Expat Living in
Balikpapan, Samarinda and Bontang, Kalimantan
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The town itself is very safe and quiet and relatively clean with a mix of Indonesians from all over the archipelago and a large number of expatriates mainly from US, France and Australia. However many other nationalities are also represented. Expatriates work mainly in the oil and mining industries and associated service companies. Unocal and Total have a big presence with their own housing compounds.
The population is approximately 700,000. Balikpapan is at its heart a timber/mining town, and has the characteristics of it. It has a good mall, great seafood, and great outdoors activities (because there aren't many indoor activities), and a new giant stadium.
The weather is hot and humid around 78°F - 90°F.
The Balikpapan International Women's Association (BIWA) organizes golf, tennis, bowling, craft and bridge activities for members, organizes social functions for the community a few times a year and has a very active charities committee. Their website has good information on living in Balikpapan and they publish the Balikpapan Guide Book. The Guide Book provides a wealth of information about shops, businesses, things to see & do around Balikpapan, plus other information, with maps in the back of the book. A very useful tool for newcomers to Balikpapan as well as tourists visiting Balikpapan.
There are several expatriate groups of men and women that mountain bike around Balikpapan. One can easily find out about the groups by asking either a Total or Unocal employee. The mountain biking quality in the Balikpapan area is excellent.
BBB - Balikpapan's Best Bunch - a golfing organization that meets every Saturday at the Balikpapan Sepinggan Golf Course. On the last Saturday of each month they have a competition (the monthly medal), playing 18 holes with prizes going for best scores in an A and B flight (Best Net, Best Gross (first, second and third), Lowest Putts). They have recently started a 9-hole competition for new golfers to encourage them to enjoy the game. This group also organizes a yearly Ryder Cup competition as well as the annual Borneo Bash. There are other competitions throughout the year.
There are several Hash House Harriers groups in Balikpapan:
Borneo Bears - Australian Football
Alliance Francaise has French classes and occasionally organizes concerts.
There is a bridge group at Unocal and at Batakan.
Balikpapan Expats website
Honorary Consulate of France in Balikpapan
Your company may provide housing in a company complex, provide you with an allowance to pay for your housing in the community or may pay your rent direct to the landlord. Check with your Human Resources departemtn to see how they handle housing for their expat employees and their families based in Balikpapan.
Most expatriates live on compounds, either those company run (Total, Chevron, Schlumberger,) or private real estate developments. It is recommended to get a house in an established complex favored by expats, as in general there are less problems with the supply of electricity and water and other infrastructure. An advantage to living in a complex is that PLN, the national electric company, only works part time in Balikpapan, never full time….so established housing complexes are mostly run on backup generators.
There is a good supply of good quality Western-style housing, on and off compounds but rents are expensive - average rents are $1,350-1,800 per month with service charges on top. However cheaper houses can be found off compounds.
Comments from residents about the various housing complexes:
Vilabeta housing ... “is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Even the bar and restaurant in the complex are decent by international standards. Golf course is next door and the shopping centers are down the road.?”
In Balikpapan Baru you can get homes from US$800 – US$1,500/month. These are fairly reasonable houses, meaning reasonable to good dependant on your taste (and if you haven’t been spoilt by expat living in Jakarta).
Lots of expats live in Balikpapan Baru as it's safe and inexpensive. There is another complex called Wika complex, which is quite big and has a mixture of expats and Indonesians, another one down the road called Bukit Damai which offers expat housing and reasonable prices. At all of these places you do not need your own security guards.
Palm Court in Batakan (on the beach) has just built some new houses which are are $1800 to $1350, three and two bedroom with electricity included. It is a good complex and has facilities such as tennis court, 22.5 meter swimming pool, restaurant, squash courts, and children's park. You can sit in your backyard watching the sunset over the water. Magic! It is as safe as it can get, security is fine.
You can rent houses in town that are fantastic …..but you have to be lucky to find them.
Balikpapan is not really that expensive, unless your package comes with the housing…..then you go for the likes of Villa Beta and KBC II and III complexes where the houses are expensive, even compared to Jakarta.
