Tips for Expats Moving to Jakarta

Sharing more info that may be useful to expats moving to Jakarta. I want to be honest about some of the things that we experienced when we moved to Jakarta in the hopes that it will help other expats who are moving there as well. There are some things that we had to do that I’m not so proud of, but we had to adjust to the culture of “giving tokens” or “tipping” quite a bit. (I am of course putting this politely). More info after the jump:


  • BRINGING IN BOTTLES WITH OUR SHIPMENT: Being Diplos, we thought that we would be able to bring a few bottles of alcohol duty free into Indonesia with our shipment. We had a small box of about 10 bottles, left over from our despedida or going away party. We know that diplomats from other country are able to bring in wine and beer from their countries via diplomatic cargo for personal consumption and entertaining so we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. We were wrong. They delayed our shipment and we had to pay more just so they would release it. I don’t know if this applies to countries with more political clout, but looking back, I would have left the bottles rather than had my shipment delayed and give them a reason to ask me for money.
  • BRINGING A BOTTLE WHEN FLYING IN: Each person is allowed One 1Liter bottle of sealed alcohol coming in so usually our expat friends bring a bottle every time they fly back to Jakarta or they request their friends who are visiting to bring a bottle.
  • BUYING FROM DUTY FREE SHOPS: Only diplos brining their diplomatic cards can buy from Duty Free stores like Duty Free Tama in Kemang or in Intercon Hotel. I usually go to Duty Free Tama because it has more variety, but the selection still leaves much to be desired compared the the Philippines or Germany. Not all diplomatic cards have the same privileges – different color diplo card have different bottle purchasing limits. The red one that we had allowed us to buy unlimited amounts.
    • Take note even if the shop says they close at 4pm, if their quota for the day has been met (say someone bought cases and cases for a party), it is possible that they will close early.
    • There is a Duty Free near JIS which is less strict with asking expats for their diplo cards so expats without diplo cards can try getting away with buying from there.
    • Before we left in June 2013, there are a few liquor stores that non-diplomatic persons can buy from like VIN+ in Senayan City/Kemang, a liquor store in Gandaria City, while wine can be purchased from Kemchicks Supermarkets, Hero Kemang or Social House in Grand Indonesia. The prices in these stores are much higher so I never buy there. I brave the traffic of Kemang to go to duty free instead so I can get Yellow Tail wine for USD 14-16. This will be much more expensive in the non-Duty Free shops of course.


  • QUARANTINE: The rules have probably changed, but when we moved to Jakarta in 2009, we were supplied by and Indonesian from their Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the regulations for bringing pets into the country. It specifically stated that diplomatic dogs, were not subject to the quarantine, as long as there was proper documentation of vaccines, etc. When DiploDog arrived, they still held him in quarantine and the reason they gave was that the person signing the documents for release was busy or not present. TD went almost every day to pick DiploDog up, and finally after more than 1 week (DiploDog even stopped eating for a while) he brought a translator to ask directly what they “needed” from him. The guy told the translator in Bahasa Indonesia that he was embarrassed to ask because TD was a foreigner. By that time we were just worried about the health of the dog, so we paid whatever the guy asked. (I think he asked for double the cost of board). I realized we shouldn’t have put DiploDog through all that stress and should have just offered something the moment we arrived. Of course at that time, we had no idea of how crazy the “tipping” culture is.
  • “HOME QUARANTINE” A friend told me that the discreet way was to ask them if they can take the dog/cat home for “home quarantine”  to save animals from stress. It can cost IDR 2Million per pet.
  • RAMADAN & LEBARAN is the worst time to bring your pet. My friend’s friend arrived around the time of Ramadan and they were told point blank that when they arrive their dog has to be held in quarantine, but there will be no one there to take care and feed the dog. What???
  • PET MOVERS. TD and I DIYed this process because it was easy enough to take care of the papers from the Philippines, but if you want to make it stress free, you can hire a pet-mover that knows the customs and practices of the country and knows how to handle such things. Cost for the “tips” are already incorporated into the cost.
  • APARTMENT & STAFF I’ve already talked about how dogs aren’t allowed into many apartments HERE and HERE so if you do have a dog, find dog friendly apartments (those didn’t exist when we moved to Jakarta in 2009) and expect to have difficulty finding staff (maid and driver) that are okay working for families with dogs. Look for staff that aren’t Muslim and also expect to maybe pay a bit more. Be cautious of safety and security  (and train your staff to do so as well) because situations where dogs have been kidnapped to sell for money or poisoned because of religious differences are not unheard of.


  • I remember going to Jakarta in 2005 and even if everything was in order and I didn’t bring anything that I shouldn’t, I was asked for a bribe point blank. Back then I wasn’t a diplo wife, and I was traveling for a meeting. I was advised to keep a small amount of money, like IDR 50.000, in my wallet and remove everything else. When asked for a bribe, show your wallet and say this is all you have and give it. It’s better to settle these things sooner rather than later.
  • As a diplos, we didn’t really have problems bringing stuff in for personal consumption because we didn’t get checked at customs. However if you are not diplomatic then be sure to check what is allowed and not allowed to bring in because your bag will be X-rayed. Don’t give then a chance to “fine” you.


