Medications, laws and health in Bali and Indonesia


Medications allowed in Bali, how much to tip, how not to get ripped off by taxi drivers and why you shouldn't put your hands on your hips in Indonesia.

Bali and Indonesia travel guide: what you need to know


The best time to go, how much to tip, how not to get ripped off by taxi drivers and why you shouldn't put your hands on your hips - download the Bali and Indonesia travel guide.

Travel-size tips

  • Indonesia doesn't really have a summer or a winter, just a dry season and a wet season.
  • Flights to Bali can be as short as three hours from Darwin, or up to six-and-a-half hours from Sydney.
  • Indonesia is one of the cheapest places to travel in South-East Asia.

Know before you go

  • While most areas of the country are relatively safe, some islands do experience conflict. Check with smartraveller.gov.au before venturing off the tourist path.
  • Drugs are not tolerated in Indonesia. Some Australian prescription medications are even considered illegal narcotics in Indonesia.
  • You may need vaccinations, depending on your health status and the area of the country you're travelling to. Speak to your doctor as early as possible before you travel.

Medications in Bali and Indonesia

Some Australian prescription medications (including strong painkillers such as morphine and codeine, sleeping pills and medications for ADHD) are considered illegal narcotics under Indonesian law. Other medications such as paracetamol, antidiarrhoeals and antibiotics won't be a problem but if you're at all concerned about your medication, check with the Indonesian embassy. For a fee, they can write you a Certified Letter of Approved Medicines; however, their website warns: "The letter is neither for legality purpose nor providing guarantee that you will be exempted from any checks and legal consequences that may arise."

Tip: No matter where you travel, you should carry all medications (even vitamins) in their original packaging, along with their original prescription. It's also a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor explaining what the medications are (using generic names, what they're for and dosage instructions.

Laws and watchouts

Laws

  • Drugs are highly illegal in Indonesia. Punishments are severe and include the death penalty.
  • The legal drinking age is 21.
  • Gambling is illegal in Indonesia.
  • By law, you must carry identification at all times.
  • Indonesian law does not criminalise homosexuality, but it isn't widely accepted culturally.
  • Aceh Province enforces some aspects of Sharia law relating to gambling, drinking alcohol, prostitution, standards of dress and homosexual and extra marital sex. Foreigners are not exempt from the rules.
For road rules, see Driving in Indonesia.

Watchouts

  • Always ask your taxi driver to switch on their meter. If you try to negotiate a fare, you could end up getting ripped off.
  • Watch out for pickpockets, bag snatchers and other petty thieves.
  • The Indonesian Rupiah has very high denominations so it's easy to get confused when changing money, paying for items or receiving change. And unscrupulous locals may take advantage of this. Be sure you can spot the difference between a Rp 10,000 note and a Rp 100,000 note, for example.
  • Haggling with street sellers is normal, but be careful you don't get confused by the currency. If a seller says something costs "30", that generally means Rp 30,000. However, they may try to trick you after you agree to the sale by claiming they meant $ US30.
  • Scammers are always coming up with new ways to swindle tourists. For examples of common scams, see our article on tourist traps, or check Tripadvisor's ever-growing list of Bali scams.

Health and safety

  • Tap water in Indonesia is not safe to drink. Stick to bottled or boiled water and ask for drinks with no ice.
  • Indonesian hospitals are generally not up to the standard of Australian hospitals, however Bali and Jakarta do have English-speaking private hospitals and clinics that cater to western tourists at higher prices. The Indonesian health care system has no reciprocal deals with Australia, which means if you get sick, you'll have to pay your own bills.
  • Some hospitals will insist on upfront payment or proof of travel insurance before treating foreign patients. If you're extremely sick, you may be evacuated to Australia or Singapore at a cost of $100,000 or more, so it goes without saying that travel insurance is a must.
  • Traveller's diarrhoea, 'affectionately' known as Bali Belly, is the most common malady affecting visitors to Indonesia. Consider packing an anti-diarrhoeal and a rehydration solution in case you get sick. To minimise your risk, avoid tap water, wash your hands regularly and choose freshly cooked foods rather than raw.
  • Mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever are prevalent in parts of Indonesia, including Bali, so remember to cover up and use repellent.
  • Rabies is a problem throughout the country, and Bali has experienced a serious outbreak in recent years. Avoid contact with dogs, cats and monkeys, and consider a rabies shot before you go.
  • Beware of buying over-the-counter medication in Indonesia as it's often poorly stored, past its use-by date or sometimes even fake.
  • For the latest warnings on risks including terrorism, natural disasters, violent crimes and drink spiking, visit smartraveller.gov.au

Tip: Have you registered your travel plans with smartraveller.gov.au and checked the latest safety advice on the region you're travelling to.

Do I need vaccinations to travel to Indonesia?

Best time to go

Dry season: May to September

Wet season: November to April

Unless you love a good tropical storm every day, the dry season is generally considered the best time to visit Indonesia. However, many Australians take their holidays there during the wetter months of December and January.

Check the average rainfall and temperature for your dates and destination.

