Your guide to expat life in Indonesia

Living in Indonesia

Expat life in Indonesia can be anything from laid-back luxury, surrounded by idyllic beaches and lush rainforests, to a frenetic pace in the country’s capital.

Expats living in Jakarta enjoy a highly developed infrastructure and amenities of an international standard. But overpopulation is an increasingly large problem, and the associated issues of pollution, overcrowding and traffic congestion can affect the quality of life. Thankfully, this is more than made up for by the low cost of living, great housing options and delectable local cuisine.

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You shouldn’t have trouble finding accommodation in Indonesia, especially if you go through a letting agency that’s used to dealing with expats. In urban areas such as Jakarta, people usually rent apartments, while houses are more common on the smaller islands and in rural areas.

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Most rental accommodation in Indonesia is furnished. Some expats pay more to live in serviced apartments where cleaning and laundry services are included in the rent.

Renting property

Unless you rent a serviced apartment, you’ll probably have to sign a lease for at least two years. Rent for the entire contractual period is usually paid in advance, but you might be able to negotiate paying annually. Although utilities aren’t usually included in your rent, water and electricity are cheap.


Security can be an issue in Indonesia and most apartment buildings employ guards and have surveillance cameras.

Culture changes

Indonesia is a diverse country with hundreds of indigenous ethnic and linguistic groups. The biggest cultural change for expats is the predominance of Islam, which influences much of everyday life.

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Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims. It’s not as conservative as the Middle East, but you should still dress modestly and respect Islamic practices.


Meals in Indonesia are a social activity. Depending on where you live, you may be expected to eat with the fingers of your right hand while sitting on a bamboo mat, called a ‘lesehan’.


Locals will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation or show signs of aggression. This is because Indonesian culture encourages people from all walks of life to be tolerant of one another and to live in harmony.


Belching isn’t considered rude, so don’t be surprised when locals do it openly. Some Indonesians, especially those from rural areas, might also sneeze and cough without covering their nose or mouth.


There isn’t much consideration for privacy in Indonesia, so be prepared for intrusive questions when you meet someone new. There’s also little regard for personal space, which some expats find difficult, especially on public transport.


Education is taken very seriously in Indonesia and the country has a literacy rate of around 95%. Expat children can enrol in public schools, but the majority go to international schools.

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Public schools

Indonesia’s public schools are state funded and follow a fairly rigid curriculum focused on ‘pancasila’, a core set of national values. Most classes are taught in Bahasa Indonesian. Schools in remote areas often lack resources.

National Plus Schools

Some national plus schools follow the Indonesian curriculum with most classes taught in English. You’ll also find some that follow another country’s curriculum or the International Baccalaureate. Many of these schools cater for Indonesians and expats make up only a small portion of the student population.

International schools

You’ll find a number of high-quality international schools in Indonesia, mostly in Jakarta. These schools are generally well equipped and most follow the American or British curriculum or the International Baccalaureate. School fees are very high, even by global standards – so it’s worth asking your employer to include an education allowance in your relocation package.

Use a range of social media to get in touch with people.

Robin Pascoe, Expat Explorer guest blogger

View more hints and tips for Indonesia

Keeping in touch


Landlines are supplied by Telkom Indonesia. To apply for one, you’ll need a copy of your passport, proof of address and a work permit or visa.


Indonesia is one of the world’s largest smartphone markets and there are plenty of contract and prepaid packages to choose from.


You shouldn’t have any trouble setting up an internet connection in your home, especially in Jakarta, which has many local providers with competitive rates for both ADSL and fibre. Although the national average internet speed is relatively slow, you should be able to get much better speeds in the major cities.

English media

There are a few English-language newspapers in Indonesia, the most popular of which are the Jakarta Post and Jakarta Globe. While most radio stations broadcast in Bahasa Indonesian, the Voice of Indonesia (VOI) provides snippets of news and entertainment in English throughout the day.


The quality of healthcare varies across Indonesia, but big cities such as Jakarta have world-class private hospitals and clinics. For specialist medical procedures, many expats return home or go to neighbouring countries such as Singapore.

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Public healthcare

While expats can use public hospitals, free healthcare is only available to Indonesians. Public healthcare facilities in rural areas often lack basic resources and medical staff.

Private healthcare

There’s a good selection of excellent private hospitals and clinics in Jakarta, but treatments are a lot more expensive, so make sure you have comprehensive medical insurance.


Pharmacies in Indonesia are called ‘apotik’. Many local pharmacists don’t speak English, so ask a local friend to write down what you need in Bahasa Indonesian.

Emergency services

Public emergency services are handled by local hospitals and can be unreliable. It’s important to check that your medical insurance includes services such as private ambulances and helicopter rescue.

Health hazards

As an archipelago made up of volcanic islands, Indonesia has a high rate of natural disasters, including earthquakes and typhoons. Malaria and dengue fever are endemic across the country, and poor sanitation in some areas means water-borne diseases are also a problem.

Getting around

While Indonesia has a comprehensive public transport system, many expats use taxis or a private driver to get around.

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Indonesian roads are chaotic, traffic jams are common and local drivers can be impatient and erratic. Unless you’ve driven in a Southeast Asian country before, it’s safer to hire an experienced private driver or get around using taxis.


Indonesia has an extensive bus network for both short and long journeys. Urban services are often affected by traffic congestion, especially in downtown areas.


Trains are a fast and safe way to travel between cities, but they only run in Java and Sumatra. Local lines connect some cities to their suburbs, but they’re usually overcrowded.


Numerous ferry services connect most of the islands, as well as taking passengers to neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. Ferries between Java, Sumatra and Bali run 24 hours a day.

Air travel

Travelling by air is often the quickest way to get around the islands, and there are many cheap domestic airlines to choose from. The country’s main airport is Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta and the national carrier is Garuda Indonesia.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2017. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.