I have recently started writing posts for a great site called Expat Arrivals http://www.expatarrivals.com/ I owe a lot to websites such as this, as in the time between moving from London to Indonesia last year, I spent hours trawling the internet for any info that I could find that might help me learn something/anything about the new country that I was moving too. Nothing can ever really prepare you for the huge leap of faith that inevitably you have to take if you are going to relocate abroad, especially if it is to the other side of the world.With this piece that I have just written, I hope that in some small way, I can help others who may come to live and work in Indonesia from the West. This is a work in progress so if anyone has any other tips, please do leave them in the comments and I shall pass them on. As always, I write from my experience, but all of our experiences are different and you may well have some brilliant thoughts, tips that can be passed on too. They will all be appreciated.
Indonesia’s 17,500 islands make it the world’s largest archipelago. This culturally diverse corner of South East Asia maintains a rich tradition of music, art, dance, story telling and craft, despite it’s somewhat troubled, and at times, turbulent past.
Richly endowed with natural resources, historically, it has been of special interest to the Portuguese, English and Dutch all of whom, who have at some time, tried to stake a claim on the valuable spices which grow so abundantly here. Indonesia was under Dutch rule for many years but eventually, became Independent in 1945.
With the 4th largest population on the globe, currently estimated at 238 million, it’s also home to the largest Muslim population in the world. 60% of the entire Indonesian population live and work on Java, which is also where the capital Jakarta, is situated.
These days most of the visitors to Indonesia are tourists who come in their droves to seek the beautiful islands such as Lombok and Bali for their holiday destinations; but for the majority of people that relocate to Indonesia for work, Jakarta’s business and commercial centre will be their base.
Although exciting and exotic, there are still advantages and disadvantages to living in this corner of the world. Depending on where you are moving from, these things may be of little or no concern but they are worth thinking about, and considering if you are thinking of making Indonesia your new home.
CONS: Whether in Indonesia for work or play, one has to adjust to, and respect the local customs whether cultural, or religious. This may take some readjustment, particularly if you have lived in the West. As visitors to this country it is advisable to respect this and try to adhere to a few simple rules such as dress code. Skirts above the knee are considered pornographic and new laws are currently being bought in to enforce tighter controls on what women wear. Women do not have the same status as men, unless they have worked very hard for it, and earned it. Another thing worth bearing in mind is that Indonesia does not have the drinking culture that is found in Europe, for example. You will find alcohol prices very inflated compared to most other places. Recreational drugs are strictly prohibited and you face the death penalty if you are found with them. Bribery and corruption are rife, so be prepared to carry your papers at all times. It is not uncommon to be stopped by police at random. Poverty, and the disparity between the rich and the poor is something that is quite shocking. Nothing can prepare you for this and it is very upsetting, especially seeing small children with tiny babies tied to their fronts, ducking and diving through the heavy, polluted traffic, strumming on their small, broken plastic guitars begging. The fact is that for many Indonesians, living in poverty is all that they have ever known. There are few support systems in place and life in many cases for a lot of Indonesians is hell, especially in an urban environment such as Jakarta.
PROS: Despite alcohol being very expensive, it is not prohibited and there are lots of good bars and clubs to choose from. There are plenty of excellent places to eat and drink, or relax with a coffee. Indonesian food, though typically spicy, is excellent and varied enough to cater for everyone’s dietary needs be it vegan, vegetarian or full-blown carnivore. If you crave western fast food, there are the usual American fast food joints like Burger King, Mac Donald’s and KFC and Pizza Hut. International food is available in all the major tourist spots and cities.
Jakarta’s nightlife is vibrant and modern and there is a thriving music scene with bands playing every night of the week into the early hours. You are never lost for something to do here as the cultural side of life is very rich with regular art shows, music and film festivals being popular. International rock bands and famous singers regularly perform gigs hosted in Jakarta. It’s not difficult to have a good time if you know where to look for it. If you love shopping you will be spoilt for choice. There are numerous Malls selling everything from high end designer wear such as Gucci and Prada should you wish it, as well as many European shops, Mango, Top Shop, Miss Selfridges to name but a few. At the other end of the scale there are an abundance of local markets selling fabulous hand printed batik, crafts, baskets, tableware, textiles and linens. There is something for everyone, and in most cases, whatever you are looking for can be found.
For expats, especially women who feel isolated from their compatriots, there are a number of well run and established organizations like BWA that host weekly meetings, various events and fundraisers as well as giving informative talks about the realities of life as an expat woman in Indonesia. They offer support through their meetings and network, and can give help and advice on any number of issues that may arise. This maybe especially helpful for women who are new to Indonesia and are trying to get established and settled in a country far away from their friends and family.
There are various organizations that you can join to volunteer if you would like to support one of the myriad charities that work tirelessly in Indonesia to help those that really need it. The very young, the elderly and the sick are particularly vulnerable.
CONS: Space is at a premium in Jakarta so expect to pay a lot more if you want a house with a garden in an expat area. Most people opt to live in apartments. The general rule of thumb is that you will be expected to pay up to two years cash in advance for your rental property so make sure you choose wisely and do your homework on where abouts you would like to live. If you choose to live in an expat area be prepared to pay a lot more than if you live amongst the indigenous population. Ideally, chose somewhere that is as close to your work as possible. (See Getting Around)
PROS: There are a number of popular areas with houses/apartments to rent in Jakarta, Kemang and Kuningan being just two of them. Depending on your budget and where you choose to live you may well find yourself living in a nicer house than you would back home. Another huge advantage of living in Indonesia is that it is very affordable to have household help. What would normally be beyond the realms of possibility for most people wanting/needing help in the UK for example, becomes economically possible here, as labour is so much cheaper. Indonesians in general, are loyal and hard working. If mutual respect is given, it makes a world of difference to not only your life, but also importantly, your employees.
