Jakarta, aka The Big Durian, has a bad reputation and many an expat usually refuse job postings in Indonesia’s capital for that reason.
The number one grievance being Traffic ! In the world Jakarta is Ranked number 10 worst on tomtom’s traffic index and 6th for Asia.
Yes traffic is bad, but Jakarta can be a very pleasant place to live as well - you just have to manage your expectations and chose your home wisely !
These are some tips to help you enjoy living in Jakarta and try to demystify this city’s bad reputation:
- When settling in, don’t look at the km distance but at the time distance. I would advise a google map search with a departure from your two travel points at 5 pm on a Friday evening. That will show you the worst travel time.
- Don’t underestimate the U-turn. Living on the right side of a street can save you up to 20min travel time at rush hour !
- Know what is important for you and analyze your lifestyle. List what you do on a regular basis with you and your family. Who is going to commute, you or the kids ? Do you want to live close to friends to have a very active social life on the week-end ? In Jakarta because of traffic you actually live in a neighborhood not in the city itself.
For example: I am incapable of doing weekly grocery shopping. I do it everyday to almost every two days. So I need a walking distance supermarket. I also enjoy going frequently to the restaurant, so I need to make sure I have enough option within 10 min around me. I also don’t want to take more than 45 min to get to work. I ended up in Kuningan because it had all of these and walking distance from each other !
- Chose a comfortable place to live. Don’t be too cheap on it, you are going to spend a lot of time in there. I would love to live in one of the small houses with swimming pool you can find a little outside of the city center proper - maybe when the sky train is finished I’ll have that opportunity ! ( one station in front of my office ).
- Get help, yes I know managing staff can be an expat nightmare, and doesn’t come naturally at all for many of us. But with the traffic, you can’t be picking up the kids from school AND doing the grocery shopping AND taking care of the house. Traffic will prevent you from doing all that you would think you can. Getting help in Indonesia is not too complex and very affordable. You can find great recommendations on Jakarta Expat facebook group from time to time. Usually a driver and a maid, or at least the maid.
- Use the apps & marketplaces ! Gojek, Grab, Happyfresh or Tokopedia and their myriad of services are life savers. Need to pick up that translation of your docs on the other side of town ? Use Go-send ! Need to get to the closest MRT station and beat the traffic ? Grab or Gojek will do. And what about that little ingredients I need to buy but it’s on the other side of town and it’s not worth that much trouble ? Goshop, Happyfresh, Go-send again. You have found that amazing table second-hand from a fellow expat about to leave ? Rent a Go-box truck from the app ! Seriously do like the locals do.
- The expat communities are small and very helpful. Jakarta being not an easy city to start with, many communities have created their own support groups to help newcomers. For French speaking people it’s called “Jakarta accueil”. The IFI ( French Institute) has amazing cheese tasting sessions and French culture activities (in English !) regularly. Jakarta Expat facebook group has some great and helpful people there too. (Not too many trolls !)
- Indonesians... This city is a capital but don’t have the same “capital citizens” attitude, it’s more like a disorganized village. And most Indonesians are not from Jakarta - they are friendly, relaxed and helpful. Thanks to this, tempers get cooled down and you feel pretty good here.
House hunting advise: Count the number of mosques around where you want to live. And do visit a place at prayer time. The noise levels can be very problematic. There are no regulations on volumes and they also can call to prayer with different songs and not exactly in synch...
In summary: think carefully about the WHERE you want to live. Manage your expectations on what you can do in a day and get help if you get squeezed by time: Either via a maid, a driver or by abusing the insane amount of home delivery services available. Finally connect to really nice local communities (expat or Indonesian) to start your social life here. You will be settling in in no time !