Getting a tourist driver’s license in Bali

Last night we realized we could not go on a motorcycle road trip in Bali due to lack of an international driver’s license. We were really sad since we had already made the decision to take a tour of Bali for 2 weeks on a scooter.

Today in the morning we did a bit of research online to see how we could still go on our trip without getting into much trouble with the law. We could not find any good information on how to get a driver’s license in Bali online but fortunately we did find someone’s comment in a travel forum that they were able to get a tourist driver’s license in Denpasar (2 hours away from Ubud) for 300,000 rupiahs (equivalent of ~$30). With this sliver of hope, we decided to ask around.

After breakfast we asked the staff of our home-stay if they had an idea of what could be done. One of them mentioned that a previous customer went to the police station of a city named Gianyar (30 minutes away) to get a one month tourist driving permit. He said he had paid 300,000 rupiahs and was able to drive a motorcycle.

We were in business! The idea of not being able to go on a two week tour around the island was depressing since we felt we had not been too adventurous the past few weeks and needed some spice in our trip.

Our friendly staff member drew a map for me and told me that the police station closes at 2 pm today Monday, and I should hurry!

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With a the map in hand, I hop on my scooter and start driving for the 20 km to the police station. I realize I’m driving illegally already but in my mind decide that if I get stopped I’ll show the map indicating I’m on my way to be legal… luckily no cops stopped me along the way. Surprisingly, the map was perfect and got me to my destination in 30 minutes.

Even though I already knew I needed copies of my passport, visa, and drivers license, I forgot to do it at the home-stay before I left. Midway to the kantor polisi, I make a pit-stop to get the needed copies and in my best indonesian possible ask: due “poto copies please”. Luckily the guy spoke English and got the copies without a problem.

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Without any expectations on what the police station might look like, I finally see a bright yellow sign that states: POLISI/POLICE. It reminded me of those Pawn shop signs in the states. However, I did not have any jewelry to sell but I def. needed to buy something.

As I walk in at first I think this is not going to work, the building looks empty and quiet with an eery feeling similar to one would get when walking in the halls of the Overlook Hotel from the Shining but with decorations.

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Fortunately two seconds later a cop walked in and asked me were I was from. I said USA and mentioned to him I needed a license. He happily escorted me to the second floor. “This is where the party is” I say to myself. However, every sign is in Indonesian and there is no information desk for me. I asked my escort friend who I can talk to and he takes me directly to the boss’ office with the sign “Loket 1 Pendaftaran”. I explain to them that I need a permit to drive a scooter in Bali. The boss does not speak English but my escort understood me. After they have a short discussion I’m informed I can only get a permit in Jakarta, a couple islands away from Bali. I say this is not an option and would really appreciate their help.

A third cop joins the conversation, Officer Sujadi, the savior. He talks with the boss and my escort and finally tells me: “I can help you.” I smell trouble but I really want my permit.

I repeat that I need a tourist driving permit for me. I do not live in Bali but I’m a tourist. I take out the copy of my passport, visa, and driver’s license. Officer Sujadi takes my documents and leaves the boss’ office telling me to wait. Suddenly, I have hope.

Sujadi comes back telling me I can get a permit but only for a month and I must pay. I try not to act excited and ask: “How much?” He gets his calculator similar to the ladies in the central market trying to sell me some penis souvenir (more on that later) and types 375, he pauses and then types 25 and says: “That’s for me”. I actually try to negotiate with the cop and say I can only pay 300 total.

“I’m a cop, what do you do in your country?” he says.

“I’m a student, getting a masters.” I answer hoping the poor student story would work.

He laughs, “A student traveling in Indonesia, jajaja. Come tomorrow”.

Damn it! I scream to myself. “Look, here is my student ID” as I take out my UC Berkeley student ID. He relaxes.

“Come on, I really want to see Bali like local people. I’m traveling with my wife and I’ve heard Bali is beautiful and more than just Kuta and Ubud. Can we do 350 total, please?” as I type in the calculator 350.

He says, OK but come tomorrow. I take out my wallet and I say I can pay now, but I need it today. He says OK and quickly erases the calculator digits to avoid anyone seeing. I’m being scammed …

You need to picture this, I’m in the boss’ office, with a calculator in hand trying to negotiate a driver’s license with a cop. It was very surreal for me.

He leaves the office and as I wait a civilian walks in to the boss’ office with a smile on his face, a firm hand shake with a 100,000 rupiah bill in his hand for the boss saying: “Terima Kasim” — Thank you in Indonesian. Ok, I’m not the only one paying bribes to get things done.

After a few more minutes of waiting, he calls me over to a different room where they process the license. They have a computer with a web cam, a special printer on the side and I’m ecstatic! He asks me to wait in the side room for a few minutes. There is an empty desk with two chairs, two air conditioners and a huge server. I’m in the server room, by myself .. why I’m I being hidden from folks? The lady behind the computer calls me in, tells me to sit in front of her for the picture and finger prints. One minute later I’m back in the server room waiting for my permit and Officer scammer Sujadi comes back with my permit and requesting his money. I pay him 325,000 and then give him 25,000 separately saying this is for you. In reality, probably 200,000 was for him but I’ll never know.

After the transaction, I ask if I can take a picture with him and his smile disappears in a flash. He says no no, thank you and quickly escorts me out of the building.

At this point it’s a mixed feeling between pissed off and happiness.. in the big scheme of things, for $35 and $3/day scooter, I get to cruise around Bali for 2 weeks with my brand new Indonesian Driver’s License!

Let the fun begin!

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4 comments

  1. Hey!
    I am going to Bali in September, wanna do the same thing as You!

    Question: Does your US driving licence cover cars and motorbikes?

    Mine is for cars only, however, in Poland (and EU) its legal to drive scooter (not powerful engine) under it. If mine is just for cars, will I be able to get the Tourist Permit in Bali?

    Thanks for Your help!

  2. I love your story and pics. Thanks for sharing your story. It is a different system in Bali. But who is more corrupt? The police who agree to let you pay for the services they have given you, or you, the person who wants to drive in a foreign country without an International licence? Lucky for you the police let you find a way around your problem. The Bali system will only change when Indonesian police, nurse and teacher wages increase. Until then the system is that user pays and this supplements their very low wages.

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