Things you need to know before moving to Jakarta as an expat

Jakarta is for sure one thing: A very special cosmos to live in. This sprawling, chaotic, never sleeping city offers many obstacles and difficulties to deal with – but you can also find your perfect tropical, cozy home here. Living in Jakarta can become a wonderful experience with many cultural impressions and new friends and acquaintances from all over the world for you and your family.
As relocation specialists, we have helped hundreds of families to relocate and find their home far away from home in Jakarta over the last 18 years. Being in touch with many expats from many different countries on a regular basis, we hear the personal stories and experiences with Jakarta from many different expat perspectives. One thing is for sure: It makes sense to be prepared and to get an idea about expat life before moving to Jakarta. To help you make a decision on solid ground, we have put together a few must know things about life in Indonesia’s capital.

1. Go with the flow: Find ways to handle the horrendous traffic

Well, you might have heard about this before: Traffic in Jakarta can be a nightmare, especially, but not only, during rush hours. It can happen that a car ride takes you to your destination within five minutes – or within an hour. Private transportation and commuting to work or to school can be extremely time consuming. To limit the time you and your beloved ones spend in a car or in a school bus you need to make basic decisions wisely.

Find the right location for your home when moving to Jakarta

Make sure that your house or your apartment is located in a neighborhood that is either close to the locations you and your family need to reach on a daily basis or that it is well connected via a toll road. Spending time in a car that just doesn’t move can be annoying and stressful, also just because of the fact that you could spend this time on other, more relevant things. Find out more about preferred expat living quarters in good traffic locations here.

Alternatives to riding a car

There are not many alternatives to taking a car in Jakarta as substantial public transportation doesn’t exist. The only exception is the newly opened MRT line that runs from North Jakarta to the south and cuts the commute between residential areas like Cilandak and the Central Business District to just a few minutes.
A good way to sneak through the traffic is taking a motorbike. Many expats use this alternative for short distance drives – and the good thing is: If you don’t want to ride a motorbike by yourself you can always opt for the services of Gojek.
During the pandemic, many Jakartans have found their love for riding a bicycle and you see more and more people flocking the streets with their bikes. Still: Cycling the busy main roads may not be for everyone. But if you are living in a rather laid-back area like Kemang Dalam a bike might be a good option for running your daily errands.

2. Private households as employers

As an expat living in Jakarta, you are also seen as an employer for local staff. This is very, very different to life in most western countries: In Indonesia it is very common that a private household employs a maid or household helper, a driver, a nanny, a gardener and maybe even security personnel and a cook. For many expats moving to Jakarta this is a dream come true as you can – if you want – source out most of the household work. This is for sure a privilege, but it can be seen also as an obligation as expats are more or less expected to hire at least a maid and a driver. Many nannies, maids and drivers who have been working for expats over a longer period speak English very well. As a newcomer, your local staff will also help you to get acquainted with Indonesia and to connect with the culture. There are several Facebook groups where you will find potential candidates. An alternative is Kasicare, an ethical recruitment platform for household staff.

3. Be aware about living costs when moving to Jakarta

Different from many other countries in SouthEast Asia and the western world, rental prices are still rather low in Jakarta (get an idea about housing costs here). For many expats, this means that they can make their dream of having a spacious house with a big backyard come true. Usually, the big cost buckets like schooling and health insurance are covered by the company. But there are also some smaller cost factors that add up at the end. So better you are aware of them before negotiating your package ;-).

Household staff and driver

Even if it’s comparably cheap to hire household staff, don’t forget that it adds up. If you are planning to rent a house with a garden, you might need a gardener and maybe also security personnel. The bigger the house, the more household staff you will need, the higher the costs get. Due to the traffic situation most families hire a driver. Salaries for household staff and drivers vary a lot so it’s difficult to provide a specific number. For an experienced maid who speaks English a salary starts around 300 USD per month, drivers might be more expensive. Keep in mind that every employee is entitled for 13 salaries per year.

Housing and additional costs

You can get a good idea about costs for properties in Jakarta if you scroll through our property database. Keep in mind that the rent has to be paid upfront, at least for one year. Some property owners even expect upfront payments up to three years. The good news is: The fee for the realtor is paid by the owner so you don’t have to worry about that.

Living costs

Costs for food vary extremely in Jakarta and in whole Indonesia. If you shop local on one of the markets, prices for vegetables, rice and fruit will be rather low. But for things like cheese, juice, jam, cereals and even milk you might have to opt for imported goods that come with a higher price than you are used to in your home country. That especially applies if you are looking for a specialized diet or if you are vegan. Oh, and in case you are used to your after work beer or wine: Alcohol is also quite expensive in Jakarta. No wonder, as we are living in a muslim country… 

4. Being out and about is not so easy

We have described it already: Jakarta is a car city and it’s not so easy to move around the city without a car. The fact that there is no public transportation available makes it difficult to move around the city freely and discover it by yourself like you would do in any European city or in Asian metropoles like Singapore or Hong Kong. This doesn’t sound like a big thing but we hear from many expats that they feel kind of trapped in Jakarta or that they have to get used to the fact that you cannot just leave the house and wander around. Plus: This also applies to kids of course. Different from their home countries it’s usually not possible for them to meet their friends in public spaces or go out by themselves without a driver taking them there. For a teenager this can be really difficult.

4. You are living in a muslim country

Indonesia ranks among most religious countries of the world. With almost 90% of the population being muslim, Indonesia is the world’s biggest muslim country. Most Indonesian citizens are moderate muslims. However, religion is visible in daily life. Big and small mosques are everywhere around the city and you will hear the prayers several times during the day. Many Indonesian women and girls wear a hijab in public spaces and for men it’s a duty to attend the Friday prayers (probably also your driver, gardener or security guard). Islam becomes especially visible in public life during the fasting month Ramadan, when it’s only allowed to eat after and before sunset. Lebaren, which is celebrated after the fasting time, is the biggest holiday and basically the whole city stands still for at least one week.

6. Respect the etiquette

Yes, Indonesia is a tropical country. Yes, it’s always hot, even at night or when it’s raining. However, Indonesia is also a rather conservative country, especially with clothing. If the only place you have visited in Indonesia so far is Bali you might be surprised: You don’t really see Indonesian people in shorts and sleeveless shirts on the streets, especially women usually wear long sleeved shirts and pants or wide dresses. You don’t need to worry too much about this in daily life. However, if you have an appointment at a government office or if you are going to places with mainly local people, better make sure you are dressed appropriately. That means: No short pants, no sleeveless shirts and no sandals. Usually, in Indonesia anything is possible and you will usually find a way to work around rules and regulations, but attending an appointment in the immigration office with the wrong dresscode is a no go.

There are of course many more things you have to take into account before moving to Jakarta, but the above mentioned are those you probably won’t think about in the first place.
If you have further questions about living in Jakarta as an expat or if you need a consultation regarding housing, schooling or visa regulations, please do get in touch with us.

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