I got the idea for this article after a friend asked me about living in Jakarta, in view of possibly relocating there. I realized what I had written could be interesting to other people who may also be relocating to the Gran Durian. Here is how our column “How do you live in…?” was born. If you would also like to share how life is in you host country, get in touch with us!
Jakarta is rather ugly. It grows at a vast pace. You find huge skyscrapers next to hovels and old typical houses. Like the rest of Asia, contrasts between new and old are marked.
Expats usually live in apartments in big complexes or super modern skyscrapers, equipped with all sorts of modern comforts. Others choose to live in houses.
As far as houses in Jakarta are concerned you’ll find some are quite big, some of them quite well maintained, whilst others are a bit run down. Many chose to live in a building or an apartment block because everything is included – maintenance, assistance, security etc.
If you live in a house you may suffer if you find that you happen to have a complicated or negligent landlord. Housing in general is pretty expensive and more or less the same as Europe. The good side of living in a compound is that, especially if you have kids, you find yourself immediately within a community. There are always playgrounds with one or more swimming pools. Many also organize common activities.
The cost of domestic staff is minimal and you can find fantastic baby-sitters and maids (and even cooks). The wonderful thing about Jakarta (which is true for all of Asia, I understand) is that whatever your needs, they’re available 24 hours a day and prices are low.
There are many international schools (like the Jakarta Intercultural School and the British School that offer the IB programme) and loads of expat associations, especially for women that organize a lot of activities. For a non-working partner (unable to work by law even if your partner has a working contract here), it’s impossible to be bored. In particular I recommend the Indonesian Heritage Society, a wealth of opportunities to make new friends, discover the Indonesian culture and even grow professionally.
The one and only really big problem in Jakarta is the traffic. The dreaded traffic is like a noose around your neck, always dictating the daily quality of your life.
This is why people desperately try to live as close as possible to schools or work places. At peak hours, moving around can be an absolute nightmare.
You will spend so much time in your car, it would be wise to equip it with pillows, books, dvds, computers and dongles.
Lucky are those who don’t have to follow regular working hours as the traffic outside peak travelling time isn’t too bad. It obviously requires a lot of motivation to move around by car.
If you travel outside Jakarta for the weekend, be prepared to spend hours in traffic queues.
You do eventually get used to the traffic. The locals don’t know what road rage is and seem to have endless patience when driving (I don’t know how they manage it).
The most beautiful aspect of living in Jakarta is undoubtedly its people. Indonesians are great!!! They are nice, cheerful, open and welcoming. You never feel threatened, the city is safe, there are no thefts, home robberies are rare. It really is a relaxing place to live (except for the traffic of course).
The country is developing very fast. Living in Jakarta means you are able to travel in one of the most beautiful countries in South-East Asia. There are loads of heavenly places just one hour’s flight away, and you learn quickly to overcome the issue of traffic travelling to the airport. After a while you get to understand the traffic rhythm and when is a good time to move around.
You can find almost all sorts of products in Jakarta. There are plenty of shops for children, loads of supermarkets stocked with wonderful fruit, meat, fresh fish… There are also all kinds of restaurants, for all tastes. There are some large multi duplex cinemas and a couple of small ones, theatres (but shows are played in Bahasa), and concerts from time to time. Foreign cultural centres are very active, and there are two wonderful and really interesting festivals every year (Java Jazz and the European Cinema Festival).
As far as health is concerned, Jakarta can prove a bit difficult, at least at the beginning of your relocation. The body must get used to equatorial bacteria. You have to be very careful with water and with what you eat, but neither of these things are difficult to manage.
The quality of medical care in Jakarta is not good. There is a lot of toing and froing from Singapore, where healthcare is world class. With a good medical insurance medical evacuation can be arranged quickly and easily. After living in Jakarta for a while, however, you do get to know the best doctors and it’s wise to start up your own medical address book.
I am happy in Jakarta even though the city is really ugly and lacks interesting places. Still, I must admit there some hidden pearls, like small private museums, gardens, ancient buildings and traditional homes. They are hard to find. One has to rely on the many expats associations that organize excursions and guided tours.
Moving on foot is difficult because in many areas of the city there are no pavements. However, the opening of a brand new metro line in 2019 offers new possibilities. New pavements have been built (though they are often used by undisciplined bikers) and with the clean and efficient metro, it is now possible to quickly reach the centre of town.
Walking or jogging is doable, though the possibilities can’t be compared to those of other cities. In some residential areas of Jakarta, especially in the south, there are tracks of some kilometres (in a relatively green environment). Every Sunday one of the city streets is closed to the traffic for a few hours, and it fills up with people of all ages who run, walk or go by bike. There is music, stalls and dancing, in a typical Indonesian style.
Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)
Article updated on February 2020