  • One or 2 years up front is standard for renting a flat or a house and it can be tricky getting your deposit back.
  • They do not honor the “diplomatic clause” in the contract so if you move before your contract is over, it is probably that you won’t get your cash back.
  • To read more about our experience renting in Jakarta CLICK HERE.


  • One of the most useful free services for me in Jakarta was The UpperCrust’s Classifieds. Though UpperCrust is mainly a catering and food delivery service, it is also a classified ads service wherein expats can advertise their furnishings, appliances and cars in preparation for a move. If you are selling, take good pictures of your items and post a link to the photos and insert in your ad. I was able to easily pass on the stuff I couldn’t pack for shipment on this service. You can subscribe by emailing Pak Eko and asking him to include you in his  mailing list at Mary was the lovely expat who started the business but she has passed it on to Pak Eko when she moved back home.
  • If expats liked their staff (driver, maid, gardener, pool boy, etc.) they also try to find a job for them on Uppercrust. The classifieds is sent everyday and good deals and referrals are always very fast to go. So if you need staff and you see a referral, contact immediately since good staff is hard to find and they are immediately snapped up.


  • Learning Bahasa Indonesia is a must and I highly recommend that you get language lessons from a reputable language instructor immediately. There will be others who will volunteer or suggest “a friend” who can teach you Bahasa – avoid this. Better to get a teacher who is specifically a language instructor so that you don’t waste your money and time.
  • Hiring anyone who can speak English (i.e. maid/driver) will be more than double or triple the price of someone who speaks only Bahasa, so the sooner you can learn the language the sooner you can save on many things. Even taking English speaking classes (i.e. Photography) is so much more expensive than those in Bahasa.
  • The word “BESOK” literally means tomorrow but if you ask something to be delivered and they say “besok” ask for the specific date and time because it basically means “whenever.” I love how easy going Indonesians are but when in it comes to delivery dates it is better to know when they are arriving so you’re not at home waiting for something that is not coming.
  • If you need help with anything say “Tolong.” Do not do what we did and translate the word “please” because you will get the word “silakhan” and this means “please, as in welcome.” Can you believe that we used this word the wrong way for 2 whole years and no one, not our driver or the staff in our apartment ever corrected us? Indonesians are so polite that they wont correct you or say no directly.  =p


  • Spas and salons are all the rage in Jakarta and options for all budgets are available. English speaking salons and spas are very expensive though so I recommend Nikki’s Salon in Kemang which is a good and not so expensive option.
  • If the salon is too cheap, be wary as well. This happened to me.
  • If you will notice, ladies are really into hair in Jakarta – the bigger the better! Long and curly is considered fashionable, as opposed to Manila’s obsession with long and straight.
  • Never ever go out with your hair wet. This is a big no no. In Manila it is normal to see damp hair in the morning as people are going to work. Hair is usually left au naturel and getting your hair done in the parlor is reserved for attending weddings. In Jakarta, going to the parlor around 3 times a week for a wash and blow out is normal. I even met someone who wouldn’t go out after going to the gym because she had no idea how to do her own hair. You will never see anyone with damp hair on the street. A pinay lady living in Indonesia for 30 years, explained this to me. She said that in the past before the notion was, if you leave your house with you hair wet, it means you just had s. e. x. Seriously! Because in the Muslim religion, you need to cleans after you do the deed. This made me think… So I guess if a lady normally goes to the parlor to have her hair washed, dried and style, then she found herself washing her hair in an unscheduled time, that can only mean one thing??? Anyway just to be safe.. don’t leave the house with damp or wet hair!
  • Brands are a big thing in Jakarta and I noticed that if I go to a mall and don’t “dress up accordingly” I don’t get much service from the sales people. They favor high heels, make up and Farah Fawcett-like hair


  • Smoking is everywhere in Jakarta, even inside buildings and restaurants. This was particularly hard for me because I am allergic and I have asthma. I kept getting respiratory infections.
  • Inside restaurants and bars, the best seats in the house and the biggest area is usually the smoking section. That’s fine, but the worst part is that there is usually no divider between the smoking section and the non smoking section so you are still breathing in the same air.
  • In clubs it’s worse. Smoking is allowed everywhere, period. And I’ve never seen people smoke at the rate that Indonesians do. I thought clubs were smoky in Manila. Boy was I wrong.


  • Traffic is much worse in Jakarta than Manila. In Manila I can go 2 different “cities” within Metro Manila in one day. My record was going to 5 in one day and doing so many errands. In Jakarta I schedule one activity per day to avoid getting stuck in traffic for long hours. When I go home to Manila for Christmas I am totally relaxed, because it’s nothing compared to Jakarta traffic.
  • The worst traffic we experienced was the 10 minute ride home from TD’s office took our car a total of 4.5hours on the road. We left the car and walked. Read about it HERE.
  • I’ve also been severely traumatised just crossing the streets in Jakarta. I agree with this lady that crossing roads in Jakarta is an extreme sport dangerous and life-threatening. The motorcycle drivers are mad and even if the motorcycle numbers are less than in Vietnam, I prefer crossing the street in Vietnam – less scary!


