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Hit the Ground Running

We've all seen them - those newly arrived expats - fresh off the boat (or most likely the plane)! The overwhelming sensory flood newcomers feel during their first weeks in Indonesia is topped off by the challenge of the enormous task ahead of them - getting settled into their new life in Indonesia.

Witness the newly arrived expat spouse stressed out due to the overwhelming demands put upon her/him by the family to get their home and personal lives in smooth running order as soon as possible. Witness the expat businessman/business woman, who, after his/her days of initial orientation, begins to face the often subtle challenges of learning to work within a totally different cultural context. Witness the expat kids, who enter an international school environment, often for the first time, and try to find their niche amongst the diverse student body.

What do all expat family members have in common? The need to Hit the Ground Running! Here's a list of 11 things newly arrived expat families can do, either during a familiarization trip* (also known as 'look-see') to Jakarta prior to the move, or during the first weeks in Jakarta. Don't stay at home bemoaning the foreign-ness of it all - get out there and dive into the challenge!

Familiarization Trip

A familiarization trip provides expats intending to reside in Indonesia the opportunity to explore alternatives for housing and schooling as well as to better acquaint themselves with the living conditions, lifestyle and the availability of local services and goods. With the knowledge gained from this trip, future residents can return home and be better prepared to plan the move before they actually start packing.

1. Arrange an orientation in Jakarta so that you can explore various neighborhoods and housing options. Sit down with a real estate agent or an orientation guide and look at a map of Jakarta noting the location of the working spouse's office, the school/s your children are most likely to attend, and the neighborhoods with good proximity to these as well as recreation, shopping and community events venues.

Ask the agent to share local knowledge such as where the nearest mosque is located as the times and volume of the call to prayer may disturb you. Ask if they are aware of flooding in the area or on access roads to the area as well as if there is major construction planned or underway as this will severely effect traffic.

Based on your proximity criteria, drive through neighborhoods that you may be interested in living in as well as those generally favored by expats to get a feel for the surroundings. View a few houses in your preferred neighborhoods so you can see the type of housing that is available within your budget.

You will be faced with the constant headache of heavy traffic during your stay in Jakarta. Take a test drive to see how long it takes to travel from prospective neighborhoods to the office, school/s and leisure activity venues. Test the commute during peak rush hours in the morning and evening. Your family members will be making these journeys daily, so check traffic patterns out carefully before deciding which neighborhood to live in.

The decision where to live in Jakarta will be influenced by several factors:

Affordability - Your company will provide you with a budget for housing. The budget will quickly narrow down the standard of rental property and location. Most property owners require lump sum rental payments of one to three years in advance. It is commonplace that landlords are asking a minimum of a 1 year contract for houses and apartments with the requirement that the entire rental amount is paid prior to move in. Ensure that your company is prepared to pay this lump sum for you, if housing is a part of your compensation package.

Rental accommodation can be fully or partially furnished or unfurnished. Ask your company if there is an allowance for purchasing furniture or renting furniture and household necessities. This will help you decide what to ship. If you like a particular house but it lacks appliances, you might be able to negotiate with the landlord prior to signing any contract to provide these items. Be specific about what brands are acceptable to you as some landlords may buy inferior products just to fulfill the requirement of providing the appliance.

Proximity to recreation, social or sporting facilities - List activities that your family would most probably participate in. For example, sporting activities, music lessons or club activities. Ask your agent to show you where prominent expat activity and sports centers are. You may choose to be active in expatriate community associations, so it would be worthwhile to visit these association's locations and evaluate what activities are available. Supermarkets and shopping malls are found throughout Jakarta, with some catering more to expats than others. It may also be useful to measure travel time to these facilities as well.

2. There are numerous international schools in Jakarta and most other major cities - enough choice for most parents! Be aware, however, that international school tuition is very expensive and if compensation is not part of the relocation package this will be a major expense for your family. Check to see that there is space available for your child. Contact the schools for an appointment prior to your arrival so that the admissions staff can be prepared for your visit during your look-see trip. Bring along your children's curriculum (current and future) and report cards so that you may be able to discuss appropriate grade placement with school staff. Ask about school bus service and commute times to the various residential areas you are considering living in as this will affect your choice of housing.

Most international schools will require a formal application which will involve an application fee. The main expenses are the tuition fees and the school development bond. These expenses are high; negotiate with your sponsoring company so they will fully cover these costs. It is important to apply as soon as you have confirmed your relocation to ensure your child will be allotted a seat and able to attend the school of your choice.

