Expat Guide To Living In Indonesia

Indonesia illustration of buildings

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

In this expat guide, we explore some of the practicalities of living in Indonesia as an expatriate. In addition, we cover what you might expect from this tropical island paradise regarding everyday life and setting down roots.

Indonesia is a paradox. A global economic powerhouse coexisting with an oasis of surfing, blissful beaches and year-round warmth, home to 4,000 British expats.

The country is also a favourite place for 10,000 Americans and is massively popular with travellers, professionals and retirees.

Alongside the world-famous Bali beaches, you’ll find diving throughout the islands. A warm community lifestyle with an emphasis on polite conduct and family values. 

The average day reaches around 28 °C, with temperatures a little cooler in the mountain regions. So it’s a perfect destination for expats who prefer a warmer way of life.

However, living in a country with some areas of extreme poverty can be a different experience from taking a holiday.

Therefore, one of the essential things to do is learn at least a bit of Bahasa Indonesian. This will help since not everyone will speak English away from the tourist zones.

Expats fall in love with Indonesia for the culture, food, weather, and wildlife. All of which is among the most incredible in the world. 

Imagine spending your weekends visiting the Komodo Islands to see the native dragons in their natural habitat. Or hiking through the jungles of the Gunung Leuser National Park, and you’ll see why.

Reasons for moving to Indonesia

You need to know if you’re thinking about moving to Indonesia because it comprises many islands – some tiny and uninhabited, some popular global tourist hotspots.

There are over 13,000 islands, with people living on only around 2,000. So it’s well worth visiting and getting a feel for the place before fixing your sights on one destination. 

The variety of options is one of the big draws – you’ll find volcanoes, jungles, and safari and forest plantations galore. Some of the local wildlife is the most endangered in the world, including:

  • Sumatran tigers
  • Rhinos
  • Orangutans

There are many benefits to living in Indonesia when it comes to everyday life when the allure of the vibrant landscapes begins to become a regular feature.

Hiring home help is affordable and common

Many expats in Indonesia find that hiring people to help with cleaning, cooking, gardening, and driving is customary. 

Home help is low cost, and expats working in professional positions can often live a far more luxurious lifestyle than they would have been able to afford in the UK.

There are minimum wages and holiday allowances to think about. Hiring people to help with childcare, for example, isn’t exploitation of a low-income populace.  

It is a typical work sector valuable to locals who typically look for jobs, such as cleaning or cooking, as a starting position as they work through their education or vocational training courses.

Offer to sponsor a course, and you’ll have no shortage of outstanding staff that will do everything possible to help you and your family settle in. 

The culture is incredibly varied

Indonesia is a proper mixture of ethnicities, with dozens of cultures making up the local customs. For example, Java and Bali offer ancient Hindu templates, and you’ll find no end of experiences, such as:

  • Visiting the South Sulawesi highlands to visit Tana Toraja.
  • Learning batik fabric crafts and clothes making.
  • Travelling to the Kalimantan Dayaks with an extraordinary spiritual heritage.

Indonesia offers culture in spades if you’re looking for a varied, exciting life full of colours and texture.

Indonesian Cuisine

Most produce in Indonesia is generated locally, and imports can be relatively expensive. However, you’ll find tonnes of unusual fruit and beautiful farmers markets stacked with fresh, tropical mangoes and rambutan.

Indonesian farmers also grow starfruit, coconut, jackfruit and fresh fruit juices, often sold on roadside stalls with water and liquid sugar for a sweet treat.

Visas and Residency for UK Expats in Indonesia

So, if you’re with us so far, the next question is about the viability of relocating to Indonesia for a longer-term stay.

Holidaymakers can travel to Indonesia for up to 30 days without a permit and apply for an Indonesian Tourist Visa for longer trips up to 60 days. 

There are, however, rules about the activities you can undertake as a tourist, so you can’t use this visa type to attend a job interview, for example.

A tourist visa will cost $35 USD (paid in rupiah), and you can apply before you travel or on arrival at the visa desk at the airport. Indonesia now operates an e-Visa system, so applying in advance is far more convenient.

You can also apply for more extended stay visas, depending on the reason for your move.

For Indonesian citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, look at the Tier 1 Investor Visa to solve some problems.

Indonesian work permits

To work in Indonesia, you need to have an employer who has made an offer and acts as your sponsor. 

The application process is called KITAS (Kartu Izin Tinggal Terbatas) and offers residency permits valid for between six months and one year.

There are several steps, and it can take a few months to be granted a visa. You will also need to visit the Indonesian Embassy in London to provide documents.

  • The employer needs to apply to the government for an Expatriate Placement Plan, with approval required from the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower.
  • Your employer then applies for your work permit on your behalf, called an IMTA (Izin Mempekerjakan Tenaga Kerja Asing).
  • Next, they’ll need to obtain a Temporary Stay Work Visa through the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board, which issues letters of recommendation to the Indonesian Immigration Department.
  • Finally, you need to apply to your local embassy or consulate and require copies of the various forms and approvals for your work visa.

You’ll also need to follow several steps once you have arrived in Indonesia.

