Jakarta, Indonesia Report of what it's like to live there - 02/26/18
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?
Buenos Aires, San Salvador, Casablanca, Quito.
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?
Connections to the U.S. are pretty tough and long. If you live on the West Coast, you'll fly via Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul, or Hong Kong. Those on the East Coast will typically go via the Pacific, but can fly via Doha, Dubai, or Amsterdam too. It takes about 24-30 hours door-to-door depending on the destination. Most flights arrive and depart in the middle of the night.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We have a stand-alone home in Kemang. While smaller than housing in some other cities, it is large enough for our family of six. Jakarta has a good mix of apartments and homes. The most important factor for housing is commute time to work and school. For example, those with high school kids attending JIS-PIE will not want to live in Menteng. Kebayoran Baru is a good middle area for most expats. Pondok Indah has larger homes and is near JIS-PIE.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can buy pretty much anything locally. We were really surprised by the quantity and quality of things. Jakarta has many large grocery chains: Grand Lucky, Hero, Kem Chicks, Ranch Market, Carrefour, etc. Local fruits and vegetables are cheap and plentiful. We've been very happy with meats overall too. Cheese is the one exception - it's much more expensive than in the US. If you have good connections, you can join with other families to purchase wholesale. We import from a New Zealand company at about 1/2 the price of local stores.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
While you'll pay more for imported items, and they aren't always available, there's nothing we haven't been able to find. For example, you can get Cheez Balls, Raisin Bran, Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, and Cherry Dr. Pepper (in addition to more normal items). Just like any other place, bring any super specific brands you can't live without. But seriously, they have pretty much everything you can imagine.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
GoJek offers convenient online delivery via motorcycle for thousands of restaurants. Jakarta has a surprisingly vibrant restaurant scene with lots of good Thai, Japanese, BBQ, Korean, French, and Italian joints at all price points. Just don't eat street food, which is not typically prepared hygienically.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We found a python in the basement of my office once. :) Jakarta has all the pests: mosquitos, rats, flying ants, etc. Houses and apartments have well-sealed windows and doors, eliminating most of those risks.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via Diplomatic Post Office at the U.S. embassy (sorry other expat families). DPO mail arrives really quickly, 7-10 days typically. While possible to receive items through FedEx, DHL, and the Indonesian Postal System, you have to pay customs duties. Most expats just load up suitcases when coming back and forth from their home countries.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available and very inexpensive. Maids, cooks, nannies, and drivers are the most common. Minimum salary is currently 3.600.000 IDR per month, or about $270 USD. However, most expats pay above that amount, especially if the help have good experience and English skills. In addition to base salary, domestic help get a 13th month bonus for Ramadan, a 14th month bonus for health insurance, and a 15th month bonus per year worked upon separation.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Most apartment complexes have free gyms on-site. Lots of local gyms are available at about $50 USD per month per person.
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?
Yes and yes. Although, ATMs have relatively small cash limits (1,500,000 or 2,000,000 per transaction). I highly recommend opening a local bank account for ease of making purchases and transfers.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic, Protestant, Latter Day Saints (Mormon).
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is very helpful having at least basic Indonesian. English is not very widespoken, but you can manage with Google Translate and gestures. Indonesian is a pretty simple language and there are lots of good language programs to help you learn.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Sidewalks are non-existent and very few buildings are handicapped accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses no. Bluebird and Silverbird taxis are fantastic. Jakarta has the best taxi service of any city we have ever visited. Download the Bluebird app to schedule rides in advance (the drivers always show up early). Drivers always use meters. Just make sure to have small bills.
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?
You definitely need a right-hand drive car. Get something smaller, which is easier to use on narrow roads. We have a Toyota Kijang Innova, which has been perfect.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is great with very high speeds. We have First Media, 32MB download package with cable TV for about $60 USD per month. http://www.firstmedia.com/get/basic/packages#x1-combo-4k. Very fast installation. Get a DVR with your cable box. Service can drop unexpectedly so have backup options in place. We also have a Home Bolt, which provides 30 GB of internet per month for about $20 USD per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Dirt-cheap access. Bring your phone from home (make sure it's GSM unlocked) and get a pre-paid plan. We load small amounts per month, probably $15 USD for 2 GB data and calling.
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, lots of good pet services are around. Imported pets need a brief quarantine. Work with a pet importer to handle all the paperwork. Yes, that's expensive, but it's better than trying to navigate dozens of offices by yourself.
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?
