The Unknown Expat: A Life and Death of a Thousand Cuts Story

By Vyt Karazija

Somewhere in Indonesia there is a dark, cheerless room, lacking windows and completely cut off from the realities of life outside. Within that cloistered space is a special group of legislators and regulators, tightly focused on their endless task of driving nails into the coffin of expatriate life in Bali.

If anyone had performed an autopsy on the unfortunate occupant of the casket – The Unknown Bali Expat – they would have discovered that the cause of death was exsanguinations from a thousand cuts. But of course, there will never be an autopsy on the death of expat dreams because nobody cares.

In Bali, expats are seen as a bottomless well of money for both local traders and the authorities. I have no real issue with the differential in prices for bules and locals – that’s just the way it is here, and it helps keep costs down for locals whose disposable wealth is minuscule. Up to now, even the huge swag of foreigner-targeted special charges and procedures has been onerous, but almost bearable – if you can call imposts like a US$1,200 payment to Jakarta for each year of a KITAS bearable. Or the new $50,000 bride price now payable to Jakarta for foreigners who are the marrying kind.

Yes, it is expensive for expats to live here when you factor in all the charges, but many of us have been able to manage, albeit with the odd grumble. But now things seem to be different. Indonesian legislators, no longer content with slamming expats with every conceivable charge, and then some, seem to be changing direction. The aim seems to be to discourage us altogether.

They simply don’t want us here. The ludicrous cost of alcohol in Bali is obviously aimed at foreigners – locals are not big consumers of imported wine and spirits. The new fines for motorists are simply out of reach of locals, so will obviously be selectively enforced for foreigners. The new rules – unpublicised – for bringing in personal effects now mean that you can’t easily bring your stuff here from home.

Here’s a frustrating little story about importing a few boxes of clothes, sports equipment for a child and the usual memorabilia that can ease the shock of transitioning to a new country. My friend used an Australian freight agent with many years of experience of bringing goods to Bali via Surabaya. The stuff duly arrived in Surabaya, and she was sent an invoice by the local freight forwarder, demanding a copy of her KITAS and payment of $800 for import duty.

That’s strange, she thought – the rules say that there is no duty for payable for personal effects for KITAS holders, so why does he want both the duty fees and the KITAS? The local agent immediately changed his story and claimed that he had never sent her an invoice in the first place. Hmmm.

The troubles multiplied rapidly after that. The agent continued to demand a KITAS – not an option, as my friend lives here on a different type of long-term visa. Then came a demand for her to mail her passport to Surabaya. Yeah, right. “I’ll come to Surabaya and bring it myself,” she said. “Ahh, no, not possible,” was the reply.

Finally came the news that under new rules, she now needs an import permit. However, once the goods have arrived in Indonesia, it is too late for an import permit, she was told. “We can re-export the goods to Singapore, and bring them back using ‘semi-legal’ methods” was the next suggestion. Wonderful – the quote for this scam was another couple of thousand dollars.

Worn down by the 10 weeks it had taken to get to this stage, my friend was ready to just ship the goods out again. This annoyed the agent, who suggested that the goods had been left in Surabaya for too long and would most likely now be destroyed. The pressure intensified, with all suggestions from the agent revolving around huge storage, shipping and duty charges, payable, of course, to the agent.

In desperation, my friend said that she would get the required import permit, no matter what it took. Can you smirk via email? This agent did. His response was: “Ah, but you need to have a company to get an import permit.” “I have a company,” she replied. “Ah, but do you have warehousing facilities? All companies importing goods must also have a government-approved warehouse to store the goods.” She was speechless. “And when did all these ‘new rules’ come into effect?” “While your ship was on the way to Surabaya,” was the bland response.

So the end result is that, after more than three months of stalling and inconsistent rule-quoting by the authorities, my friend is shipping her goods back to Australia. Her Australian agent confirmed that it was nearly impossible now to send personal effects to Indonesia and will no longer deal with shipments from Australia to Indonesia while these ludicrous impediments exist.

Given that many expats spend perhaps upwards of Rp400 million ($44,000) for each year here, it just doesn’t make economic sense. If you don’t want us here, be honest – just tell us that we’re not really welcome. It will save a lot of angst for all concerned.

Vyt Karazija writes a blog at and can be emailed at

Filed under: Vyt's Line

One Response to “The Unknown Expat: A Life and Death of a Thousand Cuts Story”

  1. Bliss Swift Says:

    Hi Vyt, I love your column. It’s one of the reasons why I buy The Bali Times….As a photo-journalist, I appreciate your humorous story-telling, of how it is, living in Bali. Plus the praktical (my wierd spelling, cos I can) information you give.
    Are you and your chaperone available for a cup of tea/coffee one day? Bliss.