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Security at Home and Around Town

As in any large city around the world crime is always an issue. Jakarta is no exception; therefore you should be extra vigilant regarding your personal security. While foreigners are not necessarily the targets of crime, there are occasions when they inevitably are victims as well as Indonesians. If you follow basic safety precautions, you should find your stay in Jakarta a very safe one.

April 2016 security update - Protecting Soft Targets in Indonesia

General sense of safety and well-being

Your sense of personal security is based on a number of factors in your environment, some of them being your role in the community and your interaction with it, the physical barriers you build around you for protection, your own sense of well-being and of course those elements that are beyond your control.

At first glance, most upper class homes in Indonesia seem to reflect a bastion of security. These homes typically have high fences and gates facing the street, 20-30 foot walls around the remaining 3 sides (which are topped by broken glass, barbed wire or spikes) and 24-hour guards or watchmen.

While on one hand you could say that these homes form a secure neighborhood, due to the extreme security precautions, you could also deem it to be an unsafe neighborhood due to the feeling amongst the residents that they need all of these precautions to feel safe. The need for these security precautions may be perceived, not actual.

The safest neighborhoods in Jakarta may be the ones where all the houses are surrounded by 3 foot fences, where the residents don't feel the need to lock their gates, where people know their neighbors and everyone participates in community activities. By becoming a member of your community, you can be assured that your safety will become a community concern, just as your neighbors well-being should be your concern.

High fences surrounding your property do discourage theft and do protect your privacy. But they also make it difficult for neighbors to see if someone is breaking into your home. Many homes have burglar bars (tralis) on the windows to discourage unwanted entrance. Keep in mind that they also make exit in the case of fire impossible. If your home has tralis, make sure that at least one of them is releasable from the inside.

Read our article on watchmen and guards for more information on the roles of these security staff.

Statistics tell the story

Despite the fact that the statistic-gathering abilities of the national police in regards to crime reporting are inconsequential at best, expats agree that the crime rates and the type of violent crime in Jakarta have been substantially lower than any major western city.

We have certainly seen an upswing in crime as more and more of the unemployed/criminals are turning to theft to feed their families. Outside of the crimes associated with the extraordinary May 1998 riots, the growing rise in crime is mostly petty theft. Thieves climb over the walls to steal small items, electronics, cash or jewelry.

Instances of motorcycle crime are also reported. The most common MO is when a man and his accomplice on a motorcycle 'snatch' at a female pedestrian's purse. The biggest danger is that the woman would be dragged as she fights to keep her purse. Security advisors will advise ladies “it's best to just let it go”. Another common MO is to grab and then cut the strap of a woman's purse with a knife or sickle and run off on a motorcycle. Although it is understandable that both the purse and the contents are important to the owner, it is unlikely that the value is more important than the safety of your person. To prevent these instances from occurring, or at least to deter it from happening to you, wear a long-strapped purse across your chest in public or at least have the purse away from the side of passing traffic  or consider keeping your valuables in a belly bag.

People at your gate

Make your security policies very clear to your household staff. Tell your jaga (watchman)and household staff that under no circumstances is anyone to be let into the house or even the yard without your presence and permission. There is no reason for any unsolicited salesman, solicitor or dubious official or inspector to gain access to your premises in your absence. If you are in the house and the jaga cannot send them away, you can talk with them through the closed fence or standing outside your gate. In fact, it is your jaga's job to keep these people from bothering you unnecessarily.


The number of scams perpetrating on unsuspecting people as well as household staff is endless. Common ones are people coming to the door saying, "Your boss asked me to pick up the television for repairs" or "our boss said I should check the house for termites". The naive household staff gets the boss' camera and turns it over to the happy scam artist or lets the person into do their inspection, which is actually a chance for thieves to checkout your home. Give very clear, strict instructions to your household staff that they should NEVER, EVER give an item that belongs to you to someone without your specific prior instructions. Likewise, they should NEVER allow admittance to your yard or home to ANYONE without your specific prior permission. Instruct them that even other expats can be a potential thief and in fact this has occasionally happened in the past.

Dubious officials may try to gain entrance to your home in your absence. Your household staff should feel secure to tell them to call your office (and not from your phone) or to return when you are home in the evening. Tell them not to be intimidated by a uniform or the supposed ranking of the official. If the officials visit is legitimate, they will return. They can also write out a message and give it to your staff with their phone number and you can have someone who speaks Indonesian call them to find out what they need.

