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Expat interview with the Zubak family living in Bali during the Coronavirus

Expat interview with the Zubak family living in Bali during the Coronavirus

Back in November 2019 we spoke to the Zubak family about their preparations on moving to Bali.
On the 16 December 2019 after all their hard work and planning, they finally made their dreams came true and moved to Bali!

So now it is coming up to 5 months living in Bali and there is so much to talk about! There have been lots of little challenges along the way but they have settled in so nicely and loving their new life. One of the biggest challenges has come in the form of a world-wide deadly pandemic called the Coronavirus or COVID19. Living overseas during these times can be unsettling and especially being new expats.

This is a special catch up with Rachel who will share how they have settled in and what it is like to live in Bali during COVID19.

Was it hard to find a villa?

Finding a villa was probably one of the most frustrating and disappointing tasks of moving to Bali! Talking with new friends, it is well understood that finding the right villa in the right location at the right price is almost the impossible and most time-consuming chore.

Sadly, many villas are often not as they present online in reality! This is very annoying & deceiving, sometimes they have been vacant for a while & so are completely dirty with obvious wear & let go with over grown gardens… yet prices are still set at a premium, without much flexibility to negotiate by owners.

Another obstacle in finding long-term villa’s is the floor plan layout, as it is common for many Bali homes to be built as separate wings around a common area, like a swimming pool. This is not practical for many families, as the kid’s bedrooms are separate from the main house &/or often not close to the parents’ bedroom. The home is not all under the one roof line like we are accustomed to!

There is also the open plan v’s closed living arrangements, as again it’s common for Bali homes to be all open living, without the ability to close up living areas, so kitchens & lounge areas are all open to the elements. Only the bedrooms are locked by doors & airconditioned. For many expats this is a security & comfort risk that they are not willing to compromise on!

At the end of the day I hear commonly that one of two things frequently happen when looking for villas: expats either pay higher prices than they had budgeted on & hoped for to gain their villa ‘must haves’, or this ‘wish list’ is compromised to gain a home within a set budget.

Tell us about some of the early challenges you faced? It even started on your flight over!

YES! Our departure flight from Brisbane was cancelled after around 11hours of us waiting at the airport from 4am, after checking in we watched our flight boarding time constantly change by half hour increments, which was extremely challenging with 2 active boys in tow!

Our flight was rescheduled the next day, however it was now via Sydney & so not the easy direct flight we had originally booked.

4am kick off and all smiles – little did we know what delays were about to happen!

In regards to our move once in Bali it was lots of little things that made life trying after we arrived.

Getting a local SIM card is easy enough & very cheap but understanding how it works is another thing, with the App & information text details all in Bahasa & it’s quite a different system to utilise than what is known & familiar.

Setting up local banking accounts was again easy enough, however it is extremely frustrating & stressful to make changes to any of your Australian / home country banking accounts, or any utilities for that matter, when security verification codes are sent to your former (AUS) mobile number which you no longer have access to!

The boys are going to the Canggu Community School. How are they liking it and are you happy with the education?

We could not be happier with our commencement at CCS! Both boys were very enthusiastic to start & as parents you worry how that settling in of a new school environment, making new friendships & a change in curriculum will go. From day one we all had nothing but positive and welcoming vibes, it was so lovely! There were actually about 40 new kids starting being January & a new year & the school was buzzing with excitement after the school Xmas holidays.

Both Hudson (yr 5) and Baxter (yr 4) love their new school & class teachers; it offers them new subjects and extra-curricular opportunities, a different more relaxed style of learning, they both made new friends very quickly and still enjoy being a part of this school community.

In regards to the level of education, I would say that both Hudson & Baxter have been placed well in their year levels. They are actually 6 months ahead of the level which they would be currently in Australia, as CCS follows the British curriculum. Therefore, there does seem to be a few gaps & differences in their knowledge & education skillset. Hudson & Baxter are both challenged by the work level & I feel they are definitely not repeating foundation skills & knowledge, however they are coping well & really enjoying the education at a class level.

What was a typical day for you prior to COVID19?

