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Relocating to Indonesia: An Expat’s Tips and Advices In A New Country

Relocating to Indonesia

Moving to a new country is invariably an exciting adventure.

It can also be difficult and daunting; the preparation and planning needed before relocating and then finally settling into your new life in a foreign country.

Many reasons drive a person to relocate. Often, it’s due to a new career but there could be other reasons, such as retirement or to experience a better lifestyle and standard of living.

Personally, I’ve relocated twice in my life. First, from Singapore to Thailand in 2011 and then from Phuket to Surabaya, Indonesia in 2015 for a new job. This article is based on my experience living as an expat in Surabaya, which is the second-largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta.

To make your relocation more manageable, here are some tips and advice. It’s worth noting that every city is unique and offers different facilities and services, so some of my tips and hints may not be relevant for all cities in Indonesia.

Jakarta near the quarantine animal office
Jakarta near the quarantine animal office

Be Prepared
Find out the shipping cost to get your things over to the new country. If the cost is exorbitant, perhaps it could be better to pack light and purchase new items when you arrive. This would also depend on whether you will have storage in the country you are currently in. If not, then you will need to dispose of unwanted clutter and ship only important and sentimental items to save money.

Another important point is that, if you are on any medication, get enough supply until you can find a new doctor in the city you are relocating to. Be sure to ask your current doctor for a letter to hand over to your new doctor. It would be wise to call clinics or hospitals in the city you are moving to in order to check if they have your needed medication and that it’s even available in your new country. I had some colleagues who left their illnesses untreated simply because the medication they are on cannot be found in the country they moved to. Your health is very important.

Visa and Work Permit
If you are relocating due to work, normally the company will organize your visa needs. When I moved to Indonesia, my KITAS application and anything related to immigration was dealt with by my company seamlessly. If you intend to be on a tourist, long-term visit, or retirement visa, do ensure you have all the relevant documents needed to secure your chosen visa. In most countries, you can find companies that can obtain your visa for you if you have the necessary documents.

Basic Needs
Once you move into your new home, you will need to ensure you have the basics to cover your needs. If you are renting, the landlord should ensure the electricity and water supply is up and running and you will just have to pay the monthly bill.

a) Drinking water
In Indonesia, you cannot drink from the tap. Hence, water gallons are used as the drinking water supply or, in some rare cases, your landlord may install a water filter to your tap. Otherwise, you can find out the number of the nearest water supplier from your landlord. If you are lucky, your house will come equipped with a water dispenser to put your gallon bottle on.

b) WiFi
You will need to find out if your landlord provides WiFi for you. Otherwise, you can let them know that you need an internet provider. There are many internet providers in Indonesia and some are better than others, depending on the location. I used First Media and I was quite happy with it. I heard many of my colleagues complaining about internet issues, such as an inability to connect, unstable connections, or the internet provider cutting off the connection to do repair works without giving advance notice. This was especially exasperating during the pandemic; having stable WiFi is a necessity for work and to keep you connected with your loved ones.

c) Food
There are many convenience stores in Indonesia. The most common ones are Indomaret and Alfamart. If you are located away from the main city, you will need to find the local provision stores in your neighborhood. A point of reference will be your landlord.

If you are looking for a hypermart, then you can head down to the nearest SuperIndo supermarkets. However, if you are looking for imported food to help ease your homesickness, then head to supermarkets that carry international goods. I was staying in Surabaya, so I frequently shopped at Ranch, Papaya, and Hooky. Sadly, the availability of these international supermarkets depends on the demand. If you are in a small town with a small expat community, you may have to get your goods shipped over.

If you are adventurous, you can visit the local market to check out the local produce. You can mingle with the locals and make some friends!

d) Apps
Depending on which city you move to, certain apps may not be available. I am sure there are more apps now but the apps below are the ones I used in Surabaya.

When I was in Surabaya, I frequently used Grab to book a private hire car to travel around the city. The fare will be shown on the app after you input your destination. Sometimes, if your driver cannot find you, you will need to describe your location. However, if language is a barrier, you can ask a security guard or a local person near you to direct the grab driver. You can order food using the Grab app too.

Another app that I used frequently is Gojek. Gojek is a great app; you can book a private hire car, order food, have goods delivered, and get many other services all within one app. My life became so much easier when the Gojek app was set up.

You can order goods from apps like Tokopedia, Lazada, and Shopee. Online shopping is great and easy, especially if you have a local bank card to make payments. You will have to speak to your company’s human resource or finance staff to assist you in opening a bank account because banks normally require a letter from the company.

Be Friendly
Your landlord is important as they will know the area well so do not be shy to ask them everything you need to know. The next important people are your neighbors and security guards if you have them in your housing complex. Your neighbors will be able to give you tips and advice about your housing complex and other matters. They will be the ones you can seek help from if you need any translation for your lost Grab driver or if you need to borrow sugar! Ask for their phone numbers so that you can contact them easily.

It is beneficial to learn the basic greetings like how are you – apa kabar – good morning – selamat pagi – and thank you – terima kasih. This small effort to learn the basic greetings will bring you a long way in being accepted by Indonesians. Make friends with the locals because they know where the best food and hangout places are.

Explore
Once you are settled in, I recommend exploring your area. Go to the nearest mall, join a guided tour of the city, or, even better, ask your new local friend to be your guide. If you are adventurous and have an international license, rent a car or get a driver to go on a road trip to amazing places near your new home. The nearest amazing place to Surabaya is Mount Bromo, which is an active volcano with an amazing sunrise view. If you know the great places to visit, when your family or friends come over, you can be the “local” to bring them to these sights.

Join Expat Communities
You can join expat communities in your city. You may even meet someone from your home country. The expat community is a useful community to make your relocation smoother – your expat friends can help you with any queries or issues you face living in the new city. Some expats, having stayed for a long time, have a wealth of knowledge about the city. They may have contacts for whatever issues you face and they may have even picked up the local language well and can help to interpret for you.

Lastly, Indonesia is big and it is important to note that different cities offer varying facilities. Huge cities, like Jakarta and Surabaya, will definitely have better infrastructure and facilities as compared to smaller cities. Hence, before relocating, it is important to research or even better, visit the city you intend to move to in order to make an informed decision before packing up your life in your current country.

Good luck on your next relocation adventure!

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