  • Although Christmas falls in the middle of the low season, it's usually a busy time.
  • Accommodation and transport can book up when locals take their holidays during Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan (dates change each year).
  • During Ramadan, many Indonesians fast throughout the day. It's disrespectful to eat, drink or smoke in very public places, such as on the street. For that reason, street food will be hard to come by and many cafes and restaurants may be closed during the day. Bali is mostly unaffected.
  • Bali celebrates its lunar New Year, Nyepi (dates change each year), with a day of silence and inactivity. Tourists are expected to observe this custom as well – so that means staying in your hotel room and doing (and saying) nothing.
  • The peak season can get extra crowded at the end of the school year (June/July) when Indonesian high school students celebrate a far less rowdy version of Schoolies, taking bus excursions to local tourist attractions.
  • There's and increased risk of severe smoke haze emanating from Sumatra and Kalimantan from June to October due to slash and burn practices.

For more information about Bali's weather and peak seasons, see Bali when to go.

Culture

  • The majority of Indonesians are Muslim although most people in Bali are Hindu. Visitors should respect local customs and dress conservatively. In popular tourist areas like Bali, wearing a swimsuit on the beach might not raise many eyebrows, but it's best to cover up for visiting villages, towns, mosques and temples. In mosques, shorts are not allowed, and women should wear long sleeves and a head scarf.
  • Aceh Province is far more conservative than the rest of the country and enforces some aspects of Sharia law, including punishments for extramarital sex, homosexuality, drinking alcohol and even dressing inappropriately.
  • During the holy month of Ramadan (dates change each year) Muslims fast during the day. It's disrespectful to eat, drink or smoke in public places.
  • Eating (or giving and receiving things) with your left hand is considered extremely rude.
  • Putting your hands on your hips is considered rude, as is pointing using your finger and touching a person (even a child) on the head.
  • Tipping isn't mandatory, but it is customary, particularly as the minimum wage in Indonesia is very low. 5-10% of the bill is appropriate in restaurants.

Official language: Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia)

People working in hotels, airports, and service jobs in tourist areas generally speak English, but most Indonesians on the street will only know a few words. You may have trouble finding a taxi driver who can speak English. Have your destination written down so you can show them (literacy rates are high, so they should have no trouble reading it).

Indonesian is written in the same alphabet as English, so you'll be able to read signs and place names.

Making a complaint

If you fall victim to theft, call the police (numbers below).

Indonesia has consumer protection laws in place, but unfortunately they may not be as readily enforced as they are in Australia. If you have a dispute with an accommodation, transport or tour provider, or any other local service, you can make a formal complaint to the Indonesian Consumer Protection Agency:

Badan Perlindungan Konsumen Nasional
bpkn.go.id
Alamat Gedung I Kementrian Perdagangan, Jl. M.I Ridwan Rais No. 5 Lt 8, Jakarta
+61 21 348 33819 / Call centre: 153 (operators may not speak English)
Email: setbpkn@bpkn.go.id

If your gripe is with an Australian tour operator, airline, or booking site, follow the usual procedures for making a complaint or seeking compensation.

Emergency contacts

Emergency numbers (operators may not speak English):

Some of these numbers may not work if you're calling from an Australian mobile phone. Remember to insert the country code (+62) and the local area code (eg. 36 for Bali, 21 for Jakarta).

International emergency number: 112
Police: 110 / 112 (SMS 1717)
Ambulance and Rescue: 118
Fire: 113
Medical emergencies: 119
Tourist Police (Bali): (0361) 754 599
Tourist Police (Jakarta): (021) 526 407
bali.com has a full list of numbers you may need during an emergency in Bali.

Private hospitals/clinics with English-speaking staff:

BIMC Hospital - Bali
bimcbali.com
Kuta: Jalan Bypass Ngurah Rai 100X, Kuta, Bali 80361, Indonesia
+62 361 761 263 (24-hour emergency line)
Nusa Dua: Kawasan BTDC Blok D, Nusa Dua, Bali 80363, Indonesia
+62 361 3000 911 (24-hour emergency line)

International SOS Clinics - Bali and Jakarta
internationalsos.com
Bali: Jalan By Pass Ngurah Rai 505X, Kuta 80221, Bali
+ 62 361 720 100 (24-hour emergency line)
Central Jakarta: Menara Prima, 2nd Floor, Jl. DR. Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung Blok 6.2, Kawasan Mega Kuningan, Jakarta 12950
+62 21 5794 8600
South Jakarta: Jl. Puri Sakti No. 10, Cipete - Antasari, Jakarta 12410
+62 21 750 5980 (clinic appointments) / +62 21 750 6001 (24-hour emergency line)
See the Australian Embassy website for a full list of hospital and medical services in Bali and Indonesia.

Australian Embassy in Jakarta
indonesia.embassy.gov.au
Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said Kav C 15-16, Jakarta Selatan 12940
+62 21 2550 5555
Email (general enquiries): public-affairs-jakt@dfat.gov.au

Australian Consulate-General in Bali
bali.indonesia.embassy.gov.au
Jalan Tantular, No. 32, Renon, Denpasar, Bali 80234
+62 361 241 118
24-hour Australian Consular Emergency Centre:
+61 2 6261 3305

Got a travel tip about Indonesia? Or spotted something in our guide that needs updating? Add a comment below.

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