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Moving to Indonesia

Expats moving to Indonesia will find themselves in a colourful and exotic country, consisting of a vast archipelago stretching over more than 17,000 islands with an ethnically and culturally diverse population of over 260 million people.

Rich in natural resources, the country acquires most of its wealth from gas, oil and other mining activities, and most expats moving to Indonesia do so in order to work in these sectors. The telecommunications industry and teaching English are other attractions for expats seeking work in Indonesia.

Most expats find themselves living in the popular tourist hub of Bali and the sprawling metropolis of Jakarta, the country’s capital and economic, cultural and financial centre. The more remote mining areas in the Papua region also attract a fair share of expats. 

Obtaining a visa or work permit for Indonesia can be a frustrating process and one riddled with bureaucracy. Even more frustrating for expats planning a move to or already living in Indonesia is the fact that the requirements and processes for obtaining a visa change constantly.

The cost of living in Indonesia can be inexpensive compared to life in many Western countries. After accommodation, education will likely be an expat parent’s biggest expense. There are numerous schooling options, with a number of international schools operating in Indonesia, most of which are in Jakarta.

Indonesia's healthcare sector is considered quite poor and certainly not up to Western standards, particularly outside of Jakarta. Any serious medical conditions will likely see expats having to seek medical attention outside of the country, typically in Singapore. Increasing air pollution in Indonesian cities is a further health hazard.

Expats living in Indonesia, particularly Westerners, may take time to adjust to the conservative culture of the region. Local culture is largely influenced by Islam, which is the dominant religion in the country. Female expats, especially, will find themselves having to make adjustments. Men are generally viewed in higher regard than women, dress is conservative and the concept of personal space differs greatly from what expats may expect.

Indonesia is an exciting expat destination, but it’s certainly a country that is not without its challenges. The most prominent safety issue is the ongoing threat of terrorism. Attacks have taken place in the past and these have specifically targeted Westerners. Nevertheless, Indonesian authorities have made a concerted effort to address the problem, and there have been no significant recent incidents. 

Indonesian cities have grand modern offices and tower blocks marking their skylines, in contrast to overpopulated shanty and slum areas representing the poverty that the vast majority of Indonesians continue to live in. Outside of city limits, the country has landscapes of volcanic mountains, tropical beaches and jungles, which can offer expats a relaxed and outdoor lifestyle, and many attractions for a weekend break from working life. However, with a hot and tropical climate, it may take a while for expats coming from cooler climates to get used to the humidity, which is present all year round.


Fast facts

Population: About 267 million

Capital city: Jakarta 

Neighbouring countries: Indonesia has land borders with Malaysia on the island of Borneo, Papua New Guinea on the island of New Guinea and East Timor on the island of Timor.

Geography: Indonesia is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands, with the five main islands being Sumatra, Java, Borneo (known as Kalimantan on the Indonesian side), Sulawesi and New Guinea. Parts of Indonesia are quite mountainous, with Puncak Jaya, located on West Papua, being the highest peak. Much of the country is covered by dense, tropical forests. Located along the Ring of Fire, the country has many volcanoes and is also subject to frequent earthquakes.

Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic

Major religions: Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, although freedom of religion is permitted, with Christianity and Buddhism also widely practised.

Main languages: Bahasa Indonesia, English 

Money: The Indonesian rupiah (IDR), divided into 100 sen. There are plenty of local and international banks in Indonesia, but many expats choose to maintain their existing bank account in their home country.

Tipping: Standard 10 to 15 percent in restaurants unless included as a service charge. Round up the bill for taxis and give slightly more for hired drivers.

Time: Indonesia spans three time zones: GMT +7 (West, including Java and Sumatra), GMT +8 (Central, including Bali, Sulawesi and Lombok), GMT +9 (East, including West Papua).

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz. Plugs with two round pins are generally used throughout the country

Internet domain: .id

International dialling code: +62

Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 118 (ambulance)

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. Indonesia has an established public transport system. Taxis are also plentiful. However, traffic can reach nightmarish proportions in Indonesian cities and driving is best avoided; many expats hire a local driver instead.

Weather in Indonesia

Indonesia has a tropical climate and the weather is hot and humid all year round, but cooler inland than along the coastal regions. The high temperatures and humidity are certainly something that takes getting used to for expats moving to Indonesia from cooler climates.

The country doesn't experience the four distinct seasons, with temperatures staying quite constant throughout the year; coastal regions average around 82°F (28°C) and the inland and mountain areas average around 79°F (26°C) year-round. The monsoon season from December to March brings heavy rains and can make travel around the country difficult. Tropical storms can also affect the country between September and December, causing major travel disruptions. The dry season, from April to October, is the most pleasant time of year and the best time to visit.

Lightweight clothing is sufficient throughout the year, and an umbrella or raincoat is essential to have on hand all year round.

Embassy Contacts for Indonesia


Indonesian embassies

  • Indonesian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 775 5200

  • Indonesian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7499 7661

  • Indonesian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 724 1100

  • Indonesian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6250 8600

  • Indonesian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 342 3350

  • Indonesian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 475 8699


Foreign embassies in Indonesia

  • United States Embassy, Jakarta: +62 21 3435 9000

  • British Embassy, Jakarta: +62 21 2356 5200

  • Canadian Embassy, Jakarta: +62 21 2550 7800

  • Australian Embassy, Jakarta: +62 21 2550 5555

  • South African Embassy, Jakarta: +62 21 2991 2500

  • New Zealand Embassy, Jakarta: +62 21 2995 5800

Public Holidays in Indonesia

 

2021

2022

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Chinese New Year

12 February

1 February

Ascension of the Prophet Muhammed

11 March

28 February

Hindu New Year

14 March

3 March

Good Friday

2 April

15 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Ascension Day of Jesus Christ

13 May

26 May

Eid al-Fitr

13–14 May

2–3 May

Waisak Day

26 May

16 May

Pancasila Day

1 June

1 June

Eid al-Adha

20 July

10 July

Islamic New Year

10 August

30 July

Independence Day

17 August

17 August

Prophet Mohammed's Birthday

19 October

8 October

Christmas

24–25 December

24–25 December

*Islamic holidays are subject to change based on sightings of the moon.

Pros and Cons of Moving to Indonesia

With over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago. This culturally diverse corner of South-East Asia maintains a rich tradition of music, art, dance, storytelling and craft, and offers a rich and varied lifestyle for expats.

Nevertheless, as exciting and exotic as the country is, there are still some downsides to living in Indonesia. Depending on the origins of an expat, these things may be of little or no concern, but they are worth considering if thinking of settling in Indonesia.