3. Business Associations, community organizations and sports organizations are at the core of the expat lifestyle. Their activities fill up our free time and their social causes fill our hearts with ample opportunities to Give Back to the Indonesian community. Visit the offices of organizations you may be interested in joining to begin learning about community activities. Attend the monthly meeting, special event or newcomers functions sponsored by these and other organizations, if they fit into your schedule; newcomers are always welcome. Members are put on an email mailing list or included in a WhatsApp group to be notified of upcoming events. Some community centers will post notifications on their bulletin boards and most groups will have a Facebook page where upcoming events are announced.

4. Visit several malls to familiarize yourself with what can and cannot be obtained in Indonesia. Visit several supermarkets - a Hero supermarket (located in most major malls), as well as the Sogo Food Hall, Ranch Market or Kem Chicks to see what foodstuffs are readily available and what they cost. Then you'll have a better idea of cost of living and what items, if any, you may want to stock up on in your home country and send in your shipment. If you've time allows, visit some of the furniture stores to see what is available as it may influence what furniture you decide to bring from home.

5. Visit major medical service providers to determine what medical services are available. Ask specific questions of clinic specialists if you have a particular medical condition that will need to be treated during your stay in Indonesia. Visit International SOS Tel. (62-21) 750-5980.

Confirm that any medication you or your family members require can be easily obtained in Indonesia. Bring the generic names from home. You may want to check at an apotik (pharmacy), or consult the staff at International SOS, and ask if they have the medication in stock, or can get it. If there is confusion about the names (medications may be sold under different brand names in Indonesia) you may ask to see the pharmacist's IIMS book; this book lists (in English) all drugs available with generic, brand and manufacturer's information. A word of caution: the filler in a generic drug may be different than the brand name drug therefore it is best to consult a doctor prior to switching to a generic to ensure there should not be any unwanted reactions or side effects.

6. Buy a book or download some of the many and language apps to start to learn Bahasa Indonesia. Bookstore such as Periplus or Kinokunia bookstores in Plaza Indonesia have a selection and this will allow you to start familiarizing yourself with the sound of the national language. Learning Bahasa Indonesia will greatly ease communication challenges during your stay. AWA's Indonesian Words and Phrases addresses the specific language needs of expats. You can listen to many basic phrases on our learning Bahasa Indonesia page.

7. Consider a visit to the ANZA to purchase vital reference books they publish specifically for expatriates. The AWA publications are written by expats for expats and contain a wealth of information that is vital to the newcomer. Though they haven't been updated recently, these books as still handy references.

8. Meet with your employer to determine what help they can give you in setting up your new household in Indonesia. Don't assume that the company staff are there full time to help you - find out for sure how much hands-on support you'll have from the company. Many car rental companies also have car and driver available on a daily, weekly or monthly basis at quite competitive rates.

For example, will the office provide a temporary car and driver for the first month until you purchase your own or will you be provided with a full time drive and vehicle? Having a car and a driver that knows his way around town will certainly help you Hit the Ground Running! If not, you may consider using a use a Silver Bird Executive Taxi on a daily basis as their drivers are very familiar with the destinations around town favored by expats. Request a driver who speaks English. You may also want to consider Grab.

9. If you are concerned about your pet's care and health during your stay in Indonesia, visit a full-service pet store and talk to the professionals about how best to transport your pet to Indonesia and any special considerations to ensure your pet's health during your stay. You may want to discuss with your employer not only the importing of a pet but also the exporting upon completion of your posting, as this can turn out to be quite costly. Because of the presence of rabies in Indonesia exporting an animal to other countries can require long quarantine times and extensive vaccinations.

10. Socialize with other expats you meet and ask about their experiences. Newcomers often feel shy about asking questions. Don't! The only stupid question you will ever have is the one you don't ask! Of course you will have a multitude of questions - you are moving across the world into a totally foreign culture, which functions 100% different than anything you've experienced before in your life. Questions are okay.

Make it a point to ask every expat you meet at least two questions. Even ask the same questions - and see what different answers you get. Every expat's experience is different and what may work for one person may not work for another. Do take into consideration, however, how long the expat has been in Indonesia and whether or not their situation is similar to what you will be experiencing.

11. Post your questions on the Living in Indonesia Expat Forum.

Don't be that culture-shocked newcomer who can't figure out where to start - follow these 11 steps and you'll soon Hit the Ground Running too!

Last udpated November 10, 2023