Indonesia is a colourful and marvellous country consisting of a vast archipelago stretching over more than 17,000 islands with an ethnically and culturally diverse population of over 270 million people. Most expats base themselves in the popular tourist hub of Bali or the sprawling metropolis of Jakarta, the country’s capital and economic, cultural and financial centre.

There are many pros and cons to moving to Indonesia, but with an open mind and a sense of adventure, the rewards of living in this enchanting archipelago are countless.

Living in Indonesia as an expat

With plentiful natural resources, the country's economy is largely based around gas, oil and other mining activities, and most expats moving to Indonesia do so in order to work in these sectors. Indonesia also has significant agricultural, manufacturing and tourism industries. Telecommunications and teaching English are other attractions for expats seeking work in Indonesia.

Indonesia is an exciting expat destination, but it’s certainly a country that is not without its challenges. For example, obtaining a visa or work permit can be a frustrating process riddled with bureaucracy. Even more frustrating for expats planning a move to or already living in Indonesia is the fact that the requirements and processes for obtaining a visa change constantly.

Cost of living in Indonesia

The cost of living in Indonesia can be inexpensive compared to life in many Western European and North American countries, but this can vary according to lifestyle. Living like a local and shopping at neighbourhood markets for fresh, seasonal goods is inexpensive. Opting for modern, fully serviced apartments and buying imported goods can significantly increase the cost of living. Ultimately, expats will have to decide what is most important to them and what fits into their budget.

Expat families and children

For expats bringing the whole family over to Indonesia, education will likely be their biggest expense. Numerous schooling options exist, but most expats look beyond public education due to the language barrier. Often, international schools provide expat children with a smoother path to settling into their new home as they continue with a familiar curriculum in their home language. There are several international schools operating in Indonesia, most of which are in Jakarta.

Indonesia’s healthcare sector is considered relatively underdeveloped, particularly outside Jakarta. Any severe medical conditions will likely see expats seeking medical attention outside the country, typically in Singapore. Increasing air pollution in Indonesian cities is a further health hazard.

Safety in Indonesia is more of a concern than in some of its neighbours, but the risks are mostly related to some key areas. With proper preparation, many expats and residents enjoy living in Indonesia with few if any problems.

Climate in Indonesia

With a hot and tropical climate, it may take a while for expats coming from cooler climates to get used to the humidity, which is present all year round. The wet and warm monsoon season can be uncomfortable. On the bright side, this climate allows the local greenery and island life to flourish, and there’s no shortage of good beach days.

Overall, while life in Indonesia may present some challenges, the adventurous expat with an open mind is bound to overcome them, reaping the rewards that this stunning archipelago has to offer.

Fast facts

Population: Nearly 280 million

Capital city: Jakarta 

Neighbouring countries: Indonesia has land borders with Malaysia on the island of Borneo, Papua New Guinea on the island of New Guinea and East Timor on the island of Timor.

Geography: Indonesia is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands, with the five main islands being Sumatra, Java, Borneo (known as Kalimantan on the Indonesian side), Sulawesi and New Guinea. Parts of Indonesia are quite mountainous, and much of the country is covered by dense tropical forests. Located along the Ring of Fire, the country has many volcanoes and is also subject to frequent earthquakes.

Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic

Major religions: Islam

Main languages: Bahasa Indonesia and English. There are hundreds of regional languages spoken across the country.

Money: The Indonesian rupiah (IDR) is divided into 100 sen. There are plenty of local and international banks in Indonesia, but many expats choose to maintain their existing bank accounts in their home country.

Tipping: Standard 10 to 15 percent in restaurants unless included as a service charge. Round up the bill for taxis and give slightly more for hired drivers.

Time: GMT+7 to GMT+9

Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins are generally used throughout the country.

Internet domain: .id

International dialling code: +62

Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 118 (ambulance)

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. Indonesia has an established public transport system. Taxis are also plentiful. Traffic can be brutal in Indonesian cities, and driving is best avoided; many expats hire a local driver instead.

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