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Understanding the cost of living

Indonesia is a lower-middle-income country.  

As such, the cost of living is generally lower than in the West. Major cities have a higher cost of living than rural areas.

Jakarta, the thriving capital, has a low overall cost of living compared to major Western cities, although of course much depends on your lifestyle choices. Living in Jakarta is on average about 60% cheaper than living in London or New York, 40% lower than living in Berlin, and 50% lower than living in Melbourne.  It’s also over 50% cheaper than living in its neighbour Singapore.  It has about the same overall cost of living as Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Manila in the Philippines. You can compare the cost of living in Jakarta to your current city here or online at Expatistan.

If you choose to live outside Jakarta, the cost of living is even lower.  Bandung (still on the island of Java with Jakarta), for instance, is about 25% cheaper than Jakarta, while Medan (North Sumatra) is about 10% cheaper. Denpasar (on Bali) is about 15% cheaper than Jakarta.

Eating out in Jakarta is cheap, with a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant costing less than $20. Alcohol is generally expensive in Indonesia. Wine is imported, so if you enjoy wine take advantage of duty free when you arrive. A mid-range bottle of wine will set you back about $25.   Be careful when drinking alcohol in Indonesia as there have been deaths from adulterated alcohol (see our Health risks in Indonesia section). Over three-quarters of adult men smoke, and cigarettes cost very little. 

Public transport is cheap (and crowded) with journeys costing only about $0.25 and monthly passes around $12.  Taxis are also inexpensive but the traffic in Jakarta is so bad that journeys generally take a long time.  Walking is an attractive alternative to being stuck in traffic, except in the rainy season.

Although the cost of living is generally lower in general, imported goods are expensive, and luxury goods are very expensive (more expensive than in the West).  Although Western clothing, cosmetics, and toiletries may be available in some department stores in Jakarta, you’ll pay premium prices. Certain staples expats are used to may not be readily available, even in large department stores.  If you’re partial to a particular brand you may need to bring your own.

Electricity in Jakarta is very expensive compared to the general cost of living.  The supply is somewhat unstable, even in this capital city, with many spikes, surges, brown outs, and outages that can damage your equipment, and you will need a surge protector or voltage stabiliser; you may even consider purchasing a generator. In rural areas, the electricity supply is even less reliable. You can make considerable savings on your electricity bill by ensuring that you use appliances efficiently and turn them off when not in use.  Electronics and appliances are not particularly expensive, but you may need to replace these more frequently than you expect due to issues with the electricity supply.

Books and magazines in English are available for higher than normal prices, but there is less choice. If you like physical books, bring a selection when you come.  Otherwise, load up your Kindle and update your online subscriptions before you leave, especially as broadband speeds are likely to be slower. If you have children, bring lots of books for them.

For parents, securing an international standard education for your children is likely to be your most expensive outlay after housing.  The international schools in Jakarta are relatively expensive, but pride themselves on being of higher quality than the local schools.  If at all possible, negotiate a relocation package that ensures that your employer pays for schooling (or part of schooling).  School fees for a selection of international schools for 2018/19 academic year (year 4 student for consistency) are approximately as follows:

Transportation fees for (chaperoned or unchaperoned) school buses will be additional, as will the cost of extra-curricular activities.  

Private health care is expensive but it is likely to be the only suitable option for expatriates, as noted in the Health section.  Private health care facilities are more likely to have staff that speak English and accept insurance coverage rather than asking for upfront cash payments.  The cost of suitable health insurance is, of course, less expensive than paying for medical evacuation out of pocket.

Costs and currency conversions correct as of November 2018. 

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