Jakarta, Indonesia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/31/11

Personal Experiences from Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia 07/31/11

Background:

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

No, this was my fifth expat experience, all in Asia.

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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?

Washington, DC. It is approximaely 36-40 hours. There are several ways to go, though I've gone DC-Tokyo-Jakarta, Jakarta-Singapore-Tokyo-DC, Jakarta-Hong Kong-London-DC, andDC-Atlanta-Seoul-Singapore-Jakarta.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2006-2009

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

U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

It is a combination of apartments, houses, and townhouses. It is mostly apartments in central Jakarta, which had commutes of 15-30 minutes the embassy. Since the schools are in South Jakarta, people with children usually live in houses and townhouses in that area to minimize the time their kids spend in the horrible traffic. As a result, the parent(s) have 45-75 minute commutes to the embassy. All these commutes can be longer during the rainy season.

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

If you are especially fond of a particular brand of something, you might want to pack a few of those. However, you can find just about anything in the stores, though for a long time, we had trouble finding vanilla for cooking. They products may not be of a familiar brand, but often they were. Local chains such as Hero carry a mixture of western-style and Asian foods. When we arrived in 2006, imported food stores such as Food Hall and Ranch Market carried an impressive array of US, British, and Australian and other non-Indonesian brands. Then, starting in late 2008/early 2009, the imported products began disappearing from the shelves. The public explanation was about insufficient Indonesian-language labeling on the products, though there was some speculation in the media that some sort of unrelated dispute was behind the disappearance. If I recall correctly, the situation began to improve during the summer of 2009. If I were packing for Jakarta today and had space in my shipment, I'd bring afew things that I did not find good versions locally of(such as foil, paper towels, and storage bags) or that I think I'd have trouble finding, or trouble finding at reasonable prices (some spices, items for Mexican food).That said, the Commissary carried some of these items, and we could order things over the internet.

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

Not much-only a few household items that I had trouble finding locally as well as a few comfort foods.

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

As for fast food, McDonalds, KFC, A&W, Burger King, Krispy Kreme, and others are around. We did not go very often, but I think a meal and a drink ran about $3. There are also such chains as Chili's, Outback Steakouse, and so forth. While there are only a handful of Tex-Mex places, you can find just about any cuisine in Jakarta at very reasonable prices. And, of course, there are also many good Indonesian restaurants

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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

The Medical Unit frequently reminded people to make sure not to have pools of standing water around because they can be breeding grounds for dengue-carrying mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

By DPO.It would take 5-10 for items to/from the US, depending on the destination/origin.

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

Inexpensive. People had full-time maid/cooks for $150-$200/month plus annual bonus. Nannies typically received a little more than maids. Many people shared maids if they did not need someone full-time. The CLO annually surveyed the embassy community and published a report on household help salaries. When people left post, they usually tried to place their household help in the homes of incoming staff, so it was rather easy to find help. Also, the embassy held seminars on safe food handling for people's household staff a couple of times a year.

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

Most apartment buildings have gyms. There are also several chains (Golds, and I think, Fitness First) in Jakarta. The American Club has a gym, tennis courts, and a pool, which people in South Jakarta tend to enjoy. For runners, there is the Jakarta Free Spirit group and several Hash House Harriers kennels.

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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?

The RSO warned us to be very careful when using credit cards and ATMs because of theft/fraud problems. So, we generally used cash. We did use credit cards at major hotels and a few other places, but that was the exception. Some embassy friends had problems with people getting their hands on their credit card numbers and ATM card numbers despite being very careful.

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

Various denominations advertised English-language church services in the local English newspapers.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

The Jakarta Post and the Jakarta Globe. Personally, I liked the Globe better than the Post because it seemed to have a more neutral viewpoint, better features, and more international news. Others thought the Post had better coverage of Indonesian politics. There is also English-language cable televisions with CNN, BBC, Fox, Discovery Channel, Hallmark Channel, etc. I don't remember exactly how much it was. Bundled with our internet service, I think it was about $60-$80/month.

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

I was surprised at how much English was around in places like restaurants and the fancier malls. However, it is not spoken everywhere by everyone. So,for taking taxis, traveling, asking directions, and getting to know people better, I'd recommend making an effort to learn at least some Indonesian.

