Driving scooter in Indonesia, rules & tips
Driving scooter is the best way to enjoy and explore Indonesia. During my seven months stay in Bali, I drove every day on my scooter to work, to a restaurant or for sightseeing. In this post, I will tell you everything you need to know about driving scooter in Indonesia, especially in Bali. Where to rent a scooter? For what price? Are there traffic rules? What to do if a police officer stops you? And why the hell do the Indonesians honk the horns that much?
First thing that you should realize is that driving in Indonesia, is not like driving in Europe or America. The traffic is not that well-organized and it will take some time before you get used to it. Cars or scooters can suddenly stop on highways, people cross the highways without any help of signs, scooters drive everywhere and even dogs sleep on the highways, you will face it all in Indonesia.
Renting a scooter
All scooters lower than 125cc can be considered as a scooter or motorbike. Most of them are automatic, so you do not have to bother with the gears.
Before you sign the renting contract, check the entire scooter. Check the scooter’s paintwork, brakes, lights, horn, alarm and gas tank. Make sure everything work probably and make some pictures of the scooter’s condition, so you always have proof about the scooter’s condition when you rented it.
On Bali, it is very easy to find scooter rental companies in every city. I used to rent my scooter per month from a company in Denpasar and payed 600.000 IDR (€42,00 or US$46,00) for this. When you rent a scooter, also make sure you rent a helmet that fits your head and has a visor and always keep the name and mobile number of the rental company with you.
10 Important traffic rules
Unfortunately, tourists get caught in accidents very often. Some of these accidents are fatal. With these traffic rules, do and don’ts, you can prepare yourself very well before you hit the road. 10 Important traffic rules for driving scooter in Indonesia:
Always wear a helmet! I am sure you will see many people driving without any helmets and yes, it can be very hot with a helmet on, but please be smart and protect yourself and especially your head! In Bali, it is obligated to wear a helmet, but there are some exceptions for instance in small villages or during ceremonies when the Balinese people wear Batik.
2. Drive on the left
In Indonesia, the traffic drives on the left side of the road, so follow the round abound anticlockwise and pass people on the ride side.
3. There are no official speed limits in Indonesia
The average speed on the main roads (Jl. Bypass…) is around 60-70 km/h and on the roads around 40 km/h. Most of the scooters can reach the 80 km/h. Do not feel obligated to drive 70 km/h on the main roads. Just drive the speed you like, but when this is slower than the others, make sure you stay on the left side of the road, so others can easily pass you on the right. However, do not drive on the very left side, because here are most of the holes, bumps, gravel and especially dogs.
4. Driving license
You need a driving license when you would like to drive and rent a scooter in Indonesia. Usually your national driving license is not valid, so make sure you buy an international driving license before you go to Indonesia. Usually these licenses are valid for one year.
5. Use your signals
Even though locals do not always do it, show when you turn. When somebody sits on the back of your scooter, he/she can also shake their hand to indicate your direction.
6. Use the horn
In Indonesia it is completely normal to honk the horn. When you are waiting for a traffic light, and the light turns orange (Yes, they go from red to orange to green and from green to orange to red), people behind you will start honking. Do not stress, it is just an indication that the light is orange.
Another moment, when honking is completely normal, is when you are passing cars, bicycles or scooters. In this case, you just give a warning that you are passing and that the vehicle in front of you should move to the side, so you can pass easily.
When you are approaching a blind-corner in a small alley, you should honk the horn as well. Via this way, you will know if another scooter is approach the same blind-corner or not.
Last, but not least, I often used the horn in another situation, when somebody was planning to cross the road. I honked the horn, so they know that I drive on the road and they cannot cross the road yet. Just as a warning sound…
7. Traffic from the right has the right way
Yes, to some extend this happens in Indonesia, but do not forget that who comes first in Indonesia is served first, so do not be surprised when locals frequently skip a queue in front of a traffic light or intersection and just cut in front of others. When you are an experienced driver, you will do the same.
8. Pay attention to flashing lights
In the night, you mainly warn others by flashing your lights instead of honking your horn. Some drivers, mainly cars, may flash their lights to you from your back. Then they are approaching fast and warn you that they will pass you.
9. Do not use alcohol or drugs
Like in any other country it is not smart to drive while you have consumed alcohol or drugs. The police might not be so strict in checking this, but please be responsible and do not do this. Taxis are very cheap in Indonesia, so if you decide to go for a party, just take a taxi home.
10. Intersection curves
At some intersection curves, you have traffic lights. However, if you take a curve while driving on the left side and entering a road immediately on the left side you do not have to wait. It does not make sense to wait, because no traffic can interfere you curve. However, sometimes people cross the street at the intersections, so make sure you always slow down a bit before you take the curve.
7 Tips for driving scooter in Indonesia
Some tips for driving scooter in Indonesia:
1. Keep your gas full
Make sure wherever you go, that you always have ¼ full tank. There are many gasoline shops in Indonesia, but in some more rural areas you might not always find one. The national gasoline chain in Indonesia is called ‘Pertamina’. Petrol is relatively cheap in Indonesia in comparison with Western countries.