If you think the person is dubious:

  1. ask for their KTP (identity card) and write down the number and address,
  2. ask for their surat tugas (duty letter) which should show that they have the authority from their office to do what they are trying to do.
  3. ask for a letter from your RT (Neighborhood Chief) giving them the authority to carry out this solicitation in your neighborhood.

99% of the time the person will leave when you ask to see one of these documents, assuring you that their request was not legitimate.

Praise your employees when they adhere to your security related policies. They know that they are responsible for the house and its contents in your absence. Giving them clear instructions and ensuring them that they will have your support for their actions helps them to carry out your wishes.

Safety in your Car

Follow these tried and true tips for safety in your car (most of which are true in your home country too!):

  • Ensure your car is well maintained and that you have all the necessary equipment in the car for emergencies: first aid kit, spare tire (with air), jack, jumper cables
  • Learn the streets and how to get around. Get a good map or GPS system to help you navigate
  • Keep water and snacks in the car, in case you are caught in a traffic jam
  • Keep your cell phone fully charged and have a charger in the car so it will be ready for use in an emergency
  • Keep your doors locked and your windows up at all times
  • If you want to buy something from a street vendor, keep your window up and look through the window, or roll it down the minimum amount possible to see the item
  • Drive to a safe, well lit location to change a flat tire

In the 70s a common form of thievery was to snatch women's purses or men's watches through the open windows of cars at stop lights. The prevalence of air-conditioned cars today has reduced the opportunity this specific MO for petty thieves. Even so, keeping your car doors locked at all times while driving/riding in a car or taxi is a good safety precaution.

Just as you would do in your home country, when entering or exiting your car in public areas, it's a wise precaution to glance around the car to ensure that no one is around as you descend from the car. Many car owners choose to tint the glass of their cars, not only for increased comfort in the tropical climate, but also to reduce the visibility of people looking into your car. At most major street corners there are people selling items alongside the cars. You may find it irritating to have these hawkers constantly looking in your car and the tinted glass will help to ensure your privacy.

If you choose to give a small amount of money to beggars on the street, only roll your window down far enough to slip out the money. In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of crime directed at drivers and passengers of cars. Toll roads leading out of Jakarta are targets, certain intersections seem to have more crime than others, late night drivers need to be especially careful.

One common MO is to for criminals to scatter tacks or nails in the street, and then they offer to help motorists who stop for flat tires. In the early morning they put out nails, metal scraps and other sharp objects on busy streets inside plastic bags or matchboxes, which then puncture the tires of unknowing passers by Then they station themselves down the road a ways and offer to help you repair your tire, for a fee of course.

Usually they are just looking to make the money for changing the tires, but sometimes the 'assistance' turns into a robbery. Knives and sickles are the weapon of choice for most criminals who target car passengers and drivers. If you are caught in a dangerous situation, it's best to surrender whatever is requested without a fight as desperation can lead to violent acts. Others choose to drive on with the flat tires ... until they get to a well-lit public place to attend to the (then ruined) tires.

In the last decade stories started circulating about people on the road near Puncak who discovered their tires were smoking. Of course they stop to see what the problem is, and then a group of locals begins to force their help upon them ... when in fact there is NOTHING wrong with the tire. They had poured some substance on the road down the way ... knowing that many drives would notice the smoking tires and stop their car down the road a ways.

Don't feel that being a foreigner will somehow protect you from petty criminals. Even diplomats must ensure their own safety, as only the ambassadors are protected by the Indonesian government. While foreigners are not necessarily the targets of crime, they inevitably get hit as well as other Indonesians.

Another caution is regarding use of your handphone or tablet in the car. It's best to only use it while the car is moving and when you pull up at a red light either finish the conversation or if it is at night, turn over the devise so that the illuminating light from the screen does not become a beacon for thieves. There was a reported incident when a person was using his laptop in the car at night his window was bashed in and he was robbed of his laptop. This could also happen to steal cell phones/tablets.

Your driver may want to listen to El Shinta radio station (90 FM) for traffic updates to help you avoid some traffic congestion, when possible.

Taxi crime

Crime perpetrated in taxis has been growing in recent years. The most common MO is when the taxi driver stops to "talk to a friend" or "give a friend a ride" and the unwitting passengers are set upon and robbed by the group of men that are in cahoots with the taxi driver.