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

It would be hard to get around unless you rely entirely on a car. (If in a wheelchair, you'd probably have to bring your own lift-equipped van.) Many streets do not have sidewalks, and where there are sidewalks, they may be very narrow, uneven with missing pavement/bricks, and gaping holes. Curbs can be very high. Most new malls have elevators and escalators, though.

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Transportation:

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

We relied on taxis. Firms such as Blue Bird, Silver Bird, and Express tended to be safe, though occasionally we had some harrowing, roundabout or otherwise unpleasant rides. They are very affordable. When we went to visit friends in South Jakarta, we'd be in the car for 30-40 minutes and only pay the equivalent of $6-8.I did not take any buses. I took trains to some other cities on Java. They were affordable, but I'm not sure how safe they were.

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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 did not have a car. Things like one-way streets and other traffic regulations were often seen more as suggestions than rules, and like grains of sand filling up crevices, motorcycles will take up every inch of space between cars. Instead, we relied on the very affordable taxi firms such as Blue Bird, Silver Bird, and Express. (FYI, the CLO in Jakarta had a brochure with Indonesianphrases useful for taking taxies.)However, many other people did bring or buy cars and hire drivers. SUVs such as the Toyota Kijang were very popular, possibly because of regular rainy season flooding.

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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?

Yes, but I don't remember how much.

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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 various inexpensive pay-as-you-go options. Get a phone, pop in a SIM card with a local carrier, buy a scratch-off card, and you're set.

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Pets:

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?

Up to 14 days, though most people got their pets after a shorter period of quarantine.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Vets make housecalls, which was great. When we traveled, our maid or neighbors cared for our cats.

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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?

I don't know about expats in general. As for people affiliated with the embassy, I think it is limited to teaching or working for international organizations. That is because despite efforts by the US, Indonesia is not interested in a bilateral work agreement or bilateral work arrangement with the US. There are

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

Work tended to be more formal, though adjusted for the warm weather. A lot of people wear batik on Fridays.

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Health & Safety:

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

People were friendly to Americans, even if they did not agree with our policies. It could have been easy to get lulled into thinking there was no terrorist threat, when in general, RSO advises you to be alert and pay attention to your surroundings. (I don't want to scare anyone. That doesn't mean you can't be alert while also having a good time while out and about.)We almost got through our tour without any terrorist issues, but then the Marriott bombing happened shortly before we left in 2009. That rattled people. As for crime, the buses, which we were advised not to take, are supposedly filled with pickpockets. I suspect there is some petty theft and other crimes of opportunity. However, I think we in the embassy community were largely insulated from that. We briefly shared a maid with some other people, and she stole items from all of us. We knew people whose home was broken into. Overall, though, the embassy community did not seem to be that affected by crime. We were more concerned with poor building codes. There were a few stores and malls that we avoided because we were concerned about the lack of exits in case of an emergency.

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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?

Jakarta is very polluted. Not only is the air filled with traffic exhaust, people and factories are burning all sorts of stuff. I remember getting a slew of shots before heading to Jakarta. However, amidst the theoretical potential for bird flu, encephalitis, and other diseases, dengue fever is what people tend to be most concerned about. A few people at the embassy got it while we were there. More common are cases of respiratory or gastrointestinal illnesses. Fortunately, the embassy has a good medical unit, and basic tests can be done locally. More complicated medical issues require medevac-ing to Singapore.

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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?

The air quality in Jakarta is very unhealthy. I think people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses are advised not come here. I knew of many people at the embassy when we were there who repeatedly came down with(usually minor) respiratory illnesses of some sort.

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

Hot and dry or hot and wet. The rainy season at the beginning of the year can bring downpours, which the canals, polluted with trash, cannot always handle, leading to flooding. (During one rainy season, reportedly 20% of the city was under some amount of standing water.) I remember that when we were there, the "antique street" near where we lived had kids swimming in a few feet of water while our street was ok. I also heard stories of afternooncommutes that normally took an 45-minutes to an hour taking 5-6 hours, though those were extreme cases.

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Schools & Children:

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

We did not have children in school, but people seemed very pleased with the Jakarta International school. It's a very nice campus, and there seemed to be a broad range of courses and extra-curricular courses offered. A few families had their children in the British or Australian schools, too.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I'm not sure. If someone has a special needs child, I'd suggest inquiring ahead of time not only with JIS, but also with the British International School and the Australian International School, too.