It's tough finding work on the local economy. Most spouses work from home, pursue volunteer opportunities, complete online degrees, or do other activities. Some jobs are available at embassies and local schools.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Tons. Indonesia has lots of refugees from Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. Several schools and other organizations help these folks.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Men: slacks, shirt, and tie. Batik on Fridays. Women: knee length skirts, modest shirts covering shoulders. No burkas or hijabs needed. For formal weddings women will want fancier dresses, which are available locally. Tank tops, spaghetti straps, midriff cutoffs, and super short skirts would be frowned upon.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
While there is petty crime, it's not targeted against expats. We feel very safe and have never had any challenges.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is terrible. Anyone with significant problems gets medically evacuated to Singapore. There are a few decent clinics like SOS, which can handle minor issues like stitches and simple fractures. Dental care is decent, but not great. As a crowded, dirty, tropic city, Jakarta has all kinds of diseases. Be careful where you eat, clean your fruits and vegetables, and you should be okay.
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?
During the dry season it can get moderately bad, but certainly much better than New Delhi or Beijing. The U.S. embassy publishes live air quality levels.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Peanuts are used in lots of dishes.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The heavy traffic can create a sense of isolation.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's pretty hot all year long, but better than we expected. It's a few degrees cooler than Singapore and Bangkok, which makes a difference. Rainy season is October - April, and it rains most days for about 1-2 hours. Some areas experience flooding.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our kids attend JIS-PIE, which is amazing, JIS-PEL (an elementary school) has a good reputation. The Australian, British, Netherlands, New Zealand schools have good reputations too. There are other options like ACG and Ghandi. Our youngest went to a local preschool, Bambino, which was amazing. Lots of great options. The excellent local schools has probably been our favorite thing of living in Jakarta. Students come from every corner of the globe - it's the most diverse of anywhere we have ever lived.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
JIS has a child psychologist, speech pathologist, and several other specialists. They can accommodate moderate special needs (dyslexia, ADHD, etc.). The Australian school has a good reputation for moderate - severe disabilities.
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?
Yes, great options abound. Bambino, Tutor Time, New Zealand, etc. We looked at nine different places before selecting our preferred choice.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, there are tons of options both through school and local facilities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Quite large and diverse. High.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
The American Club in South Jakarta is a good meeting place. Schools, churches, and work provide other connections.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Jakarta works for all types of people. Indonesians love families and little kids. Don't be surprised if people want to touch children's blond hair or take photos with you. Young English students might also ask to interview you for homework assignments.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Indonesia is a Muslim country, and homosexuality is not allowed. While there is a discrete LGBT scene, it's coming under additional fire.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Indonesians have had historical bias against those of Chinese heritage. As a patriarchal society, women are less involved in public affairs. That said, there are many women in politics and private business. Definitely not like Saudi Arabia, for example.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It has Indonesia is such a vibrant and diverse place that you could easily spend a lifetime exploring different areas. Learning about people, culture, food, religion, wildlife, marine life, and natural wonders greatly enriched our experience of living in Jakarta for three years.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
While some talk negatively about Jakarta in this regard, there are lots of things to do.
Ancol - is a large entertainment area with a collection of different activities: *Seaworld aquarium (surprisingly impressive, with a great moving walkway/tunnel and several unique fish), waterpark, Ecopark, beach (although swimming is not recommended because of pollution), cable car ride, jet skies, ropes course, paintball, hotels, restaurants, and the boats going to the Thousand Islands. Itâ€™s about 25,000 IDR per person to get into the area then more for the various activities. Galeri Nasional Indonesia - http://galeri-nasional.or.id/. A decent art gallery located near the U.S. Embassy with permanent and rotating exhibits. Open Tuesday - Sunday, 9am - 4pm (closed on Mondays and National Holidays).
*Houbii - a great indoor trampoline park in Pondok Indah. In addition to lots of bounce areas, it has a huge slide, ball pit, and dodgeball arena. Register and pay online before coming to save time.
Jakarta Aquarium - opened in March 2017 and is housed inside Central Park Mall, the Neo SOHO part to be precise. While not huge, itâ€™s the perfect size for a one to two hour visit. Make reservations for the live penguin dining room, which fills up on the weekend. http://www.jakarta-aquarium.com.
*KidZania - a giant indoor play area located in Pacific Place Mall with lots of mock stations: food processing, chiropractor, hospital, bakery, fire station, etc. Kids earn and spend money doing different jobs. They divide into two shifts 0900-1400 and 1500-2000. You pay to enter one of them, and they kick you out once the time concludes. Costs vary depending on the day, but start at 50,000 for toddlers, 150,000 for kids, and 100,000 for adults.