As stated, power and water outages are common and if there is a prolonged period of dry weather, the water company will turn off the water so that residents have to rely on tanker water. It is essential that expatriates that live off compounds ensure they have a water storage tank for these periods.
There is generally no problem with telecommunications and there are a number of Internet service providers who provide varying levels of dial-up service. It is important to note that it is difficult to access the Internet during the peak hours of Mon-Fri 8am-6pm. Most houses rented out to expatriates will already be connected to the phone.
Indovision, the satellite TV service, is available in Balikpapan and the reception is generally good.
Imported food items are available through a number of outlets:
JIMS, a new big shop located at Balikpapan Baru, sells electronics, furniture, housewares, and interior design items, as well as toys.
Most electrical, hardware and household items can be found in Balikpapan. There may not be a choice and you may have to hunt for it.
Hard to find brands and other items are usually brought in from Singapore, Jakarta or companies that will deliver to Balikpapan.
AIS - Balikpapan
Prabu School Balikpapan is a school for local and expatriate students - aged 18 months to 15 years.
Pasir Ridge International School follows the American system and takes in children from kindergarten until age 13.
Total has a French International School on their compound, which follows the French syllabus and takes children from kindergarten age until age 15. Again non-Total children are admitted if there is space.
Raffles International School (RIS) is situated near Balikpapan Baru. While it utilizes the IBO curriculum and follows the Australian school calendar, the school is not yet accredited with the IBO organization. The school accepts children from 4 years old through grade 4 and is growing rapidly due to the affordable pricing structure.
For high school, some expats send their children to Penang or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia as there are really good international schools there. Another option is to find a family to board with and go to one of the international schools in Jakarta.
This is very limited in Balikpapan. There are two expatriate doctors working for Unocal and Total who can be consulted for a price by other expatriates. For routine appointments, it can take a while as Unocal and Total employees take priority but they are very good in emergencies. There are no international standard hospitals although people do get sent to the Pertamina hospital in emergencies. However, major emergencies and any specialist treatment require a trip to Singapore, Medivac or otherwise. It is essential to have medical evacuation insurance. However, the medical facilities in Singapore are probably the best in the world.
The Unocal doctor can recommend a local dentist for check ups and minor repairs.
Local hospital is Rumah Sakit Balikpapan Husada on Jl. MT. Haryono No. 9, Balikpapan
International SOS, Balikpapan
Taxis - Mawar, and Kalung Mas Taxi Companies. They can be booked easily by calling from your address and they give you a number corresponding to the taxi which will appear on your doorstep in the time-slot specified. Alternately, take a local mini bus or angkot to get around once you're more familiar with the town!
From the international (Sepinggan Airport, there are several flights a day to Jakarta and direct flights of varying regularity to Surabaya, Palu (Central Sulawesi), Ujung Pandang (Sulawesi), Banjarmasin, Pontianak, Jogjakarta, Bali, and Surabaya.
There is a direct flight to Singapore on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays by Silkair.
Popular restaurants include are Indonesian, Chinese and seafood style restaurants, including King’s Head is a few kilometres out past the airport (grocery store upstairs). There are also a number of beach-side restaurants where you can enjoy seafood along the shore and watch the boats/tankers/ beach fold while enjoying your meal. Other popular restaurants with expats are the Shanghai restaurant in the Markoni Area of Balikpapan and Q Bistro & Pub (serves German food-owned by a German), great location on the main road of Balikpapan, beside the KFC on Jl. Jend. Sudirman.
There are a number of hotels. The Le Grandeur Hotel is the most up-market and international but business travelers also stay in the Blue Sky (Bahana Surya) and Benakutai. The hotel bars are where most of the expats hang out.
International Style restaurants include:
Bars that are popular with the expatriate community in Balikpapan and offer the customer drinks and food at all prices of the spectrum include:
Current ratings in Balikpapan for expats would be Sid's Bar (cheap beer and on the beach front) ...followed by a feed at the Petrosea Bar and a few beers then onto Marthas, Joys Bar for more eyeball exercises, pool, and if you haven't got a takeaway by then, finish off the night at the Borneo Bar (live music but watch the bill and the billy boys) or the Luai Lounge at the Benacutai (live music also).
