Considering that expatriates living in Indonesia have experienced both natural and man-made emergency situations, w have included this information -- not to alarm our readers -- but to
challenge you to think about what steps your family should take in an
emergency, before it occurs.
Besides political turmoil,
there are other, more common, situations in which you may need to leave
Indonesia suddenly, such as in the death of a family member at home or
a medical evacuation. Many of the preparation tips listed below would
apply for these emergencies as well.
Vigilance and avoiding obvious targets
Since the terrorist bombings of the Australian Embassy in 2004, most embassies continue to advise
expatriates to try to avoid (whenever possible) places with a large concentration
of Westerners. These locations could include popular nightclubs,
restaurants, malls and places of worship that cater to the expatriate
community. When a large gathering is imminent such as charity balls or Christmas parties that many of the women's groups or Chambers of Commerce organize, heavy security is in place to ensure that the event can be held in a safe environment. When out in public, be aware of exit points from any building you are
in and keep yourself oriented. You might consider carrying a small flashlight in
your purse to guide your way in case of a power outage.
Keep the following at hand and up-to-date at all times
- Passport. Ensure your passport and any necessary
visas are valid. This may be obvious, yet think of all the times that
your passport has been in the hands of your company's formalities staff
or at the immigration office for renewal. Be sure that you have a photocopy
of all the pages in your passport BEFORE you turn in your passport at
visa/work permit renewal time, or when applying for an exit/re-entry
permit. By cooperating with your company's formalities staff to insure
that they have all the necessary documents needed for your renewal,
you may be able to shorten the amount of time your passport is in someone
else's hands. During 1998 evacuations some expats were allowed to
leave on embassy sponsored flights (not commercial fights) without original
passports (with only a photocopy) because their passports were in immigration
for processing. Be aware, however, as leaving Indonesia without your
original passport could greatly complicate your re-entry after the emergency
situation has passed.
- Valid Exit/Re-entry Permit. Under normal
conditions, an expatriate in Indonesia on a resident permit would not
be allowed to leave Indonesia if he/she does not have a valid exit/reentry
permit stamped in his/her passport. We have no reason to believe that
under emergency conditions this regulation would automatically be waived. Why take
a chance! Imagine taking your run to the airport and finding you can't
leave! To avoid any hassles at the airport, always keep your exit/re-entry
permit up to date. A multiple exit/re-entry permit valid for six or twelve months
is the best to have, not a single exit/re-entry.
- Airport Tax - be sure you have enough cash on hand to pay the airport tax when you leave.
- If you are living in a remote area of eastern Indonesia, consider
maintaining an up-to-date visa for Australia at
all times. In evacuations from Ambon in January 1999 ... those foreigners
who had valid visas to Australia were in a much better position to get
to a “safe harbor” quickly.
- Keep a sufficient amount of traveler's checks or foreign currency on hand for the country to which
you may be evacuated, be that Singapore or Australia or your home country. During emergency situations, credit cards may not be accepted and
ATMs may not be functioning.
- Consider the purchase of an open, non-restricted
ticket for each member of your family to a nearby country, or
from Singapore to your home country. Your embassy evacuation may only
take you as far as Singapore or Bangkok, and you might want to have
an open ticket from there to your home country. Be aware that an open
ticket will not ensure you a seat on a commercial flight out during
an emergency (see story at the bottom of this page). During May 1998
evacuations, airlines and travel agents stopped accepting credit card
purchases for tickets, as they were afraid that many of the fleeing
expatriates would never be back. Possession of a outbound ticket would
solve this problem. In addition, the dollar/rupiah exchange rate went
crazy during the unrest. Tickets purchased in times of emergency tend
to be much more expensive.
- Maintain a current registration with your
embassy in Jakarta. All foreign embassies have a registration procedure
for their citizens, usually coordinated by the consular office. This
registration assists embassy personnel in disseminating emergency information
to its citizens in Indonesia, enables them to contact you should the
embassy receive an inquiry from family or friends abroad, and assists in the evacuation of citizens during in rare
cases of an emergency. Be
sure your registration is updated whenever you experience a household move, phone
number change, birth of a new child or other family transition.
- Important Family Documents. Should your sudden
departure be followed by a lengthy absence from your home in Indonesia,
you may find yourself in need of some of the following documents: electronic password list, birth
certificates, marriage certificate, divorce or custody papers, school
records, medical records, insurance records, investment records, prescription
information, credit card information, address book, email address list,
banking information and records, tax files, safety deposit keys, pet
documents, household goods inventory records (for insurance claims in
case of loss during your absence) and resumes for employable adults.
Consider assembling a lock box, file folder or some container for all
the family's valuable papers. It would be easier to grab these vital
documents on the run if they were all located in one readily accessible
location. In the case of a fire in your home, having these valuable
documents in one place would also facilitate grabbing them prior to leaving the residence.
- Compile a listing of all important
numbers and addresses for the records listed above and give/send them
to a close family member in your home country for safekeeping.