They include getting a report from the local police service, registering with the local municipal office, and obtaining a Foreign Workers Work Permit from the Ministry of Manpower in person.

Residence Visas for Indonesia

Indonesia has two types of residency permits:

  • Temporary Residency Permits are valid for two years and can be renewed up to three times.
  • Permanent Residency Permits do not expire, and you’ll need to have been a temporary resident for at least five years to apply.

To become a permanent resident of Indonesia, you will require a local company to sponsor you and request a recommendation from the Directorate General of Immigration.

They will then go through several steps, as required for a work permit or convert your temporary license into a permanent one.

Local employers or sponsors manage most of the visa application process.

While many forms and approvals are required, most expats find that their Indonesian sponsor is familiar with the systems and will help navigate this.

Best places for British Expats in Indonesia

Expats in Indonesia tend to opt for popular spots in Jakarta or Bali. These westernised cities are the best places for employment but are somewhat touristy, so they might not be for everyone.

Rural areas tend to be more laid back, with different cultures in different regions, given Indonesia’s hundreds of local dialects and ethnicities.

Kemang

Kemang in South Jakarta is one of the top expat destinations, with several international schools and premium residential housing. The Golden Triangle is an area full of shopping malls, offices and restaurants, and is a walk from Kemang Village.

Menteng

In Central Jakarta, Menteng is also popular with professional expats, although housing here can be expensive, with average costs from about 470 million rupiahs per year (£23,500, or around £1,950 a month).

Cikarang

Cikarang in Bekasi is an area that has grown in the last few years, with modern apartment developments and over 2,500 multinational employers.

The green city is well developed, with great amenities and affordable housing options starting from approximately 90 million rupiahs a year (£4,500).

Sanur

Sanur in South Denpasar is an excellent spot on Bali and a peaceful place with international schools and stunning beaches.

Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is perfect for young expats and professionals looking for low-cost housing and dining, with many students in the area.

Remember that some of the best parts of Indonesia are those a little off the beaten track. 

There are many more options outside of these destinations if you’re not concerned with being within commuting distance of one of the larger organisations in the country.

Cost of Living in Indonesia

Provided you don’t buy imported groceries, living in Indonesia is very affordable.

You’ll also find that income tax rates are advantageous, with most expats needing to pay between five per cent to thirty per cent, depending on their salary.

Generally, you can rent a simple house for as little as 50 million rupiahs a year (£2,510) or an apartment for about 36 million per annum (£1,800).

In the cities, there is reliable internet, and along with a cable TV package, you’re looking at about 430,000 rupiahs a month (£21.50). 

Healthcare is also cheap, although you’re well advised to take out private insurance if you need any treatments. Dentists charge around six million rupiahs for in-depth treatments, including replacing teeth – which is around £300.

The below table shows some of the average everyday costs, compared to the UK average:

ExpenseAverage Indonesian Cost RupiahAverage Indonesian Cost GBPAverage UK Cost GBP
Cup of coffee27,368£1.37£2.75
Bottle of water3,978£0.20£0.97
Meal out for two200,000£10£50
Litre of fuel8,374£0.44£1.26
Public transport pass per month200,000£10£65
Nursery fees per month1.486 million£75£940
International school fees per year92.3 million£4,630£13,280
Utility costs per month1.02 million£51£156
Gym membership per month417,000£21£31
Rent for a one-bed city centre apartment3.97 million£199£745
Rent for a three-bed non-central house5.84 million£293£963

Overall, Indonesia living costs are:

  • 55% cheaper for rented accommodation.
  • 33% lower cost for groceries.
  • 49% more affordable for general consumer prices.

However, the average take-home pay after tax is also substantially lower, coming in at an average of 4.37 million rupiahs (£219) a month, compared to £1,946 in the UK.

Interested in other countries in the same region, read our article about the top 10 Asia Pacific expat destinations.

Driving in Indonesia

There are no two ways about it; driving in Indonesia can be chaotic. 

You need to be careful since if you have a minor accident or mistakenly breach traffic violations, the fines are steep and often exploit travellers.

You can only get an Indonesian driver’s license if you have a KITAS visa and need to get an international driver’s licence to hire a vehicle on a short-term stay.

Indonesian culture and laws

Indonesia is friendly and safe. You won’t find much in the way of crime aside from petty theft, usually targeted at tourists. However, the culture is very different, and it pays to be aware of the local customs and laws before relocating.

Firstly, it’s wise to always be calm in any interaction.

Indonesian social norms frown on public disagreements or anger, so it’s essential to be patient and kind no matter how stressful the situation.

People in Indonesia also have great respect for their elders, so you should always greet the oldest first if you meet people together. The normal ‘hello’ is Selamat, which means peace.

Most people will shake hands but also bow their head or nod, again a sign of respect. While the cities in Indonesia are very western, the traditions still apply, so you shouldn’t shake hands with any women unless they offer a hand first.

If you’re moving to Indonesia to work, many business ethics and corporate cultures also feel very different to the UK. 

For example, fast decisions are a normal part of British trade. But they are considered rash and thoughtless in Indonesia, where it is better to wait before responding.

