ajb’s Expat Guide on ‘How to Thrive in Jakarta’

Firstly, Happy New Year and welcome back to a journey bespoke. It’s so nice to have you join us again for this, the start of our third year of blogging. We are excited to be back in Jakarta and are rearing to go!

Today’s post is for all those newbies to Jakarta – or those who are on their way to the Big Durian.

We still recall what it felt like to pack up our lives in Australia and move to a city that didn’t necessarily receive the biggest raps when reading about it online.

Fortunately what we found when we arrived was a City that defies definition. A City that is full of energy, big smiles, amazing experiences and above all, an abundance of opportunities. So if you are new to Jakarta we say, Welcome! or Selamat Datang! 

To give you a head start with settling into your new life, we have compiled the following guide on How to Thrive in Jakarta. 

To help you navigate your way through the information, we have divided it into 3 categories: Before You Arrive, Early Days in Jakarta and When You’re Settled.

Best wishes

Jo and Liz.

Ps: If you’ve been in Jakarta for a while or have lived in Jakarta previously, we would love you to share some of your own tried and tested advice by posting your thoughts below in our Comments section.


Before You Arrive in Jakarta

To make your transition as smooth and stress-free as possible, there are quite a few things you can do before you hit the shores of Jakarta. Here are some suggestions:

Get the right Apps: If you don’t already have an intimate relationship with your smart phone, then this is all about to change! People in Jakarta are hugely connected and whether you like it or not, you too will (probably) become more reliant on your smart devices.

To get you started we recommend you visit the App store and grab the following:

Whatsapp (the most popular way of messaging individuals and groups)
Waze & Google Maps Apps (to help you navigate your way through the traffic)
Online Dictionary (Liz suggests Dict. Land App, which has the nifty ability to record your search history allowing you to call on translations as you need them)
Instagram App (to keep family and friends up to date with your move, where you’re living and family activities)
My Blue Bird Taxi App (the App for Indonesia’s most trusted taxi company)

Get reading: To give you a taste of what life is like in Jakarta, there are a few blogs and online magazines that we recommend you check out:

A Journey Bespoke (of course!)
Honeycombers Jakarta
What’s New Jakarta
Manual Jakarta

And as you’re moving to a new country complete with its own language, cultures, traditions and religions it is also a great idea to get a sense and appreciation of this diversity. We suggest that you:

Read up on what it means to be Muslim – To help you with this, we have also compiled a story all about Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr. Did you know that 85% of Indonesia’s population are Muslim, making this country the World’s most populous Muslim nation? Understanding and appreciating Islamic traditions and practices is a sign of respect and will help you settle in and feel more informed.

Start learning the basics of Indonesia’s National language by checking out our Beginner’s Guide to Bahasa Indonesia 

Buy up before you come: Although the range of items available for sale in the shops of Jakarta has become significantly more extensive over the past few years, it is still difficult to find some articles that you may consider basic essentials. For instance, there isn’t a Nespresso shop in Jakarta and although there is a Facebook page on which you can order capsules (I’ve never used it), if you have a Nespresso machine, we recommend you BYO capsules. (Mind you, the quality of Indonesian coffee is so fabulous that I’m almost anticipating the death of my machine so that I can purchase one that uses coffee beans!)

Likewise, dish tablets are still quite difficult to locate in your average Jakarta supermarket. Although you are now able to buy them online at Tokopedia I still bring bags of them home with me whenever I’m back in Australia.

… And, come close… there’s something else that’s a little difficult to locate.. (and that’s not a pun)… yes, it’s tampons! Finding tampons on a shelf in a supermarket or pharmacy in Jakarta is quite rare (and when you do find them, they are crazy-expensive!) so before coming to Jakarta, if you use them, we recommend you clear the shelf of tampons at your supermarket!

Pack what you need and then some: It’s likely that you will arrive in Jakarta well before your shipping container does, so we recommend that in your checked-in luggage, pack your creature comforts and items that will remind you of home. If you have children who are starting school soon after your arrival, we recommend you bring some basic school essentials too, just to tie you over.


Early Days in Jakarta

One thing for sure about life in Jakarta is that you will spend a lot of time in your car. During these early days, no doubt your head will be swivelling madly from side to side as you absorb all the sights of Jakarta. This is all part of understanding the mechanics of this frantic city; a city that hopefully you will find endearing.

When in the Car: Use this time in a productive way. Some suggestions include listening to your favourite music playlists, online radio and podcasts. You can also use this time to catch up on some long-overdue reading; keep abreast of what’s happening back home with online news sources (my favourite is ABC News online and Liz enjoys her online subscription to The Sydney Morning Herald).

