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Hiring a Driver in Indonesia

In most developed countries, only the very rich can afford the luxury of a full-time chauffeur but in Indonesia it is normal for car owners to employ a full time driver. Indonesia's major cities are the scene of chaotic traffic on a daily basis. Whether it is a grid locked intersection, endless stop and go traffic or trying to navigate an automobile down a small lane that was intended to accommodate a horse-pulled cart at best, driving can be very stressful in Indonesia. Because of this, most car owners employ drivers so they can arrive at their destination less stressed.

Hiring a Driver

If a newly arrived expat is not assigned a driver from their company, they must go through the difficult process of searching for a suitable personal driver. Although it is a luxury to have someone drive you wherever you wish to go, choose wisely as you are entrusting you and your family members safety and well being to the judgments and actions of this person. You are also placing the keys of a very valuable and moveable asset in his trust!

Some companies will assist expats in finding a driver. They may pre-select a few candidates from a pool of known drivers and send them to your house for an interview, or you may prefer to interview them at the office. There are also agencies that have driver pools that will send you a driver every day (not necessarily the same person) with assurances that the driver is trustworthy and reliable. The advantage of this is that you can keep switching out the driver until you find someone that you are comfortable personally as well as with their driving style. There are also agencies that help you source drivers, much like maid agencies, and you are charged a fee for their service after which it is up to you to deal directly with the individual they refer. Some expats find their drivers from notices posted on announcement boards at the women's associations or at other expat community bulletin boards like the one located inside the American Club. Often too you can get a well-recommended driver who has worked for an expat family that is departing.

When possible, it is best to employ a driver that is recommended by a friend or a reliable source so that you can personally verify the reputation of this person. Even if the candidate comes highly recommended, be cautious and confirm his identify yourself by asking to see more than one piece of identification and check that the information and address on his documents is current. This identification may include his current driver's license, his KTP (local identification), and his Kartu Keluarga that lists persons living at his present residence. It is a good idea to make a photocopy of all these documents and keep them in your files in the unfortunate event that you may need them if the driver is involved in an accident, theft of your car or other police matters.

You might want to have a trusted third party go to his listed residence just to confirm that he actually lives there. Also, have someone else that you employ in your household find out where the driver lives and how to contact him in the case of an emergency and you need him outside his normal working hours. Most drivers are almost always contactable via mobile phone, but as a precaution it is advised that you know where they live.

The distance of a driver's residence from your house may be a factor of consideration if you are expecting the driver to be at your house very early in the morning to drive you to work or to take your children to school. Generally personal drivers realize that this is expected of them and are willing to come to work early. It should be made clear what working hours you expect and that in the case of taking children to school or you to the office you will not tolerate tardiness. The driver may request transportation money (uang transport) to cover the expense of his commute.

If you employ the driver for a long period of time, you may be expected to buy him a motorcycle. Normally this could be justified after at least one year of employment. Employers handle the payments for the motorcycle differently. Sometimes an employer buys a motorcycle and lets the driver use it while he is employed. In this case it is understood that the motorcycle belongs to the employer. This however can lead to the driver misusing the motorcycle and not maintaining it as well as he might if he owned it. A common solution to this problem is that the employer buys the motorcycle for the driver and deducts an agreed upon amount from his salary until the price of the motorcycle has been paid back. The employer holds the ownership papers to the motorcycle and only surrenders them to the driver after the vehicle has been paid in full. This system generally leads to the driver taking greater care in the maintenance of the motorcycle and less repair bills, which are normally considered to be the responsibility of the vehicle's owner. You should discuss what would happen if the motorcycle were not paid off and the driver ceases his employment, for whatever reason. In these cases the employer can either give the driver the opportunity to pay off the remaining loan or the employer reimburses the driver for some, but not necessarily all, of the money that the driver has contributed, then the employer maintains ownership of the motorcycle. Either way, it is important to make sure both parties agree to the resolution.

Make sure that the person's driver's license is valid and note the date of expiry. Once employed it is generally expected that the employer is responsible for paying for the renewal of the driver's license, unless you have made it clear upon hiring that you are not prepared to cover this expense. Most Indonesian driver's licenses are for a 5-year period. Renewal costs will be approximately Rp 200,000, depending on the type of license. The class of license is indicated by a letter that appears in the top right hand corner of the license. A personal driver or an office driver should be holding a class A license.

