Preparing for Your Move to Indonesia
Along with the excitement of living in a new country and the promise of an enriching cultural and professional experience come the mundane tasks of planning your move to Indonesia. Poor planning will result in a more stressful move for your family. Remember the last time your family moved in your home country? Most of us find moving domestically a stressful event; moving to a new country constitutes an even more challenging transition.
Prepare a checklist of tasks to accomplish for your move. The key to a successful move is being realistic about what you can do yourself and seeking assistance for tasks that can be performed by others.
Negotiate with your employer for a familiarization trip to Indonesia for you and your spouse prior to your final move to Indonesia. Exploring alternatives for housing, schooling, recreation and availability of goods, as well as beginning to learn the layout of the town you will be living in will greatly assist in your preparations.
Requirements for listing every item in your shipment can be a bother, so it's good to be familiar with import/customs regulations. But, if your paperwork is complete and in order it will greatly speed up clearing your goods through customs in Indonesia. See our page on Shipping Your Possessions to Indonesia for more information.
- Coordinate with your sponsoring organization to ensure that passports and visas are in order
- Prepare to rent or sell some of your property or belongings
- Visit your accountant
- Organize your banking and insurance matters
- Gather records that may be needed during your stay in Indonesia
- Notify correspondents of your change of address
- Decide what should be shipped to Indonesia, what should be stored, sold or given away
- Visit your doctor to discuss medical care overseas
- Spend quality time with family and friends before you say good-bye
- Plan a familiarization or “look-see” trip to Indonesia
- What does it cost to live in Indonesia?
# 1. Ensure that your passports and visas are in order
Applying for the correct visa for your stay in Indonesia will take several weeks, if not months. Several Indonesian government departments have to approve your application before a work permit and ITAS (limited stay permit) can be issued.
Ensure that passports of all family members are valid for your entire stay in Indonesia. Your visa will be stamped in your passport. If the passport expires and issuance of a new passport is necessary, you will have to go through a long process to get your work permit and visa re-stamped into the new passport.
Your company will normally apply for visas for your family. However, if the responsibility falls on you, you can do so by calling directory assistance in your nation's capital and asking for the phone number of the Indonesian Embassy. The embassy's consular section will provide instructions and forms to apply for your visa. Or, they may refer you to an Indonesian consulate general or consulate which has jurisdiction over the area in which you live. Alternatively you can leave the application of the visa and work permit to a formalities agent in who will complete the entire process for a fee.
If you are planning to work and live in Indonesia:
- Enter the county on the proper visa. Foreigners are not permitted to work in Indonesia on a tourist or business visa. If you are in Indonesia on a tourist or business visa, and apply for a work permit and ITAS, you will have to travel to an Indonesian embassy in another country (for example, Singapore or Australia) so that the new visa can be stamped in your passport.
- If your company's intention is for you to reside in Indonesia, do not apply for a business visa as it does not permit you to work in Indonesia. A business visa only permits you to conduct business such as evaluate products of Indonesian companies, participate in trade exhibitions, attend meetings and perform demonstrations of your products and services. A multiple-entry business visa can be valid for up to 12 months, but you have to leave the country every four months.
- Some companies will not allow their employees to ship their personal belongings to Indonesia without a valid ITAS and work permit. Proof of a valid ITAS is required to clear your household shipment through customs. This can be overcome by the posting of a bond, but this is not a simple or cheap procedure.
- Be very careful about the usage of business titles. You should not state on your business card that you are the General Manager of your company, if your visa/work permit applications list your position as Technical Advisor. This is a serious matter and can result in deportation if discovered by the authorities.
For more information on what paperwork is required and how to get it, read our article on Visas and Documentation.
Your two most valuable assets are probably your home and your car. Ask a real estate agent the selling price of your house and/or how much rental income you could expect. The decision to sell or rent is a personal one and dependent on a variety of circumstances. Factors to consider that may influence your decision include:
- What are the expenses associated with selling your house? Ask your real estate agent for estimates of advertising fees and sales commissions.
- How long will you be working in Indonesia? You could also factor in the likelihood of contract extensions in your decision. If the period away amounts to more than three years you could seriously consider selling your home. Although there is always the option of renting your home while you are away, you may not want the stress of having to deal with tenants long distance. If you choose to rent, consider landlord's insurance to protect yourself against non payment of rent and the destruction of your property by your tenants.
- Compare rental returns (and likely maintenance) against other forms of investments. Also, factor in any likely appreciation of your property during the years that you are away. Are there any tax liabilities (personal tax and capital gains tax) for income earned from the rental of your home during your stay in Indonesia? Seek the assistance of a professional financial advisor or planner before making major financial decisions.
