Travelling abroad can be both exciting and terrifying at the same time. For many Australians, Bali is a popular first overseas travel destination. With cheap airfares, affordable five-star hotels and bargain prices for everything from food, massages and that must-have Bintang t-shirt, it is a favourite for regular travellers too. But you don’t want to get caught out with common Bali scams such as the Bali card scam. Like many popular destinations, there are plenty of tourist scams in Bali. Some of these scams are ingenious and have been known to catch out even the most experienced travellers.
Others will have you in fits of laughter at the poor acting skills and downright audacity of the scammer. There are a few popular scams I will cover in this guide to Bali but the thing I am always amazed at is the number of intelligent people who get scammed. I should know, I’m one of them. Even being a seasoned traveller won’t save you from being scammed 100% of the time which shows just how good some scammers are. Here’s what you need to know about avoiding common Bali scams on your trip.
1. You are not a tourist to Bali scammers, you are a walking ATM
Perhaps the first and most valuable advice when coming to Bali is don’t be niave in thinking all the friendly Balinese are there to help you. While many are genuinely friendly, some will likely be trying to scam you, especially at popular tourist hubs like the airport. Given most Indonesians make around AU$40 a week it is understandable some see visiting tourists as being incredibly wealthy people who won’t mind being scammed. Be vigilant if anyone approaches you with bargain offers and skeptical about the quality of the service or items. As always when you travel, it’s a case of ‘buyer beware!’.
2. Taxis could be taking your wallet for a long ride
The first scammers you are likely to encounter in Bali will be outside the airport. If you’re a first timer to Bali the easiest way to get a legitimate taxi transfer is with the taxi counter in the arrivals hall. This is located just before you exit to the terminal, right before the shop selling costly everything, like water and snacks. Don’t fall for a Bali taxi scam! For reliable and honest taxis when you’re out and about in Bali, download the mybluebird taxi app on your phone.
Bluebird is the best taxi service in Bali with registered and professional drivers who always use the meter and don’t try to sell you a tour or take you to their uncle’s shop. Even if you’re staying at a five star hotel, be wary of asking the hotel to get you transport to anywhere. This service will almost certainly be more expensive and often involves kickback going directly to the hotel or the person who organised your ride.
3. Fast money and faster hands
Try to avoid currency exchanges, especially small out of the way ones offering high rates of exchange for cash. These are there to fleece you for money with hands faster than the eye, giving you far less money then they originally offered. Use legitimate Bank ATMs and avoid ATMs that look a bit doggy and not connected with a bank. It is easy to get confused with the ATMs, as I discovered first hand. I thought an ATM was attached to a bank but it turned out to be an independent ATM that changed a fortune in service fees.
Many ATMs in Bali have a maximum withdrawal of 200,000 rupiah (AU$20), as these are set for locals and not tourists. One crucial tip is to notify your bank of your trip to Bali or risk having your card cancelled. This is a common reason travellers end up using money changers as they need to change their AU$ into local currency.
4. Hotels setting you up
After checking into a large five-star hotel in Bali’s Kuta area I received a call from reception not long after arriving in my room. They apologized to me by name and said they had a problem with my credit card and that they were sending a staff member to get my card. I politely refused their ‘kind’ offer said I was happy to come down to reception (as I didn’t want to leave my card with someone unattended). I went to hotel’s front desk and they said all the credit card information was fine and no one had called me from reception.
Not surprisingly, I never heard from the ‘helpful’ staff member again about the missing details. This is a known scam that works via an insider hotel employee giving the scammers your name and room number. They usually ask to collect credit card or ask you to give credit card details over the phone with all the details so they can scam the card. Never give your credit card details to anyone over the phone at a Bali hotel.
5. If it doesn’t have a price tag, can you afford it?
This is one scam I did get caught by recently and I was kicked myself afterwards. Walking into a shop with my family and feeling hot and thirsty, I failed to notice that there were no prices on the drinks. The cashier rang up the amount on a calculator and I handed over the money. As soon as I got outside, I realised the drinks I had bought turned out to be almost triple the regular price. I did go back into the store to explain the mistake but was greeted with no English, no understand, and a smile (sorry sucker, bye bye).
My fault entirely for being complacent. I was now $5 out of pocket but it was my own fault. I was lucky it was my pride that was hurting the most and not my wallet. If any price for a service or item is not listed or agreed upon in advance, things can quickly get out of hand. Depending on what you’re buying it can end up costing you an extra hundred dollars, not just a few. Always ask the price – and take time to be sure you understand what the exchange rate is – and if you’re not happy, be polite and walk away.
6. The ultimate way to avoid Bali scams
You do have to be vigilant when it comes to scammers in Bali but it is also important to keep some perspective. An amount like $5 is nothing to you but it is almost a day’s wage for the locals so don’t be complacent, but don’t be a drama queen either. Treat it as a lesson learned and move on. The most common reason for being scammed is complacency and naivety. You can be the savviest traveller with decades of experience and still get scammed. My experience with those delicious but very expensive soft drinks taught me to be ever vigilant but also keep perspective.
Disclosure: The writer still can’t believe he got scammed like a newbie on his recent trip to Bali. Oh, the humiliation!
We’ve got plenty of hints and tips for travelling in Bali and also some great hotel and resort suggestions. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, we’ve reviewed the Ritz-Carlton Bali Resort, Peppers Seminyak Resort, Apurva Kempinski Bali, Bulgari Resort Bali, Aria Villas Ubud, Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua Beach Resort, The Mulia Bali, Merusaka Nusa Dua, Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort, Anantara Seminyak Bali, the InterContinental Bali for couples and those travelling with kids. We’ve compared the Singaraja and Club rooms at the InterContinental Bali and found the best luxury family hotels in Bali and the best honeymoon hotels in Bali.