License Type

Permits Holder to Drive

A Sedan, van, pick-up truck
A umum Taxi or any small public vehicle
B Truck
B 1 2-axel truck
B 1 umum Bus, public vehicle, rental truck
B 2 Container truck or truck with trailer
C Motorcycle
C khusus Bajaj or bimo

You should ask the driver what kinds of vehicles he has previously driven and if he has ever driven the type of vehicle that you have. Not all drivers have experience driving automatic vehicles, as the majority of Indonesian car owners prefer manual transmissions. If you have an automatic vehicle, this should be mentioned. Most drivers will be open to learning to drive an automatic but it might take a couple of days for them to get used to the car.

Question the driver as to who he has driven for before. A person that has been an office driver and has driven a company pick-up truck making deliveries may not be qualified to be a personal driver. Although he may have a very good knowledge of streets, generally office drivers are trying to get to their destinations by the fastest means possible and have little consideration for traffic laws or the well being of passengers and an expensive private car. Scratches and bumps caused by reckless driving may go unnoticed on a company vehicle, but quickly become a very serious issue on a private car. Of course there are exceptions where the driver is looking to move to a more prestigious job and is prepared to alter is driving style in order to do a good job.

Ask the driver what areas of the city he has worked in before and what areas of the city he is most familiar with. If the driver will be responsible for taking you to destinations throughout the city, his knowledge of the streets is essential. Frequently your normal route to a destination may be blocked by heavy traffic. A wrong turn down a very crowded street during rush hour or limited knowledge of alternate routes can cause you HOURS of wasted time in traffic jams. Initially a driver may not be familiar with your office location or your favorite stores or restaurants, but a good general knowledge of the city and how to get around is a must. Most drivers take buses or use motorcycles for their own transportation around town and may be very familiar with bus routes and small streets, but if they are not experienced they may not know alternate routes suitable for private cars.

Other than confirming the driver's reputation and the authenticity of his documents, the next most important quality of a good driver is his driving style. Every person drives differently, and it's best to evaluate whether or not you like the way a driver handles a car by having him take you for a 15-20 minute test drive. It is normal that a driver that has never worked for an expat before will be very nervous during this test drive. Even a driver that has worked for a foreigner will be understandably nervous when asked to drive a vehicle that he has not driven before or driving in an area that he may not be totally familiar with. Regardless, you will get a sense of his driving style and capabilities and develop an impression as to whether you feel comfortable and safe with him.

If the test drive goes well and you are considering employment, most expats will agree to a 3-day to one-week trial employment and have him come to work on this basis so they can evaluate other aspects of his work before agreeing to full employment. This gives the employer a chance to see how he performs in other duties that make up a large part of his job. You can see if he comes to work on time, checks the overall condition of the car, washes the exterior and cleans the interior of the car to your satisfaction, generally knows how to get to the destinations that you want to go to, responds to the car call within a reasonable amount of time and of course his general driving habits. These things cannot be evaluated in a verbal interview or during a high-pressure test drive.

The hours that you expect your driver to work should be discussed in the initial interview. Office drivers will normally want to work 8-10 hours and then go home. Personal drivers generally have longer working days. If you require your driver to work more than 8-10 hours a day, you should discuss overtime with him. If you know his duties will involve waiting for you while you attend evening functions or work on Saturdays and Sundays, this overtime requires extra compensation. See a salary survey for what expats are currently paying for salaries and overtime.

You should be concerned and ask about the driver's vision and whether or not he uses glasses. Some drivers have impaired night vision. Some drivers already use glasses, but their prescription may need to be updated. If you are at all unsure and suspect he may have eyesight problems, have him take an eye test and ask to see the results. If it is discovered that your office driver needs glasses, it is likely that his insurance will cover the cost of the glasses. If that is not the case, you might consider buying the glasses for him.  Most expat employers will make an arrangement that the driver pay the amount or a portion of the total back with deductions from his salary.

Salary should be discussed but not finalized until you have had a chance to evaluate his driving capabilities and work habits. An English-speaking driver generally has higher salaries than a non-English speaking driver does. For an idea of what most expats pay their drivers, please refer to the salary survey results. Some people prefer not to have an English-speaking driver as this lets them discuss personal issues in the car or forces them to learn Bahasa Indonesia even if it is just for basic directions and instructions. Some expats enjoy practicing their Bahasa with their driver and other household staff.

Responsibilities of a Driver

Responsibilities of drivers will variety from employer to employer as they do with any other form of employment, however there are certain tasks that are generally considered to be the responsibility of the driver.

Drivers can take care of routine car-related tasks, including purchasing e-toll cards. These can be purchased at Bank Mandiri and can be refilled at Bank Mandiri, Pertamina gas stations, and Indomaret mini markets.

