UBUD, Bali - When Lucy retired to Ubud from her job in administration at a health insurance company in Australia in 2011, she counted on soaking up Balinese culture, good food and the balmy climate for decades.
The Sydney native took out a 20-year lease on a 400 sq m plot outside Ubud, and built a villa made from recycled antique panels she imported from Java of a traditional Gladak house.
On accommodation alone, the 76-year-old reckons she invested more than the equivalent of $200,000 of her life savings.
Now that investment and a life of friendships and weekly yoga classes built up over more than a decade in Bali’s cultural hub is at risk.
Indonesian authorities are set to introduce new rules by Christmas requiring retirees to deposit two billion rupiah (S$174,000) into a state-owned bank within six months as part of an effort to introduce its Second Home Visa, a permit allowing its holder to stay in Indonesia for as long as 10 years.
The new visa is aimed at high net worth individuals, as some neighbouring countries do the same.
Malaysia’s My Second Home programme allows foreigners to stay for 10 years, provided they earn RM40,000 (S$12,200) per month and pay a RM1 million deposit. Thailand offers stays for as long as 20 years along with everything from airport transfers to health check-ups for discerning expats for up to one million baht (S$39,000) a year.
But as Indonesia eyes the wealthy, it also risks upending the lives of thousands, including 6,000 in Bali alone, who have devoted their life savings fixing up rental villas, hiring staff, and knitting together friendships.
Some say they made a difference to local businesses and the families of their staff when tourism evaporated during the pandemic.
The Straits Times conducted interviews via text, phone and in person with nearly a dozen people whose time in Bali date back to the late 1980s. None of them wanted their names to be used, on worries that comments would be seen as criticism of the government at a sensitive time.
But all the respondents expressed a sense of bewilderment that the rules upon which they would live out their golden years could be changed so drastically and so soon.
Lucy (not her real name) said the sudden change may make newcomers think twice.
“It sends a signal that your security, your whole life here, can suddenly change.
“If this has happened to me, it can happen to anyone,” she told ST.
Holders of retirement visas will have to switch to the country’s new 10-year visa by the middle of 2023, according to regulations issued by Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights in late October. The regulations are set to go into effect as early as Friday, according to the new rules.
But officials are waiting on technical instructions from Jakarta outlining what to do in cases where retirees cannot make the deposit.
The new rules are a departure from the current more affordable regime where applicants over the age of 55 are eligible for stay permits that can range between one and five years. For example, Lucy said she pays less than $1,000 for her year-long retirement visa.
Mr Anggiat Napitupulu, Jakarta’s immigration chief in Bali, said the Second Home Visa will replace the current comparatively relaxed visa regime. It is just a matter of how and when. For now, it is business as usual, he said.
“We don’t have any instructions from Jakarta,” Mr Anggiat said, referring to when the new rules will come into effect.
“All retirement visa holders can extend their visa. Don’t worry.”
Still, after years of building a life and helping staff including housekeepers, gardeners, drivers, as well as local businesses and even landlords get through the pandemic lockdown, the change is a bitter blow.
When John (also not his real name) and his wife first arrived in Bali from India in 2013, their landlord’s family cared for them as they recovered from an illness they picked up during their travels.
In 2021, while the couple decamped to the United States during Covid-19, John, 75, said he and his wife paid 80 million rupiah to renew the lease on their villa to help cushion the blow to his landlord, as their landlord’s homestay business shut down during the lockdown.
“Balinese go out of their way to make people feel welcome,” John said.
“We wanted to help, so we extended our lease.”
Other respondents ST reached out to described frustration at the lack of clarity in the rules after years of relative stability. Some were baffled why the current visa rules could not exist alongside an ultra-long-term visa for comparative high rollers.
Back in Ubud, Susan, a native of western Canada, whose time in Bali dates back to 1988, says those with deep pockets were nowhere to be seen when Balinese families were struggling. In the first weeks of the pandemic, she asked her housekeeper to stay home but continued to pay him.
“We employed people. We bought groceries. We helped people here get through a tough time,” she said.
“We’re not just lying here in the sun. We kept families afloat.”