Expat tips: Moving to Jakarta, what you need to know

As an expat, Jakarta is not the kind of place one falls in love with at first sight BUT with the right setup and an open mind, there is plenty to enjoy. Here is what I wish I had known when we decided to relocate here.

HOUSING

What are the expat areas?

Choosing where you’ll live is key to the success of your relocation. Avoiding traffic as much as possible is essential, but finding a community to surround you and your family is equally important.

Most international schools are located in the southern part of Jakarta so nearby areas such as Kemang, Pondok Indah, Cipete, and Cilandak are most popular with expatriate families with school-aged children. Note however that it usually takes over an hour to get to central Jakarta during rush hour.

For families with a parent working in the center and kids who do not require attending international schools, neighborhoods such as Menteng, and Kuningan are good options, with local but english speaking preschools, good access to large malls, small play centres for babies, and a greater choice of restaurants and bars. This is our current situation, and thanks to that, we never have to sit in the car for more than 20 minutes (school, office, mall, park) .On the other hand, not many expat families live in our area, which means fewer opportunities to socialize and less expat-oriented services (daycares, playgroups, international clubs are far…).

Kebayoran Baru, Senayan and Senopati areas are sort of in-between and have good housing options.

Housing in Jakarta, what you should know

Landlords require tenants to pay a minimum of 1 year rental upfront, and a lot require 2 years so it is important to take that into consideration when negotiating your relocation package.

That also means that landlords don’t really have an incentive to help tenants sort out issues once the annual rent is paid.

If paying 1 year upfront is impossible, serviced apartments may offer an alternative solution.

What you need to check before signing the lease

If possible, try to talk to people who live in your preferred area/compound to find out:

  • morning prayers volume
  • potential flooding during rainy season
  • road access during rush hour
  • if your kids school can organize pick up from that location
  • how is the community? Are there lots of other families with similar aged children?…

(this Jakarta Mum Support Group on Facebook is a good place to ask questions, simply ask the admin to be added)

If you are planning to move in an apartment building but want to try it out before you actually sign the lease, check Airbnb to see if there might be apartments for short term rent in the same building. We were able to do that during our look and see trip, found out some issues and decided renting elsewhere.

House or apartment?

Both options have plus and minuses, here are a few things to consider:

When choosing a home, have in mind that your family will spend an unusual amount of time there (it is likely that one parent won’t be working, while kids will come home from school in the early afternoon).

  • Convenience and facilities vs space and privacy

Apartments usually offer many facilities on-site in addition to great maintenance service: garden with outdoor/indoor playgrounds, gym, pool, tennis court, function rooms… Some developments also have their own daycare, supermarket and direct access to malls. All of that means not having to face traffic, which means more quality time and flexibility.

Apartments are more expensive when looking at floor space and utilities are usually very expensive but don’t forget the price includes a gym, a pool, maintenance and security.

People who live in houses tend to hire security, gardener/pool boy, pay gym membership, have a full time helper.

For those who prefer living in a house and miss having access to great facilities, it might be worth checking townhouses (mostly located in South Jakarta) or joining nearby hotels / international clubs.

  • Live-in/out help

Having live-in or out help might also determine your choice. Maids quarters in apartments are usually ridiculously small.

  • Social life

Living in a house can be very isolating, especially if you are not living in South Jakarta.

For small children, school is only mornings, and afternoons alone at home can be boring. Afternoon activities and play dates will require a bit of logistics (having to take a car, facing traffic on the way back…). Living in an apartment is easier because children usually get together in the garden/playroom in the afternoon, or can go to each other’s house.

 

PLANNING YOUR MOVE

What you need to pack in your move

Anything specific: medicine, infant formula, and toiletries…

For your kids, bear in mind that anything imported is pricey in Jakarta so try to pack children books and toys (although some cheap English books can be found here), western style kid clothes, quality kid shoes…

Chances are you will be spending quite some time at the pool so I’d recommend buying swimming accessories (some can be found here but there isn’t much choice and prices are always higher): goggles, swimming diapers, floats, water toys…

Jakarta is hot and humid but don’t forget to pack some warm clothes, you may want to mountain hike or visit colder places from Jakarta.

Pack a first aid kit for minor and common injuries just in case. You can also purchase ready-made kits here at SOS clinics (very pricey though, Rp2,5 million for the vehicle first aid kit)

Ikea opened a store in Jakarta 1 year ago, which makes settling down easier but I found it much more expensive than France. You can check their catalog and full pricelist online here.

Plan your move wisely

Obtaining your resident permit may take a long time, which in turn will delay the arrival of your container. The whole process can take anywhere between 2 to 6 months so be prepared to live without most of your belongings for a few months.

Some companies offer furniture rental, Arbor and Troy is one of them.

 

HEALTH

How bad is the air in Jakarta?

It’s bad and wont get better anytime soon. Read more on this topic here.

Medical care

Foreign doctors cannot practice in Indonesia and there are only few Indonesian doctors with foreign degrees. There are however a few clinics with English speaking staff and what looks like western standard facilities.

For serious injuries and illnesses, many expatriates and Indonesians alike choose to go overseas for treatment (mostly Singapore because of its proximity) so it might be wise to check if your medical insurance can cover you outside of Indonesia.

Are you and your children up to date with vaccination? Different people recommend different immunization for Jakarta so it is best to seek professional advice.

Note that imported vaccines can be hard to find so it is best to get them done back home or time them with future trips.

 

WHAT I WISHED I HAD KNOWN BEFORE MOVING

  • Having to rely on help

When we were living in Shanghai, my husband and I were both working and our kids were going to daycare. We hired a part-time nanny to pick up our kids and prepare their dinner but we did not see her much as she would go home almost as soon as we got back from the office.

In Jakarta, things are very different. Without daycare, we rely on a full time nanny to help care for our kids and we also decided to hire a second person to help us with house chores.

This may sound extreme, especially if you are coming from a country where people don’t have help, but everything is less efficient here and the system is built on the assumption that each child has an accompanying adult all the time.

People who live in houses usually have a rotation of security guards at their home, perhaps also a poolboy/gardener and a driver who also spends time around the house.

Being able to hire help is wonderful in many ways, but sharing childcare and the intimate space of your home with strangers also takes great adjustment.

  • On finally feeling comfortable

Before coming, I knew finding a job (and getting a work permit) would be complicated but that was only part of the problem. Although I was definitely missing work, it took me 9 months to be ready for it. This is obviously very personal but I felt adapting to this city was a rather long process: getting to a point where I was feeling confident about leaving the kids to our nanny, learning to navigate the city, helping the kids settle at their school (we changed school after one term), making friends…

That may sound very naïve but we were not first time expats, had visited Jakarta in the past and even have some relatives living here so we assumed settling would be easier.

I wished I had known it would take this long and adjusted my expectations accordingly (both financial and psychological).

  • Traveling in the region

With low cost airlines operating from Jakarta and many nice destinations within 1h30-3h flights, we thought we’d be able to organize weekend getaways but the reality is different.

Jakarta’s notorious traffic jams and systematic flight delays always turn an 1h30 flight into a 6-7 hour journey door-to-door, so leaving on a Friday to come back on Sunday isn’t really an option.

 

Have I forgotten anything? Please leave a comment if there’s anything else you’d like to know and click here to read tips on everyday life in Jakarta. 

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