  • In older establishments there are still the old fashion toilets, the one that is level to the ground and without an automatic flush. Be ready to squat and then you’ll have to pour water using a dipper or “tabo” so that it will flush.
  • The newer toilets in the malls are another story altogether. I miss these grand toilets! They are usually massive, clean and well stocked with toilet paper. In the malls, I remember whenever you exit a cubicle, there is staff that immediately goes in, gives it a few flushes and cleans it up before the next person enters. Not too environmentally friendly but its pretty crazy and clean!
  • Another thing I liked in newer malls, was that usually they made the entrance winding, so you cannot see inside from the exterior, and eliminate the doors. I love how much better this is. Some people don’t wash their hands so at least to exit there is no door handle to touch!


  • The left hand is considered unclean. Do not touch food, pass or receive anything, touch anyone or point with your left hand.
  • When entering an establishment, always greet the staff with “Selamat pagi/siang/sore/malam” – Indonesians are very nice and polite
  • Taking pictures is a way of honoring people and sometimes locals will ask to have their picture taken with you.
  • When addressing an older man, call him Bapak (silent k in the end), and an older lady is called “Ibu.” These mean Father and Mother respectively and is done to show respect. Someone your own age or younger is called Mas (male) or Mbak (female, with silent K in the end).


  • Personally I find Jakarta much more expensive than Manila in many things. Among them is liquor, pork, home and decor, clothing, and basically anything imported. Those vases that cost me USD 2 in Manila would cost me USD 10+ in Jakarta. However, I found the cost of vegetables and fruits cheap.
  • Our telecommunicatioins cost less in Jakarta because I would get these plans from XL for IDR 125.000 per month wherein I had data and can call 3 registered numbers for an unlimited time.
  • I found Utility bills to be cheaper in Indonesia than Manila and the internet was much faster. They have HD cable TV with many of the channels we love, which we really enjoyed.
  • Jakarta activities are mainly composed of eating, spa/salon, and shopping so expats tend to go out of town or travel to other Asian countries on weekends for a change in atmosphere. The presence of AIR ASIA budget airlines makes this easier on the pockets. When we were there we went to Yogyakarta, Bali, Medan, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh, Yangon, Bagan, Singapore, KL, etc. We would book tickets up to 1 year ahead and sometimes hit on IDR 10.000 flights!

I know this list seems short, but most of the useful information for people who are newly arriving in Indonesia, I’ve already written here: TRAVEL GOOD TO KNOW: Indonesia.

If you have any other questions that I didn’t cover in any of the above posts I mentioned,  feel free to drop me a comment below and I will try my best to answer you. Please note that these are based on my experiences and my friends experiences as they told them to me (mostly expats and diplos), while we were posted there between 2009 – 2013. These  may not necessarily apply to you and note that Jakarta is rapidly changing as well. This is post is meant to give you an idea of possible situations that you may or may not encounter when you arrive.

From time to time, I will be adding more information to this list. Feel free to ask questions and I will try my best to answer.

Lovely comments

  1. says

    A lot of things are the same with Dubai. It is most likely the Muslim connection. BUT but but, Dubai is more complex because apart from the Muslim religious nuances, you will have to deal with other cultural nuances of the other 200+ nationalities living in the city 😀

    • says

      Hi Didi! Wow I can’t imagine how hard that must have been. I am only beginning to see how it is when there is so much diversity here in Berlin. It’s so diverse! And people are so different. I haven’t gotten the hang of it all. Sometimes I feel I come on too strong or two week, depending really on the background of whoever I am talking to. I’ve had my share of social boo-boos. I’m grateful for the experience though – to learn about different cultures is a beautiful thing!

  2. says

    You are seriously the guru on good deals in Jakarta. 10.000 IRD flights? Man!

    Also, I still chuckle about your story re. wet hair. I had no idea!!! There are so many funny things about cleanliness / bathing in this country. I’m sure every Indonesian person who knows me thinks I’m a fifthly dirty vagabond considering I don’t shower 2x day, and certainly never dress up to go to the mall!

    • says

      It’s funny that there are so many layers of their culture that even people who have been living there for a long time don’t even know about. My friend who basically grew up in Jakarta didn’t even know about the hair. But if you ask a local a specific question, that the only time you’ll find out about these things LOL! This is the complete opposite of how Filipinos volunteer information, even if you don’t ask them. LOL!

    • says

      Dear New Expat, usually expats who are leaving Jakarta try to find a job for their help (if they can recommend them) on The UpperCrust Classifieds. I inserted the information above under


      Subscribe to the mailing list and if you wish you could also place an ad looking for a nanny.

      A word of caution. Nanny’s and help in general are a bit tricky in Jakarta because when they go back to their home town for a vacation or “pulang kampung” sometimes they don’t come back. This happens quite often because they do not want to let you know that they do not want to work for you any more or had another better job offer so instead they go home and don’t come back. Be wary when staff ask you for a loan before going on vacation and don’t expect to get paid back. So it’s important to get good referrals from fellow expats that have had a good experience with loyal staff. Good luck!


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