Another MO is that the driver pushes back his chair and traps the passenger behind him by trapping his/her legs ... then they turn and rob you. If you are alone in a taxi, always sit on the left hand side in the back.

Upon entering any taxi, lock ALL of the doors, including the drivers. This little act will show the driver that you are concerned with your safety. If a taxi driver tries to stop to talk to someone, protest LOUDLY and tell him to continue on Terus, Pak, jangan berhenti!

Check to see that the child safety locks are not switched on and that the windows have handles. Some taxis are set up to minimize your escape routes with the handles taken off for the back seat windows and the child safety locks are activated - which means that you can't open the door from the inside.

The best precaution is to only take reputable taxis, Blue Bird, Silver Bird or other widely recommended taxi firms. Write down the number of the taxi and the driver's ID number so that you can make a complaint about any suspicious behavior of the taxi driver.

What to do if you're in an accident

Another safety concern is when you are riding in a car that is involved in an accident. In most cases, the driver of the car is held responsible in any accident involving a pedestrian, motorcycle or bicycle, no matter how undisciplined the other driver was behaving. It is always best to allow your driver to 'negotiate' with the other parties in the accident. Once an expatriate gets out of the car, the whole picture changes. To Indonesians the fact that you stop and get out of the car to inquire into the injured parties well-being is an admission of guilt on your part in the accident.

In most cases the injured party or the person with the damage vehicle will try and seek reimbursement from the person that looks most likely to be able to pay for it, and in most cases they will turn to the foreigner. It is not mandatory to carry insurance so not all people have or can afford to insure their property. Often the driver of the vehicle is not the owner and they will be scared that they will be held responsible for damages, which in most cases they cannot afford.  It's best to write down and hand the other party the address of the working spouse's office, and the name of an Indonesian staff member or HR manager at the office who can negotiate/address the claims of the other parties. Don't let the driver tell the other party where you live or where he lives or show any drivers license or car documents to them if you can avoid it. Just let your office handle it.

If you're in a situation where you are driving, just hand them the contact information at your office (not your home) and let an Indonesian in your office work it out. Accidents can quickly cause the normally polite Indonesian to lose their tempers and in cases an increasing number of, get violent. Staying calm will do much to help defuse the situation.

Of course, if someone is injured in the accident, ensure that the person is quickly transported to a clinic. You will be expected to cover the medical charges and may be asked for an additional sum.

In traffic accidents involving buses, when a bus driver runs into a pedestrian or kills someone in a collision, the bus driver often immediately runs away. That is because he knows that the mob will gather and instant justice will be meted out, often resulting in severe injury to the bus driver. This is rarely heard of in accidents involving private cars. However, if you feel at all in danger, don't hesitate to leave the scene of the accident and drive to a safe location, be it your home, the working spouse's office, a police station, or your embassy.

Carrying valuable documents

Despite the Indonesian government's insistence that all expats must carry the original copies of their identification papers with them, many people choose not to do this. If you should lose the papers or they should be stolen, it will be time consuming and costly to replace them.

Instead, carry a photocopy or a laminated scan of the ID card as well as your ITAS card. Photocopies of the current visa pages of your passport are fine and if there is ever a question why you are not carrying the original, a good excuse is “it is at the office for renewal”. If a government official has a legitimate reason to see your documents, he can certainly be referred to your sponsoring company to see the originals.

Out and About Town

Exercising common sense in your demeanor in public places will go far to ensure your personal safety. In our home countries we expect visitors to our shores to comply with what we consider acceptable standards of behavior and not to be rude or arrogant. Here it is no different. A smile and a friendly gesture go a long way to bridging the cultural gap here in Indonesia as these actions do in most other countries.

Targets of street theft are often those who are careless in matters of personal safety. Exercising common sense in your demeanor in public places will go far to ensure your personal safety. Avoid attracting attention and becoming a target of street theft by wearing lots of expensive jewelry and watches in public, or displaying large amounts of cash when making purchases, especially in the more traditional shopping areas.

Just as in any major metropolitan area anywhere in the world, there are areas of Jakarta that may not be safe and certainly not after dark. Ask Indonesian friends and colleagues where these areas are, so that you can consciously avoid them.