Lifestyle in Indonesia

+ PRO: Vibrant nightlife and entertainment

The nightlife in Indonesian cities is vibrant and varied, so it’s not difficult to have a good time if one knows where to look for it. In Jakarta, the cultural side of life is rich with regular art shows, live music, and film festivals. International rock bands and famous singers regularly perform gigs hosted in the city. 

Despite alcohol being very expensive, it’s not prohibited and there are many popular bars and clubs to choose from. There are plenty of excellent places to eat and drink or relax with a coffee. Indonesian food is excellent and varied enough to cater to everyone’s dietary needs. If expats finding themselves craving Western fast food, there are the usual American fast food joints dotted around most cities and international food is available in all the major tourist spots.

- CON: Conservative culture

Expats in Indonesia will find themselves having to adjust to and respect the local customs. Islam is the majority religion and carries a conservative culture that may be difficult for expats to understand. The dress code is more modest than what some expats may be used to, and it's best to wear loose-fitted clothing and to cover knees and shoulders.

+ PRO: Expat organisations

For expats, especially women who feel isolated from their compatriots, there are a number of well-run and established organisations which host meetings, events and talks. They offer support and can give help and advice on any number of issues that may arise.

There are also various organisations that expats can join to volunteer if they would like to support one of the many charities that work in Indonesia. The very young, the elderly and the sick are particularly vulnerable.

- CON: Social inequalities and poverty

Indonesia's poverty and the disparity between the rich and the poor is something that expats might find quite shocking. Nothing can prepare expats for this, especially those coming from more developed and richer nations. It’s not uncommon to see small children with babies tied to their fronts, ducking and diving through the heavy, polluted traffic and begging in Indonesian cities. For many Indonesians, living in poverty is all that they have ever known and there are few support systems to change this situation. 


Accommodation in Indonesia

- CON: Overcrowding

Finding accommodation in Indonesia, especially if spacious living is a priority, is difficult. Space is at a premium in Jakarta so expect to pay a lot more if wanting a house with a garden in an expat area. Most people opt to live in apartments. If choosing to live in an expat area, be prepared to pay a lot more than if living among the locals. In major Indonesian cities, traffic can be horrific so, ideally, expats should try to live somewhere that is as close to work as possible. 


Healthcare in Indonesia

+ PRO: Decent healthcare

Most minor medical emergencies can be handled from within Indonesia. However, for any serious emergencies, Singapore, which has world-class medical facilities, is just a two-hour flight away. Good private dentists are available and dental costs are usually cheaper than what one would expect to pay in the West. 

- CON: Poor sanitation

Stomach bugs are a part of life in Indonesia and are easily contracted by expats. Dengue fever is another serious problem, especially in the rainy season, and internal parasites are not uncommon. Only bottled water should be consumed, and if possible expats should try not to eat the street food, however tempting it may look or smell. Fresh juices are sold widely from carts on the roadside in Indonesia; they are often diluted with water of dubious origin and can cause serious illness.


Transport in Indonesia

+ PRO: Affordable taxis

Taxis are abundant and ridiculously cheap when compared to the West, and if tipped well the driver will wait for passengers while they do their shopping. It is uncommon for expats to drive in Jakarta and most people employ a driver. A good driver is well worth the cost as they have knowledge of all the side streets to make travelling around 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. 

- CON: Traffic congestion

One of the greatest disadvantages of living in Jakarta is the traffic. With over 12 million people using the city’s roads daily, congestion is a nightmare and traffic jams are a normal part of life. The pollution generated by the exhaust fumes hangs like an umbrella over the city and the public transport system leaves much to be desired. Motorcycle taxis known as ojeks are good, but not always ideal if it’s pouring with rain or if one has shopping bags to carry.


Cost of living in Indonesia

+ PRO: Cheap food, communications and household help

Eating out is very cheap if alcohol is not included. Shopping for local fresh produce in the markets and warungs is fun and there are great bargains to be found. If buying locally and skipping the supermarkets, one can live very cheaply and well. 

Mobile phone tariffs are good value and broadband or cable is easily installed and not expensive. To hire household help of any kind, be it household staff, a gardener, driver or nanny, the cost is considerably cheaper than in the West. 

Textiles are abundant in Indonesia and considered cheap. By finding the right tailor, made-to-measure clothes become a way of life.

- CON: Expensive imported products

The cost of living does vary depending on what one buys, though. In general, any imported goods are much more expensive than Indonesian products.

Shopping for food in the supermarkets, especially Western-styled ones, can be very expensive. Electricity bills can be disproportionately high, and for people who are used to getting visits to the doctor and certain medicines for free, healthcare will need to be accounted for in the budget.

Safety in Indonesia

While Indonesia seemingly has a reputation as being one of the more unsafe countries in Asia, risks are often linked to certain areas. Though expats should always be aware of the latest travel advice issued by their home government, most of the time there is no need to worry about safety in Indonesia. 

Generally speaking, by simply keeping informed and being aware of the potential dangers, expats can minimise their risks of coming to harm. Most visitors and residents spend their time in Indonesia peacefully without any problems. It makes sense to be aware of the risks but there is no need to live in fear.

The problems Indonesia faces are compounded by an underdeveloped infrastructure that is inadequate to cope with regularly occurring natural disasters, including earthquakes and flooding. Religious and ethnic tensions, which are inevitable with many different ethnic groups living side by side, are also the root cause of much of the crime in Indonesia, including a risk of terrorism. 


Crime in Indonesia

Petty crime rates in Indonesia are relatively high, particularly in busy urban areas. Pickpocketing is common, as is bag-snatching, which is often done from the back of a motorbike. To reduce the risk of being a victim of such crimes, expats can take simple steps such as carrying as few valuables as possible, being aware of surroundings and wearing a secure bag that cannot be snatched from the shoulder.

ATM fraud is another possible issue, although most banks have taken steps to improve the security of their machines in recent years. When using any ATM it is important to check for any suspicious persons in the vicinity and inspect the machine before use. Credit card fraud is also a concern and it is recommended to use cash wherever possible. Expats should take extra care to monitor their account and inform their bank immediately of any unauthorised activity.


Road safety in Indonesia

Road accidents are a serious concern in Indonesia. Traffic is busy and chaotic, particularly in urban centres, and traffic rules are rarely enforced. Roads are overcrowded and it is common for motorbikes to overtake on both sides. Extreme weather conditions in the wet season and poor road conditions add to the problems. Expats who can afford to hire a local driver often find this a suitable solution to these difficulties.


