Here are some tips that were given to us when we first got here by our Indonesian friends and other fellow expats, which I’d like to share with friends who are visiting Indonesia for the first time.

This is the list of stuff I remember off the top of my head. I will continue adding to it as I go. Suggestions are welcome!

    • What to Wear Generally Jakarta and Bali is not conservative (Bali even less so because they are used to tourists walking around the beach in bikinis). As expats in Jakarta, we barely saw ladies wearing headscarves. Local ladies wore skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops. This is generally true in malls and other expat frequented places. However if you go to the Monas, National Museums or the flea market/antique street I wouldn’t recommend super skimpy attire so as not to shock the locals to much. When I say super skimpy I mean, super short shorts paired with a barely-there top. Moderately short shorts with a tee would be fine, since it IS a bit warm. To be sure I always bring a scarf/shawl so I can cover my shoulders in case I go into a more conservative location. Normally in mosques/temples which don’t allow showing of arms and legs, you can rent a sarong and a shawl so you can go in. In Borobodur Temple Yogyakarta I mistakenly wore jeans because I thought shorts weren’t allowed. BIG MISTAKE! I almost fainted because it was so hot! So for temple visits in Yogya, I recommend wearing shorts that aren’t too short, because there is a lot of stair-climbling and you wouldn’t want everyone before you to see up your bum.
  • Bring 100 USD bills that are crisp, new (they don’t accept older serial numbers) and unmarked. They give it at a lower rate if your dollar bills have folds/wrinkles/any marks or stamps. They don’t accept OLD bills here (only the newer serial numbers). Whereas in the Philippines the money changers usually stamp the money as a sign that they have been authenticated. The funny thing about this is that guys either have to use long wallets (whuuut?) or bring around letter envelopes to hold their cash.
  • English is not as widely spoken here. If you have a smart phone then it would be wise to download a translator or have a pocket dictionary. Make sure to get the calling card (or what they call the Kartu Nama) of your hotel and other places you are going to so that you can show the address to your driver.
  • Bring a bottle of alcohol. If you plan to go drinking/check out the party scene it’s best to bring in a bottle via Dutry Free when you come in to load-up before going out. (They allow maximum 1 Liter per person)
    • There are also no liquor stores in Jakarta. Most people have to bring in alcohol every time they come in via Duty Free. . They have Duty Free stores here but only diplomats with the red CD cards are allowed to go in.
    • Drinks in bars are Rp 60,000++ – 100,000++ (or 6 – 10++ USD est.) per drink. We usually we drink first before going out because with your Rp 1Million (or 100 USD est.) wont go very far here because of the “sin” tax.
    • In the grocery they only sell beer for around 1- 2 USD per bottle.
  • Bring an extra mobile phone and buy a local SIM card. Indonesian Telco service providers are so cheap that it’s so much cheaper than service providers in the Philippines. International texts using a local SIM is only around Php 2 while Blackberry services with unlimited data plan only cost about Php 25 per day or 0.50 USD. It will be  so much cheaper than your roaming charges!
    • Very important: When you buy a SIM and prepaid credits, make sure to have the vendor at the store 1) REGISTER the SIM and 2) LOAD THE PREPAID CREDITS to your mobile. The instructions and the automated system is all in Bahasa so you will definitely need a local to do this for you.
  • Download a currency converter on iPhone or Blackberry. Since everyone is a millionaire here (it’s equivalent to a little more than 100 USD) all the zeros in the bills can be quite overwhelming to process.
    • iPhone/iTouch - my friends found the CurrencyPad app very useful when they were here last week
    • Blackberry – there are many but the one TD and I use is the OANDA Currency Converter
    • No Smartphone – Right now the rate is about Rp 9,000 to 1 USD. However when we are shopping we basically just equate 1 USD to Rp 10,000 just to get a rough estimate of the item we are buying. So for example if you are buying something worth Rp 100,000, all you have to do is take out FOUR ZEROES. Basically the item is more than 10 USD.
  • When going on a night out, dress-up! For women, no jeans please. Dresses and high heels for sure! And a LOT of bling.
  • Only take Blue Bird Taxis.Usually they can be trusted to charge you metered fees, not to give you the run-around (not always so be wary), and some of them speak a little English but not all.
    • Be careful of Blue Bird look-alikes. There are many. You should read the words “Blue Bird” on the body of the taxi, if not then it’s not the real thing.
    • Only take Silver Bird as a last resort because it is crazy expensive.
    • Take note of the name of the taxi driver and the taxi number which is usually posted in the dashboard on the passenger’s side. This is incase you forget anything in the cab or the cab driver is driving recklessly or being uncourteous – you should report the driver to their head office.
  • Check the ZEROS when paying Rp100,000 or Rp10,000. There are still old Rp 10,000 bills which are also red (same shade as the Rp 100,000) in circulation. There are many stories of expats meaning to give a cab driver TEN THOUSAND Rupiah but instead gave them ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND!  Usually at night coz it’s dark. Click here to see pictures of the bills.
  • Very few 24/7 convenience stores. So bring whatever you need or buy them during the day. Unlike in the Philippines when literally almost every building in the CBD has a 24/7 convenience store (7Eleven shop or Ministop) that sell cheap alcohol (beer, gin, rum, wine and vodka) and ice. The ones they have here are called Circle K, 7Eleven, Alfamart, Indomaret , Starmart, Yomart and AMPM’s. These have become hangouts for locals because of cheep beer and snacks (relatively).
  • The water situation
    • DO NOT brush your teeth with tap water in the hotel, unless the hotel says their tap is purified water. That’s why they provide bottled mineral water – some even put the bottles by the sink. Click here to see why.
    • When dining in a resto always ask for bottled mineral water (but check the prices some restos only carry expensive European water like Perrier and Acqua Panna). If you asked for tap water then you will be given water straight off the tap.
    • When traveling, do not buy shakes (made with crushed ice) in restaurants that don’t look high end because you are not sure of the quality of their ice. See below.
  • Ice is a tricky commodity here because of the water situation (see previous)
    • If eating in a place that is not very upscale (i.e. padang restaurant) it is recommended that you ask for a cold soft drink in can without any ice. In a more upscale resto we usually get ice. But we ask for the ice after we are  already served the drink so we can examine if the ice is clean and pour the drink once we’ve checked.
    • For parties on weekends, we have to buy ice early because only few supermarkets sell them (We only know Hero and GrandLucky Supermarket) and if they run out then you wont have ice.
  • Bargain Shopping
    • Sometimes I prefer to shop in places that have a fixed price wherein the price is on a tag, because when I got to “bargain shopping” stalls they raise the prices the moment they see I am a foreigner. If I don’t speak, they sometimes mistake me for a Chinese Indonesian, but the moment I speak the prices seem to rise. So many times bargain shopping isn’t such a great deal.
    • I noticed that when I haggle in stalls, they only give 1,000-5,000 rupiah discounts. I’d be lucky if I get 5,000 off. I find it weird, because when bargain shopping in the Philippines we talk about discounts in 10% or 20% amounts. In Jakarta they just round up to the nearest ten thousand, so say your bill is IDR 188,000, they will give it to you for IDR 185,000.
  • Prepare small bills for tipping
    • Indonesia has a crazy tipping culture. You tip EVERYONE. Each time you go to a store and park in the free parking outside the store, there will be an unofficial guy there who will “guide” your car and “watch it” for you. Whether this is necessary or not, is not important. You have to tip this man IDR 2.000. This is standard.
    • You tip waiters, delivery people, salon/spa staff and anyone else assisting you with anything. Even if you already paid the 10% Service Charge it is customary to give 10% more directly to the staff.
    • Even government staff like the people in the airport. I think even if you are applying for something like a drivers license, you still have to tip on top of what you are officially paying. If you want anything fast, then you have to grease the wheels.
    • Oh and don’t forget to tip in BILLS. Even the parking boys will sometimes not accept your coins. Can you believe that some stores wont accept if you pay in coins? If you have tons of coins, use it in bigger department stores or chains. They usually accept them.

