Do you agree with our list? What’s your main reason for living in Indonesia? Apart from work.
1. Friendly People
If you enjoy smiling and being around happy people, rather than being engulfed among miserable, frowning cynics, then Indonesia is the place for you. The word ‘friendly’ appears over 150 times in the current edition of Lonely Planet Indonesia, which doesn’t really do justice to just how hospitable Indonesian people are. Travel outside Jakarta and beyond the confines of tourist-traps, and you’re likely to be greeted with a genuine smile, welcomed into a house and offered a refreshing beverage. As individuals and families, Indonesians tend to be polite, respectful, helpful, humble, generous and inclusive. Don’t ever be upset by the Indonesian propensity to laugh when facing awkward situations. Alcohol is not widely consumed, so you’re unlikely to encounter many belligerent local drunkards. While smartphones are transforming people across the planet into self-obsessed zombies, a smile (rather than a smiley) still goes a long way in Indonesia.
2. Low Cost of Living
Living in Indonesia is cheap, unless you’re constantly buying imported luxury items. The tax regime is also favourable, from 5% to 30%. You can rent a basic two-storey house for about Rp50 million (US$3,530) a year or a simple apartment for Rp36 million (US$2,545) a year. Compare that to London or Sydney, where you’re looking at about US$10,000 equivalent per year for the cheapest apartment rental. Cable TV and unlimited internet cost about US$30 a month in major Indonesian cities. According to The Economist’s latest Big Mac Index, Indonesia is the 12th cheapest country in the world for a Big Mac (at US$2.34). Not that cheap junk food should be a reason for living somewhere, but you can purchase a bag of equally unhealthy fried snacks (gorengan) for much less than a Big Mac. Fuelling your car is also cheap. A litre of petrol costs about Rp10,000, half the average global price. Car repairs are inexpensive. A large dent and scratches on a sedan can mean a bill of about US$1,000 in the West, whereas in Indonesia, they can be repaired for Rp300,000 (US$21) in a couple of hours. Repairing yourself is cheap too. After smashing three of my front teeth in a road accident in Jakarta, I emailed an x-ray of the damage to an Australian dentist. He replied with a quote of “at least A$5,000”. A local dentist restored my smile for Rp6 million.
If you’re not fond of the freezing cold winters of North America and Europe or the scorching hot summers of Australia, then Indonesia offers idyllic tropical respite. Average monthly temperatures range from lows of about 22°C to highs of 33°C, all year round. The generally equatorial climate is hot and humid, punctuated by monsoonal downpours. This rainfall can lead to landslides (especially in deforested areas), floods and terrible traffic congestion. The timings of the wet and dry seasons depend on your location. In Jakarta and Bali, the dry season is from May to September. There are about 12 hours of daylight, roughly from 6am to 6pm. Indonesia is one of the rainiest places on the planet, especially in northwest Kalimantan and the western coast of Sumatra, while the eastern islands of Sumba, Flores and Timor tend to be drier. Despite all the wet, coastal waters are warm. Temperatures are generally cooler at higher elevations. Overnight frosts occur in some mountainous areas, though you’ll have to trek to Papua province’s highest mountain range to find any snow.
Plenty of Western countries issue travel advisories urging their citizens be vigilant in Indonesia. Yes, there are deadly natural disasters, transport accidents, lethal alcohol and occasional terror attacks. And sexual harassment and domestic violence are not unknown. But for the most part, Indonesia is very safe. Obviously, you shouldn’t flaunt your valuables in public, even though pickpockets are at risk of being beaten to death by angry mobs. Almost 16 million tourists visited Indonesia in 2018, while the country recorded over 95,000 legal foreign workers (mostly from China, Japan and South Korea). Provided you avoid illegal activities and exercise common sense, your visit or stay will likely be trouble-free. Crime tends to be non-violent in Indonesia, although there are cases of snatch-and-grab thefts, in which thieves on motorbikes try to seize smartphones, bags and other valuables from pedestrians or cyclists. There’s also a risk of having your drink spiked with sedatives and being robbed if you take home a new friend from a disreputable nightspot. If you have children, they’re less likely to be exposed to illicit drugs in Indonesia than they are in certain Western countries.
