On September 7th 2021, Sandiaga Uno, Indonesia’s Minister for Tourism and the Cultural Economy, released a statement hinting that Indonesia will model Bali’s reopening on Thailand’s famous Phuket Sandbox scheme.
So what does this mean for travellers? In this article, we’ll look at what we know so far about the Bali reopening as well as the travel restrictions likely to be in place when it finally happens.
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Disclaimer: COVID-19 travel restrictions are changing daily. The following information reflects South East Asia Backpacker’s current understanding of the rules. We work hard to update this information as often and accurately as possible. However, we cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. We strongly advise you to contact the embassy of the country you are visiting for the latest information.
Bali Reopening: What We Know So Far…
Who Can Currently Visit Bali?
At the moment, Bali is closed to foreign travellers. The only people allowed to enter are Indonesian nationals and those who fit into one of the following scenarios.
- Visitors who hold an Indonesian residency permit (KITAP/KITAS)
- Passengers who hold a diplomatic or service visa
- Those entering for humanitarian purposes on a visitor visa
- Passengers who have a business visa, not including the B211 visa*
*Throughout the pandemic, there have been reports of foreigners entering the country under the Single-Entry B211 Business Visa (also known as the Social-Cultural Visa). However, from July 21st, these visas have been suspended until further notice. Source.
Visitors must also complete the eHAc registration, be able to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no earlier than 72 hours before boarding their flight to Indonesia and be fully vaccinated with an approved WHO vaccine. Indonesia is not currently allowing people who have been in India in the past 14 days to enter the country.
There is currently a mandatory quarantine period in place for those arriving from abroad. This applies to foreigners and Indonesian nationals. The quarantine period spans for 7 nights/8 days and you must check into a quarantine hotel in your arrival city.
Which type of tourist is welcome in Bali? On 10th September 2021, Luhut Pandjaitan, a top Indonesian Minister was quoted as saying… “We will filter tourists that come to visit. We don’t want backpackers to come so that Bali remains clean, where the people who come are of quality”. Source.
Indonesia Health Alert Card (eHAC)
Everyone entering Indonesia is required to register with the Indonesia Health Alert Card (eHAC) app. This is a mandatory requirement that aims to keep track of potential COVID-19 cases coming into and moving around the country.
Bali Reopening: Timeline of Events
- September 2021
7th of September 2021 – Sandiaga Uno announced in a written statement that the new approach to reopening Bali would learn from Thailand’s Phuket Sandbox to curb local transmission.
Despite this announcement, Uno gave no details about how a similar scheme would be applied in Bali. To be eligible for Thailand’s Phuket Sandbox plan, you need to be fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, however, we don’t know whether this will be a requirement of entering Bali under a similar scheme in the future.
Uno also never gave a target date for Bali’s reopening, however, some have theorised that it could be as early as October or November, dependent on COVID-19 infection numbers.
- August 2021
At the end of August, Governor of Bali Wayan Koster announced that the Bali reopening, which was planned for September, would once again be pushed back. This is a result of rising coronavirus cases across the country.
At this point, no new target date was given for the reopening but Koster said that foreign tourism will only be able to resume when the situation is conducive, both inside and outside of Indonesia.
- July 2021
Once again, Bali’s reopening was delayed amid rising cases. The plan going forward (as of July 2021) is to vaccinate everyone within the agreed green zones and to establish ‘safe routes’ (a.k.a travel corridors) to help people get there. When deciding what countries will qualify for the travel corridors, Indonesia’s Minister for Tourism and the Cultural Economy has stated that he will be looking at three factors:
- Whether the spread of COVID-19 has been contained
- High national vaccination rate
- Offer reciprocal terms to Indonesia
- March 2021
At the beginning of March 2021, talk of designated ‘green zones’ began. These were areas with low COVID-19 cases which could start receiving international and domestic tourists as part of a controlled scheme. Nusa Dua, Ubud, Kuta, Nusa Penida and Sanur were all destinations that were designated as potential green zones. Uno announced that Bali would reopen in July 2021 to vaccinated tourists.
- August 2020
Around this time, the Indonesian government earmarked January 1st 2021 as Bali’s initial reopening date. After the announcement of the January date, businesses started rallying to get ready for tourists.
As part of operation reopen, the government introduced a CHSE (Cleanliness, Health, Safety and Environmentally Sustainable) programme to target both businesses and destinations. It was hoped that this would bring peace of mind to holidaymakers when they eventually returned to the island.
Once the January 1st date rolled around, the Indonesian government decided that it was not yet the right time to open Bali.
- March 2020
When the world started locking down amid concerns over the coronavirus, hoards of people cancelled their trips to Bali. This plummet in tourism combined with rising COVID-19 cases, eventually led to the Indonesian government prohibiting entry to the country for tourism purposes.
So What is the Situation Like in Bali Now?
Due to the lack of international tourists, plus a recent lockdown in Java and Bali preventing domestic tourists from travelling to the island, the situation in Bali is pretty dire.
While some beaches and tourist attractions are beginning to reopen in Bali, a number of hospitality businesses have closed their doors forever. As tourism is the lifeblood of the island, many families have fallen into extreme poverty as a result of travel bans and lack of business. Malnutrition is becoming a common problem, with many claiming that the impact of the travel bans is even more damaging than catching COVID-19.
