Renting a scooter in Bali and where I went wrong
If your island plans include discovering temples, relaxing on secluded beaches or visiting coffee plantations, renting a scooter in Bali is a fantastic way to do it. However, be warned, do it right or you may find yourself in a similar situation to the one I found myself in.
I had three options. Either they arrest me and take me to prison (didn’t like that), I introduce them to Wayne Rooney (UK soccer star, no chance), or I pay an ‘on the spot’ fine of 3,000,000 Rupiah (about $200).
Realising I was cornered, they had my passport, I was panicking. I didn’t have that kind of cash on me and I really didn’t want to go to a Balinese jail.
Renting a scooter
How to rent a scooter in Bali
Where to rent your a scooter
While visiting Bali I wanted to explore a little further than the area around my resort. I wanted to get into the jungle, discover the famous rice fields and smell the coffee plantations. To do this I needed wheels and, as many others do, I hired a moped.
There are many places that can arrange scooter hire in Bali, you’ll find rental shops all over the place in the larger towns. However, I would recommend asking where you are staying or where they recommend hiring.
As you’d expect, there are some unscrupulous people that are just out to scam you, if you organize through your accommodation, you are less likely to run into these people.
Your accommodation may even organize the rental for you and deliver the bike to your hotel or homestay, this is what I was able to do.
What you need to rent your scooter
To hire a moped in Bali, you only need three things really:
- Driving license
It’s worth noting that you do not need an international driving license to hire a scooter, but, you do need one if you want to ride around with peace of mind. It is a legal requirement to have one when riding a moped, so if the police pull you over, and you don’t expect to be fined. But more on that later.
Once you have your scooter, it’s wise to get photos of any damage or event better, a video of the entire bike. Be sure to highlight anything you see before you leave the shop.
One of the more common scams is to get people to pay for damage that already existed when you return the scooter. The vendors are often ambivalent to scratches and dents telling you not to worry about them, but when you return . . . bam . . . they hit you with the fine. Having a good quality video taken in the rental place can help avoid this.
How much does renting a scooter in Bali cost?
Bali moped rental is cheap, honestly, even in the expensive areas. I only had mine for the one day as I was heading off to the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud the next morning and it cost me just 50000 Rupiahs, that’s a little over $3. If you are renting for longer periods, you can even negotiate that down.
The cost of fuel in Bali is also low. it’s around 8000 Rupiahs per liter, so around 54 cents. With a little simple mathematics for you non-metric, that about $2 per gallon, meaning you can fill your average scooter tank with petrol for a little over $3.
That will keep you going for 100 miles or so, plenty to see the good bits of Bali (and probably the bad).
Scooter safety tips
Now that you have your scooter, it is important to stay safe. Most of it is common sense, but just in case you need a reminder, here are a few tips.
- Always wear your helmet – don’t be that person that tries to look cool only to end up in a hospital or worse. Also, it’s the law, you don’t need to give the police any extra reason to pull you over.
- Cover your skin – at the very least, cover your legs. If you do fall off you can be sure your knees will hit the ground first and a bit of cover can be the difference between a small cut or digging sand out of an open wound for weeks.
- Start slowly – if you’re still kinda new to scooters, slowly build up to speed and if you feel uncomfortable . . . slow down.
- Use good footwear – For the same reasons really, if you lose control and have to put your foot down quickly, you really do not want to be wearing flip-flops. a massive gash on the bottom of your foot is a real holiday killer.
- Get a scooter to suit your ability – you really don’t need masses of power, so if you’re new, stick to a 50cc or 125, don’t go for power.
Dangers to scooter riders in Bali
Now you have paid attention to the safety briefing, let’s focus on a few dangers you may face on the road.
- Dogs and other animals – stray dogs can be found all over the place and are ready to jump into a busy road at any opportunity. It may not be you that needs to swerve, it could be the car going the other way so just keep an eye out and be aware of any dogs that may wander into the rod.
- Potholes – The roads aren’t the most pristine in the world, that’s for sure. Keep an eye out for any holes that could hurt both you and your scooter.
- Weather – If it rains while you’re out, the road will get very slippery very quickly so proceed with extreme caution.
- Sand – keep an eye out as riding over a patch of sand can quickly wipe you out, especially when going around a corner, the bike will just lose all grip and the chances are so will you!
- Locals – They know the roads well so go much faster and expect you to get out of the way. The best thing to do is just that, ride to the side of the road and let them pass.
So now you know how to rent a scooter in Bali, let’s move on to my experiencing on the island.
