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Driving without a valid licence is obviously illegal in Indonesia. Therefore, to be able to drive a scooter legally as a traveller, you’d need an international riders licence, or spend a day in Denpasar trying to get an Indonesian motorcycle licence at the police station. Simple enough, if you’re willing to spend the money and time. But since most people consider this to be too much hassle for a week of vacation, and let’s be honest, there are god damn ten year olds scootering around and many Indonesians don’t seem to follow their own laws either, I completely understand that most tourists just don’t bother. So here’s a guide to driving a scooter in Bali – including tips and tricks on how to deal with and avoid the police.
How to rent a scooter in Bali:
Rental places are everywhere and the procedure varies at the different shops. Usually you need to give them a copy of your passport and sign a rental agreement. They don’t care whether you have a drivers licence or not, as they want to make the sale. Make sure to check the scooter for damages thoroughly before you leave, as you will be liable for anything wrong with it after you have left.
We rented our scooters with the help from our landlord and, for being there in the middle of the high season, got a great price out of it. Therefore consider asking you accommodation or a trustworthy local for help if haggling isn’t your thing.
The usual prices, which can be achieved with some minor bargaining are:
- 50’000 Rupiah per day
- around 700’000 Rupiah per month
How to avoid getting pulled over by the police
It is a very well known fact, that the police LOVE to strategically position themselves on busy street corners around the Kuta area to pick off unsuspecting tourists on their scooters. Bribes are a common practice for them to supplement their meagre wages with some extra money. They are on the hunt for easy targets, and if you’re out and about in Bali, wearing your “I fucked Rhonda” muscle-shirt, with a sunburn and a matching barbwire tattoo, you’re obviously fitting their easy target stereotype perfectly.
The police seems to only do this in the south of Bali and the very touristy areas, while they are noticeably more absent towards the north and other parts of the country.
Here’s how you avoid drawing attention to you:
- Always wear a helmet.
- Cover up: don’t ride scooters in your bikini or bathing suit and don’t head into traffic topless. Avoid wearing skimpy clothing and go for modest pieces instead.
- Don’t break the traffic rules, even if many locals around you ignore them. Use your blinkers, respect traffic lights and one-way streets and don’t pull any dangerous manoeuvres. Be a confident and competent driver.
- Be respectful: no aggressive driving, hollering around and shouting.
Obviously you can’t really hide your skin colour. But follow these simple rules and you should be able to avoid most run ins with the police. If you do happen to get pulled over, it isn’t such a problem either, if you know how to get out of the situation. Completely lost, Brendan, Lauren and I once stopped at a busy intersection to look at our map and didn’t notice that we had stopped right in front of the police station. Of course they swarmed us instantly, but we were able to get away fairly unscathed and with another valuable lesson learned.
How to deal with the police if you do get pulled over
- Feign ignorance. Put on your best innocent face and claim you didn’t know that you needed an international licence since the scooter rental place didn’t tell you about that. An even better option is to say you forgot to bring your wallet and licence altogether.
- The officer will then start with his scare tactics, telling you that you’d have to either go to court or pay a 1 Million Rupiah fine on the spot. You know it’s absolutely ridiculous, he knows he just conjured a number out of thin air, but here’s where naïve tourists give in out of fear.
- Keep arguing that you couldn’t possibly pay that much since you only carry a little bit of money with you. Most people who know their way around just keep a 50’000 Rupiah note specifically designated for bribes tucked into their scooter. Remember, you forgot your wallet at home. Pull the note out and say it’s the only money you got. 50’000 seems to be the average people eventually pay for the fine and the money goes directly into the officers pocket. The officer WILL eventually accept.
- Be respectful, polite and apologize. Most importantly, don’t get scared and stay calm – we all know that the police officer that pulled you over doesn’t want you to go to court, he wants to make money. Also, nobody would ever go with you to retrieve a wallet or confirm personal data, that’s too much work. In the end, it just comes down to your bargaining skills.
On a little side note, we got pulled over three times: one time when we stupidly stopped in front of the aforementioned police station and twice by police officers on motorcycles, who saw the white skin and decided to chase us down. We paid that one 50’000 fine, and got out of the ticket the other two times. Knowing that we did absolutely nothing wrong, we demanded the officer tell us what traffic rule we violated and that he write us a ticket, all the while insisting that he only pulled us over because we were obviously tourists. Upon realizing that we weren’t going to be easy targets and if they wanted money, they needed to do some work, they gave up after a minute each time, letting us go with a “warning”.