Check and maintain the everyday needs of the car

It is expected that the driver ensure the vehicle has sufficient gas, tire pressure is normal, there is windshield fluid in the container and no warning lights are lit on the dashboard. He should also be aware of scheduled oil changes and routine service. If any service is needed, it is the driver's responsibility to bring it to the attention of the employer and ask for money to take care of it or the time off needed to take the vehicle to be serviced if it is leased. A good driver will complete these tasks when he knows that that employer does not need his services and will complete them without interfering with the employer's schedule. There is nothing more infuriating than waiting in a 15-minute line up at the gas station to fill up the car when you are late for a meeting! It is uncommon that a driver would know detailed car mechanics as they have never personally owned a car and would never be given an opportunity to explore this aspect of the vehicle. They should, however, bring to your attention any strange noises or uncommon handling.

Washing and maintaining the cleanliness of the car

Most drivers will wash the car at least once a day, usually early in the morning. The interior is also cleaned as it is considered an embarrassment to the owner and the driver if they are driving around in a dirty car. Of course during the rainy season dirty vehicles cannot be avoided considering the conditions of the roads. Sometimes an early morning departure to school or the office necessitates the driver taking his cleaning kit in the trunk of the car so that he can wash the vehicle while he is waiting for his employer at their destination.

Passenger Safety

Because of the unique and often dangerous traffic conditions in Indonesia employers are entrusting their safety to the judgment and actions taken by their driver. If you use the driver to take your children to school, you are entrusting your most valuable possessions to him. If he has driving habits that you are uncomfortable with, such as tailgating, speeding, cutting off other vehicles, excessive honking, or jamming on the breaks, you need to address these issues as soon as you are aware of them and explain to him why you feel this type of driving is unsafe or irritating. Saving a few extra minutes on the road is not a good justification for reckless driving and endangering the safety of passengers.

The safety of the car while parked at locations other than the owner's residence

Good parking can be hard to find in many locations around town. Your driver may have to park in areas where the safety of the car is questionable. Tight parking situations can lead to scratches on paint jobs. Parking in (or even driving through) certain areas of the city could lead to missing side view mirrors or hubcaps. In worse case scenarios leaving a car unattended could lead to a stolen car and normally the vehicle is never recovered. It is a part of the driver's responsibility to stay close to the vehicle and make sure that nothing occurs to the vehicle while it is parked.

Advantages of having a driver

The most obvious advantage of employing a driver is that you do not have to deal with traffic while you are in transit to your destination. Not only does this reduce potential stress levels, but also it allows you to do other things during your travel time. Many businessmen take advantage of time caught in traffic to conduct business on their hand phones or tablets. This increases their productive time in the office. Other people like to read the morning paper or a magazine during their commute.

Drivers can also take care of many personal or business errands for you. These can include delivering documents, mailing a letter at the post office, shopping, or taking something to a friend's house. Some drivers are willing to do small fix-it jobs around the house as well.

In the unfortunate event of an accident, most expats are advised to let the driver deal with the parties involved. In other countries it may be an offence to leave the scene of an accident but in Indonesia sometimes it can be an issue of personal safety or someone trying to take advantage of a foreigner. It is generally advised that if the problem cannot be resolved quickly that you leave the driver with the car while you leave the scene by taxi and worry about the details later. Make sure, however, that he knows not to give out any personal information and if he is not able to resolve the issue, let the Human Resources staff at the office handle it on your behalf.

Your driver can also provide advice to you regarding petty crime, by giving you good information on various issues on the streets. If he tells you something isn't safe ... listen to him as he should have your well being, and that of your car in mind throughout the execution of his duties.

Your car may be insured, but the majority of vehicles in Jakarta are not as liability insurance is not mandatory. If you have an automotive insurance policy, make sure it covers your driver and determine ahead of time what will be required in the event of an accident. Make your driver aware of these requirements. If an incident is minor most car owners choose to settle the issue with the other car owner directly as getting the police involved can sometime make a simple situation VERY complicated. For more information read Personal Security at Home and Around Town.

Using a driver allows you be dropped off at the door at your destination. This is especially convenient if parking at the location is difficult or if it is raining. This in turn also ensures you get picked up in the same style. Most public places (malls, stores, office buildings) have a car call at the main entrance, a loudspeaker system that broadcasts in parking areas and announces to the drivers that their employers are ready to be picked up. Most people however only revert to this if the driver is not answering his hand phone. If you are using a new driver, before you get dropped off you should discuss how you will be calling him.

Many drivers are willing to meet you at the door and carry your bag, briefcase or shopping to the car for you. You can also instruct them to open the car door for you and assist you in other matters. Some expats appreciate this special attention, while others find it unnecessary. Either way if there is something that you would like your driver to do, make him aware of it as he may not be aware of your expectations.