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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?

People had nannies for very reasonable prices. Some are willing to live in, if you have the room. There are few preschools, but I don't have first-hand knowledge of them.

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

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Expat Life:

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

Large. Many US oil companies have staff in Indonesia. There are also other Western and Asian expat communities.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varied. Some people loved it; others were less enamored of it. Either way, I think people acknowledged it wasn't bad for a hardship post.

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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?

There are a variety of ways to socialize: restaurants, day trips, home parties, events at the American Club, overnight trips, CLO events, etc.

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

I think families enjoyed it because of the good schools, affordable household help, good travel opportunities, and the many things to do in Jakarta. As a couple, we liked the many travel opportunities, learning about Indonesia's diverse cultures, the affordable restaurants and movies, etc. I think singles enjoy it for the aforementioned reasons,although dating wise, single men seemed to enjoy it more than single women. I saw a lot of single American men dating (and sometimes marrying) Indonesian women. The single women I knew weren't as happy in that respect.

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

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

This is a hard one to answer. On a day-to-day basis, there seemed to be a "live and let live" attitude, and people seemed to get along. However, for years, radical groups (asmall minority of Indonesians) such as the Islamic Defenders front has bullied and physically attacked non-Muslims as well as other Muslims they deemed insufficiently pious or not true Muslims. The ethnically ChineseIndonesians are seemed to be envied and sometimes intensely disliked. Various inter-ethnic tensions made some parts of Indonesia effectively off-limits to us. Since 2000, there have been attacks on Christian churches, and there have been recent reports of neighborhood protests when groups try to establish churches. Foreigners ("bule") are themselves the object of various misconceptions, some good, some annoying, but mostly innocuous. When we were there, there were some op-ed articles demonizing Israel and Jews in general. (Reporting on the Middle East tended to very one-sided.)The few Indonesian Jews I knew seemed to keep a very low profile. The Hindu Balinese and other non- Muslim groups have also considered such things as the so-called "anti-pornography bill" as assaults on their culture. Yet.... people seemed to get along, so again, I find this a hard question to answer.

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

Seeing orangutans in the wild in Kalimantan, learning to scuba dive and then diving in such wonderful places as Tulamben, Bunaken, and elsewhere.

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

There are many inexpensive movie theaters, though the two chains tend to have similar offerings. The Indonesian Heritage Society offers a variety of activities, including lectures, trips, and day tours. There are many inexpensive restaurants. Jakarta is great for shopping. The mountain resort of Puncak is a great place to escape the heat of Jakarta. It is a 90-minute drive away, but it can take several hours because of traffic if you go at the wrong time of day. Cirebon and Bandung are short train rides away for weekend getaways, while Bali, Yogyakarta and elsewhere are short flights away.

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

Solid teak or mahogany furniture, batik, jewelry, home furnishings, and more. You'll hear about good places through the grapevine. CLO also has some shop brochures.

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

Indonesia is a beautiful country, and if you are willing to be adventurous, there is so much tosee. There are many different interesting, cultures, fabulous wildlife, great scuba diving, and wonderful crafts. Jakarta is also a great launching point for traveling to other parts of Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, because I had some amazing experiences that I would not have had otherwise and met some great people.

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

winter coats.

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3. But don't forget your:

swim wear, scuba equipment, sense of adventure, patience, and ability to roll with the punches.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Jakarrta inside Out provides an A-Z exploration of interesting aspects of life in Jakarta. While a magazine, not a book, Time Out Jakarta is good for finding out what's going on in town. For Indonesia in general, there is A History of Modern Indoensia, Kerry Collisson's series of novels that take place in Indonesia, and Richard Lloyd Parry's In the Time of Madness on Indonesia in the late 1990s. Also, the CLO had a list of websites on Indonesia.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Year of Living Dangerously is the only movie I know of that features Jakarta (in the 1960s). I don't think it is available in Indonesia, so you'd have to watch it before arrival. Eat, Pray, Love provides a glimpse of Bali. I'd also suggest checking out the Globe Trekker series and seeing what clips the Travel Channel has about Indonesia. I think they have a couple episodes on Indonesia.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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