worth noting that I never visited Dojo Bali in Canggu to check out their co-working space. They call it a “Contiki version of a corporate office with a smoothie bar and pool.” A monthly unlimited membership there will cost you about $200. However, it doesn’t seem like people do any real work there either. One remote working web developer told an Australian reporter that, “I’m less productive than I was working at home but this time is not just about working for me.”

After some research, it seems that Matra Coliving & Coworking Space might be the cheapest co-working option. They offer monthly memberships for about $140. And, a daily pass will cost you about $7. If you choose to stay at their guesthouse, you can get a room for about $420 per month. So, cheaper prices are out there if you’re able to get a weekly or monthly discount.

Digital nomads in Bali seemed to be more interested in “monkeying around” than in getting serious work done. Long-term professional development is not the focus here.

Is Bali Paradise Or Over-Hyped?

If you’re thinking about becoming a digital nomad in Bali, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. The biggest issues I had were with the lack of comfortable places to work long hours from and the distracting Insta culture. Mostly, cafes were overcrowded and overpriced. And, real-life Bali looked nothing like the photoshopped photos you see on Instagram.

And, yes, Bali is home to some of the world’s best co-working spaces. But, this was a part of the issue for me. In other cities I’ve worked remotely from, I didn’t need to pay for a monthly co-working membership. You can work remotely in Chiang Mai, Medellin and Madrid without having to pay for a quiet spot with air conditioning.

So, while remote working in Bali is doable, it seems better suited for those who are true nomads. I’m talking about those who are wanderers at heart, the ones who truly don’t stay long in the same place. You know, those who crank out a blog or two then pack up work for the day. Or, those who just need a nice, cute cafe to edit some photos from. If that’s what you’re after, Bali is a great place for you.

As a digital nomad in Bali, you’ll get to enjoy fantastic sunsets at trendy beach bars, long rides through beautiful rice fields and the chance to indulge in some fantastic breakfast bowls and world-class coffee. And, I thoroughly enjoyed every second, drop and bite of my experience in Bali. But, do I see myself heading back to work remotely any time soon? Not a chance.

Bali’s a beauty, but it’s not the digital nomad paradise it’s made out to be…at least not for this digital nomad.
Elizabeth Thorn

Elizabeth has lived and worked in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, all of which have contributed to her passion for travel writing. When she's not writing, you can find her exploring little hideouts in Colombia or watching photography tutorials on YouTube.

Contact: [email protected]

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