When you are driving, you will also see some small local shops selling petrol in glass bottles, often in vodka bottles. The quality of this petrol (bensin) is not always good, so I recommend you to fill your gas at a normal gasoline shop. However, this bensin might be handy when your fuel is running low and there is no official gasoline shop in sight.
2. Always pay attention!
As said before, the traffic in Indonesia is unpredictable. Always pay attention when driving. Anybody (people or animals) can and does enter a main road at any time and always watch the road for holes, stones or anything else. Be careful when it has rained. Some roads can become slippery after or during rain fall.
3. Bring a raincoat on all your scooter trips
Just put the raincoat under your seat. The weather in Bali is sometimes unpredictable and before you know you will be drenched.
4. Roads get closed off for processions
Culture is very important in Indonesia. On Bali, the roads regularly are closed, because of a procession. This is a cultural thing, so please respect it.
5. Put your bag under the seat or between your feet
Do not wear your bag on your shoulder. It is easy to grab for a bag-snatcher or it may slip off your shoulder while driving.
6. Wear closed shoes
Flipflops are the perfect ‘shoes’ for countries with tropical temperatures, but the best shoes you can wear on a scooter are closed ones. If you decide to wear your flipflops, make sure you do not lose them on the way.
7. The police is corrupt
When you get stopped by the police, which will probably happen, make sure you have your driving license with you.
There are often police check points on the road, where they will stop every scooter to check your driving license and insurance of the scooter. They will stop the foreigners first, because some of them may have the wrong documents and they can then charge you a fee before they let you go. Foreigners often mean earning some extra salary. Sometimes they ask a lot of money or ask you to come to the police office. Just stay calm. Make sure you have two wallets with you. One with just a small amount of money in it and say it is all you have. You probably can get away with a small fee and enjoy the rest of your trip. When you do have the right documents, they have no right to ask you for a fee and just keep disagreeing with fee. They will let you go as well.
I hope that this post will help you to better understand the chaotic traffic of Indonesia, especially of Bali. Perhaps after driving some days on your scooter, you also will drive on sidewalks or the wrong way down a one-way street. Just make sure you do it safe and the police will not see you haha!
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Thanks! Your article is still useful and relevant!
I would like to add about the crucial points to consider when choosing a motorbike.
Driving experience: this is probably one of the most important things to think about. If you’re a newbie and are just planning to learn, take a simpler and lighter motorbike. Honda Vario 125 is a good choice.
If you’re an experienced driver, you may choose a motorbike that’s heavier and more comfortable. Consider NMax 155.
Your height, weight and how athletic you are. This is an obvious one: if you are a skinny girl, we recommend motorbikes like Honda Vario 125, 150 or Scoopy. For taller drivers it’s better to pick something like Lexi 125 – it has a higher seat and is more comfy.
Planning long journeys around the island? Then it’s best to choose NMax 155, as it’s the most comfy motorbike for travelling on Bali.
Will you have passengers? If yes, take something more comfortable: Aerox 155 or, again, NMax 155.
And about fines in Bali: here is a very detailed article on this topic – https://balimotion.pro/en/blog/fines-in-bali-what-are-fined-and-how-to-avoid – for some fines imprisonment
Thank you for the useful information!! 🙂
These are absolutely great tips! I’m headed to Bali late next year for the second time and I feel like I really want to rent a scooter this time around. Would you mind passing on your recommendation? Also, did you use a particular site to get your international driver’s license? Thanks for so many great tips! Cheers!
Thank you! Yes, sure I can pass on the recommendation. Can you provide your email, so I can send you an email with the contact details of the rental guy. You can also send us an email with the request: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since, I live in the Netherlands, I could easily visit a Dutch company (ANWB) that sells these international driver’s licenses. I suggest you search on the internet for a company like this in your country (if you are not Dutch).
World Of A Wanderer (@worldofawander)
Kudos to you for braving the roads by scooter! I was in Bali in August and was almost afraid to walk due to the narrow roads. I only rode shotgun on scooters, I couldn’t even fathom driving one on my own hahaa.
Well, in Bali sometimes driving scooter is safer than walking or cycling haha!
Thanks for these tips! I don’t know if I fully trust myself to be able to safely navigate Balianese roads on a scooter lol my driving skills in Australia are sometimes questionable 😀 But thankyou for promoting the obligation to wear a helmet. I cringe everytime I see someone riding without one. Safety first!
Haha, yeah safety first! I also definitely recommend to wear a helmet =)
Katie @ The Budget Backpack
You are much braver than I am for riding a scooter in Indonesia! I was really afraid to ride a scooter anywhere in Asia (except Koh Lanta in Thailand in the low season… no other vehicles on the road lol). It’s interesting- and a good tip- that you need to have the international drivers license for a scooter… I know some places only require it for motorcycles/cars/trucks/etc…
Thank you! Well, I was afraid in the beginning too, but because I really had to drive scooter to reach my internship place everyday, I had to get used quickly to the chaotic Indonesian traffic and I did! =)
Bali is still on the bucket list! I attempted to ride a scooter in Koh Samui, Thailand when I was younger. These are great tips and I think quite relevant for many Asian countries, esp the last one. ;P
Thank you! Yes, it is a pity that there still exist corruption in some countries. But indeed, it is good to know how to handle situations like that.