Jack's Place - Jack's is the oldest restaurant and bar in Balikpapan over 20 years serving the expatrite community with Mexican, Cajun, and other Southern US foods as well as a few special Indonesian dishes. The service is with a smile and a come back again when you leave. Open from 8 am til 10 pm, we also help travelers who are coming to Balikpapan for a look around visit or a walkabout. one more thing we have taken many people to the BOS and it is great and something to see.check out WWW.orangutan.or.id.
Most compounds have pool and tennis courts.
There are two good quality golf courses.
Miniature golf at Le Grandeur Hotel
Unocal sports facilities are open to general membership and include a pool, tennis courts, gym, squash courts. Members also have use of the Unocal library, bowling alley and restaurant and bar. Currently, there are aerobics classes that are open to everyone.
Total's Club at Batakan, also open to general membership has volleyball, functions, and sailing.
The Le Grandeur Hotel has a health club membership which includes use of the gym, pool and tennis courts.
A new health club has opened up in Batakan called the Palm Court which offers a pool, tennis and squash courts, a gym and hopes to offer aerobics classes.
There are various Hashes. a few times a week.
There is Karaoke and a bowling alley at the Vilabeta compound.
Borneo Sports Fishing Club offers lots of opportunities for fishing!
Adventure Club International Balikpapan - organizes a variety of outdoor activities for its members including: mountain climbing, rock climbing, hiking and more~
There is a Cinema 21 cineplex with 4 screens, which shows a mixture of western and local films as well as the Blitz Megaplex theater.
Interesting activities in nearby areas: Join the world-renowned Waniriset Orangutan Society and visit there amazing facility about 30 minutes north of town. You can even join in a real Orangutan release if you're reasonably healthy. Also, get a ride to Samarinda (provincial capital, but it is a step-child to Balikpapan) and take a boat ride up the Mahakam River for 2-3 days. Or ... drive or fly to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan and check out the diamond and gem stone mines and shops. Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.
Available: cable-TV, american fast foods, handphones, slow internet, soft lenses, English-speaking drivers (well, E.Kalimantan standard), some English books,Visa & MasterCard, any kinds of truck, jeep or four-wheelers, car stereo systems, pirated DVDs and software, and the full supplies of Jack, Johnny and JB.
Difficult to find: fine dining, fast internet, English-speaking maid/nannies, English magazines, Amex acceptance, original DVDs and software, and Australian wines.
Not available: jazz, ballet, theater, best selling books, and other items that have intellectual properties rights attached.
Communities Near Balikpapan
The expat community here is extremely small. There is only about ten of us here on a permanent basis, so we are a pretty tight knit group. As such, the shopping and schooling options are a bit limited. The housing shouldn't be a problem. Most houses run US$2,000 to 3,000 per yearly contract.
A visitor to the Expat Forum shares some information about living in Bontang:
Bontang has progressed considerably over the last two years that I have been here. The main street is quite a feature with lovely flower beds been planted. The streets are kept very clean. New shops arise monthly and the Plaza expands at a staggering rate. The people are very polite and love to say 'Hi'.
However, if anyone is wanting to head north in Kalimantan and wishes to stay in Bontang - well there isn't an abundance of things to do. Climbing the tower which celebrates Bontang's unique global position, on the Equator, takes about a minute and then there isn't much to see from the top. Checking out the two major industrial plants here may not be such a thrill for those working in the industry.
Bonatng Kuala, which is a fishing village on the sea, is more interesting when they have their festival held in May. Staying in Bontang is best done at The Hotel Sintuk although take along your own mosquito repellant. Hotel Equator should be prized for its 'Eco' theme - nothing wasted and everything recycled.
Our thanks to the great ladies at the Balikpapan Expatriate Women's Club and various contributors to the Expat Forum for their contributions towards this article.
Last updated July 6, 2016
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