Seminyak Bali, Indonesia

John and Sandra

John and Sandra could have retired to wherever they liked. Quite frankly, they are loaded. But the couple, who have built their dream home in Seminyak, said that back in Adelaide they were ‘just waiting to die’. ‘I really felt like I was heading that way,’ said John. ‘But now my entire attitude to life has changed.’

They bought a twenty-year lease on a property and built their house in 2005. It is Euro-Bali style and made of marble and stone. Not the thatched palm-leaf roof look, but the more conventional two-storeyed, hard-surfaced, Australian open-plan house adapted to the climate. Bedrooms and entertaining areas all open onto an expansive stone deck and infinity pool. The house tinkles with the sound of water and looks out over rice paddies and a creek thick with rainforest trees.

‘The most cathartic thing we have ever done is to sell our home and everything else—the lot—back in 2005 and then moved to Bali,’ John said. ‘There is a large expatriate community here, a huge social diaspora,’ Sandra said. ‘We have a whole set of new friends, some Australian, some French, ranging in age from 35 to 85, and they do all sorts of different things.’ 

Referring to the vast array of foreign cultures and lifestyles and the different levels of wealth that make up the intriguing character of the country, John said, ‘Bali is like a multi-layered cake. I don’t miss Adelaide at all. I don’t want to go back. Our children and friends all love visiting us here.’

The cost of living is cheap in Bali but just how cheap depends on how you want to live. Still, even if you want to enjoy the high life, it’s much more affordable than it is in Australia.

The rather well-off Sandra said, ‘The food is exquisite and cheap. We buy export-quality sashimi-grade tuna for A$10 a kilogram. Dinner parties for 30 people are common and affordable.’ ‘Australia is outrageously expensive,’ added John. ‘I have one-and-a-half hour massages three times a week that cost A$10 a pop. We have six servants and they each cost about A$100 a month. We don’t need to do anything around the house, really.’

He conceded that Bali is becoming more expensive and ‘there are issues about good medical services and electricity costs are high’. But John’s biggest gripe is the expense of wine. A 300 per cent import duty is imposed on wine by the Indonesian government. ‘Even so,’ said John, ‘we drink Beaujolais at A$30 a bottle—that’s not too bad.’

The lack of good medical services is the most concerning issue when living in Bali, especially for people who are in their 60s and beyond. This is especially complicated by the fact that after five years living overseas, your Australian Medicare coverage ceases to exist. To acquire re-entitlement to Medicare benefits, you need to return to Australia and prove that you have returned here to live. You need to provide copies of a rental lease or employment contract, for example.

John and Sandra have no health insurance and said their private medical cover lapsed when they left Australia. That’s dangerous when you’re 65. ‘We have to fly to Singapore for treatment. It is expensive,’ said Sandra, but she added, ‘We are about to buy health insurance.’

The insurance they are considering is very expensive at about A$12,000 a year. However, this covers them for every medical need, including emergency evacuation.