Terrorism in Indonesia

Indonesia is a large country spread over thousands of islands, all with their own unique culture and infrastructure. This can make advice about visiting the country as a whole difficult. Visiting Jakarta will be a very different experience from visiting one of the small islands. Papua and West Papua, for example, are considered to be more dangerous for visitors than the rest of the country due to ethnic violence and political instability.

The Indonesian government has taken steps to fight terrorism, but attacks do happen. They are unpredictable and places frequented by tourists and expats are at risk of being hit. These include foreign embassies, shopping malls, hotels, airports and popular tourist areas. It's important to remain vigilant, particularly around holiday times.

Due to political and religious tensions, certain nationalities are sometimes targeted so it is important to stay up to date with the advice given by foreign embassies. Expats should always register their contact details with their national embassy so that they can be contacted in an emergency. 


Natural disasters in Indonesia

Indonesia is located on the Pacific 'Ring of Fire' and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are frequent. As an archipelago, a high percentage of the land in Indonesia is located in coastal areas, so tsunamis resulting from large earthquakes can be catastrophic.

Flooding is also a problem during the rainy season and flash floods and landslides occur frequently. Jakarta is hit particularly badly with flooding every year.


Emergency numbers in Indonesia

The following numbers are the official national emergency response numbers of Indonesia but cannot always be relied on, particularly in remote areas 

  • Police: 110
  • Ambulance: 118

Working in Indonesia

Expats working in Indonesia will find themselves in an extremely diverse business environment. With over 300 different languages and ethnicities amongst a population of over 260 million people, the work culture will vary depending on where in Indonesia one is based. 


The job market in Indonesia

The country’s rich supply of natural resources has attracted expats with skills in mining and construction, while agriculture is another large employer. Other important sectors of the Indonesian economy include textiles, electronics and manufacturing of apparel and footwear. There are also opportunities for expats wanting to teach English in Indonesia, while others move there to take up a position within the humanitarian or tourism sectors.

Jakarta is the country’s commercial centre and where the majority of expats will find work. Others are likely to find opportunities in Surabaya and Bandung, or in the oil and gas and mining regions of Kalimantan and Papua. 


Finding a job in Indonesia

The majority of expats are employed by foreign companies in Indonesia and secure a job before arriving in the country, with many sent as part of an inter-company transfer. There are a number of local job portals for searching for jobs online.

Foreigners wanting to work in Indonesia will need a valid work permit. The process for acquiring a work permit for Indonesia can be quite complicated but, thankfully, most hiring companies will deal with all the logistics for this.

It is not always easy for expats to find employment, as government policy dictates that companies wanting to hire foreigners in Indonesia will need to show that the potential employee has significant skills in their sector and that there are no locals capable of filling the position. Certain sectors also have restrictions on the employment of expats. The bureaucratic hurdles in this regard can be quite intense and companies are therefore often reluctant to hire foreigners. 


Work culture in Indonesia

Expats working in Indonesia will generally find themselves in a friendly and welcoming environment. Business structures are hierarchical and the concept of saving face should always be considered in order to maintain harmonious relationships and avoid offending Indonesian colleagues. 

The communication style in Indonesia may be something expats take a while to get used to – Indonesians often adopt a very indirect style in order to avoid offending anyone. Expats, therefore, need to exercise patience when engaging in negotiations with Indonesian counterparts, as an answer of "yes" may sometimes indicate that an associate has heard the request, rather than an actual answer to the question.

Doing Business in Indonesia

With a population of over 260 million people, more than 300 different ethnicities and languages and the largest Muslim population in the world, expats doing business in Indonesia will find themselves in an extremely unique and diverse country.

Indonesia is rich in natural resources, acquiring much of its wealth from gas, oil and other mining activities, while services make up the majority of the country's GDP. Agriculture also plays an important role in the Indonesian economy.

The capital, Jakarta, is the centre of business in Indonesia. Other important business hubs include Surabaya and Bandung, while oil and gas and mining industries are largely centred in Kalimantan and Papua.

Despite the positive aspects of Indonesia's business setting, an extremely complex and dynamic bureaucratic environment can be a source of frustration for expats doing business in Indonesia. Changes occur frequently and it can be difficult to keep track of these.

In the 2020 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Survey Indonesia ranked 73rd out 190 countries. Indonesia ranked highly in categories such as getting electricity (33rd), protecting minority investors (37th) and resolving insolvency (38th). However, the country fared badly in other areas such as starting a business (140th), enforcing contracts (139th) and registering property (106th). 


Fast facts

Business language

Bahasa Indonesia is the main language in Indonesia. Although English is widely spoken by the younger generation, and especially in Jakarta, it may be useful to have an interpreter or learn a few key phrases in the local language. Dutch and many local dialects are also spoken.

Business dress

Business attire is generally conservative. Suits and ties are appropriate for men in formal business situations, while long-sleeved batik shirts are also acceptable. Women should be well covered and should ensure that they do not expose their shoulders or legs. Due to the heat, loose-fitting cotton fabrics are best.

Business hours

Office hours are usually 8am to 4pm or 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Many offices are also open till about 1pm on Saturdays. Some offices may close for an extended period on Friday afternoons for Muslim prayers.

Greeting

A handshake is given and accompanied by the word “selamat”, meaning peace. Expats should always use the right hand to shake hands; the left is considered unclean. A slight nod of the head is also an acceptable greeting. 

Gifts

Gift-giving etiquette may vary according to the specific ethnic group one is dealing with. Gifts are generally not opened when received and alcohol and pork products should be avoided out of respect for the Muslim culture. Offer and receive gifts with the right hand only.

Gender equality

Indonesia is still a patriarchal society. Although women are not specifically targeted for discrimination in the workplace, men generally still tend to hold more senior positions and earn higher salaries. 


Business culture in Indonesia

Cultural identities in Indonesia have developed over centuries and have been influenced by Chinese, European, Indian and Arabic traditions. Identity in Indonesia is therefore often dictated by one’s ethnic group, family and place of birth. Religious and cultural traditions also play an important role in Indonesian society. This is carried through into Indonesia’s business practices and adapting to the business environment in the country may depend on the city or region in which one is operating, as well as the ethnicity of those who one is doing business with.

Communication

Bahasa Indonesia is the official language of Indonesia. English and Dutch are spoken in many business circles, particularly in Jakarta, while many indigenous languages are also spoken throughout the country. Expats would do well to learn a few key phrases and how to greet their Indonesian counterparts in the local language – this marks a great sign of respect.

Hierarchy

As with the wider Indonesian culture and society, business structures are hierarchical and status is respected. Decisions are made from the top down, although there are usually also group discussions. Titles are very important in Indonesian business circles. Indonesian associates should be addressed by their full title and name.

