With its sea views and beach resorts, Bali has long attracted surfers and vacationers. Today, it is also a prime destination for the world’s crypto enthusiasts.
Among the newcomers is 33-year-old Russian blockchain entrepreneur Ilia Maksimenka, who arrived on the Indonesian island in 2020, shortly after the outbreak of Covid-19.
“It’s very easy to meet the right people,” he said. “In terms of Southeast Asia, Bali is like that [international] Node of crypto now.”
While the pandemic has curbed international tourism, the rise in working from home has also caused many people to reconsider the comfort of living in cities that have traditionally been economic hubs. Bali was an exotic alternative for Maksimenka, who hails from Moscow.
“If you come to Bali, you might have a ten times cheaper life than in California. But you have the same comfort and a much higher quality of food. People prefer to come here and live the tropical life,” he said.
Crypto is a common interest among Bali’s expat community, who like to refer to themselves as “digital nomads”. On social media, many are bragging about the fortunes they’ve made trading cryptocurrencies in sun-drenched mansions while friends scrape by in cramped apartments at home.
“[We’re] work in [these] hippie places. And you’re starting to see Lamborghinis,” said Emilio Canessa, an Italian working in marketing for the Internet Computer, a project by blockchain company Dfinity. “The caliber of the people here . . . It’s crazy.”
“They started calling this place Silicon Bali,” he added.
Tokocrypto, an Indonesian crypto exchange, says it now has 37,660 registered users in Bali, compared to just 808 at the start of 2021. People in Bali’s crypto community that the Financial Times spoke to had a variety of interests, including Cryptocurrency trading, untrustworthy tokens, the metaverse, and decentralized finance. But most newcomers fit a certain mold.
“It is very difficult for men. White men, people in their early 20s,” said Antria Dwi Lestari, community engagement worker for Tokocrypto in Bali.
As more and more of these young men from all over the world flock to Bali in search of the crypto dream, companies have seen an opportunity. This year, Tokocrypto launched T-Hub, a “crypto clubhouse” in Bali with a co-working space and swimming pool. Indodax, another Indonesian crypto exchange, has its second office on the island. Canessa has proposed that his company build a “community-focused, cultural presence.”
At the same time, other companies in Bali are struggling. Up to 80 percent of the island’s economy depends on tourism, a source of income that was all but cut off during the pandemic.
The influx of crypto migrants will not make up for this loss of income. Just 51 tourists visited the island last year, compared to more than 6 million annually before the pandemic, according to Bali’s Bureau of Statistics. Some parts of the island were all but emptied.
Those in the crypto community are not blind to the local businesses struggling around them. Last year, an anonymous group launched Bali Token, a crypto token. According to its website, it can be used as a “discount coupon” at “any tourism spot in Bali” and “help millions[s] from Balinese. . . to stay strong during Covid-19”. According to data provider CoinMarketCap, the token’s value has plummeted nearly 100 percent since its peak in January.
Separately, an online petition called on the Indonesian government to create a “remote worker visa” to boost the “digital and creative economy” as Bali struggles with the tourism drought. It has been signed by 3,416 people since its launch two years ago.
The petition says remote workers in places like Bali often have ambiguous legal status without special permits.
Maksimenka suggested treating many social media posts about Bali with skepticism.
“Most of these golden kids trying to show off their wealth [on social media], they’re usually scammers,” he said. Only about 10 percent of Bali’s crypto community is “serious about the technology,” he added, while the rest are “just jumping on the hype” and trying to make money.
Mega Septiandara, an Indonesian who works out of Bali for an investment firm, also suggested that not every expat is on the island for the long term.
“I have a job and that’s how I survive. Crypto is beautiful. I get a nice side income from it,” she said.
But others are “trying to make their luck,” she added. “Some are struggling a bit and have decided to return to their home country. [They] You might find it a bit boring in Bali. After a while it’s just, ‘Oh, that’s the beach.’”