How to Avoid 5 Common Scams in Bali

By Sia Ling Xin,
August 30, 2014
Bali, Indonesia
Courtesy Milda Ratkelyte

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter.

Bali, also known as the land of gods, is an unforgettable island. Unfortunately, visitors are sometimes so taken by the island charm, they fall prey to common scams. Here's how to avoid getting cheated.

Know your zeros
Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) comes in large denominations, with 10,000 IDR and 100,000 IDR notes commonly used. $1 USD is approximately 12,000 IDR. A simple meal may cost you 40,000 IDR. With all the zeros floating around, it is easy to mix up your notes and end up paying $30 USD for a meal that actually costs $3 USD. Never be in a rush to pay. Instead, make sure you know how much change you should be getting back even before you hand over your cash. Merchants are less likely to take advantage of the confusion associated with large notes if they know you are careful. Always wait for your change, even if you want to leave a tip, in case you miscalculate the amount you should get back. The same advice goes for currency exchange. Always go to a licensed money changer such as a bank or hotel if you need to convert cash into IDR. While smaller money changers claim to offer better rates, they may confuse you with many small notes and end up giving you much less than you ought to receive.

Turn the meter on
Taxis are the default way to get around Bali, and drivers are aware of this. Always look for a Blue Bird Taxi (note: there are many cabs that are blue in colour, so look out for the actual words on the vehicle). Also, remember to shout out 'meter' before you step into the taxi. If drivers seem unwilling to turn the meter on, simply step out and wait for the next taxi. One is bound to come along within 30 seconds. Some drivers may quote you a seemingly low price, such as $3, but remember, taxis are super cheap in Bali, and $3 may already be a rip-off. Only take such cabs if you urgently need to get somewhere, and always negotiate the price down. Instead of making a counter offer, just shake your head. Desperate to secure clients, drivers have been known to cut from $5 to $1. If you take a metered taxi, you may find that the actual cost is only $0.80! If you are paying in IDR, always mention it upfront as well.

Check out the competition
There are often endless rows of restaurants and shops along the tourist stretches in Bali. Jimbaran Bay, famous for its beachfront seafood restaurants, is the epitome of perfect competition. Remember, there is always a better deal to be had. Do your research on how much you should expect to pay for a meal, and stick with that amount. If you find a good deal backed up with reviews online, go ahead and make a reservation. If you choose to be spontaneous and only pick a restaurant when you're there, be sure to check out at least 4-5 places before settling on one. Hesitation can work well in your favor—merchants are known to give discounts of almost 50 percent, throw in free beers, transportation, dessert, and dangle other carrots to get your business. The best part is you don't even need diehard bargaining skills—just look doubtful and as though you can walk away any moment, and they will be pulling out all the stops to get you to stay.

Note it down
If you are promised a deal that seems too good to be true, one way to safeguard yourself is to write the price and main terms down. For example, if you are promised fish, mussels, clams, and crab at a 'special price' for your dinner, jot down the agreed quantity and price, then get the server's confirmation before giving your go-ahead and order. This will help prevent disputes such as you being served a tiny fish or just a couple of clams as you were offered a special, lower price which included less food than you thought it does.

Sob stories
If you hear anyone telling you a sob story (sick, injured, or poor family members are common tales), take it with a grain of salt. Whether it is your designated driver whom you hired to show you Bali, a random person you meet along the streets, or staff servicing you, try not to get too attached. It can be a ploy to illicit your sympathy and money. Ask them how they get by, what they do to make a living, and which hospital or welfare organization they seek help from. It is all right to give a small tip in exchange for their services. However, if it is a stranger, the best way to help is to donate to a trusted and established charity which benefits the locals.

Click here to see a travel video about things to do in Bali.

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