Sunday, August 17, 2008

Expat Questions on settling down in Jakarta

I've just had the chance to read a comment from a Achuthan Kutty on a previous post of mine. I haven't been able to reply earlier due to my lack of internet access so I'm only doing it today. Since the questions he asked are common expat questions, I thought I'd just do a post related to his queries. Maybe some other expats considering a relocation here will find this post useful. If any more experienced expats or locals would care to add/amend some of my stuff here, I'd like to thank you in advance for that.

1. Cost of housing in a gated community
I suppose the cost is all a matter of location here. When we were searching for a home ourselves, we saw houses in various compounds that ranged from US$2,500 to US$4,000. The cheaper ones we saw tended to be in areas which are reached by a maze of narrow roads. We knew we didn't want that because if I had to travel alone, we didn't want to risk having an evil cab driver take me elsewhere instead. We finally found one that was within our budget and was within walking distance to a major road but was still tucked into a quiet corner. We knew we didn't want to live too close to a major road and have to contend with the traffic jams on a daily basis right on our doorstep.

From what I've been told, Kemang is a popular area for expats and we've seen nice houses here that cost about US$2,500 in gated compounds. That was our lowest end of the budget to the agent, so sorry, I didn't see any houses which cost less. If you have family, it is definitely preferable to live in a gated compound as the wife and kids can make friends quickly and it's safer. There's also the advantage of having a compound superintendent to consult when your pool gets clogged or when you need the lights fixed.

Be sure to check if the amount quoted to you by the agent is inclusive of various other fees such as maintenance, security, pool etc. If you don't check and you agree to the house, you may find yourselves over your budget when the final figure is quoted to you. And remember, house rents in Jakarta are paid for about 2 years in advance, so that's a BIG lump of money.

2. English-speaking maid and cook
Check the Jakarta International Community Center (JICC) for maid listings. They are located near Hero Kemang. Hero is a chain of local supermarkets. Alternatively, Hero Kemang and Hero near Kristal Hotel has a bulletin board where maids often post letters of recommendation from previous employers and their phone numbers, hoping to find potential employers. Pick those who are accustomed to working for expat families as they tend to have experience running the whole household and will manage things such as handling repairs, topping up the groceries etc. They should cost over Rp1 million monthly (approx US$100+) and they get every Sunday off. You should also be aware that you should pay them a month's bonus around Hari Raya and depending on your agreement, they can get up to two weeks off for the holiday period. This seems to be standard practise here and I've read somewhere that Indon law requires them to be paid that bonus, so don't skimp on it.

What I've been told by other expats: Always ask for a reference and check out the reference before you hire the maid. Spell out clearly what you want them to do and ask if they can do it. Do a trial period first, say for a month, before you agree to hire them permanently. ALWAYS send them for a health check prior to employment, the cost of the health check will be borne by you.

This excellent expat site has a table of approximate costs of hired help in Indonesia.

3. English-speaking driver
Okay, ours came with Dear Hubby's job. He speaks basic English. If you have an accent, please speak slower than your normal speed. Sometimes the accent matters. There have been many hilarious moments when Dear Hubby says something to our driver/taxi drivers and they don't understand him because of his English accent but when I say the exact same thing in a Malaysian accent, they all get it.

But if you need to hire your own, I've found that again the Hero bulletin board and JICC has ads for drivers. Our driver costs about Rp1.5 million per month and he gets to claim all the various parking, toll and food charges as well.

4. What car to drive in Jakarta
Haha.... I'm just glad I don't have to drive in Jakarta, the traffic is crazy! Where we live is prone to floods in the rainy season, so Dear Hubby insisted on a 4WD. We were issued with the standard expat vehicle that is the Toyota Kijang (the Innova in other countries) when we arrived but we changed it to a Honda CRV. I would reco a vehicle that's got BIG HIGH wheels so that when it floods, the waters don't get into your car and you can still get past some flooded areas. A no-no car for Jakarta roads will be something sporty and low. That's just plain asking for trouble and it's simply not practical in a city where I've never gone faster than 60km/h and there are more craters in the roads than there are on the Moon.