Most expats become very dependent on their driver's knowledge to get them from point A to point B when they are newcomers. Even longer-term residents often rely on this knowledge when trying to find an address in an unfamiliar area of the city. The traffic flow and layout of the streets is often unclear and signage is scarce or non-existent in most areas. Once you are in the vicinity of your destination a living map, a person at the side of the street, offers the best clues at how to reach an unfamiliar destination. Most drivers will stop and ask for directions before they would ever look at a map. Having said this, many drivers who have worked for expats are familiar with the Falk Street Atlas and would appreciate having a copy in the car to help them find unfamiliar destinations. Time spent teaching your driver how to use a map would also be wise! Some people will have GPS installed in their cars, however this is still not that common.

The downside to asking people on the side of the street for directions is that many Indonesians are loath to admit they don't know where something is. They often give incorrect instructions so that they don't lose face.

If you have out of town guests and cannot afford to take off the time needed to drive them around sightseeing or shopping, your driver can take them around town for you. By using your driver you know that they will get to and from their destinations safely and not have to hassle with finding a safe taxi or communicating their next destination with a taxi driver. If you cannot spare your driver to your guests, there are car rental agencies that do have English speaking drivers that come with the rental vehicle and can act as a tour guide for your guests.

Disadvantages of Employing a Driver

As with all good things there are negative aspects to employing a driver as well as good:

  • Employing a driver increases the monthly expenses of running your car.
  • Planned schedules can be greatly disrupted by a driver that shows up to work late or not at all.
  • If a driver falls asleep while waiting for you at your destination he may not hear the call car or his ringing hand phone. This can be very frustrating and delay your plans while you or a security guard scour the parking lot to try and find out where your driver has parked. In cases when a driver is on the road frequently with your children it is nice to be able to contact them when they do not arrive at their destination by the expected time. If they are caught in a traffic jam, you can contact them and find out what the problem thereby relieving your anxieties.
  • Although rare, there have been cases in which a driver has sexually abused children or teenage girls or boys that they drive for. Some people prefer that a maid accompany the children in situations where children would otherwise be alone in the car with a driver. Parents should be aware of this possibility to prevent its occurrence.

Indonesian drivers have been known to try to cheat their employer in various ways. Some of the more common ways are:

  1. Filling the car up with gas but asking the attendant for a receipt indicating an inflated amount. The driver then pockets the difference.
  2. Asking for reimbursement for parking or toll fees that were not actually incurred. If the receipts are legitimate of course they should be reimbursed, however drivers can obtain receipts from someone else and ask for reimbursement. A common scam occurs when drivers take guests to the airport. Instead of taking the toll road they take the normal roads. Along these roads are children selling toll receipts to passing drivers, some from the same day and others from other days. The driver presents the toll receipt to his employer asking for reimbursement, thereby giving him some extra pocket money.
  3. When asked to take the vehicle for repairs sometimes a driver will collaborate with the repairman and the results is an inflated receipt total being presented to his employer. If you have any doubts about the price on the bill, it is best to phone the repair shop and confirm the actual cost of the repair job.
  4. Out of convenience some car owners leave money in the car that is to be used for parking and toll roads. Normally this is a small amount of money that is placed within reach of the driver so he does not have to continually be asking you for money during your travels. This however, may be a temptation to a driver that is in need of money who subsequently helps himself to this money. Although it may not be a large amount of money, accumulated over time it can add up to a substantial amount. If an employer suspects the driver of taking this money, the solution may to not leave money in the car or to keep close tabs on it. A handy solution is the e-Toll card, which can be used on most toll lanes in Jakarta. The prepaid cards can be purchased in Indomaret, Alfamidi, Alfaexpress, Alfamart and Mandiri Bank branches and filled up at any of 74 bank's ATM machines. Use of the e-toll cards also helps move you through the toll gates faster!
  5. Some drivers, more commonly office drivers than personal drivers, may purposely take routes known to be congested in order to take longer to reach their destinations and warrant overtime. In some cases, drivers have been caught stopped by the side of the road sleeping or chatting at a warung when they are supposed to be in route to the office. Although some delays can be expected, if continuous overtime is asked an employer should become suspicious.
  6. Some drivers also try to use your car for personal use. If you notice that your drive is taking an excessive amount of time to run your errands, you can suspect that he is running personal errands with your car and gas on your time. A reminder that the car is not to be used for his personal errands, and a close eye on the odometer will often solve this problem.

Things can happen

Although rare, there are other possible occurrences that you should be aware of when you employ a driver.