Saving face

Indonesians are generally friendly and hospitable people and the concept of "saving face" is very important. This concept is about avoiding shame and maintaining harmonious relationships. Indonesians are therefore very careful about how they communicate and often adopt a very indirect communication style in order to avoid offending anyone. This means that they may not always say what they mean and even when the answer is “yes” it may just indicate that they have heard what someone has said, rather than agreed with the request. This should be taken heed of to avoid confusion when engaging in negotiations with Indonesian business associates.

Relationships

Business decisions may take some time and many meetings may need to be arranged before a final agreement is made; Indonesians like to give careful consideration to any business proposition and they place great emphasis on trust and relationship building. Expats may find that their Indonesian business associates are more interested in building a personal relationship first before entering into any business dealings.

Indonesians also generally prefer to maintain harmony, and one should always maintain a calm demeanour, speaking politely and respectfully during meetings. Trying to put pressure for the hard sell or raising one’s voice during negotiations is not likely to be met with success. 


Dos and don’ts of doing business in Indonesia

  • Do be respectful of Indonesian associates – avoid applying pressure or being confrontational and speak in a gentle manner in business meetings

  • Do exercise patience – Indonesians prefer to take their time and consider business propositions carefully

  • Don't touch or pass something over the top of someone’s head as it is considered to be the most sacred part of the body

  • Do hold face-to-face meetings as these are generally more effective than written communications in Indonesia

  • Don't give or receive anything with the left hand – always use the right hand or both hands together

  • Don't sit with the soles of your feet showing as it is considered to be discourteous

  • Don't stand with your hands on hips or arms folded – both these stances are considered aggressive and rude

  • Do leave enough time to get to business meetings, especially in Jakarta and other larger cities, as traffic congestion is a constant hindrance

  • Don't make too much eye contact when speaking to Indonesian associates – this can be viewed as suspicious and threatening

Visas for Indonesia

The visa system for Indonesia is notoriously complicated, and policies and procedures may vary across different regions, so there is often confusion about applying for the correct visas or permits for Indonesia.

Below is an overview of the various visas for Indonesia, but it is recommended that expats consult their nearest Indonesian Embassy for the latest information, as regulations change periodically and with short notice. 


Tourist visas for Indonesia

Expats visiting Indonesia for tourism purposes will need a tourist visa which is valid for 30 days. Nationals of many countries will be able to obtain this visa at the airport on arrival in Indonesia. In order to be granted a visa on arrival, visitors must produce an onward or return plane ticket. Visitors must also hold a passport that is valid for at least six months from their date of departure from Indonesia. Tourist visas can be extended once for a maximum of 30 days at immigration offices in the country. 

Expats holding a Visit Visa On Arrival may only visit Indonesia for tourism purposes. If any business is to be conducted, they will need to apply for a Visit Visa before arriving in Indonesia. Expats should note that even volunteer work is considered business and foreigners may not volunteer at any organisation if they are in possession of a visa upon arrival.

If staying with friends or family in Indonesia, and not at a hotel, visitors need to register with the local police or they could face a fine. Those staying in a hotel will automatically be registered. Expats should ensure that they do not overstay the length of their visa as fines and even imprisonment can apply. 


Business visas for Indonesia

Visit Visa

Expats needing to conduct business in Indonesia will need to apply for a Visit Visa for business purposes. This visa is available in single-entry and multiple-entry varieties. A single-entry Visit Visa is valid for 60 days, while a multiple-entry Visit Visa is valid for one year. However, the visitor may not spend more than 60 days in Indonesia in total. 

Limited Stay Visa

A Limited Stay Visa allows foreigners to travel to Indonesia for visits related to work, research or family reunification. Expats will need a sponsor or organisation in Indonesia to submit the application for them, and can extend this visa once they arrive in Indonesia. 


Residence visas for Indonesia

VITAS and KITAS

The semi-resident visa in Indonesia is called a VITAS (Visa Izin Tinggal Terbatas). This is valid for one year but can be extended. Expats require a sponsor in Indonesia to assist them with the visa process and apply on their behalf at the immigration office in Indonesia.

Expats in possession of a VITAS can apply for a temporary residency permit (KITAS) which is valid for five years. Expats can apply for a KITAS through their local immigration office in Indonesia.

Expats will need to apply for their VITAS and have it placed in their passport before arriving in Indonesia. The VITAS will allow expats entry into Indonesia and they should then report to the immigration office within seven days of their arrival in Indonesia. 

Once all the paperwork for the VITAS is completed most expats will be issued with a “foreign expert” KITAS. Expats will also be issued a Foreigner’s Control and Supervision book which tracks changes in their immigration status. It is important that both this book and the KITAS are kept in a safe place. Expats will have to renew their KITAS every year, and this can be done for a maximum of five years.

KITAP

The KITAP is the permanent residency permit. Expats can apply for permanent residency after they have lived in Indonesia for three consecutive years. However, if expats are married to an Indonesian national they can apply for the KITAP after only two years.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Indonesia

The process for acquiring a work permit for Indonesia can be difficult as the rules change frequently. Finding the correct information about the requirements for a work permit for Indonesia can be very difficult because of this changing nature of Indonesian bureaucracy.  

Most expats who are being transferred to Indonesia by their current company, or who have already secured a job in Indonesia before leaving home, will find that their employer will undertake most of the work permit application process on their behalf. This makes it even more difficult for those expats who do have to go through the process alone as other expats they speak to usually have no idea of what the process entails. 


Getting a work permit for Indonesia

It is not advisable for expats to just arrive in Indonesia with the hope of finding a job. It is best to arrange a job and a sponsor before arriving in the country. The employer usually acts as the sponsor of the visa and, generally speaking, the company will sort out all of the paperwork and have agents who deal with the immigration office on behalf of the applicant.

Indonesian companies can only employ a certain number of foreigners, and can only employ foreigners who have skills that Indonesians currently don't have. So for example, there is a high demand for native English-speaking teachers, expats who work in advertising and education, and oil and gas specialists. 

Most contracts for foreigners are between two and three years long, though some people are only granted a one-year contract. It very much depends on the work that they will be doing.

The first thing expats need after arrival in Indonesia is to get a KITAS (residency permit) processed. A KITAS is renewed annually and without it, expats cannot work in Indonesia. Expats will also be issued with an identification card which they must keep on them at all times.

Expats will need to ensure that their passport is valid for at least six months longer than the length of the KITAS being applied for. 

As mentioned above, expats will usually need to have found a company sponsor in Indonesia before leaving their home country. The company will then go through Indonesia’s Manpower Ministry to gain approval for hiring an expat. Once the company has approval, they can apply for a work permit for their potential employee. 