If you decide to sell your home, plan for sufficient time. Check with several real estate agents on the average length of time it is currently taking to sell a property similar to yours in your neighborhood. Put your house on the market while you are still living in it (empty houses often look less attractive). Remember that prospective buyers may negotiate more aggressively if they are aware that you are moving overseas.
Your car may be your next most valuable asset. Have your vehicle valued by several car dealers to obtain an estimated selling price or check auto magazines, the AAA or other sources for expected price ranges. You may have to consider renting or borrowing a vehicle for the last few weeks prior to your leaving for Indonesia.
# 3. Visit your accountant to determine current and future tax liabilities and plan your tax position while you are working in Indonesia
Prior to taking on an overseas work assignment, obtain necessary information related to your tax obligations while living overseas. Ask your accountant about your tax position for income earned in Indonesia and any sources of investment income that you may have in your home country while you are resident in Indonesia. Include savings and time deposit interest, rental income and dividends from stocks and shares.
Read our article on Indonesian Individual Income Taxes to learn about the local tax situation and be sure that your contract is written to assist you in paying, processing local taxes.
Check with your accountant about capital gains tax liabilities if you obtain rental income from your principal residence while you are residing in Indonesia.
If you intend to invest funds when you are abroad, check to see if the returns are taxable in your home country and if there are any restrictions in repatriating funds back to your home country after your stay in Indonesia.
If any member of your family intending to reside with you in Indonesia is receiving a government pension (for example, your parents), make arrangements for their temporary stay abroad.
Determine if any of your country's banks operate in Indonesia and what services can be offered during your time abroad.
Consider your use of credit cards during your stay in Indonesia. It may not be practical to use a credit card from your home country for your credit card purchases in Indonesia as you will lose in exchange rate conversions from rupiah to your home currency. Indonesia also has a very high incidence of credit card fraud that you need to protect yourself against. Weigh these concerns against the need to maintain a current credit record in your home country during your stay abroad.
Leave clear instructions with your bank on actions to be taken upon the maturity of your time deposits. You may wish to leave some money in your savings and checking accounts in order to more conveniently make payments in your home country. For example, payment of premiums for any continuing insurance policies and magazine subscriptions.
You may also choose to keep your principal bank account in your home country and transfer a set amount to a bank in Indonesia on a regular basis. Some companies in Indonesia allow foreign employees to cash checks from home to transfer funds as needed.
Review your family's insurance policies. Property insurance policies for items you have sold in preparation for your move should be canceled. Ensure that property remaining in your home country is adequately insured. Formally inform your insurance company about your departure, the storage conditions of your property and your expected period of absence and adjust policies accordingly.
Ask your employer about health and medical insurance benefits during your stay in Indonesia. It is unlikely that health and medical insurance policies taken in your home country will offer coverage in Indonesia. Find out about temporarily suspending your policy and your rights in continuing with your health insurance on returns home for short visits and holidays as well as upon your permanent return. Before suspending your health insurance, you may wish to obtain medical, dental, optical and pharmaceutical benefits you are entitled to.
Inquire with your life insurance company about the effects your overseas posting may have on your life, endowment or annuity policies. Find out about options for premium payments while you are in Indonesia. Assess the possibilities of making annual payments in lieu of any periodic payment installments you may currently make. Find out if your life insurance company has a branch in Indonesia that you can continue to deal with.
# 5. Gather records that may be needed during your stay in Indonesia, including medical, academic and employment records and legal documents
Obtain immunization records for family members. Request copies of any recent medical tests such as blood tests, EKG, radiology scans and chest X-rays, as well as records for recent surgery, serious illnesses or ongoing medical conditions. Keep records of family members. blood types. Allergies to medication should be noted. If any family member requires prescribed medication, ask your doctor if you could obtain a supply of medication that will last until your next home leave as Indonesian pharmacists may not have the drugs prescribed to your family members. Once you have been to Indonesia and know what is available, or can be obtained from abroad by your medical clinic, you will know what you must purchase at home in the future.
Dental records will also be useful to bring to Indonesia for any ongoing care. If you are near or far sighted, bring optical prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses. These can be filled by opticians in Indonesia.
Academic and employment records
International schools in Indonesia will require copies your child's academic records and a character reference for enrollment processing. This includes any extracurricular activities that your child is currently taking part in. Music assessment records may also be required for your child to continue music lessons in Indonesia. Ask your child's school for copies of curriculum they have followed.
