Bali is a beautiful island in Indonesia known for its stunning scenery, rice fields and striking temples. It is in the Java sea located between the other islands of Lombok and Java. The gorgeous beaches are a haven for sun worshippers and surfers alike. It is a favorite location for yoga and meditation retreats. Digital nomads flock here every year. Visitors here need to be aware of what is illegal in Bali to avoid running into trouble.
Bali is a popular destination renowned for being the go-to spot for laid back travelers looking for calm and a spiritual experience. However, due to cheap accommodation costs, Bali can also attract those looking for a less tranquil experience. For example, Australians looking for a good time, head for the busy resort town of Kuta. Add too much alcohol to the mix, a twist of high spirits, and a night out in Bali could end up with you being on the wrong end of the Balinese police. An experience you should make sure to avoid.
But it’s not just those looking for trouble that could find it. You may unwittingly find yourself in trouble with the Indonesian law, without realizing it. Bali is a country with laws that you might find strange. If you come from a more liberal country then some of the rules may seem over the top compared to what you are used to at home. But when in another country, you must understand and respect their culture and their laws. We are here to make sure you know what is illegal in Bali and what you should avoid doing, before you travel.
Table of Contents
Drugs are illegal in Bali
Drugs. Just don’t do them. Illegal drugs are illegal in Indonesia. Who’d have thought?
The Indonesian authorities take the use of drugs and the trafficking of drugs very seriously. As it should. Indonesia is hardly an exception when it comes to drug laws. But, if you are caught in Bali in the possession of drugs then you will face the full force of the law. If you were to be convicted of trafficking drugs then you might not just be looking at a prison sentence. You could be looking at the death penalty. Although used rarely, the death penalty is alive and well in Bali. In 2005, nine travelers visiting from Australia were convicted of drug smuggling in the infamous “Bali Nine” case. Two of the Australian travelers were executed in 2015. Do you want to take that risk?
Marijuana is classed as a “Group 1” drug in Bali, the same category as Cocaine and Heroin. If you are ever offered any drugs in the streets in Bali, or anywhere in Indonesia (or the world for that matter), you should just walk away. As if we need to tell you. But, you know, just in case we do. Some undercover police officers in Bali pose as drug dealers to catch you out. You have been warned.
Some prescription drugs are illegal in Bali
It’s obvious that illegal drugs are going to be… illegal. But you might be surprised to know that the use of some prescription drugs is also prohibited according to Indonesian laws. This has caught many tourists out over the years. If you take sleeping pills, or any medication to combat ADHD you might not be able to take them into Bali with you. Likewise with strong pain killers including morphine.
Steps to take should you need to take prescribed drugs into Bali
- Keep the medication in the original packaging/bottle
- Get a letter from your doctor. The letter should be printed on official paper. It needs to contain details about the medication, its intended use, and the quantity you require – which should match the quantity you have with you. It should also be in English.
- Take the prescription with you if you have it
You might not even stop to consider that prescription drugs you take every day could be banned in another country. But as seasoned travelers, we know. Never take anything for granted. Do not assume the laws of another country. Do your research before you leave home.
An Australian man was detained in Bali for five days after entering the country with prescribed ADHD pills. He did not have a doctor’s letter and the number of pills he had on him was deemed excessive by the Indonesian authorities. He was lucky to get away with just five days of detention – if you can call that lucky – but he had been facing a prison sentence of up to twenty years.
Get to know the law if you take prescription drugs, including:
- Codeine (found in painkillers)
- Opiods (such as morphine)
- Pseudoephedrine (used in some cold medication)
- Dexamphetamine (used in ADHD medication)
- Benzodiazepines (Valium and Xanax takers beware)
Smoking is illegal in Bali
Drug use while in Bali may be an obvious activity to avoid, but smoking can get people into trouble too. You are not likely to be sentenced to death for smoking tobacco, but smoking in public areas is illegal in Bali. It has been against the law here since 2013. If caught you could end up with a fine. The fines for smoking where you shouldn’t is small – around US $5. But there is a possibility you may receive a prison sentence of up to three months. What’s more, the public in Bali are actually encouraged to report people who smoke where they shouldn’t.
While people think that the police aren’t too hot on this subject, just be careful. Use your common sense when deciding if it’s worth lighting up in Bali.
Where can’t you smoke?
Plastic pollution is covering the planet and is a tremendous threat to marine life. Do your part to help by traveling with a filter water bottle.
A filter water bottle is an effective way of purifying water to remove any impurities or contaminants.
Anywhere public – outdoor areas, public transport and so on are all places you cannot smoke. You can add shopping malls, medical facilities, and places of worship to that list too. Oh, and places of education or places that children go to. And the airport. Hotels too, but see below.
Where can you smoke?
Places you can smoke include designated smoking areas inside bars and restaurants. Some hotels may have smoking areas as well but don’t assume. If this is important to you then find out before booking.