Lovely comments

    • says

      Hi Austria Affordable Honeymoons! I hope you can one day use these tips and visit Indonesia especially for Bali and the Borobodur Temple in Yogyakarta (biggest temple in the world!)! Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting!

  1. Qing says

    Will be going to indonesia for the first time this weekend and this has enlightened me so much. I’ll be especially wary of the rupiah bills and the water situation. Thank you so much for the information! :)

  2. esquire says

    I’m returning to these entries as we will be going in September :) Any tips on where to bring my 5-year old? Will be staying at the Ritz Carlton in Pacific Place and Kidzania is already in my list. What do you think of Dunia Fantasi in Acol? Our trips have been about theme parks of late and I really want to expose my boy to a bit of culture too. Any place of interest near our hotel that are walkable?

    • says

      Hmmm… my friends kids love going to lollipops. In Senayan City I think. But what i would really recommend is Taman Safari. Have you been? It’s a day trip..but really worth renting a car for.

      I am not familiar with Dunia Fantasi but let me ask my friends. Another place they go to is WaterBom but I’ve never been – according to my friend people swim covered up in either 1 pcs or wetsuit-like attire coz it’s conservative. You can also consider Taman Mini… it’s like a bigger version of our Nayon Pilipino, but not as maintained as Taman Safari.
      I’ll get back to you once my friends respond.

      P.S. Please be careful with ice (in soft drinks or water) and ordering salads (or street food!) because I was supposed to take someone shopping today but the tummy bug got in the way.

    • says

      Hi Again Esquire! Here are some replies from my friends:

      From our former local translator, Nisrina: “Lollipop in Gandaria City..Seaworld in Ancol..and there’s also one place in FX but i forgot the name..” – FX is where they have the slide from the top floor of the mall to the 2nd floor. This is so crazy! I tried it and felt like I was on a roller coaster. I am not sure what the age limit is.

      Chuzailiving: “Lollipops (Senayan City, Gandaria and some other locations), Miniapolis (FX and Grand Indonesia), Playparq in Kemang Timur, Palyground in Kemang Dalam. The Sea World in Ancol that Nirsrina mentioned is a good one. My kids liked it. There is “Dunia Fantasi”, an amusement park, but I haven’t been there.”

      From my friend who lived here when she was younger: Yes, as a kid, Hans and I LOVED Dunia Fantasi and Sea World. There are also arts and crafts classes for kids that I took somewhere in Plaza Indonesia Mall, just can’t remember the name.

  3. says

    I’m just giving an update, as you left in 2013, I guess you’d have noticed. Now, there are tons of seven/eleven and circle K, 24hr convenience store. they’re everywhere on the street. :)

      • says

        unfortunately i don’t think so, i haven’t seen one. it’s not very common to buy ice in convenience stores. well, at least i’ve never looked for one. sorry :( either you get that in the “warung” which i’m not sure about the cleanliness or you buy that in a big supermarket like LotteMart, hero, etc. (i guess they would carry some), or make it yourself…

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