Driving on Bali is utterly different from driving in Australia, Europe, USA, Japan etc. Traffic in South East Asia is something one needs to get used to and Bali is no exception. If you have never driven a car or scooter in Bali or cities like Jakarta, Bangkok then you might need some time to adapt. It’s not as easy as it looks like.
Anybody can and does enter a main road at anytime without looking. Here one of the main rules applies: Whatever you can see in front of you is your responsibility. So a motorbike driver cutting into your main road believes that you will notice him and that you would make space or slow down. If you want to overtake somebody you MUST use your horn, so they know you are coming, otherwise they might move right or left unexpectedly. Also here, the unwritten rule applies, that you need to notice and adapt to what is or appears in front of you.
Rather drive too slowly than too fast. NEVER drink and drive!
A scooter is a motorbike is a scooter. Anything on two wheels with an engine will be called scooter or motorbike.
Usually when you rent one you will get a Japanese make with 125cc. Most of them these days are automatic, so you don't need to bother with the gears. They are really easy to drive and can go up to 100km/h; we suggest not to go so fast on Bali - ever!
Driving a scooter is simply the best way to get around if you are not going for long trips. If you want to go to the beach, do some shopping, visit some restaurants etc then a scooter does really make things very easy and convenient. However, safety is indeed an issue. As described above already the traffic itself is a challenge but other factors create additional risks. Accidents with scooters and motorbikes happen very often. Some of them are indeed fatal. Balinese and tourists get caught in accidents. You simply do not want to go down that road. Most accidents with tourists happen, because they overestimate themselves, are not used to drive motorbikes, drink and/or take drugs, go too fast, don't understand how the traffic works on Bali.
It can be tempting to drink a few Bintang beers, and drive back home on your scooter in the middle of the night and save on the taxi fee. But you would not be the first one who would leave Bali in a wooden box because a dog crossed your way in the darkness, a truck appeared without lights, or a hole in the street was the last thing you remember when waking up in the hospital.
When Balinese build a house or do some renovation something they ask a truck to deliver them sand, stones, building material. More often than not, this load will be dumped on the roadside. Nobody is offended and simply navigates around this pile, because this is how things are here.
Small stones, loose chippings sand and if so rain creates a surface where your tire loses grip easily. Particularly in curves you must drive really slowly and even horn before entering it.
If your helmet does not have a glass then you must use sunglasses at least. It can be really dusty and dirty. Never drive barefoot. Sandals and flip flops are the shoe-wear suitable for all occasions on Bali, but if you can avoid driving a scooter with flip-flops, then you will be much safer.
Driving in Bali with Australian license - NO!
Driving in Bali with Indian license - NO!
Driving in Bali with Singaporean License - NO!
Driving in Bali without license - NO!
....you get the hint!
You need an international driving license which you have to apply for in your home country. They are usually only valid together with your "real" driving license, so you need to bring both along. You can get a temporary Balinese driving license (tourist driver's license) from the police station in Denpasar within a day. Check with your hotel or homestay, they will know how you can get there. The cost is ca. US$30. That's one way how the local police creates some extra income. You will have to fill in a multiple choice form (with the answers right next to you!), bring a passport picture and the money....anybody can get it between the age of 18 and 70!
Getting stopped by the police without license or without helmet:
If you get caught without a license, or speeding, or without helmet or get blamed for an offense you didn#t do, the police will usually try to scare you a bit and say: "Oh...really really bad...expensive...court hearing...judge---blabla". Always stay calm and friendly, that will certainly help the situation. Tell them you did not know and you are sorry. They will usually charge you a fee and let you go. Expect to pay between 10 or 30US$.
We do not recommend renting a car without driver on Bali. A driver costs you between 10 and 15US$ per day, but saves you a lot of hassle. Most people rent a car for a day-trip to discover the island, do some sightseeing, etc. A full day sightseeing can be in itself exhausting, because there is so much to see and to discover.
A driver will be faster, will know his way around, knows where and when it is possible to park and will wait at the car and watch your belongings at all times. More often than not he will become a good companion and tour guide for your day trip. And after a full day of visiting temples, botanic gardens etc you will be happy that it was not you sitting behind the steering wheel. And if something happens with the car, it won't be you who gets the blame.