Discovering Bali by moped
With no real route planned, just a full tank of gas and a sense of excitement, I set off to discover paradise. However, the police had other ideas.
Less than 2 miles in, my excitement quickly turned to nervousness as I was pulled over at a police checkpoint along with many other passing tourists.
I was feeling pretty confident that I was OK, they were looking at my bike, I had my helmet on (why would you not) but then they asked me for my Passport and international driver’s permit.
“My what?” I asked as I looked for my driving licence.
Getting an International Driver’s License
Now truth be told, I was aware that a special driving license for foreigners in Indonesia was required as I did the research before going and should have no excuses. However, I forgot about it and ended up not having one.
What you need to get isn’t technically a licence, it’s an International Driving Permit (IDP). It basically acts as a translation document for your full licence, which is also required to be carried.
If you plan on riding a scooter in Bali then you must get your IDP before you leave your country, it is not something that can be bought on arrival.
Check your travel insurance
On a side note (that I have realized while doing a little research) it is entirely possible that if you have an accident while renting a scooter in Bali without a license (well . . . anywhere in the world really), you may well be in breach of your travel insurance policy and it could be voided.
I highly recommend reading your insurance small print before you decide what to do.
More about the IDP
Don’t have an International Driver’s Permit?
There are many other ways to get around Bali other than motorbike rental. One of the most common ways is hiring a private driver. This is also a great way to do some sightseeing but also end the day in a different place, this is what I did when travelling from Jimbaran to Ubud. Be sure to always get a price upfront.
However, if you don’t have an IDP and you really want to hire a scooter, it is possible, keep reading to see how the situation unfolds.
Book a tour of Bali before you go
The police in Bali are open to bribes
I suddenly realised that as they pulled me over, I had been guided into an empty plot of land with a gate and large walls away from view of the road. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it dawned on me, they had my Passport and there was no getting out of this without spending some cash, it now depends how much!
They asked me again to produce an International Driver’s Permit, feigning ignorance saying that I had no idea what that was, I showed them my driving licence and tried to convince them that was what they needed to see.
Get of the beaten path in Indonesia, read A guide to baliem valley trekking
I was a little bit panicked as I overheard them talking about large fines or a trip to the police station, but luckily for me, there were a couple more tourists in this situation and I overheard them negotiating.
So, doing my best to suppress the inner fear, I boldly told asked the policeman how much it would be and that’s when the largest of the three policemen attending me chuckled heartily to himself as he explained in his deep voice.
“You have three options. Either we arrest you and you go to jail, you introduce us to Wayne Rooney . . . huh huh huh . . . or you pay us.”
“Ummmmm . . . three-million Rupiah.”
I explained to the policeman that I simply didn’t have that much money so he just said:
“OK . . . we go then to police station, come on”.
Now I think this was just a scare tactic, but it worked, and I explained to him that maybe we can work something out.
He asked how much I had, and this is where I had been smart.
Heed my mum’s travel advice
Thanks to my mum’s drilling before I left, I had money stashed in different places.
“Don’t keep all your money in one place,” she would say to me before every trip, and this time, it paid dividends.
I never keep all my money in my wallet; in fact, I keep as little as possible in there when travelling as you never know what may happen. I pulled out my wallet and showed him I only had 50,000 Rupiah on me (about $8).
I didn’t tell him about the other 1,000,000 (that’s right, I was a millionaire once) in my socks or the bit of cash in my bag’s side pocket.
Seeing my empty wallet he looked a little disappointed but decided that would be enough, took the money and said I could be on my way.
Before heading off to start my day again I did ask him if it was OK to continue to use my bike or am I likely to be pulled over and have to pay a fine on every corner?
He said I would be OK, but just to be sure I asked him for a note explaining that and he duly obliged.
Whether or not is would have worked should I have been pulled over again, I’m unsure, as luckily, I was left to enjoy the rest of my day exploring the island on my scooter.
The moral of the story
There isn’t one really, I hired a scooter without the proper paperwork, bribed a policeman, got a nice story to tell you guys and it was all cheaper than buying an International Driving Permit. So while I should sit here and preach to you how you HAVE to have one, you don’t really.
And in all honesty, even if I did have one, I’m sure he would have found some reason to fine me.
However, if you do rent a scooter without an International Driving Permit, remember you are breaking the law, which is disrespectful and be sure to check your travel insurance.
I know none of us like to think the worst may happen, but imagine if you have an accident, end up in a hospital, or worse . . . die, and your family is left with thousands of dollars of medical bills as you didn’t spend $20 on an International Driver’s Permit.