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Money...

Money matters

Bali, being part of Indonesia, uses the Indonesian currency, the Rupiah (abbreviated, Rp.) as its monetary unit.

Banknotes come in a range of denominations, including the commonly available Rp.100,000, Rp.50,000, Rp.20,000, Rp.10,000, Rp.5,000, Rp.1,000, Rp.500 and Rp.100 notes, while useful coin denominations are Rp.100 and Rp.50.

Indonesian banknotes
Above: A selection of Indonesian banknotes.

All of the notes and coins are reasonably distinctive, but take care while you are getting used to dealing with the cash as there are a mix of old and new styles in circulation.

Exchange rates have run up to around Rp.10,000 to one U.S. dollar, or around Rp.6,000 to one Australian dollar. Always check your local newspapers for current exchange rates, but expect a lesser rate when converting to Rupiah, as commissions will be charged on the conversion transactions.

Foreign money can be exchanged at most banks in Bali. Banking hours are usually from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday and until 1.00 p.m. Saturday. Money can also be changed at the airport, at hotel cashiers, and at authorised money changers (found in almost every medium to large village and city). The exchange rates are published daily in newspapers and are usually posted prominently wherever money can be changed. Most authorised money changers operate seven days a week, and remain open daily until about 10:00 p.m.

Look for signs like this to locate money changers.
Above: A money changers rate sign

There is no real need to convert all of your currency into travellers cheques as most foreign banknotes are accepted at banks and money changers. Often cash will yield a better exchange rate, and some travellers cheques will not be accepted at all banks and money changers (surprisingly, one of the worlds most popular brand of cheques are sometimes the most difficult to cash). The major advantage of travellers cheques is that they offer security features such as replacement if lost or stolen.

Most major credit cards are acceptable at hotels, large restaurants, department stores, travel agencies and many businesses that cater to the tourist trade, including galleries, arts and craft sellers.

Money notes...

Consider converting a small sum of money to Rupiah before you leave home so that you are cashed-up and able to beat the crowd to the bemos at the airport.

The authorised money changer at the airport may offer lower rates than in the more popular tourist areas, so be sure to have a small note (no larger than about $10 or $20) ready to cash there, and move on to Kuta or an alternative location to cash larger amounts.

Many banks and moneychangers can be found along Jln. Legian and Jln. Pantai in Kuta (near bemo corner).

Ask about fees and charges. Many money changes add a service fee after calculating the rate. This is often negotiable.

Always calculate (even if only in round figures) the amount you expect when you make a conversion transaction.

Change sums you can calculate easily, like $100. Write down the amount you expect. Always go with a friend, to check together. Check the notes you receive, to ensure Rp.1,000 notes aren't substituted for Rp.10,000 notes.

Money changer's will give a slightly better rate for larger currency notes such as US Hundred dollar bills as opposed to $10's, $20's or $50's.

If you have just made a big withdrawal go straight back to your hotel and deposit your money in a deposit box there.

Passports are generally required and forms must be filled in whenever travellers cheques are cashed.

For travel to remote areas, it is advisable to change money and travellers cheques in advance, as rates are often uncompetitive outside the main tourist areas.

Before travelling to remote areas, make a note of the transport prices, using resources such as the taxi sign at the airport arrivals area. Use this as a guide for the cost of travel around the island.

Always ask for some Rp.500, Rp.1,000 and Rp.5,000 notes to be supplied amongst the converted currency. Often, only larger notes will be supplied if you don't ask.

Try to keep small denomination notes and coins for public bus fares if you intend to use this mode of transport, for entry donations to temples, and for use in telephones or small restaurants and bars when a cooling drink is required.

Bargaining is customary at markets and small shops, but is not accepted in supermarkets, department stores and botiques. Look for signs that indicate "fixed price" before attempting to bargain.

Supermarkets will often give sweets in lieu of change under Rp.100.

If you make frequent phonecalls, buy a phone card.

Recently, travellers have indicated that many banks and money changers are reluctant to exchange travellers cheques in currencies other than US dollars. It may be a wise move to purchase your cheques in US dollars to avoid hassles. Even Australian dollar cheques have become difficult to cash outside the major centres.