Bring along academic records for your spouse if he/she may seek work in Indonesia. Bring along reference letters proving you and your spouse's past work experience.
Bring notarized copies of your will, power of attorney, birth certificates, name change records, marriage certificate/s, divorce documents, custody agreements as well as photocopies of previous passports and your driver's license.
Prepare a list of all entities you deal with regularly and send them a note to inform them of your move and provide them with a forwarding address. Your post office may have a kit/instruction booklet to facilitate this task.
- Magazine and newspaper subscriptions
- Insurance coverage
- Credit cards
- Cable or satellite television subscriptions
- House maintenance services
- Telephone and utility services
# 7. Decide what personal and household belongings should be shipped to Indonesia and what should be stored, sold or given away
Preparing for a major move is an ideal time to do spring cleaning. Decide what belongings you wish to keep. Once you have done this, decide which items should be shipped to Indonesia or stored, sold, given away or disposed of. It may be easier for you to make these decisions once you have had the chance to visit Indonesia and can find out what is and is not available. For example, you may not be able to use your television in Indonesia. The television format (PAL) may be different from what your set supports or the voltage (220 volts) may not be compatible.
Make a detailed inventory of all items that you will ship to Indonesia. Together with your packers, label every box and accurately list the contents. Your insurance may not replace one item in a set if the set isn't itemized in your inventory. This detailed list will also help you find things more easily when unpacking. Sign across sealing tapes to ensure that the boxes are not tampered with.
Inquire about insuring your shipment with your removal agent. If possible, choose an insurance company that has representation in Indonesia or ensure that claims can be handled through your moving company.
Ask your moving company if they have a representative office in Indonesia. It would be easier to deal with a single company in both locations. Your moving company may also deliver your shipment using a local Indonesian company that is their agent. Ask the moving company for the contact information for their Indonesian agent in case you may want to visit them during your familiarization trip.
Tips from a seasoned expat: "The most important tip about moving company services is to pay for the door-to-door service if you are sending your shipment to Indonesia. Some expats have had issues with customs officials making clearance difficult by asking for documents which were not required in order to encourage you to "grease" the process. We'd advise against choosing to 'save some money' by just collecting it from the port in Jakarta yourself. Better to let your moving company handle the formalities with customs! Also, make sure that you have a fully itemized list of contents for each box before the moving company comes to pick up the shipment."
Household cleaning appliances
Your dishwasher may not be required in Indonesia. You will most likely have household staff to wash dishes for you. Most homes have tile floors, so you may not need your vacuum cleaner, unless you plan to use area carpets or rugs. You may also not be able to obtain service or spare parts for your foreign household appliances in Indonesia.
Display, ornamental and high value items
Paintings, photographs of home, friends and family members are appropriate to ship. Avoid bringing items such as small crystal ware, silver and pewter ware, antique items, valuable collections and expensive or heirloom jewelry. If you feel you may need it, purchase a safe and put it in your shipment. Remember to insure items you choose to bring with you. When trying to decide what to bring, a good rule to go by is: If you can't bear to lose an item, leave it at home.
Electricity in Indonesia is 220 volts AC and 50 Freq/Hz. cycle. While your 110 volt appliances from home will work with a transformer and plug adapter, you may not be able to service them or get spare parts in Indonesia. Most western-type kitchen appliances are readily available in large cities in Indonesia, though the brands may be Japanese or Korean. While it is unlikely that the house you rent will be equipped with small appliances, larger items such as an oven, refrigerator, water heater, air conditioners and stove should be negotiated for and supplied by your landlord.
The holes in most of the electrical plugs/outlets in Indonesia look like this and this .
Cutlery and other dining necessities
Most items you need for the kitchen are available in Indonesia. However, your plates, bowls and mugs from home are most probably microwave safe, while items produced in Indonesia may not be. Another reason to bring dishes from home is that controls are non-existent in Indonesia on health-related issues such as lead content in dishes. Special baking pans, measuring cups and spoons and other specialized cooking items may not be available in Indonesia. Go to a few major stores on your familiarization trip to determine what is and isn't available.
Summer (light weight) clothing is appropriate year round in Indonesia. The exceptions to this rule would be if you plan to live in Puncak, Malang, Tembagapura or other higher altitude cities where cool weather is also prevalent, especially in the rainy season.
Formal work clothing such as jackets and suits may be required for formal business meetings, but dress is generally more relaxed for every day. Men and women can have custom tailored business attire created for them easily.
