Expats moving to Indonesia will find themselves in a colourful and exotic country, consisting of a vast archipelago stretching over more than 17,000 islands with an ethnically and culturally diverse population of over 260 million people.

Rich in natural resources, the country acquires most of its wealth from gas, oil and other mining activities, and most expats moving to Indonesia do so in order to work in these sectors. The telecommunications industry and teaching English are other attractions for expats seeking work in Indonesia.

Most expats find themselves living in the popular tourist hub of Bali and the sprawling metropolis of Jakarta, the country’s capital and economic, cultural and financial centre. The more remote mining areas in the Papua region also attract a fair share of expats. 

Obtaining a visa or work permit for Indonesia can be a frustrating process and one 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.

The cost of living in Indonesia can be inexpensive compared to life in many Western countries. After accommodation, education will likely be an expat parent’s biggest expense. There are numerous schooling options, with a number of international schools operating in Indonesia, most of which are in Jakarta.

Indonesia's healthcare sector is considered quite poor and certainly not up to Western standards, particularly outside of Jakarta. Any serious medical conditions will likely see expats having to seek medical attention outside of the country, typically in Singapore. Increasing air pollution in Indonesian cities is a further health hazard.

Expats living in Indonesia, particularly Westerners, may take time to adjust to the conservative culture of the region. Local culture is largely influenced by Islam, which is the dominant religion in the country. Female expats, especially, will find themselves having to make adjustments. Men are generally viewed in higher regard than women, dress is conservative and the concept of personal space differs greatly from what expats may expect.

Indonesia is an exciting expat destination, but it’s certainly a country that is not without its challenges. The most prominent safety issue is the ongoing threat of terrorism. Attacks have taken place in the past and these have specifically targeted Westerners. Nevertheless, Indonesian authorities have made a concerted effort to address the problem, and there have been no significant recent incidents. 

Indonesian cities have grand modern offices and tower blocks marking their skylines, in contrast to overpopulated shanty and slum areas representing the poverty that the vast majority of Indonesians continue to live in. Outside of city limits, the country has landscapes of volcanic mountains, tropical beaches and jungles, which can offer expats a relaxed and outdoor lifestyle, and many attractions for a weekend break from working life. However, 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.

Fast facts

Population: About 267 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, with Puncak Jaya, located on West Papua, being the highest peak. 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: Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, although freedom of religion is permitted, with Christianity and Buddhism also widely practised.

Main languages: Bahasa Indonesia, English 

Money: The Indonesian rupiah (IDR), divided into 100 sen. There are plenty of local and international banks in Indonesia, but many expats choose to maintain their existing bank account 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: Indonesia spans three time zones: GMT +7 (West, including Java and Sumatra), GMT +8 (Central, including Bali, Sulawesi and Lombok), GMT +9 (East, including West Papua).

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz. 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. However, traffic can reach nightmarish proportions in Indonesian cities and driving is best avoided; many expats hire a local driver instead.

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