This question fills me with much sadness! As we were in temporary short term accommodation for the first 2 months whilst we looked for our villa, we actually just felt like we were finding our Bali flow; that the ‘settling in’ tasks were almost complete & we were finding our new ‘normal’ as expats in Bali. We literally had this flow for around 4 weeks and then it sadly all changed without warning.

However, a typical week day before Covid19 would start with school drop off at 8.10am. I would then ride to gym in Petetinget to train and work out for an hour or so, a trip of around 15mins on my motor scooter from school & home.

Depending if Chris was home or away for work, the remainder of the day varied somewhat for us both, however would be spent doing various leisure activities or home tasks; often a coffee date or lunch with new friends or a phone coffee date with friends or family from Australia.

As we were still in the early days of settling in though, there were often things we were needing to buy, do or set up for our home, so shopping or investigative trips and bank and real estate visits were still frequent.

Achieving such simple tasks just seem to take all day in Bali! It would not be unusual for me to wait in a queue at the bank for an hour just to withdraw large down payments for our villa for example…’Bali Time’ is real!

If Chris were home, we may go out for lunch & enjoy some quality time together on a ‘date day’ now & then.

Lunch date at Silk Road Whole Foods

I had enrolled into Bahasa lessons at the school & so once a week I would also be ‘in school’! With more time on my hands I had also just launched a new website & blog, Little.Miss.IBU… and I had hopes of frequently writing & posting about our travels & life as expats.

We would almost always go to the beach on a Friday afternoon to swim, kick a soccer ball, chill out, take in the world and watch those dreamy sunsets! Often this would roll into an easy dinner out on the way home… we all loved this weekly event!

Our favourite time of the day – watching a Bali sunset!

On weekends we would look for different family events that may be happening like markets and kids’ activities often held at various venues. We would usually always have a beach outing on weekends & Seminyak beach is our favourite hang.

Sundays were often spent as a day out exploring, if not a beach day it was a ‘Sunday drive’ on scooters… a swim, a walk, exploring a new village or enjoying a new beach club.

What has been your favourite things so far?

Just experiencing Bali as life & not a holiday destination has been such a great mind shift, as well as feeling part of an international community. Bali life also just feels more free, relaxed & fun!

It is the little things that bring me the most joy though, like exploring new villages, driving through the green terraced landscapes & witnessing colourful Balinese cultural ceremonies that occur constantly around you that really make me smile!

Tell us about your experience with getting the right visa

Immigration & Visa’s were all very new to me & I do regret arranging Visa’s prior to leaving Australia as it was simply unnecessary & wasted money!

A ‘rookie error’, I did not understand fully the time that it would take for the boys Student Visa’s to be finalised, which is completed entirely by the school.

And I did not understand at all that we actually had to go to Singapore & collect them!

On moving I arranged all 3 of us to arrive on Social Tourist Visa’s, where we could have just arrived on a paid VOA (Visa on Arrival) at the airport, which would have been a much cheaper option & have also seen us through to the required timeframe for travel to Singapore to collect the Student Visa’s… this fact of needing to leave Indonesia meant that I then also had to reapply for my Social Visa all over again to also collect in Singapore. Disappointingly, I had only just completed this process 8 weeks earlier in Australia!

It was planned that Chris would simply enter Bali on the Paid VOA each time, as his stays would not exceed the 60-day Immigration limit.

However, we decided to change this plan in February on recommendation of our Visa Agent, to avoid any suspicion or cause for denied entry at Immigration!

A Business Visa was arranged, paid & lodged with Immigration in Jakarta. The TELEX approval from Jakarta had just come through, requiring Chris’ travel for collection of the Visa in Singapore, however this has now very sadly been lost in the COVID19 travel bans. TELEX’s have a 60 day expiry for collection at an embassy outside of Indonesia… Chris was not able to collect it in time!

What is it is like living as an expat?

One of the greatest benefits being expat is meeting new friends who are from countries all around the world! Both boys were surrounded by friends at school who seemed more worldly & almost more mature for their age, as they had many experiences to share of backgrounds from different parts of the world… sports, news, travel; new friends brought many new ideas & daily insights into a world outside of our own.