When in a restaurant, don't hang your purse across the back of a chair or set it down by the table. Even in five-star hotels purses have been known to disappear in the midst of a meal.

In the supermarket, don't leave your purse in the trolley while you shop, keep it on your person. In department stores, keep your purse close to you. Don't set down your shopping bags and turn away to look at other items. In a flash, someone could easily slip up and walk away with your bags.

More tips ... In crowded places men are advised to carry their wallet in a front pocket or a buttoned pocket. Don’t leave valuables in a coat or jacket hung over the back of your chair. Carry with you at all times photocopies or printouts of color scans of your passport and ITAS /ITAP, and remember to carry the originals if you are traveling outside Jakarta.

All family members should carry a hand phone at all times. Ensure that emergency numbers are programmed into your hand phone and that you have a list of important phone numbers kept in a safe place. Commit to memory at least one number, such as your home number, office number or your spouse’s hand phone number, just in case your hand phone is stolen or damaged.

If you follow simple safety precautions, you will find your stay in Jakarta a very safe one. The writer of this article has lived here for 14+ years and never yet experienced an instance of theft.

At the Airport

  • Be aware of pick pocket schemes involving the selling of goods using distractions. Criminals are aware of the fact that most travelers have more than the usual amount of cash with them. Do not carry more than you are willing to lose.
  • Try not to linger before the security checks and have tickets, etc. ready before exiting. Have a small amount of money available separate from your purse or wallet.
  • Watch your purse, briefcase, laptop and bags carefully as they go through metal detectors. Do not feel rushed or pressured to pass through if your belongings have not entered the machine. Allow the person in front of you to clear through the scan before you move forward. There have been incidences where the person was delayed moving through the scanner and when they went to collect their bags on the other side, their bag was missing.

Public Crime

The reaction of the crowd who takes the law into their own hands does much to deter public crime in Indonesia. Pickpockets who are caught in the act are often beaten by crowds that quickly form when the victim cries out in outrage. Often a pickpocket is caught by others who are on the watch for the personal safety of those around them.

If anything should happen to you, your first reaction should be to scream LOUDLY. In almost any location a crowd will quickly form and the perpetrator will be quickly caught by the crowd.

Night Club Crime

A common MO amongst thieves is to look for inebriated expatriates leaving a nightclub and follow them home where they would be robbed in their car/taxi or at their home in collaboration with a 'working girl'. There is no need to state the quite obvious precautions that could be taken to avoid being the victim of crime in these circumstances. There have also been instances where drugs have been put into drinks which causes the person to black out and have a total loss of memory as to what happened. It is advised to be cautious and never leave your drink unattended and then come back to it to finish it after returning from the toilet or the dance floor.

Ability to Communicate in Bahasa Indonesia

If you are able to speak to speak Bahasa Indonesia, you can usually solve most of your problems yourself. We encourage you to learn Bahasa Indonesia, as the ability to communicate with those around you will do much to improve the not only your feeling of safety, but the quality of your stay in Indonesia.

The American Women's Association's Indonesian Words and Phrases has a special section on language for emergency situations, theft, fire and accidents. You will find this book useful in learning other basic language as well.

Stories from the 1997/1998 riots

In the unrest during these years, the only incidents that we heard of where the crowd's behavior adversely affected an expatriate, was where an expat, unaware of what was going on, drove into an area where a demonstration/riot was going on. If you find yourself in this situation, don't scowl or yell at the crowd, even if they jump on your car or hit it. For your own safety, it's best to smile and drive slowly through the crowd, with a nod of the head or wave of the hand to the protesters until you are safely past. A confrontational stance in this type of situation could be very dangerous.

If possible, stop your car on the side of the road and wait for the protesters/demonstration to pass. No matter what you are feeling, smile and joke with the protesters. Give them money if they ask for it. Remember that it's not political principles that you need to be concerned with in this instance, but the preservation of your own personal safety. Needless to say, the events surrounding the May 1998 riots threw all statistics out of kilter with the widespread damage, looting and physical abuses heaped upon Chinese Indonesians who became the scapegoat of the masses for the economic depression the country has sunk into. Keep it in mind that foreigners were not the targets of the anger that overflowed during those troubled days.

If you are concerned about evacuation in the case of an emergency, read our article on Emergency Preparedness.

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Last updated April 4, 2016