Other things to be aware of include:

  • Religious festivals, such as the holy Ramadan month. You will need to wear appropriate clothes to visit any temples or sacred sites.
  • Illegal drugs are strictly forbidden, and the authorities have a zero-tolerance approach. Being arrested with drugs can result in stiff jail sentences.
  • Police raids are common in tourist areas, so don’t take it personally if this happens. Police can ask for blood tests or urine samples to stamp out the possibility of drug use.
  • Indonesians have great respect for their natural wildlife, and you cannot buy, sell, or capture any wild animal without an official license. In addition, the country is part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which means heavy fines and prison sentences for anybody buying an animal – even if they weren’t aware it is highly illegal.
  • Immigration officers can require sight of your passport or permit at any time, so you should carry these in your wallet at all times.
  • Gambling is illegal, and the only gambling you will see is organised by gangs and should be avoided.

Religion is a big part of Indonesian life, and while there are multiple faiths in the country, one custom to be aware of is the Balinese New year, called Nyepi.

People in Bali observe a day of silence on this date. That means staying home, making no noise, and turning off all of your lights. Hospitals and emergency services operate, but the airport is closed for the whole day.

Living in Indonesia FAQ

Here we list several commonly asked questions about living in Indonesia:

What language do I need to learn to move to Indonesia?

There are 240 million people across many cultures and ethnicities in Indonesia and countless dialects you might hear. However, the official language is Bahasa Indonesian – usually called Indonesian by westerners.
 
English is widely spoken and used in education and business. But, in rural spots, people aren’t as likely to speak English, plus it’s much more respectful to have learned some of the local language.
 
If you move to Indonesia and make an effort, you will find people very warm and welcoming and happy to help you finesse your Indonesian.

Is Indonesia a safe place for expats?

There are a few potential risks to watch out for in Indonesia, as in any country. Problems can include:
 
– Natural disasters and weather patterns.
– Transport accidents in busy cities and undeveloped rural roads.
– Dangers of intoxication and stringent laws around drug-taking.
 
By and large, though, Indonesia is a very safe place to live. 
 
Of course, there are the usual pickpockets in tourist areas, particularly on beaches where lax travellers often discard valuables and jewellery while soaking up the sun.
 
That said, Indonesians are fiercely proud of their country and will often tackle pickpockets themselves if any crimes are spotted.

Are education standards good in Indonesia?

With expats worldwide living in Indonesia, you’ll find a wide range of schools if you think of relocating with children. Most expat parents choose an international school. 
 
While these are the most expensive, they also offer tuition in line with UK standards, often with British national teachers.
 
The options include:
 
Free public schools for all children from age six or seven, for nine years. School weeks are similar to the UK, from Monday to Friday and usually, 7.30 am to 3 pm. Lessons are taught in Bahasa Indonesian and sometimes other indigenous languages in different regions.
 
Private schools usually offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum. In addition, most private schools cater to Indonesian and international students and are more affordable than international schools.
 
International schools deliver foreign curriculums and can be reasonably expensive by Indonesian standards. Expats usually need to make a one-off donation, plus term fees that increase with the child’s age. 
 
One of the quirks of the Indonesian international school system is that using the word ‘international’ is forbidden in the establishment’s name. 
 
The government introduced this rule to ensure low-quality schools cannot charge exorbitant fees by publicising themselves as an international facility.
 
Instead, international schools tend to be called Satuan Pendidikan Kerjasama (SPK) and must teach Indonesian civic subjects, religions and language. 
 
They must also permit local children to attend and offer native speakers. All schools, including international schools, require participation in national exams.

Can expats find work in Indonesia?

Getting a work visa in Indonesia can be a long and heavily bureaucratic process. 
 
However, you can usually extend your permit and convert it into permanent residency after five years if you have a sponsor.
 
There are rules around expat employment, so companies need to determine how many foreign national workers they employ.
 
Indonesian law protects some professions, so foreigners cannot apply for roles in:
 
– Legal work.
– Human resources roles.
– Supply chain management jobs.
– Quality control positions.
– Health safety and environmental posts.
 
Most expats in Indonesia find work in specialist roles in oil and gas, mining, textiles, agriculture and chemical industries.
There are also many posts with an English language requirement, such as in export industries and teaching.

How expensive is living in Indonesia?

Living costs in Indonesia are cheap. The lowest prices in the country are found in Solo, a city popular with students and international travellers. 
 
Yearly rental prices are around two to three million rupiahs (£100 to £150), and the Solo Trans transport system costs about 3,000 to 15,000 – £0.15 to £0.75.
 
Jakarta is the most expensive city in Indonesia, and a meal out costs around 15,000 rupiahs (£0.75) per person, which is considered pricey for local produce.
 
Imported goods are much more expensive than Indonesian products since the archipelago’s nature means that sea and air shipping adds a chunk to consumer prices, so it’s best to avoid foreign items if you can find a local equivalent.
 
It’s also essential to be conscious of inflation. Changes in value mean that living in Indonesia is now much more costly than as recently as five or ten years ago, but it is still cheap by UK standards.

Further city and country guides such as Canadaexpats in Spain and expats living in Dubai.

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