Get the car set up with other creature comforts including: healthy snacks, water, books and even small cushions & light blankets in case you get stuck in traffic (*macet). Some other ideas include adding some towels (for muddy feet), carrying some DVDs if your car has this facility and include a phone charger as well as a First Aid kit.

Still in the car (yes, we told you that you would spend a lot of time here!), make sure to go to the toilet before departing. We don’t want to harp on about the traffic.. but sometimes a short trip just might turn into a very loonnnnnggggg trip (and a full bladder just makes it more uncomfortable!)

– And finally just one more ‘car-related’ piece of advice – always allow extra time to get places. That’s all we’re saying!!

Money Money Money: Get used to lots of zeroes! As a rough guide, rp10,000 is equivalent to $1.00 AUD

Always carry money on you as Jakarta is still a predominantly cash-based society. Coins and little notes are useful for parking and making small payments to the ‘Pak Oga’ who will allow your car to merge into the traffic or pull a crazy u-turn in the most unlikely location. Bigger notes are useful for toll fees or other cash payments (Note: the biggest note is rp100,000, equivalent to approx. $10.00 AUD).

Set up your handbag: Apart from your usual essentials, also include some tissues (toilet paper can be scarce), hand sanitiser, earplugs (see ‘Speaking of movies’ for explanation), sun cream and mozzie repellent.

Learn Bahasa Indonesia: Your experience in Indonesia will be a whole lot more enriching if you take the time to learn the language. Indonesians delight in hearing foreigners speaking Bahasa Indonesia, so be encouraged to give it a go.

Establish a routine early and get busy: Time to start that project you were always thinking about but never had time to complete. Time to have lessons to learn that instrument you have always wanted to play. What about an online course? Or why not write a blog (now there’s a good idea!) Now is the time to build a schedule for yourself and ensure that each day has purpose.

Staff: Living in Jakarta means that you will probably have some house staff. We recommend that your staff complete a First Aid course (especially your *Pembantu and Driver). Ensure your Driver knows how to get to SOS Medical Clinic and all of your important locations (medical, dental, schools, hairdresser, friends’ places, favourite cafes etc.)

One of our favourite coffee spots in South Jakarta

Try new ingredients: You will quickly notice that there are lots of new and unfamiliar fruits, veggies and other products at your local supermarket. Set yourself the ‘Trolley Challenge’ and add something unfamiliar (but edible!) to your trolley each week. With the help of your Pembantu or the staff in the fresh veggie section at the supermarket, find out how to use it in a meal. This way, you will extend your repertoire of fruits and vegetables and enjoy some new, local fresh ingredients.

To help you on your way, here are a few blog posts you might find interesting:

Tropical Fruits of Indonesia
How to make Soto Ayam
How to make Beef Rendang

Include family-favourite meals too: Sometimes the taste of a home-cooked meal, just like you used to eat is just what you need. A homemade lasagne or a chicken schnitzel with mashed potato and veggies when it’s drizzly outside is the ultimate comfort food. We all need that sometimes!

Avoid feeling frazzled: When it’s all getting on top of you and your day seems unsalvageable (we call this ‘having a Jakarta day’), then concede defeat and instead have a cream bath (look it up if you don’t know what it is… it’s pure Heaven!)  Or try a massage, a facial, a manicure or a pedicure. What about some reflexology? Not interested in pampering? then how about the Movies. All these simple pleasures are extremely affordable here in Jakarta. And if you aren’t keen to face the traffic, then you can have the pampering come to you. Call Spalosophy – a reputable mobile spa company.

Speaking of movies: Pack earplugs for movies and concerts. In Indonesia (as with most of Asia), it seems the louder the better! So pop a few sets of foam earplugs into your handbag when you want to lower the decibel count a wee bit.

Join an Association: Irrespective of your interests, you will find plenty of things to do here in Jakarta. To get you started, we recommend you join an organisation such as:

Australia and New Zealand Association
American Club, Jakarta
British Women’s Association.. and many others!

These Associations welcome people of all Nationalities and offer a range of activities for you to get involved in – Sport & recreation, social welfare, language classes, playgroup, gala ball events, charity and fundraising etc.

The Indonesian Heritage Society is also an excellent organisation to join. This Society runs a group called, The Explorers, which visits new places in Jakarta and surrounding areas, discovering Indonesian culture and traditions.


When You’re Settled

Setting into Jakarta takes a variable amount of time. For us, settling happened quite quickly; aided in particular by having kids starting school and the friendships that form from that association (just like the friendship that Liz and I formed some 3 years ago).

It’s a lovely feeling when you realise that home is now here in Jakarta and that life is (finally) making sense.

