Home » Practical Information » Expat Stories

The New Car

Last summer (locally known as the dry season), I began looking at a new car that was being sold in Indonesia. Up until then, all cars sold in Indonesia had to be assembled in Indonesia. That was former President Soeharto's way of helping out two of his kids that were in the local auto industry.

After Soeharto's fall, the laws began to change. Cars can now be brought into the country fully assembled. There is an additional import tax to be paid, but it isn't too stiff. The quality of Indonesian “assembled” cars is not very good. For instance, of the four Indonesian assembled cars that I have owned, all four had problems with the electric windows and the seat belts. Anyway, I began looking at the KIA Carnival. They are made in Korea and are something like a Chrysler mini-van. But, they arrived at the design completely independent of Chrysler.

As you may have already surmised, I bought a new car. The car that I bought is light gray in some light conditions, and almost brown in other light conditions. My car has an air scoop on the hood and a luggage rack on top.

The story of the purchase is interesting. I hesitated to publish this story knowing that people never having lived in a third world country will think it is pure fiction.

When I decided to go ahead and buy the car, I had to figure out how I was going to pay for it. To most people, that would mean, “How am I going to get the money?”. What I mean, of course is how was I going to get about $35,000 of my money, stashed in the U.S., transferred to Indonesia and converted into 282 million Rupiah.

The easiest method was to simply pay with my VISA (debit) card. I checked with the dealership, and they agreed to accept my VISA card. Because of some fraudulent activity on my VISA card the previous month, I decided to check with Merrill Lynch and VISA just to make sure that it would clear.

I called Merrill that night. They told me that it would clear as long as I didn't buy more than two or three cars. VISA said that it would be no problem. The next day, I was off to the dealership armed with my VISA card and overconfidence.

At the dealership, they tried to clear the purchase with local banks here in Yogyakarta. I told them repeatedly that they needed to clear it with VISA, possibly in Jakarta. As long as VISA clears the purchase, they have nothing to worry about. They would have no part of that.

That night, I called Merrill and VISA again. Visa and Merrill couldn't understand what the problem was. They had never been to Indonesia. They did give me the telephone number of VISA's clearing House in the U.S. All I had to do, assured they, was to simply have the merchant call said number and get a manual authorization code.

The next day, with no degree of confidence, I hit the dealership again. They didn't know what a manual authorization code was. They didn't have an international telephone line, so couldn't have called the U.S. even if they were so inclined. Besides, no one at the dealership spoke English.

At that point, I wrote off VISA as an option. I had, somewhere in my files, an old checkbook from a Rupiah account that I hadn't used in about two and a half years. When I purchased my 1997 ISUZU, I had opened that account, transferred the dollars into that Rupiah account, then paid for the car from the Rupiah account. I would simply (did I say “simply”?) wire $35,000 to my Rupiah account.

Armed with my checkbook and renewed confidence, I asked the bank for the ABA number for my account. They informed me that due to inactivity, my account was closed two years ago. In Indonesia, it seems, you use it or lose it. That would be annoying in and of itself, but what is maddening is the fact that they just keep whatever funds are remaining in that account. It wasn't much. I actually have forgotten the amount, but don't think that it was over $20.

I then decided that I would simply (that word keeps inappropriately appearing) open a new account. Bank Indonesia has a Singapore/U.S. Dollar account that would do just fine. All I needed was a passport (no problem) and my Work Visa (ditto).

The Work Visa is a laminated card with my picture and fingerprints indicating who I work for. The minister of manpower signs it. Not good enough! I also had to provide them with a letter from my employer stating that I did indeed work where the Indonesian Minister of Manpower said that I worked. Normally I would have forged such a letter, but I didn't have any blank letterhead stationery and my scanner was down. I was so annoyed at the entire situation, I just wrote the whole thing off. The salesman however did not.

Late the next day, he called and told me that he had found a bank in Yogyakarta that would clear the purchase. The next day, armed with my VISA card and a ton of skepticism, I met the salesman and his boss at the dealership. We went in my (old) car to the bank.

After about an hour of checking and telephone calls to Jakarta, I realized that they were not billing the purchase to my VISA card, but rather doing a cash advance. I told the salesman's boss that if the bank hands me Rp. 282,000,000 here at the bank, he will have to accept the cash “here at the bank”. I didn't want to take a chance of carrying that kind of cash across town.

Then the real shocker came. They started counting out the Rp 282,000,000 in Rp 20,000 and Rp 10,000 bills. They do have Rp 100,000 and Rp 50,000 notes in Indonesia, but this bank apparently caters to the “little guy” because they had none. If you could have seen the stack of bills they were counting, you would have protested as forcibly as I did.

They finally agreed to give us only Rp. 20,000 bills. Even so, that is 14,100 bills. Try walking into a U.S. bank and asking for $14,100 in one dollar bills! It took about 15 minutes for the teller, using two counting machines, to count out Rp 282,000,000. That is NOT a large stack. That is MANY large stacks.

The boss of the dealership had called on his cell phone for one of his employees to bring a bag to carry the stacks. We stuffed all the cash into a small duffel bag. Had we been given the mix of Rp 20,000 and Rp 10,000 bills, we would have needed another bag.

I can't make this already long story short, but thankfully it has come to its conclusion. We made it back to the dealership without being robbed. I bought the car and so far am quite happy with it.

© Roy Mark