Work permits for Indonesia are tied to a specific job, so if an expat loses their job they also lose their work permit. 

*Visa and work permit regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Indonesia

The cost of living in Indonesia differs greatly between rural and urban areas. However, generally speaking, Indonesia is considered to have a low cost of living compared to many Western countries.

Expats in Indonesia working for large organisations often receive international salaries and extensive compensation for their basic expenses, including housing, schooling and transportation. These expats may consider the cost of living in Jakarta to be relatively low and their lives will be far more luxurious than the lives of most locals.

As an expat, accommodation will most likely take the biggest portion of one's salary. Education, medical care and utilities are also relatively expensive. Groceries in supermarkets are relatively cheap and even cheaper in small shops and at local ‘wet’ markets. Imported products are generally much more expensive, especially wine and liquor.

Expats, particularly those from Western countries, are often perceived to be wealthy, no matter how they dress or how ‘local’ they may act. This often results in situations where expats pay a higher price than locals at shops and restaurants which do not have fixed prices. This can be frustrating, but the advantage is that expats may find themselves sometimes not having to wait in a queue as they are thought to be a ‘preferred’ customer, due to the assumption that they will pay a better tip. 


Cost of accommodation in Indonesia

The cost of accommodation in Indonesia's different cities is highly variable. In general, foreigners with an expat salary will be able to rent a luxurious apartment or house in the best neighbourhoods in Jakarta. Expats with a lower budget will be able to rent a simple apartment in a decent and safe neighbourhood. 


Cost of groceries and clothing in Indonesia

Food and clothing will probably not take up a great portion of an expat's salary, provided expats do not buy a lot of imported products and internationally branded clothing.

Local food, clothing and personal care products are cheap compared to their imported equivalents, so it’s often worth trying local products instead of ‘trusted’ Western products and brands.

Of all the imported products, alcohol is the most expensive and hardest to find. Eating out in Indonesia can be relatively inexpensive.


Cost of transportation in Indonesia

Transportation won't constitute a great portion of an expat's salary in Indonesia, even if they regularly take a taxi or have their own driver. Car prices are comparable to prices in other countries. Japanese cars are generally cheaper than European cars. Fuel prices are very low compared to other countries, but rising quickly. 

Public transportation is much cheaper, but also far less comfortable and not very safe. Buses and mini-buses can be really crowded. They often do not have air conditioning and are relatively unsafe, particularly for expat women. 

If looking for cheap transportation, an ojek (motorbike driver) or a bajaj (tuk-tuk) are other options. It is best to negotiate the price, and if unable to speak Bahasa Indonesia, expats will probably pay almost as much as they would pay for a taxi. It's therefore useful to learn some key phrases in Bahasa Indonesia for situations like these. 


Cost of schooling and education in Jakarta

International schools are expensive in Indonesia, particularly in Jakarta. However, the quality of international schools is most often significantly higher than the quality of local schools. Most schools also have additional charges for extra-curricular activities. 


Cost of healthcare in Jakarta

Healthcare services are relatively expensive in Jakarta and vary significantly in quality. It is therefore important for expats to find a good local hospital with affordable rates as soon as possible. 

Expats should also familiarise themselves with the medical coverage provided by their company and ensure that it will provide for medical concerns, major emergencies and medical evacuation to another country.


Cost of living in Indonesia chart

Prices vary across Indonesia – these are average costs for Jakarta in January 2021. Prices may vary depending on product and service provider.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

IDR 18,300,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

IDR 10,900,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

IDR 6,500,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

IDR 3,800,000

Shopping

Milk (1 litre)

IDR 20,800

Loaf of white bread

IDR 17,300

Rice (1kg)

IDR 13,100

Dozen eggs

IDR 23,600

Chicken breasts (1kg)

IDR 50,900

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

IDR 30,000

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

IDR 1,800

Internet (cable/ADSL)

IDR 420,700

Basic utilities for average household per month (electricity, water, gas)

IDR 1,500,000

Eating out

Three-course meal at mid-range restaurant

IDR 300,000

Big Mac Meal

IDR 50,000

Cappuccino

IDR 31,100

Bottle of local beer

IDR 45,000

Coca-Cola (330ml)

IDR 8,400

Transportation

Taxi rate per km

IDR 4,500

City centre public transport fare

IDR 4,000

Petrol (per litre)

IDR 9,000

Culture Shock in Indonesia

Expats arriving in Indonesia might experience a sensory overload. This is especially true for those moving to Jakarta, a big, grey city with a population of more than 10 million. Poverty and shanty towns are a common sight in Indonesia and are in stark contrast to the more modern office buildings that scrape Jakarta's skyline.

Traffic in most major Indonesian cities is a huge problem and the congestion is some of the worst in the world. Cities are not pedestrian friendly and sidewalks are often uneven or obstructed with roadworks. Another large adjustment for expats moving to Indonesia is the quality of the air in the cities. Pollution is a concern, particularly for those with respiratory problems. 

On the plus side, though, Indonesians are friendly people with a good sense of humour. Expats should feel safe and welcome in their neighbourhoods, and making local friends is a great way to feel more at home. 


Time in Indonesia

Time is very flexible in Indonesian culture, so much so that the phrase 'Jam Karet' ('rubber time') has become famous in the country. Expats can expect to have meetings cancelled without notice and for business associates and local friends to be late quite often. 

Indonesians are generally very relaxed about time and would rather spend extra time speaking to someone and building a relationship than being on time for their next meeting. 


Alcohol in Indonesia

Alcohol is legal in Indonesia, though the sale of alcohol to Muslims is prohibited. The minimum legal age to buy alcohol is 18 but there is no legal age for the consumption of alcohol. 

Drug laws are very strict in Indonesia and there are severe penalties for the possession and trafficking of drugs. These penalties include life imprisonment and the death sentence. 


Language barrier in Indonesia

The official language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia. English is also spoken and the most widely spoken local dialect is Javanese. 

It is important that expats take the time to learn a few phrases in Bahasa Indonesia as it will make day-to-day tasks, like directing a taxi driver, much easier. 


Meeting and greeting in Indonesia 

The most common greeting in Indonesia is a handshake, although this differs in certain circumstances and in the interactions between different genders. When a man is greeting a man, a handshake with the right hand is the most common form of greeting. Handshakes are often accompanied by a slight bow of the head.

At times both men will put their palm to their heart after shaking hands as a sign of respect. Another way of showing respect is to put their hands in front of their chest in a prayer position. 

When a woman is greeting another woman, a handshake is common but sometimes just a nod of acknowledgement is used. 

