After living abroad for over a decade and relocating to Jakarta, Esti McMillan has experienced life as an expat both internationally and in her homeland.
With her life endeavors, Esti acknowledges that she understands expats’ expectations towards property and making personal connections.
Thus, EMC – Relocations with A Difference was established in 2003. Discover how Esti and her business can help newcomers or current expats in Jakarta not only with relocations, but other aspects of expat life to feel welcomed into life in the capital.
Hi Esti, we’d love to get to know you better. What can you tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Surabaya, East Java. After I finished high school, I had the chance to go to New Zealand as an exchange student for one year. That was my first international experience and I enjoyed it a lot.
Back in Surabaya, I went to college and later started my first job at the Hyatt Hotel. That’s where I met my ex-husband. We moved to New Zealand and later to Sydney, where both of my kids were born. After spending 15 years in New Zealand and Australia, I moved back to Indonesia together with my family.
Having been out of the country for such a long time, it took quite a bit to adjust and get used to the fact that I was moving back to my own country as an expat. My children attended the Australian International School, then they moved to the British School before they finally changed to Jakarta International School until graduation in 2008 and 2009.
All these experiences of growing up in Indonesia, moving to different countries, and settling into new situations have given me quite a good understanding of expat life and how to deal with the changes in culture and way of life. When I opened my own business in 2003, I based it on these experiences and created my own job to help expatriates find a home and assist them in adjusting to living in their new country.
You describe yourself “having lived in Indonesia as both a local and an expat”. Elaborate on this, please.
I’m from a middle-class family in Surabaya, where I spent my childhood and youth. My family is Javanese with a mix of German heritage on my mother’s side. I grew up as an average, Indonesian, middle-class child but early on, I started to think outside the box. I learnt Balinese dances at school and took up English as my second language. English became my favourite subject, which helped me to get selected as an exchange student to go to New Zealand.
I’ve lived abroad for 15 years and for seven years I raised my two kids in Sydney. When I came back to Indonesia, I experienced the country – and Jakarta, which was a new city for me – through an expat’s eyes. We had to rent a house under expat conditions and I was engaged in several expat women’s organizations such as ANZA, BWA, and the parents’ associations at my children’s school.
My network has become very international and I can very much relate with the feelings and the occasional struggles of expats with daily life in this city. That’s why I can understand the expectations and wishes of expats for their home in Jakarta.
You founded EMC – Relocations with A Difference in 2003. Did your life inspire you to establish this company?
Yes, very much so. It started as a hobby, more or less; I had a big network of friends and acquaintances and I became familiar with many house owners. At some point after my divorce, I had to think about what I could do to earn a living. I knew that my strength was not in understanding expat expectations towards a house or apartment, but that I can also connect people with each other, so I decided to make my hobby my business.
I don’t see myself as only a property agent. I really like to support arriving expats to settle in and to find ways to lead their desired lifestyle. I always make sure that my clients know their new neighborhood and that they have all the necessary information and contacts to start their life in Jakarta and to connect with other like-minded people.
As one of Indonesia’s leading boutique relocation services, what else should we know about EMC?
Being boutique for us means we don’t follow a one-size-fits-all approach. We treat every client according to their individual needs and expectations. We’d never show our clients an overwhelming number of houses. We show them the ones that fit. That means that we’ll first ask a lot of questions to understand the background of our clients.
We not only support our clients with their house search, we also provide orientation services. We’re happy to give the advice to find the right school for their kids; we offer settling-in services; we help our clients to find the right furniture and decorations; we offer immigration services; intercultural training; and much more.
Of course, we’re not only there for people who are new to Jakarta. We have many clients who have been living in Jakarta for quite a long time but who might not have found their dream house or apartment, yet. Also, during the last year, rental prices have gone down. We’re also supporting many clients who are now able to get a better or bigger house with the same budget.
Our support doesn’t stop once a house is rented. We always represent the interests of our clients towards the house owner, also in case of problems during the lease. It’s of the utmost importance for EMC to deliver the best we can to each of our clients.
What other experiences have you instilled in EMC?
We firmly believe in honesty, integrity, and professionalism in handling each of our clients. We’ve never had a hidden agenda with any landlords to benefit EMC. For us, everything is about transparency. We share openly with our clients all the info about the landlords and the contract details. We always invite all parties for open negotiations to create a long-lasting relationship between landlords, clients, and EMC.
We are very proud that 99 percent of our clients come from word-of-mouth referrals within the expat community. That’s why happy clients are the basis of our success. When our clients are happy, we are too. Word of mouth referral is the best advertising we can hope for.
There are common misconceptions about overseas relocation. What are some you’d like to clear up, especially in Indonesia?
I believe that being posted as expats to different countries, including Indonesia, is a privilege. Being an expat, you’re exposed to different cultures, different ways of doing things, and we should embrace the differences and take it in our stride that this post is probably not forever. Make the best of the situation, go with the flow, take the negative as a different way of doing things and focus on positivity.