5. Never a Dull Moment
Life can be monotonous in overly-regulated nanny states, hamstrung by overzealous health and safety laws. If you’re looking for a country where law enforcement is flexible at best and politics are unpredictable, then Indonesia is beckoning. The “sprawling archipelago” (to employ a cliche beloved by foreign correspondents) used to be something of a “Wild West”, where you could go crazy, negotiate with the law and live like decadent royalty. Gone are the days when you could get away with anything, especially if you now work for a multinational that stringently follows US and/or UK regulations. Nevertheless, Indonesia can seem like the antithesis of an orderly utopia. You don’t have to try fornicating, drinking or smoking yourself to death in order to have a good time in Indonesia. Just the daily routine of navigating unfamiliar surroundings, counterintuitive logic and cultural contretemps can be adventure enough. The best thing about Indonesia is that anything is possible. The worst thing about Indonesia is that anything is possible.
6. The Great Outdoors
Indonesia has over 13,000 islands (only about 2,000 are permanently inhabited). It also has loads of public holidays and long weekends, so it’s easy to find time to travel. Whether you fancy climbing volcanoes, trekking through jungles, diving at coral reefs or just lazing on a beach, there’s no shortage of places to visit. You can also go on safari and observe endangered animals such as Sumatran tigers, rhinoceroses and orangutans before they are wiped out by the rapacious practice of transforming forests into plantations. There are accommodation options to suit just about every budget. Note that foreigners can be charged exorbitant fees to enter national parks and other tourism sites. Instagrammers keen on posting panoramic sunsets will have plenty of opportunities in Indonesia.
7. Instant Celebrity & Social Life
Are you afflicted by horrific social disorders? Desperate and dateless? Nobody pays attention to your YouTube antics? Or perhaps your holistic healing talents are being unfairly overlooked in your home country. Then make the move to Indonesia. As long as your personal proclivities are not illegal, it’s easy to find happiness in Indonesia. Some people like to engage in hedonistic pursuits. Others prefer to find a soulmate and get married. And some simply enjoy congregating with like-minded friends. If you’ve always craved attention or dreamed of being a celebrity, you won’t be ignored in Indonesia. Some expatriates go off the rails, drinking themselves to death or ending up in ill-advised, miserable marriages. Or both. So plan carefully and focus on a healthy work-life balance. Every dime you invest in a worthwhile activity, you’ll get a dollar back in friendships, job offers and happiness.
8. More Free Time: Affordable Household Help, Drivers
You don’t have to feel guilty about hiring people to do your cleaning, laundry, cooking, gardening, driving and other chores, provided that you’re a fair employer. Their salaries are usually going toward supporting their families, often putting a child or sibling through school. Relatively low wages and poorly enforced labour laws mean that many households can employ at least one domestic helper, live-in or live-out. You should be aware of minimum wage levels and the annual holiday bonus, plus overtime. It can be difficult for some people to find the balance between benevolence and strictness when it comes to being a boss. Just don’t fall into the mindset of thinking your comparative wealth makes you automatically superior. If your household staff are young and ambitious, don’t be shy to sponsor some part-time vocational training, even if it means they’ll eventually be moving on.
9. Cultural Diversity
There is no single Indonesian culture. There are dozens of cultures among the country’s many ethnic groups. You can immerse yourself in ancient Hindu temples in Java and Bali. Or you can trek to Tana Toraja in the northern highlands of South Sulawesi to observe mummified corpses adorned in makeup and finery. Alternatively, you could visit the Dayaks in Kalimantan and learn about their spiritual and agricultural traditions. You can also take gamelan lessons, master some new dance moves and ponder the perplexities of puppet shows. Or get yourself some tailor-made batik attire. If culture is not your strong suit, you can always worship at the altar of social media, posting some great selfies with backgrounds encompassing Indonesia’s rich cultural heritage.
10. Tropical Fruit
In some countries, it can be prohibitively expensive to graze upon fresh tropical fruit, such as mangoes, rambutan and mangosteen. Not so in Indonesia, which is blessed by fertile volcanic soil. Some fruit are seasonal, whereas others – such as bananas and papaya – are available year-round. Other popular choices include jackfruit (nangka), coconut (kelapa), soursop (sirsak), starfruit (belimbing) and snake fruit (salak). Imported cherries, raspberries and blueberries tend to be expensive, so focus on the local fruit (and vegetables) to get your vitamins and antioxidants. Note that many freshly squeezed fruit juices sold in stalls have added water and liquid sugar, so don’t be afraid to request “tanpa gula [without sugar]”, unless you’re keen on increasing the risk of obesity and diabetes. A deliciously healthy diet is just another reason to be happy in Indonesia.