A partial lockdown was announced by the Indonesian government on 1st July 2021 which meant the closure of schools, mosques, shopping malls and restaurants across most of the island of Bali and the largest island of Java, including the capital, Jakarta. The lockdown continues to persist with variations depending on the local area and the number of COVID-19 cases. The aim of the lockdown is to get cases down to under 10,000 a day.
What is the Bali lockdown like?
- Schools and mosques are closed and employees have been asked to work from home.
- Cafés, restaurants and bars have closed and are now only open for takeaway and delivery.
- Beaches in Canggu, Seminyak, Kuta, Uluwatu have been closed.
- Shopping centres on Bali are closed.
- Supermarkets are open until 8pm.
- Masks are compulsory whenever you leave your place of residence. If a foreigner is found not wearing a mask or disobeying any health protocols, they will be deported.
When Will Bali Reopen for International Tourism?
Bali has been closed to international tourists for over a year, despite numerous plans to reopen. 80% of the economy in Bali is tourism-related and many local businesses are suffering as a result of the travel bans currently in place.
In an interview with news outlet Reuters in June, Uno, the Minister for Tourism and the Cultural Economy said that he wants to see the daily number of COVID infections in Bali fall to around 30 or 40 a day before the island reopens.
While daily infections in Indonesia as a whole have started to decline (12,900 daily average in the final week of August 2021), the delta variant has ripped through the country and testing numbers are perilously low, meaning cases could be much higher than the official statistics show. If Uno’s statements about infection numbers are indicative of future plans, then it looks like Bali will remain closed for some time yet.
Domestic Travel to Bali and Vaccinations
Everyone entering Bali from elsewhere in Indonesia must provide a negative PCR test result and proof of vaccination status. Bali has also been prioritised in the country’s vaccination rollout plan because its economy has been the hardest hit during the pandemic. As of the end of July 2021, 71% of the island’s population has had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 19% have had two. This compares with 22.5% and 9.7% on a national scale.
At present, foreigners on short-term visas (that includes travellers that decided to wait out the pandemic and those that entered on social and business visas, such as the B211 visa) are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in Indonesia. This decision has been taken to protect supplies but some experts have claimed it is driving the surge in cases. Currently, only those on retiree visas, work permits or representatives of foreign countries are entitled to get jabbed under the free government rollout.
Proposed Opening of Bali: September 2021
There were plans for Indonesia’s economic reopening to begin gradually in September but this has once again been pushed back with no date. Luhut Pandjaitan, a minister who helps to decide virus containment measures has said that “reopening of economic activities will depend on vaccination, improved testing, tracing and treatment.”
It is likely that when Bali does reopen, it will be a steady and controlled process. Judging by the recent statement from Uno, the plan is likely to mimic Thailand’s tourism reopening, with a scheme similar to the Phuket Sandbox.
Travel corridors with selected countries are likely to be one way that the government begins to reopen tourism. This way, they can base travel decisions on each country’s infection and vaccination numbers. At present, seven countries are reported to have been in discussions with Indonesia about travel bubbles, including China, The UK, Singapore, The Netherlands and The UAE.
Although little has been announced in the way of ‘green zones’ since we first heard about them back in March 2021, we know that the three proposed zones (Ubud, Nusa Dua and Sanur) have rolled out a mass vaccination drive to get ready for tourists.
In recent news published by the Bali Sun, one tourism official has urged the Indonesian President to open on August 17th 2021 to coincide with Indonesia’s Independence Day. I Wayan Puspa Negara, Bali tourism analyst, has said that some areas previously touted as green zones (Ubud, Nusa Dua and Sanur), have already met requirements to reopen businesses. COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed to all residents in these areas (although it is unknown how many people living in these areas are classed as official residents).
I Putu Astawa, Head of Bali Tourism Agency has claimed that the rollout of second doses of COVID-19 vaccines is expected to finish in Bali soon. He estimates that if things continue at their current pace, they will finish distributing the second doses to over 70% of the population in Bali by September 2021.
The Proposed Bali Digital Nomad Visa
As the remote work trend has grown, Bali has become a major digital nomad hotspot in Southeast Asia. The laidback lifestyle combined with the dreamy landscape has pulled in influencers, yoga teachers, dropshippers and more.
As the remote work trend looks set to continue in the wake of the pandemic, Indonesia is currently drafting up plans to further entice digital nomads to the island. There is talk of a new visa tailored to remote workers. Under this new scheme, digital nomads who work for or own companies outside of Indonesia will be able to stay on a five-year visa.
Tax can often be a complex issue for remote workers but Uno has said, “ If they earn income within Indonesia they will be taxed, but if it’s solely from overseas there will be zero tax.” If this proposal ends up being rolled out in the future, it could bring more travellers to the island than ever before.
Bali Reopening: The Verdict
As of yet, no official reopening date for Bali has been announced. However, judging by recent articles, it certainly appears that there is a push to bring back tourists to the island sooner rather than later, with some industry figures saying that Bali is ready to reopen as early as October or November, using a scheme similar to the Phuket Sandbox.
What is clear is that there is obviously a demand for travel. Tourists are itching to get back to Bali and the locals are desperately in need of the economic boost. What remains to be seen is when the next planned reopening will be and whether the government will honour it.
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