When men and women greet each other, handshakes are acceptable but the man should always wait for the woman to initiate it. If a woman puts her hands in front of her chest in a prayer position it means she would prefer not to shake hands. In this case, the man should return the gesture. Men and women should not kiss or hug in public. 

A slight bow is an acceptable way to greet or say goodbye to a host. 


Personal space in Indonesia

The concept of personal space in Indonesia is different from that in Western countries. People tend to stand much closer to each other, so expats should not be alarmed when someone comes right up behind them when waiting in a queue. 


Dining in Indonesia

Table manners in Indonesia are quite relaxed, but expats should behave more formally at a formal occasion. For example, when arriving at someone’s home for a meal, expats should always wait to be shown their place at the table as they will usually have an assigned seat. 

Food is usually served from a dish in the middle of the table and the host will serve. It is not considered impolite to go back for seconds. At very formal occasions, men are served before women. Guests should always wait to be invited to begin eating. 


Communication in Indonesia

As in many Asian cultures, it is very important for Indonesian people to “save face”. This means never publicly criticising or reprimanding someone. This custom also often results in Indonesians being quite vague if they have a problem and always telling someone what they want to hear, even if they have no intention of following through. 

Face-to-face interactions are highly valued, especially in the business world. Expats are more likely to get attention and results from a face-to-face business meeting than from an email or phone call. 


Bureaucracy in Indonesia

Despite the fact that Indonesia boasts a powerful economy, bureaucratic red tape is still a problem which hampers economic growth and potential for investment. 

Besides slowing down day-to-day tasks, this bureaucracy also causes problems for expats trying to get entry visas or work permits for Indonesia. 


Religion in Indonesia

Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims and it might be daunting for expats from the West. However, while foreigners would do well to dress modestly and respect Muslim customs, the religious differences should not greatly affect their day-to-day lives. 


Dress in Indonesia 

Women in Indonesia should avoid wearing short skirts and tight clothing as this may cause offence. It is also advisable to cover the tops of one's arms when possible. It is even more important for women to dress conservatively when visiting the Visa and Immigration Office in Indonesia. If not dressed in modest clothing expats may simply be turned away. 

In business environments men should wear conservative, dark-coloured suits. A tie is not always necessary. A traditional long-sleeved batik shirt is also appropriate. 

Businesswomen should wear suits or dresses that are feminine but not tight-fitting, short or sleeveless.  

In some industries, more informal attire is acceptable. 


Women in Indonesia

In the workplace, women are technically equal to men, but because Indonesia is a patriarchal society, men are still generally favoured for higher positions, better salaries and more responsibility within the business world. 

Women are expected to dress modestly and wear minimal makeup in the business place. Many expat women find that the level of respect they are used to in Western society is not present when they move to Indonesia. Women might find themselves ignored by Indonesian men when they are in the company of their spouse. 

Expat women will also need to grow accustomed to the toilet facilities in Indonesia. Many public toilets are “squat toilets” and toilet paper is rare as Indonesian women typically wash with the hose that is provided. 


General etiquette tips for Indonesia

  • If receiving a gift, it is polite to open it in private and not in front of the person who gave the gift

  • When giving a gift do not give knives, letter openers, pork or alcohol

  • Do not pass anything over the top of someone’s head, as the head is viewed as sacred

  • Do not show someone the soles of one's feet when seated, as this is seen as offensive

Accommodation in Indonesia

Expats have a wide variety of options when it comes to finding accommodation in Indonesia. Those moving with an international company should ask their employer for assistance in finding accommodation. Employers might be able to recommend a good estate agent or assist expats in exploring various neighbourhoods to find out which one would suit them best. 

A factor for expats with children to consider is how close they are to a good international school. Proximity to public transport for children to use to get to school is also important. Lifestyle should also be a consideration. Expats should choose their accommodation based on whether they would prefer a fast-paced city lifestyle or a more relaxed and quiet suburban life. 

It is also very important that expats feel safe in their new home in Indonesia. If safety is a concern then expats should ensure that they find accommodation with extra security. 

Most expats opt to rent property in Indonesia, rather than buy. This may be because it is technically illegal for foreigners to own land in Indonesia. Foreigners can purchase a house or apartment without owning the land it is built on, but this is quite often still a difficult process. 


Types of accommodation in Indonesia

Apartments

There are many upmarket apartment blocks in Jakarta offering good locations, excellent amenities and stylish interiors. Apartments are well suited to expats who work in the city centre. Securing accommodation close to one's place of work can save hundreds of hours of commuting time per year. 

Apartment blocks are also usually close to restaurants, shopping areas and other entertainment facilities, ensuring an exciting expat life for those who seek it. Expats will be able to find anything from a small studio flat to a spacious five-bedroom apartment in Jakarta. 

Houses in the suburbs

Expats with families might prefer a more suburban lifestyle. The suburbs south of Jakarta offer spacious homes, cleaner air, and close proximity to international schools. Expats can usually choose between a freestanding home and a house in a development or security complex. 

Townhouses

Another popular option for expats is a townhouse. This offers a compromise between a city apartment and a suburban house. Renting or owning a townhouse is a low-maintenance option with extra security and amenities. Townhouses are semi-attached and are usually in a gated estate. Many of the complexes have garden areas and a pool. 

Housing estates/security complexes

Housing estates in Jakarta are usually situated on the outskirts of the city and further out into the suburbs. These estates are secure and, because they are outside the city, the air quality is much better, making them suitable for expats with children. Housing estates provide excellent amenities such as golf courses, parks and walking trails. 


Finding accommodation in Indonesia

It is advisable to use an estate agent to find accommodation in Indonesia. They will be familiar with all the rules and regulations and will be able to advise on the options that most expats choose. Those who are receiving help from their employer to find accommodation might not need to go through an estate agent. 

Expats should use estate agents’ databases, internet searches and newspaper classifieds to aid them in their accommodation search. 


Renting accommodation in Indonesia

Lease agreements are usually negotiated directly with the owner of the property. Rent will often be quoted in US dollars and is fixed for the period specified in the lease. 

Expats will usually need to pay the rent upfront for the entire lease period. However, if the lease is for two or three years expats will probably only have to pay one year upfront. It is also generally possible to rent a property on a three-month lease which can be renewed. 


Utilities and home security in Indonesia

Security can be an issue in Indonesia, but crime is usually limited to theft and is not often violent or serious. Most apartment buildings will employ security guards and have extra security measures such as surveillance cameras in place. 

Apartment buildings will also be insured for damage to property from fire, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters. The interior of the apartment and the tenant’s belongings, however, will not be covered by this insurance. 

Utilities in Indonesia are not expensive but are not usually included in the rent.