So once you are feeling settled, here is some advice that may assist you further:

Grab some more Apps: Now that you’ve been in Jakarta for a little while, it’s time to upgrade to some more advanced Apps. These Apps do tend to use some Bahasa Indonesia but with intuition and a dash of common sense, you will have these mastered in a jiffy!

We recommend:
Go-Jek App: Go-Jek is an Indonesian company that runs motorcycle taxi services, covering everything from personal transport to courier deliveries to delivery of food… You’ll be surprised what Go-Jek is able to do for you!

Tokopedia App: One of Indonesia’s biggest online marketplaces. Tokopedia sells everything from dishwasher tablets to Go Pros (The site is written in Bahasa Indonesia)

Happy Fresh App: Need a capsicum or some more toilet rolls but can’t face getting back in the car again?Then contact the guys at Happy Fresh, your personal shoppers! Select your preferred supermarket, identify the goods that you want delivered and just like magic, they will be delivered to your door – fast!

Eat Well: Ready to venture beyond your local supermarket? Why not visit some of Jakarta’s wet markets that sell farm-fresh produce. Two of our favourite pasars include: Pasar Mayestik and Pasar Modern – Both of which sell quality fruit and vegetables.

Fresh produce lines every aisle at Pasar Modern, Bintaro

Interested in having farm fresh veggies delivered to your home? We love Yum Organic Farm! They also deliver fresh spices and occasionally delicious wholesome bread from Jakarta-based French bakery, Levant.

Our weekly delivery from Yum Organic Farm
Fresh bread delivery from Levant via Yum Organic Farm

Enrol in a cooking class: Learn to use local ingredients including some of the world’s best spices by enrolling in a local cooking class. Pantry Magic offers classes on a regular basis.

Find yourself a tailor/seamstress: One of the absolute privileges of living in Jakarta is the opportunity to get creative! Having an outfit made or some new cushion covers is a very affordable luxury. Jakarta is teeming with talented seamstresses and tailors. We like Ibu Yana but it’s best to ask around for recommendations (preferably find someone close to where you live for ease with fittings).

Fabric shopping with a visiting friend is fun!

Get your pics printed (finally!): 
Know all those digital photos you’ve been taking for years but have never had printed? Well, Jakarta is the place to do this! We really like Adorama – a photographic shop that allows you to print off all your photos as books, canvases or individual prints. They are also great for passport photos.

Leave!: Yep you read right! But we don’t mean permanently – just a short getaway every now and then to keep you feeling fresh, motivated and energised. Life in Jakarta is fast-paced and can sap you of energy so taking some time to reset and reconnect is a key element of living a happy and sustainable life in Jakarta. Local getaways such as a day trip to the Thousand Islands or the volcanic area of Anak Krakatau are a must-do whilst living in Indonesia.

Pulau Sepa, Thousand Islands

Closer to Jakarta, a hike in Puncak or Sentul will definitely recharge your batteries.

Hiking in Sentul, West Java

Or thinking or a weekend getaway? Then a trip to Bandung or Yogjakarta will work wonders!

Sunrise at Borobudur Temple, Yogjakarta, Java


Well, that about sums up our guide on How to Thrive in Jakarta. We hope it is of some use to you… but perhaps we have saved our best advice ’til last:
Live life in Jakarta with a Half Glass Full attitude and when all else fails, head for a cream bath (you won’t regret it!)

*pembantu – translates as ‘helper’ but usually refers to the role of housekeeper
*macet – translates as ‘congestion’ and generally refers to traffic
*pasar – market


Words: Jo and Liz   Photography:  a journey bespoke


    • ajourneybespoke says

      Hi there Helen, we are glad that you enjoyed today’s post. And thank you for always supporting ‘a journey bespoke’. We really appreciate it.

  1. Fiona says

    Hi Jo, how funny that I’m reading your article and stumble across a photo of me at the fabric market – whilst wearing the purple top I had made there! Happy memories! Love Fiona

    • ajourneybespoke says

      Hello Fiona! Such fun memories of your visit to Jakarta. Having friends and family come to stay really makes it feel like home. It’s was so nice to share the daily happenings of our Jakarta life with you.

  2. Chantal says

    Hello Liz and Jo! What a fun site to read! Lots of useful information and made me even more anxious to have our “look and see trip”!

    • ajourneybespoke says

      Hello Chantal! Sounds like you’re on your way to Jakarta! How exciting. We hope your ‘look see’ trip goes well. Let us know if there’s anything you’re unsure about. We would love to be of assistance, if we can. Best wishes and good luck!

    • ajourneybespoke says

      Hey there! GoJek has become such an integral part of people’s lives here in Jakarta (and beyond). We agree, it’s an excellent initiative.

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