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Making Indonesia your home

Indonesia is a tropical country made of over 13,000 islands.  

Java, the main island of Indonesia, and home of the capital Jakarta, is the most populous island in the world.  It houses nearly 140m people, over half of Indonesia’s population, and is predominantly Muslim.

Jakarta is the most popular home for foreigners living in Indonesia.  It is the administrative, commercial, and economic capital of Indonesia. Since you must be sponsored by your employer to have the right to work in Indonesia, it is quite likely that your employer will be based in Jakarta and that you will need to live there.  Jobs in oil and gas, international education, telecommunications, and engineering are likely to be based there.

Living in the nation’s capital brings benefits. Higher quality medical and dental care is more readily available, as are international schools such as the Jakarta Intercultural School and the British International School.  You will have the bonus of a large and diverse expat community from all over the world.  However, you’ll have to contend with the poor air quality, noise, and shockingly bad traffic, which are well-known features of life in Jakarta.

Different neighbourhoods of Jakarta have different attractions and drawbacks.

Central Jakarta has the benefit of a short commute to work for most people, but is expensive as a result. The area known as the Golden Triangle is conveniently placed and offers a low-maintenance way to be close to the city with condominium-style living. Menteng is particularly attractive, with historically significant buildings and prices to match. Kuningan is favoured by those in the oil and gas industries, but may not be close to the school of your choice.

If you have children, it’s important to know that South Jakarta has the international schools but a longer commute to the business district.  Areas such as Kebayoran Baru, Pondok Indah, Permata Hijau, and Simprug are favoured by families and have more of a suburban feel. Lebak Bulus is good for families with teenagers due to the Cilandak Town Square; this mall offers shopping, a place to hang out, watch films, as well as go to shows and bazaars. Kemang is a unique unplanned neighbourhood with many good schools but suffers from traffic problems. Cipete and Cilandak are interesting areas with beautiful houses which are close to good schools; living in these areas is likely to mean a longer commute though.

In general, North Jakarta is not favoured by expats, partly because of the distance to the international schools but also because air and water quality is particularly poor here, and there is an additional risk of flooding. East Jakarta lacks suitable expat housing for the most part, but has other attractions (such as proximity to the eastern industrial estates).

A great deal more detailed information about Jakarta’s neighbourhoods can be found here.

It’s possible you may be employed to work in cities elsewhere on Java.

Surabaya is the ‘second city’ of Indonesia, also located on Java. It is very green with less congestion than Jakarta. It’s the hottest city in Indonesia. Surabaya has a trading port and naval base, and has an international airport that can get you to Jakarta in less than two hours. It is near to Bali if you like the beach but prefer to live in a city.

Bandung is another large city on Java, located at a higher altitude, with cooler temperatures by about 3-5 degrees Celsius as a result.  There are many varied outdoor activities to enjoy in Bandung. It is cosmopolitan and known as the fashion centre of Indonesia. It is also nearer to Jakarta (3 hours’ drive or so), but has a small airport.

You may even work in the more rural areas. Outside the major cities, you are more likely to encounter the difficulties of living in a lower-middle-income country, such as erratic power supply, slower internet connection, and problems with the water supply in the dry season. However, you will gain the benefits of beautiful countryside and less noise and air pollution.

Bali: Bali is a popular tourist destination, and home to most of Indonesia’s Hindu minority.  Expats are most likely to be involved in the tourist industry or serving the tourist industry. The main city in Bali is the provincial capital Denpasar on the southern coast, home to over 700,000 people (based on 2010 census data).  It is possible to fly direct to Denpasar from Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, and other airports. Singaraja in the north is much smaller with only 100,000 people.  In Bali there are international schools, lots of restaurants, and a variety of housing options at all price points. Medical facilities are likely to be of a lower standard than in Jakarta.  The mountainous areas are cooler than coastal regions.

Lombok: Lombok is sometimes known as an ‘unspoiled Bali’. Foreigners living on Lombok are likely to be involved in tourism, but also mining and pearling.  It is a slower, more rural pace of life than in Jakarta, with a small close-knit expat community of about 500 people. It does, however, have an international airport and an international school.  Most residents are happy to fly to Jakarta for their medical needs unless they are only minor.

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