- Make a listing of the irreplaceable family mementos,
photos, and items of sentimental value that you wouldn't want to leave
behind in an emergency evacuation. Having a list will make it easier
for you to locate and pack them up quickly. In an emergency situation
these mementos maybe the last things you think of, but ultimately these
may be more valuable to you than five changes of clothes, if you are
unable to return to Indonesia for any reason!
Good advice to consider
- Carry a handphone with you at all times. Ensure
that emergency numbers are programmed into your handphone and that you
have a list of important phone numbers in your wallet or purse, spouse's
office, embassy, and security firm. Keep an extra phone card
for your handphone to prepare for extended hard line phone outages.
- Discuss emergency evacuation with your company.
Know ahead of time what they will or will not do for your family as well as what expenses
they will cover. Most multinational companies have a security consultant
to advise them on matters of safety. Read their regular bulletins to
keep abreast of current events, possible dangers and recommended actions.
Rely on your office - they should have a good action plan for emergency
situations. If they don't - ask them to make one!
- Consider the safe havens in Jakarta for your
family. The safest place will most often be your own home. Second choice
may be a five-star hotel on a major thoroughfare that you can easily
get to, as these hotels tend to be more closely guarded than residential
areas. Foreign embassies and airports are often the first targets of
demonstrators. Ask your embassy for points which they consider to be
safe havens where their citizens can gather with some degree of protection.
If you can not get assistance from your embassy, you may be able to
join the evacuation program of another embassy ... but of course they would prioritize their own citizens.
- Stock an adequate supply of non-perishable food
items in your home in preparation for the possibilities of supermarket
closures, pasar supply disruptions or electrical outages.
- Your family car may be your escape vehicle
to the airport, or to a pickup point determined by your embassy. Be
sure your gas tank doesn't go below half a tank in case of gas station
closures. Make sure your car is in good working order - check
the oil, coolant, tires, and battery. Anticipate instructions you may
need to give your driver for usage and care of the car during an extended
- Ensure that you have a good supply of any medications
that you take regularly as well as a fully stocked first aid
kit, in anticipation of closures of apotik, or reduced mobility
to get to a doctor.
- One of the most effective means of protection is to become a true member of your community. Donate for the Lebaran and August 17th activities as requested by your RT (neighborhood head),
participate in community cleanup days, join in (when appropriate) the
various celebrations that are organized by your RT throughout the year.
By demonstrating an open, friendly attitude to your Indonesian neighbors
it is highly likely that they will assist and protect you in an emergency
- Develop a plan you can quickly contact friends
and family at home in case of an emergency. Most embassies are
poorly equipped to handling hundreds (if not thousands) of phone calls from family members
in case of an emergency situation. Be aware that in the event of an emergency, often the local telephone lines are over run and it may take a few hours before the lines free up and you are able to make a phone call to friends and family notifying them of your condition and location. Ask your embassy if they have a website which posts travel warnings and send the URL to your family and
friends so that they can access the latest emergency information. Be sure to take a list of family and friends' emails with you when
you evacuate. Don't forget your friends in Indonesia as well as you
may quickly become scattered after evacuation and want to keep in touch.
After evacuation post your status on changing Facebook and send emails to key family members and ask them to spread
the word that you have gotten out safely.
- Take the time to keep up with current events.
Read the local English newspapers and news magazines and watch English news reports. Ask
your Indonesian office and household staff for their interpretations of what is
happening and its consequences for you and your family. They often have
more up-to-date information than the current TV broadcasts as the
bamboo telegraph is very effective. They also listen to radio and TV
reports in Bahasa Indonesia and can usually understand most of what
is being broadcast about what is going on.
- Participate in and support the warden system in the organizations you belong to (usually women's groups and business
organizations have one). Be advised however that while they promise to send you
security notices and updates ... the warden system will quickly break
down in the event of an evacuation as the wardens could be amongst the
first to leave. Be sure your registration with your embassy is up-to-date so that you can receive their security-related
notices, which may keep coming long after the warden system is ineffective.
- Carefully consider options for evacuation destinations,
other than Singapore and Australia. For example, after the May 1998
riots, many expats chose to evacuate to Bali instead of going overseas.
They felt the climate to be less volatile and safer than Jakarta.
- Consider keeping a good amount of rupiah in
your home, in preparation for an unexpected period of bank closures, other difficulties
in obtaining the local currency, electricity disruptions, or in the event that you may find yourself
home bound for a period of time. If you have to evacuate, you
may also need to leave cash with your household staff to cover household
expenses and salaries until your return.
- Consider the recreation needs of your family if
you are homebound for an extended period. Reading materials, movies,
games and other family fun can make this a time of togetherness at home. The working spouses can often work from home given there is a computer,
internet connection, and other communication equipment. And yes, as one reader advised,
you may also want to stock up on liquid refreshment to reduce tension levels.