When a car owner is out of town on home leave or holiday normally the keys to the vehicle are left at their residence and the driver is expected to start the car daily and run the vehicle to keep the battery charged, if the employer's absence is over a long period of time. Some drivers have been known to take advantage of this situation and use the vehicle to transport family members on an outing or on a trip home to the village. Some employers may allow this to happen in special circumstances, however you should be aware that this is not a common or recommended practice. A dedicated driver that is honest and has worked for the employer for a long period of time may be granted this privilege. It is advised that you check and note the mileage of your vehicle before you leave on holiday and make sure your driver knows your policy against personal usage during your absence. Drivers often collaborate with other household staff in this, so don't expect your maid or cook to tell you what he's been up to in your absence.

Another MO can occur after a new driver is recently employed. He works for his new employer for a few days until he is familiar with his daily routine. After learning this routine and waiting for an opportunity, he drives the owner to work. When the owner of the car calls for his driver in the afternoon to go home, he is horrified to discover that the driver left after he was dropped off that morning and neither the driver nor the car is ever seen again. In this criminal activity, cars get driven to another city and are stripped for parts or sold for a low price. In these circumstances it is not much use to be holding the registration of the car, however as a precautionary measure you might want to hold these documents with you until you are confident of the honesty of the driver. At least then in the case of theft you have proof of ownership of the car for police and insurance reports. It is because of this risk that you need to be VERY cautious about determining the true identity of the driver before you ever give him the keys to your car.

In the event of a serious accident your driver will never be able to compensate you for the damage that has occurred to your vehicle. Before hiring you should discuss what you feel is reasonable recourse in the event of an accident. A broken headlight or minor bodywork that happened due to negligence on the driver's part may be deducted from his salary, however a driver could never pay for major body work. If your driver caused an accident, the most typical action for an employer is to fire the driver.

One expat's story with frequent accidents is: "We arrived in Jakarta, about a year ago. Everything went just fine for the family, until we got our brand new company car and a driver. Now, two months into the driver's job, he keeps having accidents, a bump from a motorcycle or a car. This always happens when we are not in the car. It started with once a month to twice a month. When I asked the driver about it he said 'there's insurance'. I figured this man is relying on the insurance of the car and doesn't mind his driving. So I asked my husband to advise him about driving carefully; what if our children are in the car? So he had another accident and we told him that he has to pay for it in spite of the insurance. Wow! That's when we realized the driver was milking the company in a way. The person who he had an accident with, promised to pay him 500,000 rupiah! He only informed us of this when we insisted he pay for it after a fair warning. After that he hasn't had any more accidents ever, a year later. So just be on the lookout for those consistent accidents.

Out of town trips

If you are planning a trip out of town and want your driver to drive you, he will expect an additional payment over his normal compensation. It will also be expected that you provide money to cover his sleeping accommodations and meals. Some hotels provide drivers' sleeping rooms that can be rented at a very modest price, ask about this when you book. If not, normally a driver can find lodging at a nearby losmen or inexpensive hotel. These amounts should be discussed and agreed upon before you leave so you do not have any misunderstandings during your trip.

Drivers are not indispensable

Although most expats rely on drivers for their transportation, it is a good idea to also obtain a local driver's license or bring an international driver's license from your home country so that in the event of an emergency you are not left immobile. In the case of a child getting sick in the middle of the night or other medical emergencies you cannot always wait for your driver to be contacted and drive you to the hospital. When a driver unexpectedly does not show up for work, it won't ruin your plans for the day if you are licensed to drive yourself rather than calling a taxi. Having your own license gives you a Plan B.

A newly arrived expat may not be adventurous enough to want to drive in the first few weeks after arrival. However many expats miss the independence and privacy that self-driving affords. Sunday traffic is often very light and offers a good chance for an expat to get used to the Indonesian driving experience.

Appreciate the service

Although there may be incidents with your driver that inconvenience you, the overall opinion of most expats is that drivers provide a wonderful service to the car owners of Indonesia. Having to deal with all the adjustments of living in a foreign country can be eased when you know that your transportation to and from your daily activities is being taken care of by a qualified driver. Considering the hectic traffic that occurs on the busy streets in Indonesia, a qualified driver can be an invaluable employee and a luxury that you will dearly miss when you return to your home country. Appreciate the convenience while you can!

Electronic Road Pricing System

The trial for this latest idea to reduce traffic congestion is scheduled to begin in July 2014. A device, placed in the windshield, will be read by automatic sensors and the amount due for the toll during particular hours will deducted from the pre-paid card/registered bank account.

It's possible that this system may replace the “three-in-one” policy in place, if it proves effective.

You can learn basic phrases to instruct your driver in Indonesian Words and Phrases - a phrase book for expats.

Selamat Jalan!

Partially updated September 20, 2022