Healthcare in Indonesia

The standard of public healthcare in Indonesia is variable at best. As such, most expats in the country choose to make use of private healthcare throughout their stay in the country.

Expats are not covered under the Indonesian universal healthcare scheme. Having comprehensive medical insurance is therefore essential for expats moving to Indonesia, and those living in the country on a retirement visa are required by law to have medical insurance.

Most companies will provide comprehensive medical insurance for their expat staff. Before setting off for Indonesia expats should check their contract to see whether the health insurance policy is adequate for their needs and those of any family members.

As most expats and wealthy Indonesians often go to Singapore to access better medical care for the most serious conditions, expats should ensure the company’s health insurance policy covers international medical evacuation as well as treatment in Singapore.


Public healthcare in Indonesia

Healthcare facilities in Indonesia are limited, with the best facilities found in and around Jakarta. The standard of local medical care can be poor and public hospitals, especially those found in the capital, tend to be overcrowded and waiting times will be long.

While expats are able to be treated in local public hospitals, doctors and staff will most likely be Indonesian and there can be no guarantee that they will speak English, so communication may be an issue. Foreigners are not included in the national health insurance scheme, so doctors and public hospitals will likely expect payment in cash upfront.

For these reasons, expats in Indonesia tend to opt for private healthcare, which is relatively expensive but offers far better facilities and coverage.


Private healthcare in Indonesia

The quality of public healthcare in Indonesia is not up to the standard that many Western expats may be used to. Although private medical care in Indonesia is expensive, it is the option best suited to the needs of most expats.

Private healthcare facilities usually boast superior amenities and expats making use of these are far likelier to encounter English-speaking staff. Many expats choose to travel to neighbouring countries which have better medical facilities, such as Singapore or Thailand, for serious routine or planned procedures.


Medicines and pharmacies in Indonesia

Pharmacies in Indonesia are known as ‘apotik’ and can easily be found in the large shopping malls scattered throughout all major cities. The main pharmacy chains include Century Healthcare, Guardian and Apotik Melawai. Pharmacies can also be found in most hospitals and medical clinics, although expats will need a prescription from a doctor at that particular practice as they will not generally fill prescriptions from elsewhere.

Pharmacies in Indonesia sell a wide range of prescription and over-the-counter medications and usually have a pharmacist on site to assist customers with any drug-related questions. Again, expats should be aware that, generally, Indonesian pharmacists know little English so foreigners may have trouble communicating with them.


Health hazards in Indonesia

Due to Indonesia’s tropical climate, malaria can be an issue. However, it is generally not a problem in the country's major urban hubs like Jakarta and on Bali. If based in rural areas such as Sumatra, Sulawesi and Kalimantan, it is advisable that expats are on a course of anti-malarial medication.

The air quality in Indonesia’s main cities, especially Jakarta, is poor and the seasonal haze from forest fires on Borneo and Sumatra is known to cause respiratory problems. This can be a particular issue for those suffering from asthma, so it is advised that expats have the necessary medication and their inhaler on hand. 


Pre-travel restrictions and vaccinations in Indonesia

No specific vaccinations are required but it is recommended that expats moving to Indonesia have their typhoid, polio, hepatitis A and B vaccinations updated. If arriving from yellow fever infected countries in Africa or South America expats will be required to show their yellow fever certificate at immigration.

If needing to bring a specific medication into Indonesia, it's best to have it in its original container and, if possible, retain a doctor’s prescription to avoid any trouble from Indonesian customs inspectors.


Emergency services in Indonesia

Indonesia does not have a national emergency medical service. Public hospitals do have ambulances but staffing and equipment are not of a particularly high standard. Expats should identify private ambulance services available in their area.

Education and Schools in Indonesia

Within the Indonesian education system, parents can send their children to public, private or international schools. Most expat parents living in Indonesia opt for international schools, although these are usually quite pricey.

Compulsory education in Indonesia begins at age six or seven and lasts a total of nine years. During this time, public schooling is offered at no cost. The school week in Indonesia runs from Monday to Friday, and school hours vary, but most schools run between 7.30am and 3pm. This excludes any extra-curricular programmes which can last till around 5.30pm.

A minimum of one year of Indonesian language study is required if a child is to graduate from high school. However, no subject testing is completed in this language – merely achievement in basic proficiency is required.


Public schools in Indonesia

Public schools are administered by the local government and follow the Indonesian curriculum. In these schools, the teaching language used is Bahasa Indonesia and every subject is taught in the local language by local teachers. Other indigenous languages are still used in remote parts of the country.

The language barrier and inconsistent quality of public schools are the main reasons that expat children do not commonly attend public schools in Indonesia.


Private schools in Indonesia

Private schools generally offer a curriculum that both meets and exceeds the requirements of the local Indonesian curriculum, sometimes taught in combination with the International Baccalaureate (IB). Many of these schools also teach in English. 

The majority of these schools cater to Indonesian students, with foreign students often making up only a small proportion of the school's student body. They do, however, accept expat children and these schools are a more affordable alternative to international schools for expats who work for companies that do not cover education fees.


International schools in Indonesia

Most expats in Indonesia send their children to international schools – these schools offer a foreign curriculum and are officially accredited by the relevant authorities in their home country. Tuition fees can be extremely high at international schools, with annual tuition rates varying depending on the school and the age of the child. Many international schools also charge a non-refundable annual capital fee.

In a bid to regulate the quality of education in Indonesia, the government has introduced legislation that no longer permits schools to use the word 'international' in their title. This is to prevent low-quality schools from using the term merely to charge high fees.

Most international schools are now classified as Satuan Pendidikan Kerjasama (SPK) – this roughly translates as collaborative schools. SPK schools are required to teach Indonesian civics, religion and language. In addition, they must allow Indonesian students to attend and must employ local teachers to teach Indonesian subjects. Children at international schools are also now expected to take part in the national examinations that students at state schools undergo, in addition to the school's own examinations.

There are many options when it comes to international schools in Indonesia, with schools catering to expat students from a number of countries, including the UK, the US, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and Singapore. Alongside the home curriculum, many of these schools also offer the IB programme.


Special-needs education in Indonesia

In public education, Indonesia has two types of schools that cater to special-needs students: inclusive schools and extraordinary schools. Inclusive schools have a student body made up of both special needs and mainstream students, while extraordinary schools are dedicated to special-needs students only. Unless expat families already speak Indonesian fluently, most will avoid these options and instead opt for private schooling for their children with special educational needs. It's worth noting that many international schools are able to provide the specialised services such a student would require. This is usually for an extra fee but can be a good option for expat families.