Try not to flash your wads of money around too much (Rp.100,000 may only be a small amount to you, but may represent a weeks salary to a reasonably well paid hotel or restaurant worker, and perhaps a months wages to a worker or farm labourer).

There are many ATM's in Bali, generally located in shopping centres, and in areas nearby to the large hotels and tourist precincts. Be careful though, as almost all banks and credit facilities charge high fees for withdrawals and cash advances from overseas ATM's. Ask you bank about their overseas withdrawal charges before deciding between travellers cheques or ATM's as your travelling money source.

Some ATM's have pretty low limits (maybe Rp.400,000 - approximately USD$40-50) but you can just put your card in again and withdraw more, up to the daily limit set by your bank at home.

Using credit cards for major expenses (hotels) will also give you the best exchange rates.

VISA and Mastercard are the most widely accepted cards.

FACT: People will ask you, "where are you staying?". If you answer honestly that you are staying in an expensive hotel, or anywhere in Nusa Dua, you will pay more for everything you buy. When asked, always tell shop owners and stall holders that you are staying in a budget hotel in Kuta.

FACT: During times of greatest currency instability, credit cards and cash advances have proven to be the best method of buying and obtaining money. Credit card companies generally conduct foreign exchange transactions on wholesale rates (does yours?), which are always better and more dynamic than the retail rates charged by banks and money changers.

There have been reports from travellers who claim to have been robbed by money changers who use a variety of tricks to short change customers during exchange transactions. The tricks include...

  • Using rigged calculators to deceive customers (bring your own mini-calculator so you can be certain of the amount of cash you will get).
  • Inserting folded notes within the wad of Rupiah that is paid to the customer (count out the cash carefully, before leaving the exchange office).
  • Substituting Rp.1,000 notes for Rp.10,000 notes (again, you must know how much cash the transaction is worth, and you must count it carefully).
  • Substituting wads of notes by "sleight of hand" (count the cash carefully).

Some travellers have reported being subjected to little kids trying to rob them, mostly they crowd around trying to distract you, then trying to open your money belt. Because they are so cute you don't realise until its too late.

A (very) rough idea of relative values...

  • Bemo from the airport to Kuta: Rp.2,500 to 15,000 (bus / private bemo)
  • Shuttle bus from Kuta to Ubud: Rp.15,000
  • Taxi flagfall: Rp.2,500 plus Rp.1,000 per km (across town fare about Rp.5,000 - 10,000)
  • Cheap car rental: Rp.75,000 - 150,000 per day
  • Cheap motorbike rental: Rp.15,000 - 35,000 per day
  • Cheap pushbike rental: Rp.3,000 - 10,000 per day
  • Premium petrol (gasoline) is about Rp.1,000 / litre
  • A night in a low cost bungalow: Rp.25,000 to 50,000 (per couple, including breakfast)
  • A basic meal: Rp.5,000 to 10,000 (fried rice or noodles at warung / restaurant)
  • A cup of tea or coffee: Rp.1,000 to 3,500
  • A small bottle of pure water: Rp.1,000 to Rp.1,500 per 600mL (extra for chilled)
  • A large bottle of pure water: Rp.1,500 to Rp.3,000 per litre (extra for chilled)
  • A large bottle of local beer: Rp.5,000 (and chances are, it won't be ice cold!)
  • Cigarettes: Rp.7,000 (less for Indonesian brands)
  • A sarong: Rp.10,000 to 25,000 (plain / batik print)
  • A t-shirt: Rp.10,000 to 20,000 or 35,000 (plain / print / brandname)
  • A pair of shorts: Rp.5,000 to 25,000 (plain / board shorts)
  • Fake watch (leather band): Rp.50,000 to 80,000

The prices shown above are indicative and may vary widely, and you may find better, or you may have to pay more. To gain the best price, in some instances you must bargain. Often, you may be able to obtain a product or service for as little as one third of the initial asking price, but one half is typical. Service and craft goods are more likely to be sold at a lower cost than manufactured goods, as the seller must make some profit to earn a living, and the margins may be less depending upon the wholesale source of the goods.

