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Interview with Cassandra – a Singaporean expat living in Indonesia

Updated 21 Nov 2013

Cassandra is a Singaporean expat who moved to Jakarta with her Canadian husband and son when he was offered a new position there. Cassandra has had to make a number of adjustments following her move to Indonesia, not least of which was quitting her job in advertising to become a stay-at-home mom.

Read more about Indonesia in the Expat Arrivals Indonesia guide or read more about expat experiences in Indonesia.

About Cassandra

Cassandra - A Singaporean expat living in IndonesiaQ: Where are you originally from?  
A: Singapore, and my husband is from Canada.

Q: Where are you living now?  
A:  Jakarta, Indonesia

Q: When did you move to Indonesia?  
A: September 2013.

Q: Did you move alone or with a spouse/family?  
A:  We moved here as a family, with my husband and one-year-old toddler.

Q: Why did you move to Indonesia? What do you do?  
A:  We made a decision to move here in support of my husband’s new role here in Jakarta. I left my job in advertising just before we came here. It was a really tough decision, especially when I had to give up my job, friends and the sense of familiarity back in Singapore.

The great catalyst to our move is also that we see Jakarta as a place with great potential and opportunities; we were also starting to get tired of Singapore’s ‘perfect-ness’ and orchestrated lifestyle. Our son is still young (we do not need to worry about school, friends, etc.), so we hopped on to the chance to get out of our comfort zone.

Living in Indonesia

Q: What do you enjoy most about Jakarta? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?  
A:  Vibrancy, chaos, culture. I don’t really know how to put it in exact words; Jakarta is like a mixed salad; there’s a mix of everything, and when you put it all together, it actually tastes pretty good. It is hard for me to give a fair comparison as I was working back in Singapore while I was not in Jakarta. There is already a big difference, from a super hectic advertising job to staying at home. However, I would say there’s definitely more to do here than in Singapore.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?  
A:  Safety and the ability to walk on the streets. I miss being able to walk anywhere without worrying about getting robbed, pedestrian crossings, and sidewalks. 

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Jakarta? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock? 
A: From being ultra-independent back in Singapore to being highly dependent on others here, as I am not able to understand or speak Bahasa. Not much of a culture shock though. 

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?  
A:  Perhaps it’s the area we are staying in, Central Jakarta; we find that the cost of living is comparable to Singapore in most aspects. We are paying the same rent as we were in Singapore and spending twice as much on groceries as we did back home. If you dine outside, the cost is comparable to Singapore. Just that for the same price, you get better ambience and service here.

Labour and transport is half of what it costs in Singapore though, so that’s the upside. 

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Jakarta? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car? 
A: There are only taxis and cars for expats. Taking the bus is unheard of. Yes, you do need a car to get around, especially if you have a family and own one preferably. Driving in Jakarta is crazy, and I would definitely recommend putting your kid in the child’s seat. 

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Indonesia? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend? 
A: I can’t really comment much yet, but I heard that many expats and even affluent locals fly to Singapore to receive medical treatment or to give birth. Most expats with kids go to SOS Clinic or JWCC (Jakarta Women & Children Clinic) in Jakarta.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Jakarta? Are there any areas expats should avoid? 
A: Not anything major so far; the bombings or riots are at the back of our minds. No particular area that we heard in Jakarta is unsafe; just avoid dark alleys and foreign places at night, you know…common sense. 

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Jakarta? What different options are available for expats? 
A: There’s a price to everything. For the same price we are paying for our three-bedroom in city central, we could have a five-bedroom mansion with a huge pool and garden in the South. That being said, the bigger space would have come with the price of my husband needing to go through the traffic to and fro and hence less family time. So it’s really what you are trading for: money for more time or time for more space. 

Depending on your budget for housing, you can choose from private bungalows, townhouses within a compound (security all taken care of), apartments, serviced apartments, etc. There are really plenty of choices, and again, it comes with a price. 

Q: Are there any areas/suburbs in Jakarta you’d recommend for expats to live in? 
A:  Most expats live in the South or Central Jakarta. Popular areas are Kemang, Pondok Inah, Kuningan, Menteng. 

Meeting people and making friends in Jakarta

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women, etc.? 
A: Our encounters have been very pleasant, with locals being very polite and friendly towards us. There doesn’t seem to be any particular discrimination. 

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people in Jakarta?  
A: Yes, it is. Like anywhere, you just need to put yourself out there. 

Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend? 
A:  I have made friends with both locals (mostly overseas-educated Indonesians) and other expats. 

The best advice is to keep a very open mind; it’s like finding a job. You need to interview with a couple before you find the perfect organisation, and it’s really similar to finding friends. Some interviews will go well, some not too well, but after a while, you will have a couple of really good options.  

Working in Jakarta

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Indonesia? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant? 
A:  No, but it takes a really long while, you know, slowly yet surely. My husband’s company helped us with it.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Jakarta? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful? 
A: Lots of money and attention is on Jakarta right now; it’s one of the key focus markets for many international organisations. Find a job before getting to Jakarta, and don’t just go through online job listing sites, as it is still kind of backwards here in terms of digital technology. They do not update their web pages or reply to emails promptly. Look up the hiring manager on LinkedIn and reach out to them there.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Indonesia? 
A:  Totally different; Singaporeans pride themselves in being super efficient, while Indonesians are happy to enjoy the ride. People here are more change-adverse as well, so you can’t push them too hard. If you want to do business here, you have to: 1. Understand the way people work here, and 2. Have a local contact that you can trust.

Family and children in Indonesia

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse? 
A:  My husband and my son fit in quite quickly with no issues. I guess my husband was extremely occupied at work, so that helped with the transition. Whereas as a trailing spouse, I do feel pangs of mixed emotions - from missing my friends/colleagues/job to an occasional sense of a loss of identity to elation that I can do things I didn’t have a chance to do while working.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals? 
A:  Always come to a new city with a positive mindset. It is really all about perceptions. 

Instead of finding the jams annoying, I strangely find zen amongst them. Life in Singapore is really fast-paced that one doesn’t have much time in between schedules. The jams in Jakarta actually gave me time to think, to just look around and observe my surroundings, to witness life around and count my blessings. Friends from other busy cities like New York, Hong Kong, etc., actually feel similarly too.

Embrace the culture, pick up the language, and you will fit in seamlessly.

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