Museum Layang-layang - our kids enjoyed seeing this kite museum in southern Jakarta.
*National Museum - very close to the U.S. Embassy, it showcases a wide range of artifacts from throughout Indonesia. Plan on two hours for your visit.
Old Town - you can fill one or two days exploring Kota Gede, or the Old Town area of Jakarta. We enjoyed seeing the *Wayang Museum, BNI Museum, and Cafe Batavia.
*Taman Mini - http://www.tamanmini.com/english/. This massive area showcases different regions from around Indonesia, and provides a good opportunity to get a feel for different Indonesian cultures. They have several museums, zoos (including a particularly good aviary, planetarium, giant train yard with 50+ locomotives), and a waterpark. You could easily spend two or three days exploring the various areas.
Rangunan Zoo - Located in southern Jakarta, this large zoo has animals from all over the country. The animals are pretty spread out, which makes it feel more natural. Itâ€™s a popular place to run or go biking. The Primate Center in the center of the park is definitely worth seeing and had several species we have not seen elsewhere.
Textile Museum - http://museumtekstiljakarta.com/. Shows lots of interesting batik, ikat, and other unique Indonesian fabrics. They have a small workshop in the back where you can try making things too.
http://www.littlestepsasia.com/jakarta/articles/play/best-water-parks-jakarta. Jakarta has three primary waterparks:
Waterbom - http://www.waterbom-jakarta.com/web2014/ is the best waterpark in Jakarta. Itâ€™s located in Ancol and has a wide range of slides and options. Definitely look online to find promotions or other discounts before going (you can typically get 50% off).
Pondok Indah Water ("The wave") - attached to the Pondok Indah Mall, is the smallest of the three, but provides a good relief from the heat. It has a wave pool, lazy river, a couple of kiddy pools, and a few larger slides.
Snowbay - is inside Taman Mini. We havenâ€™t visited this one yet, but often seen lots of people there on the weekend.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Absolutely. Indonesia has tons of handicrafts. Alun Alun: features high-end (although pricey) Indonesian products, from housewares to clothes to jewelry. This is where to go for good quality gifts. Located inside Grand Indonesia Mall.
Consigna on Mampang Raya: is an inexpensive camping gear store. Eiger is another camping store youâ€™ll see scattered throughout town.
Fabric stores - Mayestic has a large seven story building with store after store of different clothing items. There are other buildings in the area, including one called, Toko Maju which has every kind of button you can imagine. Tana Abang is another area with lots of fabric stores. Tamrin City is a great place for batik, although you start to go cross eyed after seeing literally hundreds of options.
Jl. Kemang Timur: has furniture store after furniture store. You can find some beautiful teak wood items or even show a photo/drawing of what you want and they can custom build items.
Jl. Surabaya: A street of antique stores in Menteng, near Executive Menteng Apartments. Be prepared for high prices; you must bargain hard. You can find just about everything: carved garuda statues, chandeliers, record albums, etc. Itâ€™s a great place to stroll for casual looking or serious shopping, and good for visitors.
Sarinah Dept. Store: has tons of souvenirs, inexpensive batik, and other items for sale. Go to the top floor to see most vendors.
Wendy Gallery: They sell mid-century modern, art deco, Mission, and other styles, but not much carved, traditional Indonesian pieces. The city of Tangerang Selatan is filled with furniture stores. Expect dark, dusty stores packed with furniture stacked 2-3 pieces high. Go during the day and bring a flashlight, because lighting is terrible. If you bargain, you will be rewarded with amazing pieces at prices that would make a West Elm salesman weep. Wendy Gallery, Jalan Pahlawan 51, Gintung Rempoa Ciputat Timur, Tangerang Selatan; email@example.com; POC: Pak Maswir, 0821-1098-0233 or 021-743-0014.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Amazing schools, affordable household help, the ability to save, good dining and restaurants, lots of interesting travel opportunities.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
People are friendly, the culture is incredibly diverse and rich, and you can buy pretty much anything you need. The biggest negatives: traffic, poor medical care, tropical diseases, bureaucratic processes
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. But don't forget your:
Patience, to deal with horrible, horrible traffic.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you have any other comments?
Jakarta is a polarizing place. It has some great positives and some big negatives. Make sure you have a good understanding of what conditions are like to best set expectations. Your choice in where to live and go to school will really determine your happiness to a great extent. Make sure to travel outside town every 6-8 weeks to stay recharged.