Denpasar market stall.
Above: A lady selling produce from a typical market stall (Denpasar market).

Bargaining...

When bargaining, keep in mind the notion of a fair price. For instance, if you want a tee-shirt that is similar to one that would cost $15.00 at home, and you are first asked for Rp.60,000 for the shirt, your first offer may be around Rp.15,000 to Rp.20,000. From there you may have to negotiate and eventually settle on something like Rp.25,000 to Rp.35,000. That is far less than the price that you would have happily paid at home.

It is unreasonable to try to force the seller to part with the shirt for Rp.5,000, as some tourists attempt. It will be possible to buy some items for as little as one third or less of the original asking price, but usually the original price would have been outrageously high to begin with (the seller saw you coming!).

One strategy for obtaining the last price, is to simply walk away if you think the final price is too high. If you are called back by the seller you may negotiate one more price (settle for splitting the difference, or just keep walking).

For example...

Item - Shoes worth about $20 - 25 at home...

  • Seller asks: Rp.90,000.
  • You offer: Rp.30,000.
  • Seller tells you about his poor mother, and asks Rp.80,000.
  • You laugh and offer Rp.40,000, but tell him, "no more"!
  • Seller says he'll go bankrupt, and asks Rp.70,000 - last price.
  • You shake your head sadly then smile, offering Rp.45,000.
  • Seller shakes his head and insists on Rp.70,000.
  • You smile, and walk away, possibly in the direction of another shop.
  • Seller calls for you to offer one more price.
  • If you turn and respond, you should hold to your last offer of Rp.45,000.
  • The seller will remind you of his mother, his children and his bank manager, but may offer to sell at Rp.65,000 - last price.
  • The choice is yours; walk away, buy at his last price, try an offer of Rp.50,000 or hold firm (with a smile). What would you do?

It is wise to attempt your buying as early as possible in the morning. The Balinese believe that making a sale to the morning's first customer is a sign of luck, and will often sell at a slim margin of profit. Of course, many of the sellers are not Balinese, so you may not get the best morning price.

You are far more likely to succeed at bargaining in markets such as the large one held daily in Denpasar, or those frequently held in country villages. Fewer tourists will improve your chances.

If you are not confident with bargaining, it may be best to aviod markets and small shops. Look for places with signs indicating "fixed price". These will offer goods at prices that are higher than a good bargainer will achieve, but generally less than the sometimes outrageous prices that may be asked when bargaining is expected. Be sure to look at a few shops to compare prices before buying anything!

Many people also believe that tourists who pay too much may also cause problems for budget travellers. If too many people are prepared to pay the inflated initial asking price, then the notion of bargaining may soon be lost. Evidence of a trend in this direction is the number of fixed price shops that exist now compared to only a few years ago.


Answer to the bargaining question: You'll probably offer Rp.50,000, and the seller will insist on one more price (again). Smile, and play the game if you want the shoes. Is Rp.60,000 reasonable? Perhaps it is, but at the last second you offer Rp.55,000. You have developed the instinct. The seller accepts your offer!

Proudly wearing your bargain shoes at dinner that evening, you'll meet another traveller who bought a similar pair for Rp.20,000 (so they say). The next morning, still wearing your new shoes, every stall holder in the market will offer to sell you another pair - starting price is Rp.70,000!

You've just learned the second lesson!

drinks.jpg (23652 bytes)

Prices shown in this guide are provided as indicators only. As the value of the Indonesian Rupiah has been unstable over the past few months, and appears to have ongoing problems with stability, we recommend you check other web sites and WWW currency converters for the latest information.

Tip
The art of negotiating a price is known as bargaining or haggling. Bartering means trading your goods or services for the goods or services of another. These are not the same thing.

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1994-2000 Wayne Reid. Bali: The Online Travel Guide

Contributions, including corrections, updates, new information and suggestions are welcome.

Disclaimer: All of the information available within this site is believed to be correct, however the author accepts no responsibility or liability for any outcomes that may result in using this site's contents.