By Edward Parker
Edward Parker, who works for a public relations firm, moved to Jakarta from London in 2012 with his partner (now his wife).
I moved to Indonesia with an open mind. My wife is half Indonesian and half British, and she helped me get up to speed on everything from social norms and food to Indonesian culture and politics.
Jakarta is a vibrant metropolis with a population of more than 10m. The climate is warm and sunny, apart from the monsoon season (November to March). This is very different to the cold winters and rain in the UK.
The lifestyle is good, even if you don’t have a huge wage packet. You can hire a maid or cleaning service at an affordable price, for example, allowing you to focus more on your work and social life and less on household chores.
Taxis and rides with hailing services Go-Jek and Grab are plentiful and affordable, so getting around is no problem — in theory. The traffic, however, is very heavy, and when it rains, roads almost grind to a halt. Walking is often not an option because of the poor footpaths and lack of an integrated public transport system. This April, though, the new Jakarta MRT elevated and underground train network opened, which should relieve some of the congestion on the roads.
I started my career at a public affairs firm in London, doing political lobbying. As I was in an entry-level position, London was prohibitively expensive. The commute each day was draining as I lived far from the city centre.
I much prefer living in Jakarta. I find the work more interesting than in the UK. The societal and economic challenges are different here as Indonesia is a fast-emerging market, predicted to be a global top 10 economy by 2030.
I live in south Jakarta, which is near my office and makes for an easier commute. Renting is affordable, though you usually have to pay six or 12 months’ rent up front. Some landlords will take monthly payments, but this is not the norm.
Tread carefully when considering buying. Foreigners are limited to owning one residential property in Indonesia and it has to fall under the Right of Use land title, locally known as Hak Pakai.
Entertainment choices are quite limited. Like most Jakartans, I spend a great deal of time hanging out in malls — mainly because of the convenience of having restaurants, coffee shops and retail outlets in one place, and, most importantly, air-conditioning. The best are Pondok Indah, Plaza Senayan, Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia.
Food is inexpensive, even in the more upmarket restaurants, which are mostly in malls. However, decent cheese is hard to come by and alcohol, especially wine, is very expensive and heavily taxed.
I like small bars and recently discovered Arrack & Spice, a cosy new cocktail bar in the Kuningan district that serves great unique drinks.
Other attractions include the museums in the old town, including the Fatahillah Museum, otherwise known as the Jakarta History Museum, and Bank Indonesia Museum. A good place to eat is the historic Café Batavia, which was once a residence and office for the Dutch governors. The National Museum in central Jakarta will give you a better understanding of Indonesia’s rich history and culture.
Green spaces and decent public parks are lacking in the city, but Bogor Botanical Gardens, 60km south of Jakarta, is worth a day trip.
You can also take a boat to Thousand Islands, an archipelago north of Jakarta where you can stay on a private island and enjoy the quiet beaches. Otherwise, you can hop on a plane and explore the rest of Indonesia, from Bali to Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo.
Learning at least a little Bahasa Indonesia, the country’s official language, will go a long way. Most importantly, it will help you understand local customs. Indonesians are quite reserved compared with westerners and can be rather indirect in expressing what they mean when they speak. Also, always give and receive with your right hand.
Foreigners in Indonesia do business in English. I made most of my friends at work — they all speak English fluently.
Beyond this, I recommend joining the British Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia — it is a good way to make friends and learn about the business environment — and the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, which holds regular events, including interesting discussions on Indonesian politics, the economy and society generally.
Indonesian people are some of the friendliest in the world, making living in smoggy and congested Jakarta much more palatable.
What do you wish you’d known before you moved?
How complex the work permit process is here — it can take months. Very few foreigners work in Indonesia, for the size of the country — certainly compared with neighbouring, and much smaller, Singapore.
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Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Dreamstime; Alexander Mazurkevich; Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club