Don’t neglect to bring your party clothes with you as you can enjoy a very full social life within the expatriate community in the cities. There are many expat community formal events where it is appropriate to wear a tuxedo and evening dress, as well as numerous less formal parties and cocktail evenings, and even some events that require fancy dress clothing. For the expat that enjoys a good party they can certainly have a very full social calendar during their posting in Indonesia. Jakarta is a great place for having evening wear made at a fraction of the cost you would expect to pay at home so many ladies take advantage of this and expand their collection of evening dresses.
For more information on dressmakers and tailors. recommended by expatriates in Indonesia, check out community's posts on the Living in Indonesia Expat Forum.
Large sized men and women may not easily find ready-to-wear clothing to fit them. However tailors and seamstresses can easily make custom clothing to fit any size individual. Large shoe sizes are also not available, the exception being sports shoes at the factory outlet stores. Indonesia generally uses the European Shoe Size system, making up to size 38; see a Conversion Table for shoe sizes.
Pack clothing that is appropriate for the Indonesian culture. Revealing or tight attire for women (which exposes thigh, midriff or armpits) is frowned upon and will only attract unwanted comments and attention. However, modest shorts and swimming garments are acceptable for sports activities in club facilities. Sundresses, halter tops, and clothing that exposes the midriff are not appropriate attire and will result in unwanted attention.
Even though you are moving to the tropics, you may need cold weather clothing for winter trips to your home country or when you travel from Indonesia to countries with colder climates during holidays and business trips. Some winter clothing is available in Jakarta at the factory outlet stores. Coats, fleece vests, sweaters and other articles of heavy clothing are available, though clothing in bigger sizes may be more difficult to find.
Your child's school may require uniforms. Check when making your initial inquiries. Pack summer and casual clothing for your children. Locally produced and good quality export overruns and seconds for children and teens are readily available at factory outlet and department stores.
Bed and bath items
Ship only flat sheets (if you're not shipping your bed) as bed sizes in Indonesia may differ from your home country. A large selection of bedding - bed sheets and pillow cases, both imported and domestically produced, are available in Indonesia.
Quilts and thick blankets are not required for your stay in Indonesia, unless you live in a mountainous region. The temperature in your air-conditioned bedroom will be about 23-25 degrees Celsius. Bring light blankets or what you would normally use in similar temperatures at home. If you are intending to reside in a higher altitude in Indonesia, for example Bandung or Puncak, the minimum temperatures will seldom be below 17 degrees Celsius. Large size or thick towels should be shipped to Indonesia. Depending on the accommodation you rent, you may not require shower curtains as shower glass enclosures are common in newer homes.
Personal grooming, perfumes and cosmetics
Although many foreign brands are available in Indonesia, since they are imported they will be more expensive than what you pay at home. Or, they may be manufactured locally under license from the original manufacturer. Beware too that some items may be counterfeit.
You will probably prefer certain brands of toothpaste, soap, lotion, cosmetics and other toiletries. Your preferred brands may not be available in Indonesia. If uncertain, it's best to bring a supply from home to last for a few months until you can locate the items you need. You (or your friends) may also be returning to your home country periodically and can replenish any items you cannot obtain locally.
Exercise, hobby and other sports equipment
There are many fitness and sports clubs as well as community sports groups that you can join. Golf, tennis, squash and other sports equipment are costly in Indonesia. Remember to ship tennis and golf balls too. The prices in Indonesia may be much higher that what you are used to paying; particular brands that you prefer may not be as readily available. Special hobby, art, craft and holiday-related items may also be difficult to obtain.
Books and other reading materials
There are several bookstores in bigger cities that sell foreign books and magazines, but prices will be more expensive than at home. Ship your favorite reading materials to Indonesia. The public library system in Indonesia offers only Indonesian language materials. Several libraries catering to the expatriate community are available. Several expat community organizations also run used book stores or lending libraries for their members.
Children's toys and games
Do bring your children's favorite toys to Indonesia. they will be immersed in a new environment and having their familiar favorite toys and games will assist in their adjustment. Toy stores stock reasonable selections of foreign toys.
Telephones from home will probably work in Indonesia. The jack and electrical current (for portables) may be different, but adapters would be available. Cellular phones (called hand phones in Indonesia) are readily available in major international brands.
Your computer system should work in Indonesia with a transformer, if necessary, to adjust to voltage differences. Consider the maintenance of your computer equipment in Indonesia before shipping it. Branded systems may have local service distributors in Indonesia. International brands of computer components are readily available in Jakarta. It is difficult to find Macintosh spare parts in Indonesia, they must be ordered from abroad.