Secondly living within a local village as an expat sees us embracing many changes from the norms of Australia, I currently love an early morning walk around Umalas & observing locals starting off their day. Watching farmers as they tend to rice fields & seeing the skills/operations of growing & harvesting rice crops. Watching ladies set up their warungs each morning as customers frequent to buy their morning goods. Buying my fresh fruit & vegetable from the local family run warung on the corner, practicing Bahasa with locals you pass each day, befriending neighbors who live around you, expat & Indonesian. Having knowledge & appreciation for new cultural differences as ceremonies & religious customs are quite colorful & frequent & now become part of your world.

Being expat is quite exciting and very refreshing for your spirit!

What do you still miss back in Australia?

Family would be the biggest element that we all miss, as we now build regular family connections via online video calls, emails, messages & GIFs! Communication with immediate family is regular & in many ways we talk/communicate more frequent than when we lived 20 mins away! However, on significant events & milestones like birthdays the distance is definitely intensified.

We all also miss the availability of many favourite staple foods from Australia, however to date I have had a few ‘care packages’ brought via friends visiting Bali on holidays & so have not yet run out of these now luxury items!

One small thing that I do really miss however, is the simple joy of sitting with a coffee & reading the weekend paper!

I am sure living in a foreign country during COVID19 has been stressful, how have all you managed it?

It got to a point where I did not want to read any social media posts as the future for Bali seemed completely doomed & Bali is always presented in Australian media in this dim light.

So instead I chose to best arm myself with proactive information to best assist my family in case one of us did contract the disease. I joined local social media groups whose focus was on group action in support of Bali & its people, combined with supportive information for expats.

It has been & is still quite an obscure situation in Bali & many question the real statistics of Corona Virus, which are very low, & the Governments position in being honest & transparent in sharing information… however in other ways the action of the Government & in particular the local Banjar is quite strong in implementing preventative spread measures.

In a nutshell, we try arm ourselves by remaining informed, but our best defense is simply by staying home (which we are 90% of the week) & avoid being close to others, in enclosed areas especially. We continue to pay our staff salary, however we discussed with our beautiful house keeper Komang for her safety & ours that she should not work for the time being until the situation changes.

My morning walk in my neighbourhood during COVID19

We all wear masks whenever we are outdoors as it is a mandatory requirement in Bali, have increased our personal hygiene procedures on returning home from outings & are liberal with sanitiser when out in public.

How are the Balinese coping?  Do you have any concerns for their welfare?

In regards to Balinese contracting & being vigilant against the virus, it is difficult to tell. I think the message has started to get through as everyone is wearing masks thanks to the enforcement of local Banjar. Group gatherings are banned in many common community areas & beaches are all closed. There is local information in the media & COVID19 preventative signage line the streets everywhere.

However, I do not think that they understand the full context that this virus is extremely contagious & can kill! That staying home & being distanced from others is vital to avoid its spread. Balinese have not completely grasped the concept of social distancing, as we often observe them going about their days as usual, sitting in groups in shop fronts or around the Bakso carts eating, crammed tight in traffic at traffic lights & some families live in communal style living arrangements. Just this morning I passed around 25 local men all sitting working to prepare woven wares for a religious ceremony being held tomorrow! No masks & certainly no distance between them!

However, the biggest impact on the local community is the enormous loss of jobs & families are now already struggling to feed themselves. With a reported 80% of income generated by tourism, the on-flow effect of Bali being “closed” is so big on the Balinese community & I fear most that the timeframe that people will be without jobs is more than what they can survive.

Hand washing station outside my supermarket to help locals fight the Coronavirus

What do you think will happen to Bali when life goes back to ‘normal’ after COVID19?

Hopefully Bali can recover back to its former vibrant self, with tourism booming again after the Island has had such a long break from hordes of visitors. But I am not confident that this will happen in the near future. I think it will take many many months & much time to slowly return to any form of normal, especially in tourist hotspot areas.