Tutors in Indonesia

Tutors are much used in Indonesia. For expat families, tutors can be a great help in giving expat children a leg up in adjusting to a new school, especially if an unfamiliar curriculum or language unfamiliar is involved. Some expat families hire a tutor to help maintain a child's mother tongue, or to help them learn and refine Indonesian or English quickly.

The months leading up to final exams are a busy time for tutors, who are often hired to help students reach peak performance. Most tutors specialise in a particular subject but some are able to help across the board, especially when it comes to teaching general essay writing and study techniques.

The months leading up to final exams are a busy time for tutors, who are often hired to help students reach peak performance. Most tutors specialise in a particular subject but some are able to help across the board, especially when it comes to teaching general essay writing and study techniques.

Transport and Driving in Indonesia

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

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. 

Trains

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

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. 

Banking, Money and Taxes in Indonesia

Banking in Indonesia could be an exercise in patience for expats, but once getting used to how things are done in the country it will become easier to navigate the financial side of life in Indonesia. 


Money in Indonesia

The official currency in Indonesia is the rupiah (IDR), which is divided into 100 sen. Locals may use the word perak when referring to their currency. 

  • Notes: 1,000 IDR; 2,000 IDR; 5,000 IDR; 10,000 IDR; 20,000 IDR; 50,000 IDR and 100,000 IDR.

  • Coins: from 50 IDR to 1,000 IDR, but inflation has rendered all coins and banknotes denominated in sen obsolete


Banking in Indonesia

There are plenty of banks for expats to choose from in Indonesia, both local and foreign. Expats will be able to choose whether they would like to open an account in rupiah or in US dollars. Some other foreign currencies are also provided for. Savings accounts, chequing accounts, foreign exchange, debit cards and credit cards are all available in the country. 

Some expats choose to keep their existing account in their home country or to open an account in Singapore. Expats who do this will have to ask their employer to transfer their salary into their offshore account and then ask to receive some of their salary in rupiah for cash purchases in Indonesia. 

Most of the staff at international banks in Indonesia will be able to speak English. 

Opening a bank account

Although the general requirements may differ from bank to bank, in order to open a bank account in Indonesia, expats will usually need to provide the following:

  • Letter of reference from their employer

  • Passport and a copy

  • Indonesian ID card

  • Indonesian tax number

The Indonesian ID card is called a KITAS (Kartu Izin Tinggal Terbatas). All expats must have this card to open a bank account. If wanting to open an account with US dollars, a minimum deposit is usually required. 

Expats should be sure to explicitly state that they want the English option when opening a bank account. Otherwise, the account will be opened in Indonesian. It is also wise to ask the bank for international banking codes if wanting to receive money from overseas. 

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs can be found in most shopping centres, bank branches and tourist areas in Indonesia. Expats can withdraw cash in Indonesia using any major international credit or debit card.

It shouldn’t be a problem for an expat to get a credit card in Indonesia. The applicant needs to be over 21 years old and there will be a minimum monthly income required. The credit card limit will usually be set at three times the monthly income of the applicant. 


Taxes in Indonesia

Residents of Indonesia are taxed on their worldwide income while non-residents are only taxed on their Indonesian income. Expats who stay in Indonesia for more than 183 days in a 12-month period will become tax residents of Indonesia. 

When expats register as a taxpayer they will receive a tax number known as a Nomor Pendaftaran Wajib Pajak (NPWP). It is illegal not to have an NPWP and the punishment could mean imprisonment. It proves that expats are living and working legally in Indonesia.

Employers are responsible for deducting tax off their employees' salaries but it is the individual employee’s responsibility to register as a taxpayer and file their tax returns. 

Income tax rates in Indonesia range from five to 40 percent, depending on an individual's income. If expats have dependent partners or children they may be entitled to tax deductions.

Expat Experiences in Indonesia

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Indonesia and would like to share your story.


Meilisa Lesmana was born in Indonesia but has spent most of her life living abroad, most recently in Canada. Just a few months ago, her husband was transferred to Jakarta and she and their son joined him. She says the key to settling into a new country is to make friends as quickly as possible – and the best way to do that is to join in the expat community. Read about her expat experiences in Jakarta.

Cassandra is a Singaporean expat who moved to Jakarta with her Canadian husband and son when he was offered a new position there. Cassandra has had to make a number of adjustments following her move to Indonesia, not least of which was quitting her job in advertising to become a stay-at-home mom. Read about her expat experiences in Indonesia.

Cassandra - a Singaporean expat living in Indonesia

Lidia is a Spanish expat who grew up in Sweden and now lives in Indonesia. She moved to Jakarta for an internship position at the Swedish Embassy and enjoyed her expat experience in Indonesia so much that she decided to stay on after the initial six-month contract ended. Read about her expat life in Jakarta.

Lidia - An expat living in Indonesia

Jennifer is an American expat living in Indonesia with her husband and daughter. They moved to Bogor, on the island of Java, when Jennifer was offered a position to teach English at a school in the city. Read more about her expat life in Indonesia.

Jennifer - An American expat living in Indonesia

Sarah and John from the D family are Australian expats living in Indonesia. They moved to Jakarta with their 10-year-old daughter, Miss D, when John was transferred there with his company. Although they miss their friends and family back home, they enjoy keeping them informed about their life in Jakarta on their blog. Read more about their expat experiences in Indonesia.

The D Family - Australian expats living in Indonesia

Bruce is a retired American expat living in Bali. He moved to Indonesia in search of something different and has now been living on the island for more than 20 years. Although he misses Chicago hot dogs and baseball, he enjoys the quality of life in Bali and encourages other expats to fully integrate themselves into the local community. Read more about his expat life in Bali.

Bruce - cyberbali - an expat living in Bali

Lottie Nevin is a British expat currently living in Jakarta with her husband. However much reading and research one might do, Lottie says there is nothing that can properly prepare you for the massive siege on your senses when first moving to Jakarta. Here she tells us about her expat experience of culture shock in Indonesia.

Lottie Nevin - A British expat in Indonesia

Britt is a Dutch expat who moved to Indonesia to join her Indonesian husband. Six months later, she still loves the food, climate and dynamic culture in Jakarta. Britt has a number of blogs about living in Indonesia for tourists and expats. Read about her expat experience in Indonesia.

Britt - A Dutch expat living in Indonesia

Originally from New Delhi, Nidhi is an Indian expat living in Jakarta with her husband and enjoying a new phase of life. After a few initial challenges, she is now very well settled in Indonesia, and looking forward to new avenues as life unfolds. Indian fashion is close to her heart and she sometimes misses it, but she enjoys the nightlife and quality of life in Jakarta. Read about her expat experience in Indonesia.

Nidhi - an Indian expat living in Indonesia