You have not experienced The Real Bali unless you’ve rented a motorbike/scooter to get around this island. With a motorbike you are able to explore the entire island as your heart desires passing through quaint villages with huts, getting lost in rice fields, and navigating through small alleys that serve as shortcuts which regular-sized vehicles can’t get through. You can stop-and-go as often as you like, for example if you ride past a chic cafe or a great spot for a photo op, you can stop and turnaround easily. You probably wouldn’t wanna do that if you were in a taxi, though, as one-way streets and narrow roads don’t make that an option.
The biggest issue – and might I say only issue – with renting and riding a motorbike here is that its as if you are waving a huge 20ft flag that in an officer’s face that says “HEY BUDDY! I’M RIGHT HERE AND I’VE GOT MONEY, PULL ME OVER AND EXTORT ME!” In order to legally ride around in Indonesia, you need an Indonesian Driver’s License or an International Driver’s License. The Polisi (Indonesian Police) know that 95% of tourists riding around the Bali streets do not possess one and don’t bother to research about it, so they see you ask their walking paycheck. Here are some current official penalties:
- If you are driving a vehicle and you do not have an International or Indonesian drivers license then you may get a four month prison sentence and/or a Rp 1,000,000 penalty ($100 CAD/$100 AUD/$77 USD).
- If you are driving a motorbike without wearing an SNI (Standard Nasional Indonesia) certified helmet you can get a Rp 250,000 penalty. ($25 CAD/$25 AUD/$19 USD)
The Polisi here are corrupt. No officer is going to bother with the official paperwork and put you in jail, its too much work and not worth it for them. Putting you in prison for 1 month doesn’t feed their family, but extorting you does. If you ask the locals (but please don’t ask the locals about this, they could get in trouble and you could get in really deep trouble bad-mouthing the police or government) they would say their nation’s biggest issue is distrust in government and police officials. Indonesia is among the most corrupt countries in the world and the Polisi do not like paperwork or doing anything by the books. They work with bribes. Everything can be bought with a bribe. Most of them are extremely wealthy because they are able to exercise their corruption by means of extorting their way out of any situation. Tourists are the best kinds of people to extort because tourists have money.
Below I share with you my best tips and locals’ advice to avoid getting pulled over, how we avoided getting pulled over at a huge ride check in Kuta, and what to do in the situation that you do get pulled over.
1. Get an International Driver’s Licence
Of course, the best way to avoid getting pulled over by the Polisi is by riding or driving with an International Driver’s License. The thing is, by the time people realize they need one they’re already on vacation. At this point, it is much too late and getting one in Indonesia (or anywhere abroad for that matter) isn’t exactly a quick turnaround. If you are hanging around in Indonesia for some time, you can apply for an Indonesian Driver’s License or SIM in west Denpassar. You’ll need to bring
- a copy of your passport
- a copy of your Indonesian visa
- your expired Indonesian License or SIM (if you’re extending)
- a health certificate from the doctor
You’ll have to complete and theory exam on a computer which contains 30 questions. You’re allowed only 4 incorrect answers. The entire process takes anywhere from 30 mins to 4 hours, depending on how busy the offices are. The current cost is 400,000rp ($40 CAD/$40 AUD/$30 USD)
Alternatively, if you’re reading this before arriving, apply for an International Driver’s License at home! Be aware that if you are not licensed to drive a motorcycle in your home country than you will not be allowed to ride one in Bali, either.
As much as this may go against your morals and beliefs, a lot of this official stuff is just a waste of time and money and most of the time the best way to handle these things is just to pay up if the situation arises, which is why about 95% of tourists in Bali don’t ride around legally.
So now onto the tips that will apply to most of you reading, what to do if its too late and you’re forced to ride without an International or Indonesian Driver’s License:
2. Don’t Speed and Wear a Helmet
Forget the tourist flag you wear and the fact that you aren’t riding around Bali legally – speeding or not wearing helmets are offences themselves! Locals get pulled over for speeding and for not wearing helmets, so why add more things to the list that you can be targeted for? We are trying to stay inconspicuous here, you don’t want to be pulled over and extorted, do you?
Plus, you’re on vacation. You don’t want to to come home injured or without a limb. So don’t speed and put those helmets on!
3. Sit like a Local
Heres a tip you’ll never get anywhere else.
This is something I’ve noticed after travelling to South East Asia 6 times: Tourists and locals sit on bikes differently. Yeah, weird observation, right? But if I notice it, imagine how obvious it is to police who are looking to pull you over!