- Emergency Evacuation flights organized by
embassies for their citizens will most likely be one-way tickets to
a nearby safe haven, usually Singapore, Bangkok or Australia. You get
the bill later. Once you're at your safe haven you will mostly likely be totally on
your own, paying all your own room and board and additional travel expenses. In 1998, some nations assisted their citizens with finding
housing, onward flights and temporary funds ... but this should NOT
be expected. In several cases the embassy 'banned' the return of their
citizens for a period of time ... though you could return at your own
risk on your own. Some embassy-organized flights departed from Halim
airport in Jakarta and landed in military airports at the destination.
Some flight arrivals were even covered by CNN !
- For those outside Indonesia when the evacuation
begins, it will be very difficult to return to Jakarta to “rescue”
your family. Commercial flights may not be coming in and access from
the airport to the town may be difficult or dangerous. Discuss
actions your spouse should take in these circumstances.
- For those expats who can not, or choose not to participate
in an evacuation of their nationals, you will be quickly isolated
with many of your expat friends gone. Once they get overseas they'll
be calling you and sending a flood of emails to find out what is going
- Travel Outside Jakarta. Always ensure
that your family and employer have contact details and itineraries for
any travel within and outside of Indonesia. In the event of an
emergency, ensure that you contact your family/employer as soon as possible
to advise them about your situation.
- Do not forget to address the very real concerns of your household
staff and employees upon hearing news of your departure. They
may be worried that you will not come back, wonder how they will get
their salary during your absence, etc. Many companies faced serious
morale problems amongst the Indonesian employees when all the expats
and senior ethnic-Chinese evacuated in 1998. This “they-take-off-at-the-first-sign-of-trouble
attitude” was noted and caused serious problems after the crisis.
Websites which post advisories
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Consular Advisories
Australian Embassy in Jakarta
British Embassy in Jakarta
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and Trade
State Department, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Travel Warnings
If you know of other good advisory sites, please let us know so
we can add them to the list.
Additional Stories and Advice
from a western embassy in Jakarta gave the following cautions to its citizens
in Indonesia in 1998:
“Due to the possibility of increased tension and criminal activity
arising from economic uncertainty in Indonesia, expatriates may wish to
exercise prudence and common sense and to avoid demonstrations and other
situations that could turn violent.”
The experience of one expat who lived through the “fall of Marcos”
in the Philippines is enlightening.
“People thought that an open non-restricted ticket was a sure way
out. They found, however, that once they'd braved the chaos on the streets
to get the airport, that during the evacuation the national carriers were
only taking their own citizens, and that tickets or reservations weren't
important. For example, the Singapore Airlines flights were evacuating
Singaporeans first, secondly ASEAN citizens and thirdly other citizens.
Many people who thought that the most important thing to do would be to
make it to the airport found an unexpected problem, there was no food
at the airport to feed the many would-be evacuees. Also, that it wasn't
easy in this state of emergency for foreign governments to get clearance
for flights coming in to evacuate their citizens. So what did work? The
best procedure was to stay in your own home and wait to be contacted by
your embassy through the warden system after planes and clearance were
arranged. Evacuees were told to go to the location identified by the warden
where buses were on standby to take the evacuees to the airport with a
During the emergency evacuations from Jakarta in May 1998, his advice
proved to be true. Those who fled to the airport encountered long lines,
difficulties in getting reservations,
an absence of food and water, difficulties in parking cars, and in general
total and utter panic and CHAOS! During the same time, many Indonesians
who were trying to escape the chaos were robbed on the way to the airport,
as criminals knew they'd be escaping with their gold and cash on hand!
Those expats who waited at their homes for their embassy's call to go to a safe location and then traveled together by bus (escorted by
the Indonesian military) to the military airport, found that their departure,
though time consuming, was relatively organized, hassle free and safe.
Evacuation flights organized by embassies were easier to find seats
on than commercial flights, yet they were often more expensive. Embassy
evacuation flights are NOT commercial flights. Many departing expats encountered
problems with the one suitcase/person luggage limit and found that personal
pets were not accommodated. In the case that an evacuation flight
can not accommodate your pets, leave the pet in care of your household
staff, and call a company like Groovy Pet Shop in Kemang or Kennel von
haus Cakra in Cengkareng (contact details in the Jakarta
Shopper's Guide). They can arrange the evacuation of your pet if you
have already left or alternately care for you pet at their kennel if you
can not leave the pet in your home.
“If in doubt about the security situation, don't send your children
to school. The bus may turn up anyway and you may think that the school
knows more than you. This is not necessarily true. You could find that
your kids are stuck at school all night.” (This did happen to students
at the British International School. during the May 1998 riots.) If you are concerned about your children's
safety and well-being should they be stuck at school, consult with the
school administration to determine what their plan is for the care and
safety of stranded children.
Interesting article from our sponsor on the changes in Risk Management
in Indonesia in response to recent terrorist attacks, Risk
Management in Indonesia.
Security In and Around Town
Residential Security Basics: Safety in Your Home in Indonesia
Household Security Rules
Emergency Phone Numbers
If you have other advice or experiences you'd wish to share with the
community, send them to us and we'll
incorporate them into the article.