Jakarta, Indonesia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/08/12
Personal Experiences from Jakarta, Indonesia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I have lived overseas before, but this is my first full assignment (2 year tour) with the Department of State.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
California/Washington DC - a full day of travel (or two days, depending on what direction you're going in).
3. How long have you lived here?
11 months so far.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government - U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
U.S. Embassy housing is split mostly between apartments in the heart of the city and houses for families closer to the school. For people living in houses in South Jakarta, the commute can be well over an hour each way (I've heard). I live in an apartment close to the embassy and my own commute averages about 15 minutes in the morning and about 30 minutes going home.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
We can get almost anything here, assuming it is in season. Indonesia has cheap plentiful spices, and tons of tropical fruit that is readily available. Wine is expensive -- we get it at the commissary for a more reasonable price.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Herbal tea. It costs US$8/box here. Cereal is also expensive, but I have switched to oatmeal.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can pretty much find anything you want in this department -- almost -- and at all ranges. There is dirt cheap street food (eat at your own risk -- it may be impossible to live here without getting sick!) up to very high end.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Not sure about organic foods. We rinse our veggies in bleach anyways. That's what the mail is for. I don't think anyone in a restaurant would understand "gluten free." My vegetarian friend has often ordered the vegetable dish on a menu only to discover that it is sprinkled with pieces of chicken. That said, a lot of Indonesian food is vegetarian -- they use a lot of tofu. And there are a ton of restaurants with vegetarian and even vegan options.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Make sure you get your vaccinations before coming and take anti-malarials if you travel outside of Java and Bali. Dengue fever can be a problem -- make sure you use bug spray!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have a wonderful housekeeper who was easy for us to acquire. We are a couple with no kids, she works M-F 9-5, and we pay her about US $200/month --- which is fairly average, if a bit high.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The apartment we live in has a gym, a pool, and tennis courts. Most of the apartments do. I don't think the housing compounds do, though (though I haven't seen all of the housing). This is not really a city where one can run outside.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit cards are OK for very high-end places. Otherwise, it is a cash economy. I use the cashier at the embassy. I don't use ATMS except when I am outside of Jakarta.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are, but I'm not affiliated, so it is hard to know. We have friends who go to English-language church services.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
I get news on my Ipad. TV is marginal; there are a few English stations. We can get the BBC and CNN on our TV. Your US TV will not work here unless it is dual-system.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I received seven months of language training before coming, and it definitely helps. You'd want to at least have taxi vocabulary.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Hmm. Hard to say. Jakarta is not pedestrian friendly, all of us must drive to get anywhere anyways. A lot of places have elevators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are only supposed to use taxis. They are pretty cheap.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
We don't have a car and have been just fine using taxis. People with kids have cars with a driver.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available and pretty fast. We pay $30/month for a faster connection in our apartment. (We were getting it free, but it was slow).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
This is the country of cell phones and BlackBerries! They are readily available and cheap and the service is pretty good. I use an embassy-issued blackberry.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes - though I think some people were able to pay a premium to reduce the quarantine time.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Not really. Indonesia won't grant visas to spouses of U.S. diplomats to work on the local economy (last I heard).
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Suits and batik shirts (long sleeve).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is a growing level of intolerance of minority cultures and religions, but the perceived threat of terrorism feels pretty low -- it is there, but just as likely as any other big city. Otherwise, petty crime can be a concern -- like any big city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is marginal to poor. The embassy has a medical unit, and anyone with anything serious is medevac'd to Singapore. Don't count on an ambulance to help you out. Make sure you have your vaccinations.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Poor and unhealthy in Jakarta. Better if you get out of the city.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There is a dry season and a wet season: meaning that it is either hot and dry, or hot and rainy.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Not applicable to me and my husband, though I'm aware that JIS (Jakarta International School), where most embassy kids go, is pretty good.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I'm not an expert on this, but some of my colleagues have mentioned going to their kids' soccer games, ice skating performances, etc. It seems there are quite a few activities for kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium. Pretty sizeable expat and business community.
2. Morale among expats:
Mixed. Some people love it, some hate it. Jakarta takes a while to get to know and to find your niche. The traffic can get old, so can the lack of outdoor space (no parks, no sidewalks).
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
It really depends. I think there is something for everyone, like any big city -- families, clubbers, church-goers, the like. It is very popular to go to a buffet brunch on the weekends.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all, though I think the experience will be very different. Great for couples and singles in terms of the travel opportunities, I'm not sure in terms of the social life or the dating scene (like many parts of the world, might be tougher for women). Socially, the embassy is clique-y and divided geographically by where people live -- largely due to traffic.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is okay. I'm not an expert on it, but I think the scene does exist. Indonesia does have some hardliners, but that does not necessarily reflect the majority view. LGBT expats may feel they need to keep their relationship more discreet in some circles. However, our DCM (second to the Ambassador) was very open about his male partner and brought him along to formal events, etc. It depends on the audience; in most cases in Jakarta there wouldn't be a problem.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
In the vast majority of cases, no. However, there is a worrying increase of intolerance here -- or, rather, a situation where a small minority of radicals are allowed to exert undue influence over society -- sometimes violently -- with impunity. There have been cases of minority religious groups beaten and even killed, with no justice served, and of churches not getting their licenses, etc.
There are some female professionals in Jakarta, less so than in the United States, and outside of Jakarta women's roles can become more traditional. At parties I am often mistakenly taken to be a diplomat's wife instead of a diplomat in my own right, but once I set the record straight I can be just as effective and taken seriously.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Travel! Bali -- yes it is a cliche, but Bali is the easiest to get to from Jakarta and has the infrastructure that some other parts of Indonesia lacks. If you like to scuba dive, you have found your paradise. Most Indonesians are extremely warm and welcoming people and genuinely want you to enjoy their country.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Jakarta is a city of malls. I'm not a mall person, but unfortunately that is the main thing to do here. There are some great brunch places, furniture shopping to be done in Kemang, the old city to explore, and some museums. When we can, we leave Jakarta -- because in order to appreciate Indonesia, it is necessary to get out of the city.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Tons! Furniture, "wayang kulit," batiks, other interesting artifacts.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The culture -- Indonesia has several fascinating cultures...and wonderful travel opportunities. Services are cheap. It's never cold (although perhaps sometimes overly air conditioned).
11. Can you save money?
Yes, unless you want to see the country. Then you will need to shell out on flights.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. I think so. So far, on balance, it has been a good experience so far.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
wool coats, scarves, and hats, and walking shoes (except for the mall).
3. But don't forget your:
patience, sense of adventure, camera.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
(it is a series of interviews of people living in Jakarta compiled by the Jakarta Globe - you can get it on kindle)
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The Year of Living Dangerously
-- totally outdated, but does provide some background/history
6. Do you have any other comments?
Jakarta can be tough, but Indonesia is a beautiful country with wonderful people. It can be frustrating at times to live here, but I have grown to care about the country and hope that it continues to develop. Indonesians are non-confrontational and tend to avoid conflict/making tough decisions, or will tell you what they think you want to hear. Make sure to take the extra moment to travel to the less-visited city, as the off-the-beaten path experiences are the ones which have made me appreciate this country the most.