Life in Bali Through the Eyes of a Foreign Woman Married to a Balinese

Veronika was born and raised in Moscow. Before moving to Bali, she travelled extensively but never intended to leave Russia permanently. Her first visit to Bali was in 2017, during a ten-month trip across Southeast Asia. Initially, she planned a short stay on the island, but after meeting a local Balinese man, Veronika decided to settle down and start a family in Bali.
Photos from Veronika's Instagram account @vero_bule
Disclaimer: This article is a translation of an interview published on BaliForum in 2023. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of the editorial staff of
Veronika's story in her own words:
On Language Barrier
When I first came to Bali as a tourist, I used English for communication, including my then-future husband. I picked up a few basic phrases in Indonesian, which was enough for a short stay. Upon moving to Bali permanently, I realised the importance of learning the local language. I needed it to communicate with my husband's family to begin with, and later for communication in my daily life. While I'm not fluent in Indonesian, I know enough to get by and converse with the locals.
There's also another language on the island: Balinese. Learning it is challenging due to the absence of textbooks, and it's primarily used in spoken form and messaging. It's complex, unfamiliar, and has its own alphabet. So far, I only know a few words.
For me, knowing Indonesian is necessary because I live here and interact with Balinese people. I am also interested in their culture. However, if someone doesn't plan to venture beyond the tourist areas, English will be more than sufficient.

On Long-Term Visas and Working in Bali
The most common way to stay legally long-term in Bali is with a tourist visa, also known as a social visa. You can obtain it at an embassy for around $50. It can be extended four times, each extension lasting one month, allowing for a total stay of six months on the island. After that, you must leave the country and re-enter. Most tourists who come to Bali for the European winter stay on a social visa.
When I moved, I also obtained a social visa. Within six months, I got married and applied for a family visa. This visa is valid for 12 months and can be renewed annually. It costs $200.
There is also a work visa, but it’s not popular among foreigners, and very few people use this visa when coming to stay in Bali. To get this visa, you need to find an employer in advance, agree on a job, sign a contract, and then apply for the visa based on that contract.
Office jobs are scarce, and local employers usually prefer hiring Balinese workers because they can pay them less.
Of course, there are business-minded foreigners who rent villas long term and sublet them monthly at a profit. There are also wedding photographers, yoga teachers, surfing instructors, and such. But many of these people work illegally. Such activities can result in hefty fines and deportation. Therefore, most foreigners who live here usually work remotely.
Another option to move to Bali is a retirement visa, provided you meet certain age requirements.
Currently, I do not work. All my free time is dedicated to raising my one-and-a-half-year-old son and managing an Instagram account about life in Bali. The latter doesn't bring in any money now, but I hope it will in the future.
On Traditional Balinese Wedding
I had a traditional Balinese wedding. 
The main event typically takes place at the groom's family house, which is decorated for the occasion with yellow curtains, leafy garlands, and a festive arch. 
The food is prepared by the family, with a whole roasted pig as the centrepiece. It's accompanied by more than ten types of vegetable and meat appetisers, along with rice. Everyone drinks Coca-Cola, iced tea, beer, and water.
A few days before the wedding, courtesy visits from relatives commence. They dress in traditional attire and bring customary gifts like rice, coffee, sugar, and eggs. We, the newlyweds, are expected to be hospitable: serve them coffee and cookies, offer cigarettes, and engage in polite conversation.
The day before the ceremony, the road in front of the house is blocked off, and a pop-up gazebo is erected on the road. Inside the gazebo, rows of chairs are arranged for the guests. On the wedding day, a police car is parked across the road, with officers ensuring order and preventing unauthorised access.
During the wedding, there is no request for consent to marry, no exchange of rings, and no first kiss. However, there are several men in immaculate white clothing serving as the equivalent of a civil registrar who read congratulatory messages.
Then, the wedding ceremony commences: the newlyweds stand by the arch, and a man in white attire conducts rituals in front of them (explanation by – Veronika refers to a Hindu priest). He rubs some powder in his palms, knocks stones over their ears, makes magical gestures with what looks like a kitchen grater near their faces, and draws a yellow stripe on their foreheads with a special powder. After this, the couple must walk through the arch over a stick laid on the ground.
Next, the couple goes to an altar with offering baskets. The groom is given a hoe, and the bride a banana seedling. Together, they circle the altar three times, kicking a coconut that is placed on the ground. The bride's seedling is then planted in the ground with the groom's hoe, though, in our case, it was just a symbolic gesture as the ground was concrete!