If in any doubt, ask or don’t risk it.
Gambling is illegal in Bali
Gambling is illegal in Bali. In fact, it is prohibited in Indonesia as a whole. If you are looking for casinos, a resort holiday in Cancun might suit you better. But you will be right out of luck in Bali. Indonesia is a very religious country. The main religion in Indonesia is Islam. Islam strictly forbids any form of gambling. Indonesian law does not differentiate between tourists and residents when it comes to the law. If you are caught gambling in Bali you might end up in prison.
Online gambling is a no-no too
If the police even suspect you have been involved in gambling, they do have powers to search your phone. Online gambling is also illegal. Don’t roll the dice here when it comes to the law.
Tip: If you really need your fix of poker, then a private game in your hotel room with friends won’t hurt – but don’t gamble for money.
Alcohol is (not yet) illegal in Bali
While not illegal just yet, there have actually been talks by the Indonesian government and religious parties to ban alcohol. If the law was to go through it would mean that the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol in Bali would be outlawed. As you can imagine, this would be a huge blow to the tourist industry. So let’s hope the powers that be use some common sense.
It may be unlikely to happen but where there’s smoke and all that. Who knows? What we do already know is that the sale of alcohol in small shops throughout the whole of Indonesia is illegal already. Kuta would never be the same again.
Hiring a scooter
Okay, hiring a scooter is not in itself against the law. But riding one without an International Driving License is! If you are researching this subject, you are going to read different opinions about this. Some scooter hire places have been letting tourists hire scooters without an IDL for years. But take responsibility for yourself. Don’t give the Indonesian police any reason to fine you, or worse. Apply for your IDL here before you leave America. It shouldn’t cost much more than US $20. Take this and your normal driving license with you. If you get stopped you will have to show both.
Most tourists visiting Bali are going to want to try hiring a scooter. It can be a fun and cheap way to get around and see the island. You need to take the time to brush up on the laws of the road before you go, so you know what you are getting yourself into. Driving in Bali can be chaotic, especially in busy places including Kuta, Ubud, or Seminyak. You might want to try hiring one for a trip into the countryside, perhaps on a tour to see some of the wonderful waterfalls Bali is home to.
If you are not sure about being in charge of a scooter you may consider hiring a car instead. However, exercise caution. Hiring a car with a driver in Bali doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s best to do this. You can hire a car with a local driver for a whole day for around US $40. Sightseeing this way is so much more relaxing. Plus you avoid any risk of causing an accident and ending up spending time with the police.
Being stopped without your passport
Indonesian law requires people to carry ID with them all the time. That extends to tourists as well as local residents. You are meant to carry your passport with you for identification at all times. If you are stopped by the police your passport is one of the first things you will be asked to show. A photocopy of it should be okay if carrying around your passport does not appeal to you. Bear in mind that you might have to produce the original passport if the police ask you for it.
Now we have given you a rundown of what is illegal in Bali, we will move on to answer two of the most common questions tourists visiting this beautiful country might have. Then we will reiterate the one surprising rule that continues to catch tourists out. So let’s look at what else you should avoid doing in Bali.
It is considered rude to enter temples and places of worship inappropriately dressed. Men and women must have shoulders covered, down to the forearm preferably. Knees should be covered, so if you are wearing shorts carry a sarong or scarf with you.
Women are forbidden to enter temples if they are menstruating. Although this is impossible to enforce, signs outside temples will say it is not allowed and will rely on your “honor” to not break the rule. This also goes for anyone, male and female, who have any kind of open wound that is bleeding.
Avoid making transactions using your left hand. And try not to touch anyone with your left hand! In Bali, the left hand is considered to be the dirty hand. This is down to the fact that the Balinese don’t tend to use toilet paper. They wipe and clean themselves with their left hand. So the right hand is always used when giving or receiving items. Left-handers don’t panic though. If you were to inadvertently use your left hand, you won’t get into trouble. The Balinese are getting more and more used to tourists and also understand cultural differences.
While we are talking about touching, do not touch Balinese people on the head. The head is seen as a sacred part of the body. Don’t go round patting people on the head as a sign of affection. It just won’t go down well here.
As we have already discussed, there are some prescription drugs that are considered illegal in Bali. Being in possession of everyday medications that you use at home can land you in a heap of trouble. Sleeping pills, Valium, Xanax, and Codeine being among them. If you want to be sure before your visit to Bali then check with the Indonesian embassy about any medications you may be taking.
Bali is one of the most visited Indonesian islands and will be for years to come (as long as they don’t ban alcohol). There is so much to see and do in Bali. It’s a long way to travel so you want to make the most of it and have a trouble-free vacation. However, it’s not just a case of sticking to the letter of the law. You don’t necessarily need to break the law to offend the local people. Responsible international travel requires research and preparation. Understanding a country’s culture and accepted norms is important.