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Traffic in Indonesia is some of the most chaotic expats are likely to experience and driving can be daunting for even the most experienced of city drivers. Luckily, private drivers are affordable and are a popular option among expats in Indonesia. Additionally, there is a relatively good public transport system in Indonesia and taxis are readily available in larger cities.
Driving in Indonesia
Road transport is the most common form of transport in Indonesia. There has been a massive growth in the number of motor vehicles in the country in the last decade but the government has not been able to construct new roads fast enough to keep up with the demand. Therefore, traffic jams are a problem, particularly in Jakarta and on Bali.
Many embassies advise their nationals against driving in Indonesia and many expats choose to hire a private driver or use taxis instead. Foreigners also often choose motorbikes as their primary means of transport, although this can be a dangerous option.
Drivers must be 17 years of age or older and must have a valid driving licence. International driving licences issued within Indonesia are usually accepted, otherwise, expats must apply for an Indonesian driving licence which is called a SIM (Surat Izin Mengemudi). Those wanting to drive a motorcycle will need a separate licence called a SIM C. Expats will have to pass a written and practical test to obtain a SIM.
Motorcycles are an extremely popular way to get around Indonesia and can be rented quite easily from rental agencies or from locals trying to make some extra money.
Expats should make sure they are confident driving a motorcycle before attempting to drive one in Indonesia. The traffic can be very chaotic and daunting for new riders and there are very narrow roads, potholes and large trucks to contend with.
Public transport in Indonesia
Indonesia has a relatively good public transport system, although taxis are probably the better option for short distances and trains over long distances.
Indonesia’s railway system consists of four networks in Java and Sumatra. Indonesians mainly use trains for long-distance travel. However, there is a commuter train service in Jakarta called the KRL Jabotabek.
Expats can purchase tickets at train stations or buy them online. There are three classes on board most trains: executive, which is air-conditioned and has reclining seats; business class, which doesn’t have air conditioning but the seats do recline; and economy class which just has hard benches to sit on. Some trains also have dining cars.
Buses are the most popular form of public transport in Indonesia. There are frequent bus services on Sumatra, Java and Bali. In the more remote areas, there are minibuses that provide transport.
The only thing expats might find strange about Indonesia’s buses is that they will only depart once they are full and therefore don't keep to a strict timetable. The buses are also usually very old and quite slow.
Expats should be aware of their surroundings and look after their personal belongings when travelling in Indonesia as pickpockets are known to operate on buses.
Jakarta has its own bus rapid transit system known as TransJakarta.
Ships and ferries
Because Indonesia is an archipelago, it is common for people to travel by boat or ferry. There are frequent ferries between the islands, and on the busy routes between Sumatra, Bali and Java, they run 24 hours a day. Expats can also use ferries to travel to nearby countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
Passenger ships also provide services to more remote areas of Indonesia. The national shipping line is called Pelni and ships leave every two to four weeks. All ships are air-conditioned and usually stop at each port for four hours.
Taxis in Indonesia
Most large cities in Indonesia have numerous taxi companies to choose from. Expats should always request that the meter be turned on when getting into a taxi to avoid being overcharged.
There are also ojeks, which are motorcycle taxis; bajaj, which are motorised rickshaws; and becaks, which are cycle rickshaws.
Expats who are not familiar with the local language can make use of ride-sharing services such as Grab to avoid miscommunications with drivers.
Air travel in Indonesia
Travelling by airplane can be one of the cheapest ways to get around Indonesia. There are many domestic airlines to choose from and all of Indonesia’s major cities have airports.
The country’s main airport is Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta and the national air carrier is Garuda Indonesia.
Expats should be aware, though, that the country does not have the best safety record when it comes to airlines and so expats should always make sure they are flying with a reputable airline when travelling in Indonesia.