Your first time on a motorbike as a passenger you’ll probably be scared for your life and start hanging on to everything you can while in motion to save yourself from falling. I can admit, its a strange feeling if you’re used to sitting all relaxed in a car. Because of this, tourists always hold onto the back bars. But if you look around, no locals use these bars! Yes, they are definitely made and manufactured for the passenger in the back to hold onto but experienced riders don’t use this, they use their core to balance instead. Its kind of like living in a city that relies heavily on public transport via trains like Toronto or New York – you can always tell who is a tourist because they hold onto the train’s support bars. People that ride the trains and subways for years don’t need these bars, we can balance just fine with only our feet on the floor.
For the same reason, I recommend you to do what locals do and rest your hands on your thighs. This is exactly what I do to camouflage Tung and I when riding around illegally in Bali. It has worked so far! If you’re riding in the back, try your best to rest both hands on your thighs or put them in front of you. Also, if you paid attention and followed #2 and don’t ride too fast, you shouldn’t need to hold on for dear life 🙂
Our first week in Kuta, we turned onto a busy street with traffic and all of a sudden I just saw neon green Polisi vests everywhere on both sides of the road! There were more than 10 officers pulling tourists (re: white people) over! I got super scared and told Tung to slow down and wait until there was an opening in the traffic jam so we could zip through. In a few seconds the motor vehicles started moving and I said “okay, ride straight through, DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT, JUST GO! If he jumps in front of you or yells at you to stop, JUST KEEP GOING!” Tung did just that and a few couples to our left, right, and in front of us got pulled over – but we were safe! PHEW! I think I also have to thank the fact that Tung gets so friggen brown when we travel that they probably just thought he was a local bike taxi driving me, a tourist, LOL! It was funny yet sad because there were maybe 8 white couples I saw getting off their bikes. We dodged that one!
And now, moving onto what to do if you followed the 2 steps above, but still get noticed and flagged down by a Polisi.
4. Keep Riding, AKA Flee the Scene!
If you are on the bike in motion and an officer is passively flagging you down while standing on the side of the road, DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT and ride straight through. I know this sounds like bad advice to disobey the orders of a police officer but you won’t be chased. This only applies if the officer was on foot and not on a bike. If an officer is pulling you over on a bike, you better pull to the side. But otherwise, the officers cannot mount their bikes, start their engines, and catch up to you fast enough. By the time they get on their bikes you’ll be long gone and they won’t be able to find you in all the traffic!
Worst-case scenario is they radio another officer up ahead where you’re headed towards and the officer up ahead manages to get on a bike and stop you. If this happens, pull to the side, apologize, and say you did not see anyone trying to pull you over before.
5. Apologize Profusely and Throw in a Few Lies
So if after all that you are one of the unlucky ones and have been pulled over, stay calm and friendly. Wait for them to tell you what you did wrong. Tell them you did not know and are very sorry. They will then ask you to produce your license and registration. Your registration will almost always be in the trunk under your seat so provide that first. If you have a valid license you can provide that as well, but if you don’t have one, start acting confused and play dumb. Some great lies to throw in at this time are:
“The place I rented the bike from said I did not need a license to ride!”
“But I rode a motorcycle in [name another Asian country] and a license was not required!”
The lies won’t save you from having to pay, but it will ease the situation a little instead of looking like you were purposefully breaking the law and intending to ride illegally anyways.
They will usually try to scare you a bit and say “Really expensive… jail… court hearing… prison… etc etc”. They might even threaten to take your bike into the station and give you a court date where you must plead to get the bike back. Some might show you a book of official offences and penalties. Don’t worry, they’ll never take this route.
6. Time to Pay Up
Whatever you do, DO NOT IMMEDIATELY OFFER A BRIBE as you are implying he is corrupt and insulting his integrity. Play along for a minute and act worried and scared. After a bit of back and forth, ask the officer, “Is there another way to solve the problem? I am really sorry.” at which point he will let you know that he is open to being paid off.
Don’t just hand him the money because that will also make him look bad. Hang your helmet on the handlebar and place the money there as if it were a basket. Or when he hands back your registration you can put the money underneath it. The amount of money they ask for can vary largely but you should not pay more than 50,000rp ($5 CAD/$5 AUD/$4 USD). The bike shop we rented from said sometimes they could ask as high as 500,000rp ($50 CAD/$50 AUD/$38 USD) but that is very rare. The funny thing is, you can actually haggle with the police like you do while shopping! If you are only missing a driver’s license then do your best to talk it down to 50,000rp. If you are not wearing a helmet and don’t have a license, then 100,000rp is your number.
Once you pay him off, the conversation can get very friendly and they may begin small talk with you to prove they are still nice people. Converse for a bit then be on your way.
Have you ever been pulled over before without a license in Bali?
How did you get out of the situation, or how much did you pay them?
Let us know!