5. Shopping for food
Okay, Achuthan didn't ask this but I thought I would just put this in anyway. My favourite supermarket is Ranch Market. They have various branches but the two I know of are in Dharmawangsa and Pejaten. This is where I can get my supply of roasts and bacon to feed Dear Hubby. They also carry all our favourite curry pastes and various stir-fry sauces (guess how else I manage to serve up Nasi Goreng Belacan for Dear Hubby without stinking up the whole house!).
Kemchicks is pretty good too for expat-y stuff and they have one in Kemang. A bigger outlet is located downtown in Pacific Place Mall (hope I got the name right, I keep getting that one wrong!)
Hero Kemang is also quite good for your everyday needs. I've also tried Giant and Carrefour in Lebak Bulus but I found the quality of the meats there to be a bit dodgy. And the broccoli I bought from Carrefour had a family of worms in the center! *sigh* Well, at least that shows they didn't use that much pesticide...
Another supermarket I frequent is the one in Cilandak Town Square (Citos). I pop in there if I'm in Citos for lunch.

6. Trawling for furniture
We've spent the past two weeks doing nothing but this. We found that Jln Kemang Raya has a lot of furniture shops - some hideous, some nice. My reco would be Koi Gallery, just next to the McD in Kemang. It's in the same building as Celebrity Fitness. It's a furniture gallery-cum restaurant and I think it's run by a Frenchman. We met him but I don't know if he's French or Belgian-French. They do some nice pieces in recycled teakwood and we've bought some. For price comparison: a dining table made of recycled teakwood that can seat 6 costs about RM2,500. I've seen pieces in IKEA catalogues from pinewood that cost the same.

Another shop I liked was Eight Rooms, also along Jln Kemang Raya. It's got very nice pieces and they can customise the furniture to your measurements.

Jln Benda nearby also has a lot of furniture places and a lot of local places where they can make what you want. If you're looking for rattan furniture, a friend of mine bought some lovely pieces from The Rattan House. You can't miss it on Jln Benda, the shop signage is visible from the moon.

Achthan, I hope this helps if you do decide to relocate to Jakarta and do come by and say hi!


  1. Great blog. I think further consideration should be given to the relative cost of living for somene considering an expat move.

    My view is that exchange rates give misleading salary comparisons because they do not reflect salary purchasing power differences. Exchange rates are volatile as they are based on short-term factors and are subject to substantial distortions from speculative movements and government interventions. Salary Purchasing Power Parity (SPPP) is the rate of salary purchasing power given the relative cost of the same basket of goods at the exchange rate versus one US Dollar. SPPP conversions allow cross-country comparisons of salary levels free of salary survey market and exchange rate distortions. You can get a more accurate SPPP comparison of your equivalent salary in another country using

  2. You list some good stuff there. I just like to add a bit. Housing price can vary and my ex-colleague is now dealing with an expat insisting on USD 1,000/month budget for an apartment. My ex CEO's house isn't in Kemang but in Pondok Indah, and it cost over USD5,000/month. But yes, Kemang is very popular area for expats, I don't know why, with traffic jam and flood. Myself, I'd prefer to stay in Kuningan area.

    I think it's important to choose a reliable agent who can mediate between you (the leaser) and the owner. My staff (this was before my time) dealt with the CEO's house directly and as a result there are things which are not covered in the agreement. Agents make sure they are, so every time your waterpump is broken you just need to call the owner, etc.

    PS: congrats on the big bump, not long from now you'd get to meet mr. little monkey!

  3. Steven: Hi, thanks for dropping by and for the comments! I totally agree with you about SPPP, we actually find Jakarta more expensive compared to KL, exch rates be damned. Thanks for the URL, I'll be checking that out.

    FW: Well spoken as always! A good agent can make a lot of difference. We changed ours bec the first one couldn't even find us a house that met our requirements. I was very impressed with Kuningan when I went there, thought it was lovely!
    Thanks for the good wishes, not long now before our little boy pops out!

  4. Hi Mrs Top Monkey, as i was trying to understand more of the life & getting use to Jakarta, i managed to connect to your blog...lovely blog, sweet stories & am truly amazed by them...It is really unfortunate for us that we can't be expat's wife together in the same location at the same time...guessed i missed this would have been nice to have someone from the same country to hang out with while in a foreign land like here...going through your blog, you surely gave a inside out of living in Jakarta...hopefully, with these clues from your blog & some others i have went through, my husband & i will be able to go through a smoother relocation ... hope to connect with you via email....mine is ..till then..have a great day ahead...btw, little Monkey is a charming little angel ...great job Mrs. Monkey...Shee Ling

  5. Hi Shee Ling, hope you enjoy your stay there. I did and it made me appreciate home a lot more. Nice of you to leave a comment, I hope that the Jakarta articles help! See you when you come back to KL for holidays! :)