CONS: It’s important to take out health insurance, as all of your doctors visits, meds etc will need to be paid for unless your company agrees to foot the bills. Upset tummies are a part of life here and something that everyone gets from time to time. Dengue fever is another serious problem especially in the rainy season and internal parasites are not uncommon. You should be especially careful not to drink any water other than bottled water and if possible try not to eat the street food however tempting it may smell or look. Never drink the lovely fresh juices that are sold widely from carts on the roadside, they are often diluted with water of dubious origin and can make you seriously ill.
PROS: SOS is a highly regarded private medical company that operates throughout Indonesia. You can sign up with them soon after you arrival and they offer various medical insurance packages for peace of mind. Most medical emergencies can be dealt with here in Indonesia and it is very rare to have to be flown out for treatment. If there is something more serious that you wish to have investigated, Singapore is just a 2-hour flight away and offers some of the very best medical treatment and facilities in the World. Good private dentists are by recommendation and the best news is that crowns, bridges etc are a fraction of the price of what they would be in the West. Now is the time to get your teeth fixed?
CONS: One of the greatest disadvantages of living in Jakarta is the traffic. With 12 million people using the cities roads daily, congestion is a nightmare and traffic jams are a normal part of life here. The pollution generated by the exhaust fumes hangs like an umbrella over the city and the public transport system leaves very little to be desired. Over crowded buses, which should have been sent to the great scrapheap in the sky years ago, regularly breakdown on the roadside causing more jams and there is no subway or monorail system in place to help transport the 1000’s of commuters who to and fro to work daily. Ojeks, which are the motorcycles that you can cadge a ride on for a small fee, are good, but not perfect if it’s pouring with rain and you have lots of shopping bags to carry.
Taxis are abundant but it’s not uncommon for the driver to get lost so it’s vital that you have some knowledge of where you are heading to, with an address and ideally a map as well.
Getting around anywhere in Jakarta often takes hours. Be prepared for this and factor this in especially if you have important meetings to attend, or flights to catch. It helps to have the patience of a saint when traveling anywhere in Jakarta. Don’t even think about using a bicycle.
PROS: Taxi’s are ridiculously cheap compared to the West and if you tip well they will wait for you whilst you do your shopping.
It is very uncommon for expats to drive in Jakarta and most people employ a driver. A good driver is worth his weight in gold and will know all the ginnels and side streets to make traveling round more bearable. Having a driver in the West would be considered a luxury; here in Indonesia it is a part of life for most people with a stable income. For once in your life, enjoy being driven around and not having to worry about parking.
CONS: Humidity ranges from 70% – 90%. Humidity can be very unpleasant and can take a while to get used to.
There are only two seasons in Indonesia, the wet season, which runs from November to March, and the dry season, which runs from April to October. The temperature ranges from between 29-35 degrees Celsius all year round, which may make it uncomfortable for those that do not like heat.
PROS: The tropical climate, humidity aside, makes a refreshing change from the dull, cold, grey days that are experienced in Western winters. Daylight hours are roughly the same throughout the year with sunrise on average at 6am and sunset at 6pm. Even in the rainy season it is still very warm and showers don’t tend to last long. Due to the high temperature, it is unheard of to ever feel cold here.
COST OF LIVING
CONS: The cost of living really depends on where you have come from and price comparisons. In general, imported goods, whatever they are, are much more expensive than Indonesian products. Photographic equipment, clothing, art supplies and electrical goods can cost a small fortune compared with current European prices.
Shopping for food in the supermarkets, especially Western styled ones such as Hero or Ranch Markets can set you back as much as shopping for similar products in the UK, or more. Mobile phones are very expensive and electricity bills seem disproportionally high. For people that are used to getting visits to the doctor and certain medicines for free, healthcare should be accounted for in the budget.
PROS: Eating out is very cheap if you don’t factor in alcohol. Shopping for local fresh produce in the markets and warungs is fun and there are great bargains to be found. If you buy locally and skip the supermarkets you can live very cheaply and well. If you have the constitution of an ox, eating off the kaki lima’s makes life even easier and cheaper. Mobile phone tariffs are very good value and broadband and cable is easily installed and not expensive. As mentioned earlier, help of any kind, be it household, or gardener, driver or nanny, wages are considerably cheaper than in the West and make having domestic help easily affordable.
Textiles are abundant here and very cheap. By finding the right tailor, made to measure clothes become a way of life.
Indonesia is a wonderfully fascinating and diverse place. Whilst the West flounders in a state of economic collapse, Indonesia’s economic growth is on a steady upturn. Many countries throughout the world now invest in Indonesian business’s and education programmes and it’s future is looking bright. There is still much that needs to be changed by Indonesia, for the good of Indonesia and it’s people, but this great country is developing rapidly and its young population has much to look forward too.
The physical beauty of Indonesia is breathtaking. The rich fertile lowlands, patch worked by lush, verdant padi fields, the 3,400 miles of almost untouched coastline, vast coral reefs and sealife, it’s sacred mountains, deep, steaming jungles and dramatic, active volcanoes make it one of the most beautiful places in the world. The stunning, perfumed flora, and the rare, and in some cases, almost extinct fauna all just add to the magic and mystery of the place. For all the negatives, the positives outweigh them by far. If you choose to make Indonesia your home, come with an open heart and an open mind and you will be richly rewarded.