I have no doubt that large hotels, resorts & airlines will run attractive deals to entice visitors and perhaps many of the large ‘chains’ will stagger accommodation properties and not open all locations at once until momentum becomes more stable of tourism.

No crowds at the once popular Jungle Bali Pool Club

A recent article I read advised that the Indonesian Tourism Minister had a forecast plan that included a more immediate focus on local tourism within the coming months, as soon as June, however that international tourism like Australia may not return & be a focus until 2021.

Currently however, in a bid to stop the huge annual exodus of the Muslim community travelling back to their local villages & family celebrations during Ramadan, all local & international travel within Indonesia is banned, via sea, road or airplanes, until 1st June.

What is the vibe at the moment in Bali? It must be very strange to see such a busy tourist destination so quiet.

The prime tourist areas of Legian, Kuta, Seminyak & Nusa Dua are like ghost towns & it is very sad to see the extreme contrast in these areas. Large hotels, resorts & tourist operators, restaurants, local markets, money changers… everything is all closed & the streets are eerily silent without hardly any traffic or people.

In areas where people reside & live, there is a definite reduction in motor scooters & traffic, life has certainly changed however it is still very much ongoing. Trading hours of shops & cafes has reduced with most cafes & restaurants, if they are still open, are operating under strict Covid19 protocol for dining in or are solely trading on take away only. Many shops & retail however are simply closed.

Once bustling street in Seminyak is now a ghost town during the Coronavirus

The protocol to enter shops or businesses has changed dramatically as it is now common practice to have your temperature taken, be sprayed with hand sanitiser or hands washed & encouraged to keep masks on to gain entry. My weekly supermarket has even gone to the extreme of having shoppers walk through a ‘disinfectant spay station’ on entry!

We have been encouraged to ‘stay at home’ for around 4 weeks now & just in the last week we have noticed that slowly many popular restaurants & shops that were closed, are now opening again albeit under restricted operations.

Local village Banjar presence is frequent, patrolling & checking on retail shops, stopping traffic at intersections with non-maskers being advised to follow the mandatory rule. Initially some Police & Banjar were supportive by handing out masks, but a recent social media post saw Banjar ‘fining’ people who were not wearing masks by having to pay with bags of rice & also by having to do push-ups on the street!

All beaches, parks & community areas are closed, which is very frustrating, as it leaves nowhere for people to get outside, in the open away from others to exercise, swim or surf.

This combined with the reduction in local road traffic however has seen an insurgence of walkers, joggers & cyclists in village streets which is a very rare sight but quite lovely to see!

These are outside literally every Warung (local eatery)

What advice do you have for other families making the move to Bali?

Simply just to research thoroughly & reach out to any Bali expats to seek advice, as they are your best source of current knowledge & experience.

And really understand the Visa & Immigration requirements suitable for your family!

Also discuss as a family & know your “why”… why Bali & why are you moving?

Moving overseas is a very expensive exercise & there are always unexpected & unknown curve balls being expat, situations that your research can not prepare you for. There may be bumpy roads ahead. Knowing & remembering your “why”, may help to smooth the road!

This move has totally not been the fairy tale that we had hoped for. We have been challenged immensely by this virus especially, many opportunities & dreams have been lost & no one could predict or prepare for that!

Exploring Batu Bolong Beach, Canggu

Our future moving forward is sadly very uncertain & we currently take it day by day, week by week.

Remembering our ‘why’ helps me to feel grateful that we are here in Bali & ensures that we still make the most of our time here. To recognise the small positives of our new world like taking short family outings on our motor scooters, finding that elusive beach entrance that is still open & having fully stocked supermarket shelves without the chaos & panic buying of other countries… even during a global pandemic, as we now homeschool while continuing paying private school fees, there are things to be thankful for!

If you live in Bali and would like to join our interview collection feel free to reach out to me anytime.

If you are thinking of living in Bali please get in touch to find out more about our service which includes a video consultation, reading materials and contacts.


  • Adrian
    July 12, 2020

    Really like this story and thanks for all the useful tips


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