The next stage involves bartering. The bride holds a basket with rice, garlic, chilli peppers, a piece of fabric, grass, and other items, while the groom has ritual coins. He must trade the coins for three items from the basket. These choices supposedly predict the couple's future and the number of children they'll have.
Next, the couple approaches a tall table where a genuine shaman is seated. Bare-chested but adorned with beads, bracelets, and a gold-embroidered cap, he recites prayers, sprinkles holy water, wraps the couple in coloured threads with coins at the ends, ties strings around their wrists, and encircles their heads with a blade of grass. (Correction from – this is actually a description of Sri Empu, another type of Hindu priest. It is incorrect to refer to them as a shaman).
The couple then stands before a pile of offerings to feed each other rice, chicken, and a sweet pastry. As a vegetarian, I was spared from eating the chicken and only had to symbolically bring it to my mouth. Unfortunately, the pastry turned out to be spoiled, but thankfully, spitting it out didn’t offend anyone. The final step was to hold a boiled egg together.
This was followed by a series of rituals, including hand gestures, placing flowers behind ears, applying rice to foreheads, burning a string, and cutting a palm leaf mat in mid-air. At the end of these never-ending rituals, we had to take baskets of offerings, place them on our heads, enter the house, and set them on our home altar.
It was unusual, but there was one similarity to the European-style weddings: complete exhaustion. We were so worn out that after the guests left, we just went to bed without showering or brushing the rice off our foreheads. We didn't even hear the sacred Mount Agung letting out a celebratory blast of smoke and lava in our honour.
On Locals in Bali
I spend a lot of time with locals – my husband is from here. Getting along with his friends and relatives is easy. However, Balinese people have their quirks, and I doubt I could do business with them. Many of them are quite unreliable; being late for a meeting or work is totally normal and making promises without following through is completely acceptable. While the Balinese don’t mind this treatment from each other, it used to drive me crazy, and to be honest, it still does.
Despite their unreliability, the locals are generally very friendly, especially towards foreigners. While there are stories about Balinese people trying to charge money for every little thing, this mostly occurs in tourist areas. If you go to a village, you’re unlikely to encounter this. There, you need to understand each other first, and English won’t help much.
City life is very different. For example, our residence in the city is situated within a small complex on a narrow street, consisting of approximately 15 single-story houses, each with a garage. While we are familiar with our neighbours by face, we rarely develop close relationships. Greetings are exchanged in passing, and our children occasionally play together. However, genuine bonds or friendships among neighbours in the city are uncommon.
Regarding integration into the local community, I believe that foreigners who come to Bali for six months or a year don’t really need to. You don’t have to interact much with the locals – at most with a taxi driver or a fruit seller, and even then, you can just point to what you want.
Contrary to common belief, not all Balinese are poor, work in the fields, and eat only rice. Most Balinese have land from which they earn an income; some have rice fields, while others have fruit plantations. Additionally, it’s important to note that most of the poor people in Bali aren’t Balinese but migrants from neighbouring islands who come to work and live here in terrible conditions, like in makeshift huts.
By the way, there’s a trick to distinguish a Balinese from any other Indonesian. Ask them their name! Balinese people have a very specific set of names – literally about ten. If someone gives one of these names, they are Balinese; if they give another name, they are likely a migrant.
On Accommodation in Bali
You can find a wide range of accommodation options in Bali, with prices ranging from as low as $50 to as high as $50,000 per month. Yes, you heard it right – accommodation for just $50 a month is available in what locals call ‘kos-kosan’. These are essentially rooms within a shared courtyard, offering basic amenities such as a small corner kitchenette and a tiny bathroom. The kitchen usually has basic electricity connections, while the bathroom might consist of a squat toilet and a tap sticking out of the wall. It’s common for residents to use a bucket and water scoop for showering, which is considered normal by local standards.
For short-term stays, many foreigners opt to book accommodation through platforms like Booking or Airbnb. However, for those planning a longer stay, it’s common to book temporary lodging for a week and then explore the island in person to find suitable options. This is because not all available accommodations are listed online, and sometimes the reality of the place may not match the pictures. Therefore, it’s advisable to personally inspect the property to avoid ending up in a long-term rental with unwanted roommates like cockroaches.