Jakarta is far from perfect, just like any other destination, but if we focus on the positive side, there are many wonderful things you can discover in Jakarta as an expat. Also, the expat community in Jakarta is very closely knit and welcoming to newcomers. Friends, you will meet here might become friends forever. Jakarta offers a big selection of very good international schools. The local culture is very rich and Indonesia offers a lot of wonderful travel destinations.
That said, living in Indonesia isn’t always easy and you should be aware of a few things. We have just published an article about all the things you should be aware of before moving to Jakarta.
Say a family just moved to Jakarta. What must they prepare before consulting with EMC?
Clients who are looking for a new house or apartment in Jakarta can get an idea about available options on our website, where we offer a database. Besides that, our website and social media channels are full of information about living in Jakarta.
Before we explore different housing options, we need to know a few things, like budget, expectations, and so on. That said, we’re super happy to guide new clients through all those questions and we invite them to get in touch with us at any stage of their home search.
We always advise our clients to adjust their expectations or even lower them by having plan A, plan B, and sometimes even plan C at hand. In an ideal world, plan A is of course the best, but often that’s not possible so we need to look further and go with an alternative. Be open-minded, be prepared to compromise, and stay realistic. Quality of workmanship on houses might not be at the same standard our clients are used to from their home countries and most probably, you also won’t be able to find the tropical home you can find here.
Approximately, how long does it take for a client to be fully relocated with EMC’s services?
Well, it depends on what services they need as to how long it’ll take to complete. For example, a home search, which is EMC’s forte and where our reputation is strongest, can be done in a rather short time.
If a big renovation is required, things can also take two or three months. In pre-COVID times, clients would usually come for a look and see trip prior to their move so there was plenty of time. In that case, EMC will supervise the renovations so that the house or apartment is ready for when the client arrives. That said, the moving process is, of course, also determined by the immigration process. In normal times, it took around three months.
For people who want to change their houses within Jakarta, we advise starting with the house search three months before the current lease ends.
Does EMC work together with expat organizations? How does this collaboration help?
Yes, we do work and collaborate with a few expat organizations to help one another. We’re members of ANZA and BWA expat women organizations. We help promote their activities and we often receive recommendations from members of these organizations with new clients.
We also attend Amcham, Britcham, and other expat networking functions. We’re active in collaborating with international schools. In a small expat community like Jakarta, it’s even more important that we help one another and create good relationships with all organizations to ensure it’s mutually productive for all concerned.
Your team at EMC are mostly women. Was it important for you to have your team supporting women’s empowerment?
Yes, we’re an all-woman team. In fact, three of us even share the same star sign, Aries, so there are some firey and passionate ladies in our team. I do, indeed, believe in empowering other women to achieve their best potential, be independent and confident in themselves to achieve higher goals. We finally have a great team that complements one another and we all work hard to achieve this.
Without a great team, EMC wouldn’t have been able to get where we are now. That said, there is still plenty of space to better ourselves and keep growing to where we want to be. I think the future is exciting and we’d like to branch out to other cities or islands in Indonesia, or overseas, with future collaborations.
After all the relocations you’ve endured, why did you finally decide to settle in Indonesia? How has the expat life personally been for you?
Well, originally, we planned to come to Jakarta for a three-year posting, then it became a six-year posting. After that, I started my own relocation business in 2003 which has gone from strength to strength within the expat community and this has given me personal satisfaction.
For me, word-of-mouth referral is the best PR you could wish for a business, especially for a small boutique company like EMC. Also, being Indonesian with what I call “international flavor”, I enjoy helping expatriates to settle into their posting in Jakarta and guide them through their initial adjustment to ensure they’re happy and settled.
Being surrounded by the rather small expat community of Jakarta is also a big advantage for me and EMC. Everyone knows everyone and there’s always someone who refers new or existing expats to EMC. So yes, I love the position I’m in right now; I can offer a unique experience for the expatriate community because I understand both worlds, eastern and western, perfectly well to help them to navigate life in Jakarta as expat.
Do you have a memorable story about expat life?
Oh, this is a tough question. Well, being a very positive person, I always try to see the glass half full instead of being half empty. Everything is a journey: good or bad, and often the bad is a part of the journey that makes us who we have become. Of course, life has shaped me into who I am today and I’m grateful for the experience of living as a local in Indonesia and as a local in New Zealand and Australia, before moving to Jakarta as an expat.
Tell us three past-times and a fun fact about yourself.
I love Latin dancing; I must have been a Latino in my past life. I also love to play tennis, working out at the F45 gym, riding a bike, socializing with friends and clients, and traveling to see my children who are now in Sydney and London. Basically, I love life and I just enjoy having fun and make the most of whatever circumstances I’m in. Keeping fit and having fun is always important for me to stay young in body, mind, and soul.
Where can our readers get in touch with you and EMC?
Lately, we’ve been very active in promoting our company through social media instead of just relying on word-of-mouth referrals like before. Now, we have an EMC Facebook page, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts, and also our newly launched website https://emcrelocations.com/ with listings and a blog for people to browse and read. We’ve created a Linktree with all our contact details for people to easily reach us.