Medan, Indonesia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/25/21

Personal Experiences from Medan, Indonesia

Medan, Indonesia 11/25/21


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I have lived in London England, Alicante Spain, Frankfurt Germany, and Okinawa Japan.

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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?

United States.

It took about 35 hours with a long lay over in Tokyo. We flew from Washington DC. We came during the pandemic so we had to do quarantine in Jakarta.

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3. What years did you live here?

Currently here.

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4. How long have you lived here?

Three months.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?


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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

My house is pretty big with 5 bedrooms. House is a big old but it is comfortable. A lot of expats live in houses and there are some modern apartments which are part of a mall complex. Small ovens and fridges in most of the expats houses that I have talked to. I live downtown so I walk everywhere even though this city is not a walkable city. Depending where you live it can take 30 to 45 minutes to go to the center.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I buy most of my fruit and vegetables at the local market and it is pretty cheap. I buy a kilo of tomatoes for less than a dollar and most vegetables are that cheap. The rest of my food I buy it in the supermarket. I buy in Brastaggi, Smarco, and transmart. Most of what I buy there is milk, spaghetti sauce, pasta, and cereal. Milk is about $1.20, sauce about 2 dollars, spaghetti is about 2 dollars, and cereal about 2.20 dollars. I buy Fruit Loops, Rice Krispies, and corn flakes because they are the cheapest. There are some foods from Australia, New Zealand and the United States. I have bought BBQ sauce, steak sauce, tacos, tortillas and so on, but it is expensive. Most international food is pretty expensive but I have found the products I can use that are affordable. Cheese and any dairy products are expensive and in my opinion, not good at all. We have stopped buying any dairy products.

Brand soap is more expensive but I have been able to buy some of the ones I use home for about the same price.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Mexican food, olive and any other kind of oil since the only one that is cheap here is palm oil.
Spaghetti sauce, parmesan cheese, some types of cereals, peanut butter since here it is expensive. Nutella is very expensive here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

You can order everything from grab or other delivery options at a very cheap price.

We don't order out a lot but some western restaurants are Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Dominos pizza. One of my favorite restaurants is Lebanon in Cambridge Mall. There are many great Japanese restaurants. I love Tijili square which is an Italian restaurant; their sausages are amazing. Bread talk has the best cakes and breads and there are found in most malls.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Cockroaches, small lizards, ants, and we have bats in our tree outside.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Through the embassy.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

A helper is about 300 dollars. We also pay transportation, food, and insurance. We have a contract. You have to pay an extra month during the Muslim holiday.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Most malls have a gym. There is a lot of places doing thai boxing. Many ballet centers but I have not found a gymnastic center.

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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?

It is hit and miss. In a lot of places you need to pay with cash.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There is a non denomination Church where are lot of the expats meet. I have not attended because of Covid. There are a lot of Catholic churches, but I am not sure there are any in English. There is a Latter Day Saint Church, but the main language is Indonesian.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Most people don't speak English so you might need to know some or know someone who speaks the language. Tutors are affordable about 4 dollars or under per hour.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

I think it would be a challenge because I have not seen any accommodations.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are pretty affordable. Local people travel via tuk-tuk or they have a van with no door where people come in and out for about 30 cents. The taxi ranges from dollar 1.30 to 3 or so. There are lots of motorcycles everywhere.

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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 bought ours here for about 4,000 dollars.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

We have pretty high internet and we pay around 60 dollars being the most expensive in the company we use which is My Republik. You need to check which one is the best for your area. I pay about 7 dollars for unlimited phone data and about 100 minutes of phone calls.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are taxes you need to pay when you bring your phone here specially if it is an iPhone.

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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?

You need to come here with a job. It is hard to get a job as a spouse because you need a special visa. The same applies to volunteering since a visa is needed to volunteer here.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are different NGOS but you need a special visa to be able to volunteer.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Very casual. Medan is fifty percent Muslim so the dress code is fairly modest with women being covered. Most women dress wearing long pants or skirts and t-shirts. Some women cover their heads.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Walking is difficult because there are many holes in the road and also it is almost impossible to cross the road. I've heard of purses or phones being snatched from those on motorcycles if one is not careful. I have felt safe most of the time.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Apparently the air is very polluted and people with asthma can have issues. People burn the garbage and there are many cars and motorcycles in the road. I think there is malaria and dengue here so you need to wear mosquito spray. Before Covid people would go to Singapore for good medical attention but so far we have found great dentists and doctors. I love Mr. and Mrs. Dentist.

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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?

Apparently it is bad because people burn the garbage and also there are a lot of cars and motorcycles.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

I think it is difficult for people with allergies here. If you have a dairy allergy they have almond milk at high prices. Soy milk is cheaper. People here don't eat much cheese so a lot of dishes don't have dairy products. Coconut cream is cheap so you could cook with coconut cream

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

The expat community is very small so you need to be proactive to meet people. I arrived during Covid and have been able to meet people but most of my friends are locals who speak English. I have met a few expat families and I have felt very welcomed. If you like to walk in the city, this is not a city for you because walking is almost impossible. I walk to the mall but crossing the roads is very difficult.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

About 33 centigrade and humid. There is a rainy season.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are a few international schools. My kids attend Medan International school and they are very happy there. Teachers are great and classes are very small. I have come during covid and most of the time classes have been online. They just started going in person.

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2. 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?

I don't know about day care. I don't think schools provider before school care but before Covid they used to have after school activities. At the moment school is only three hours a day in person and the rest online.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

My daughter goes to ballet in a local school. The teachers speak some English. The schools have activities normally but with Covid everything has stopped.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The expat community is very small specially now that with Covid many expats have left. There is a Facebook group called expats in Sumatra where we ask questions and I have met a few that way.

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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?

Before Covid a lot of people would socialize at school grounds but now that is not a possibility. Some people meet at bars and people go to others peoples' houses.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

In the city there is no much to do other than going to the mall. The beaches are one and a half hours away but there are not very nice. There are nice hiking trails a couple of hours away. It is hard to say if this is a good family post because with Covid everything has been on pause so I have not experienced the real life.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I have made a lot of friends that are local by attending a local church. I have felt very welcomed. People stopped me in the street all the time and try to talk to me and take pictures with me. People stop my kids and try to touch their heads and my kids dislike it, so that has been an adjustment.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I am not sure but I have heard that this is not a good post for LGBT.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I am not sure. Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country but Medan is half Muslim half Christian.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

I had a difficult time when I got here because of seeing trash everywhere. I have gotten used to it and I don't notice as much.

I did a hiking trail with orangutans with Cheeky Monkeys and we loved it. We have visited Bali in the past and we really enjoyed it.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

We have only visited a few places. We enjoyed going to Snow Beach which is a river and tubing there. We have gone to a beach and it was ok but the beach was not too clean. You need to go to other islands for good beaches. We went to a few waterfalls, Lake Toba, a couple of volcanos and that has been incredible. We did hiking with orangutans in Bukitt Lawang.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

This is definitely not a shopping post. There are a lot of malls but it is not different than any other malls in any other country. No souvenirs or anything nice to buy.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Fruit and vegetables are cheap, same temp all year long, and household help is very affordable.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The level of poverty and how that was going to affect me.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, but short-term.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Fancy clothes and fancy jewerly.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, and bring in good cheese before you move here.

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