You may choose not to ship large items such as pianos as the high humidity could damage them. Instead, consider purchasing a second-hand piano to Jakarta and resell it before your departure. Musical instruments, like all imported items, are more expensive in Indonesia than they would be in your home country.
Tools and gardening equipment
You will probably have household help that will look after your garden, and they won't require highly mechanized garden tools. Basic garden tools are available as are small tools for household repairs. Ace Hardware and True Value Hardware both have outlets in Jakarta for do-it-yourself household repair needs.
Certain materials are strictly prohibited in Indonesia. Ensure that these items are not sent to Indonesia in your shipment:
- Pornographic items - Adult theme materials in print, magnetic or digital format.
- Drugs - This covers mainly narcotics. Penalties are severe, so do not take risks. Bring prescriptions for large quantities of pills shipped. 2009 Law on Narcotics (in Bahasa Indonesia)
- Firearms and ammunition - Leave your firearms in your home country, they are prohibited in Indonesia.
Deciding whether or not to bring the family pet is a personal decision. For more information consult our article on Pets. However, before making your decision consider some of the following factors:
Will having your pets with you help your family in your adjustment to life in Indonesia?
How long will you be in Indonesia? If the period is less than one year, consider this as well as any quarantine periods that may be required for bringing your pets back to your home country. Quarantine at home country is applicable in: England, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Hawaii or New Zealand only. Most other countries don't have quarantine requirements.
Can the animal adjust to the new environment? Long-hair animals may have health complications in the hot, humid climate. It may be difficult to bring your cat and confine it to your home for years. Remote areas may not have access to good veterinarians and other pet services that you would be able to find in Jakarta.
Can your pet be fostered out to a friend or family member and returned to you upon your return home? Or would you be worrying about your pet the entire time you were in Indonesia and find it easier to have them with you.
If you decide to bring your pet to Indonesia, you will have to comply with import requirements. Import documentation is required from the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture. Ask your freight forwarder, moving company or airline to ensure that the necessary paperwork is completed to import your pet to Indonesia. Bring a veterinary assessment of your pet's health and immunization records. Birth and pedigree certificates will be needed if you intend to breed your pure-bred animals during your stay.
Chances are your home country doctor may not be able to answer any specific questions about medical care in Indonesia. However, you should discuss continued care of any existing conditions with your medical providers and ask them how to organization about consultations via email or phone from Indonesia. Tell your doctor that you may be home on annual home leave and would like to continue care through in annual checkups during this time. Discuss any medications that you are currently taking, and the advisability of getting a one-year prescription for medications before you leave.
If you have specific medical concerns, use our Ask the Medical Experts facility.
Talk about vaccinations that may be needed. You can view the Center for Disease Control's website for current recommendations for vaccinations.
In the rush and hustle of preparing for your move, don't forget to spend time with your family and close friends. You may not be seeing them for one year, or longer if you choose not to use your home leave to go home, but to travel elsewhere instead.
Be sure your children have the opportunity for appropriate activities and time to say good-bye to their close friends as well. Spend special times with elderly members of your family. Memories of those last picnics, parties and lunches out with friends may have to last you a long time.
Make special arrangements to keep in touch. Hand out cards with your Email address, make sure to connect with friends and family members on Facebook and other social media platforms. Help close family members or friends set up email accounts, if they don't already have them, to ease communications once you are gone. If you don't already know how, learn about free instant messaging and chat programs, like Skype, and teach your relatives how to use them.
In short, don't forget to spend time with the people you love before the hectic period of your move begins. Read our article about Keeping in Touch for tips on how to make it easier to do just that with those you love back home!
My usual response to this question is, "It depends on how much do you want to 'live like the locals' and how much do you want to try to recreate your lifestyle from your home country and not give up any creature comforts or items/foods that must be imported."
Lifestyle Choices/factors that influence an expat's cost of living:
- Will you shop in the local markets, as opposed to a supermarket?
- Will you eat mostly Indonesian food, or expect to purchase imported food ingredients on a regular basis?
- Do you want to live in a high-end apartment or home, or will you be content with more humble/simple residence?
- Do you want to own a car and have a driver, or are you content to take public transportation?
- Do you have children that you want to attend international schools, as opposed to local SPK schools with English curriculum?
- How much do you want to travel the archipelago during your stay?
- Are you a big consumer in general, or choose to live a more minimalistic lifestyle?
Taking these, and other, lifestyle choices into consideration, you can see that there is no one set number on what it costs to live in Indonesia!
Last updated August 14, 2023