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Finding work in a new country

It is not easy for foreigners to legally work in Indonesia.

The Indonesian government has guidelines on what foreign expertise is permitted and how many expatriates can be hired, and all firms, including multinationals, must adhere to these strict guidelines.   

Company sponsorship is essential: you cannot get a work permit for Indonesia as a foreigner without it.

Certain types of organisations are prohibited from hiring foreigners, and foreigners in certain professions in certain sectors will not receive permits to work in Indonesia under Indonesian law. Legal affairs, human resources, supply chain management (including procurement and logistics), quality control and inspection, and health, safety and environmental affairs are all protected professions in oil and gas companies operating in Indonesia, for instance, and it is forbidden to hire expatriates for these posts.        

Foreigners require a special visa to be employed in Indonesia, and their employing company must have a work permit to employ them.  These permits can take weeks or even months to process so allow plenty of time to arrange these.  You are not allowed to work in Indonesia on a tourist or business visa — a business visa allows for a short-term work assignment or a training assignment, not for employment within Indonesia.  Foreigners are allowed to own their own businesses in Indonesia but, depending on the sector, you may need an Indonesian business partner and/or evidence of considerable start-up capital.

The rules and procedures governing working in Indonesia as an expatriate are complex, so be sure to take appropriate legal advice.  If your employer does not do this for you, a service company or agent can deal with the paperwork for you. This may be expensive, but is worth it, especially given the difference in language.  Be sure to take a recommendation for such a service if at all possible.

Ensure that passports for all members of the family are up-to-date and valid for your entire stay plus an additional six months — however, remember that your spouse is not automatically entitled to work in Indonesia even if you are permitted.  Be sure that the title, address, and other details given on your visa match the information on official documentation.   Such details are important parts of complying with the conditions of your permit and should not be overlooked.  You will also need a personal tax number.

Breach of immigration rules may result in a fine, deportation or even jail.  High unemployment of Indonesian nationals means that rules on employment of expatriates are strictly enforced.  It’s not worth taking any risks with employment regulations in Indonesia.  Here is a helpful guide to Indonesian employment permits. 

There are some obvious paths to finding employment in Indonesia, such as starting work for a multinational employer in your home country and then seeking an intra-company transfer to Indonesia.  This path has the benefit of possibly securing you a (potentially negotiable) relocation package with some corporate assistance, as well as the often-helpful structure of a large organisation, in case of any difficulties.

There are international job forums that include Indonesia, as well as international executive search agencies.  Looking for work online and posting your CV online may bear fruit for some of the larger or more international organisations in Indonesia. However, networking within the country itself may be critical as information can be difficult to find — you can visit potential employers and deliver your CV in person, join professional associations, invite key contacts to lunch, and undertake some voluntary work.

Industries that are most likely to employ foreigners include industries that require specialised technical knowledge, such as oil and gas, mining, chemical industries, textiles, rubber, forestry, and agriculture.  There are opportunities in the automotive, electronics, and biomedical areas as well.  Jobs that require excellent spoken English are another path, for instance jobs in the export sector.

Tourism and teaching English are also very important industries that offer opportunities for younger people without hard technical skills.  Working in the tourist industry in Bali, for instance, may seem an attractive prospect, but do remember you will need sponsorship from a company before arriving, and working while on a social visa is strictly forbidden.   If you have visited Bali as a tourist and had a job offer from a friendly hospitality company, be sure that the company is willing to sponsor you for your working visa before you make any concrete plans.  Otherwise you are putting yourself at risk of deportation or jail.  For instance, see this news article about the sweeps in 2014 resulting in 121 foreigners being deported after working illegally.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Indonesia requires a relevant qualification or certificate, but there is high demand for teachers with English as their first language.  Work permits are only issued to EFL teachers from the UK, U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; this is enshrined in Indonesian law.  The TEFL certification organisation is likely to have links to job-hunting organisations that can help you.

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