Housing preferences vary greatly based on individual budgets and requirements. Some prioritise having access to a pool, while others don’t mind living without one. Some opt for just a room in a villa, while others might prefer renting out an entire villa. With numerous options available, browsing online to begin with can give you a good idea of what’s out there.
On Property Prices and Construction Quality in Bali
Property costs in Bali vary greatly depending on the area. In less touristy regions, the average cost for one hectare of land with a house ranges from $45,000 to $56,000 USD. Prices are significantly higher closer to the beach.
Bali's regulations prohibit high-rise buildings, resulting in predominantly single-story homes, with two-story buildings being less common. This restriction also applies to hotels, which are typically limited to just a few floors.
However, the quality of finishes in houses often falls short. Paint is frequently applied directly onto concrete, without proper plastering or puttying. Consequently, in the humid climate, paint starts to peel off and surfaces deteriorate. It's an unfortunate sight, but there's little that can be done about it.
On Finding Your Ideal Living Environment in Bali
Before making the move to Bali, it's crucial to decide on the area you want to live in. The island offers options for a diverse range of lifestyles – from beaches for swimming and surfing to waterfalls, yoga classes, and dining spots. Consider your preferences carefully: Do you want to live in a jungle with lush greenery, or close to crashing waves, sandy beaches, and underwater adventures?
Many are drawn to Bali by its mystical allure and promise of spiritual enlightenment. While some find what they seek, others don't. However, true enlightenment often comes from within and can be pursued anywhere in the world or with the guidance of a therapist. Bali does offer numerous meditation spots, creating an environment conducive to introspection and self-discovery.
Interestingly, the majority of Balinese don't actively engage in spiritual practices, except for a few rare exceptions. Instead, their leisure activities often revolve around playing cards and gambling.
Entertainment options abound in Bali, catering to diverse tastes and preferences. Most residents own a bike or car and travel extensively.  Typically, a journey from south to north takes just over three hours, with bikes being the preferred mode of transport to navigate through traffic.
One thing that is consistent anywhere you go is food. Bali has that characteristic Asian street food culture. Everywhere you turn, there are carts offering varieties of dishes all freshly made. There are also tons of cafes, catering to all budgets. Anything from $1 to $100. The price doesn't always reflect how tasty the food is. You really need to try for yourself to know.
On Healthcare Realities in Bali
The healthcare system here is simply a nightmare! If you're a tourist with insurance, you're fine. But living here long-term without insurance is terrifying! The only advice – don't get sick.
During my time in Bali, I only needed dental treatment, but it took me five visits to different dentists to find one that was somewhat decent.
The price tag doesn't necessarily reflect professionalism. Sure, all the cheap specialists are terrible, but the problem is that most of the expensive ones are too! Visit a doctor with a fever and cough, and they'll prescribe paracetamol. For a sore ear, they'll prescribe antibiotics without bothering to investigate first. Falling ill in Bali is frightening!
And to think, I gave birth here! Although everything went smoothly, I attribute it to the fact that the obstetrician was my husband's cousin. We had everything arranged with him in advance. However, the idea of giving birth in a random hospital doesn't appeal to me.
In Bali, so-called natural childbirth is popular – in a tub, with flowers... all this esoteric stuff! I didn't choose that option, and neither do the locals; it's all designed solely for tourists.
On Law Enforcement in Bali
Dealing with police in Bali is a nightmare! Corruption runs deep, and that’s all that needs to be said to paint the general picture.
Money can grease the wheels of justice for all possible offences, starting from riding bikes without helmets to drunk driving. This includes offences as serious as drug-related crimes, which are theoretically punishable by death. Basically, a hefty sum can secure freedom. Although the price tag is steep, people tend to pay their way out.
While the island is relatively safe from more serious crimes like murder and assault, theft is a persistent issue, particularly in tourist areas. The Balinese often attribute theft to the wrongdoings of migrants from Java, but the situation is more complex. Equally concerning is the prevalence of credit card data theft, for which law enforcement offers no help. The police do not seem to do anything but extract bribes.
On Her Future Plans
I really miss Russia. I have been away for two and a half years now. I hope to be able to go there for a visit soon.
Currently, I'm sorting out passports for my son. He already has his Indonesian documents, and we're now in the process of obtaining Russian citizenship for him. It's doable, although it requires time and finances. Once completed, we aim to travel to Russia, even if just for a brief visit of two or three weeks, to see his grandparents.
On a positive note, they come to Bali to visit us every year, so it's not as bad as it could be.
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