With a thriving economy and attractive expat salaries on offer, an expat's lifestyle in Jakarta can be full of comforts and luxuries.
Traffic can sometimes hinder leisure time during the week, so weekends are perfect for playing on the golf course, scuba diving expeditions and short holidays to the nearby islands. International companies often offer their employees three to four weeks' paid leave and, on occasion, paid tickets to the employee’s home country.
Expats in Indonesia work hard and play hard. During the week employees are often expected to go to work from 8am to about 6pm and by the time traffic allows them to get home their weekday leisure activities start out at 8pm or 9pm. Many pubs, bars and restaurants offer entertaining activities during the week such as trivia nights, darts and pool championships, ladies nights and live music.
As is often the case, expat spouses, both male and female, have a hard time finding a job in Indonesia due to the strict work visa regulations. This, however, doesn’t mean that meaningful work can't be done in Jakarta. Many associations offer volunteer opportunities at different charities and knowledge and experience never go to waste. With affordable help at home, leisure time is maximised and “stay-at-home” spouses never stay put, since there is a wide array of activities available to cater to all the needs and tastes of the budding expat population.
The vast expat communities and associations in Jakarta provide a little taste of home to expats with their constant balls and special charity events. From medieval banquets to Latin balls and Mardi Gras soirées, expats are able to enjoy the buzzing nightlife of Jakarta as often as they please.
Shopping in Jakarta
Shopping can be seen as a national sport for Indonesians, both honorary and native. The immense variety of shopping malls, markets and boutiques make Jakarta a shopper’s paradise. Like most countries in Asia, Jakarta boasts extravagant world-class malls with designer stores galore, as well as smaller local designer boutiques. Renowned designers and interior decorators often visit Jakarta and showcase their latest creations both at runway shows and special exhibitions at the many malls around the city.
Visiting shopping malls is a central activity in the lives of many Jakartans. Malls provide an escape from the heat, humidity and rain, and the many entertainment options make them pivotal in the lifestyle of Jakartans and expats alike. Shopping malls in Jakarta can be described as lifestyle centres. Expats can leave the mall with a fresh new haircut, after getting a massage, enjoying international cuisine and buying stationary, a pair of shoes, and food for their pets. Malls are truly the cornucopia of shoppers, where products are bountiful, ever-changing and always following the latest trends.
Malls are plentiful throughout Jakarta and so are their visitors. Weekends and Indonesian holidays are popular days to visit so expect to find a buzzing centre.
International Trade Centres
International Trade Centres, popularly known as ITCs, are the go-to places when looking for small electronics, factory outlet clothes, imported toys, brand-name purses and almost anything else. Although these shopping centres do not boast the swank and cleanliness of the nicer malls, most shoppers leave the ITCs satisfied after spending much less money than at regular shopping centres.
For the more adventurous, traditional pasars (markets) offer an authentic cultural experience where true kampung (village) life can be observed, breathed and lived. Markets are excellent venues for buying fresh produce, live fish and beautiful freshly picked flowers. These markets are often crowded with bajajs (two or three-wheeler cars), carts and even motorcycles, and they are bustling with life and colour.
Beware of price fluctuations between locals and foreigners and have at least a slight idea about how much something is worth. Bargaining is expected so be prepared to negotiate prices until finding a good discount of about 10 to 20 percent.
Eating out in Jakarta
Jakarta is home to a colossal variety of international cuisine. Restaurants often host award-winning chefs for months at a time and offer specialised menus and special events. Specialities range from high-end tepanyaki restaurants to small hole-in-the-wall type venues that offer authentic Javanese fare.
Despite the fact that Indonesia is a Muslim country, alcohol is widely available and served in most restaurants. Alcohol, however, can sometimes be pricey compared to other countries due to high levies on imported spirits and wine and the value-added taxes.
Some of the most popular restaurants are located within hotels, office buildings and shopping malls. Westernised menus are popular among the expat and wealthier local population, and the quality and authenticity are often first-rate.
Reservations are expected at the more popular restaurants, often for lunch and especially for dinner. Tipping is not expected due to the fact that a service charge is regularly included in the bill. However, if the service was exceptional, a small tip is encouraged to demonstrate appreciation. In many cases, waitstaff remember their patrons and regulars often get top-notch service.
Nightlife in Jakarta
Nightlife in Jakarta exemplifies Indonesia at its best: diverse, swarming and intense. From small pool bars to swanky and hip nightclubs with queues of hopeful partygoers lining up for hours outside, Jakarta offers expats whatever kind of diversion they desire.
When compared to the nightlife scene in Europe, Australia or elsewhere, Jakarta keeps up with all of them in the quality and quantity of its nightspots. However, the biggest difference is that the traffic situation compels the clientele to stay put in the nightclub they have chosen for the night instead of bar-hopping between the different venues available.
Snazzy nightclubs in Jakarta can be compared to any trendy hotspot in New York City or Berlin. Current music and famous DJs make their way to Jakarta, and live music is often heard booming through the speakers. Expats are usually allowed in soon after arriving at the gates of these clubs as long as they are all well dressed and not wearing tennis shoes or jeans.
Several neighbourhoods are popular among expats due to their exuberant party scene. Kemang, in South Jakarta, is frequented by groups of friends looking to watch sports, listen to live music, play pool or drink beer with friends in an informal atmosphere. The Senayan and Kuningan areas are home to the hippest, trendiest and most expensive clubs Jakarta has to offer. Expats and locals attend the clubs to see and be seen and booking a table for the night is common practice. Single men looking to have a cheap beer with friends and mingle with the locals often visit the area of Blok M.
Several clubs offer private lounges that can be rented for a whole night. Many decide to rent them out and invite their friends to party all night long. Some restaurants and hotel bars offer salsa nights and tango milongas with live music performances. Jazz concerts and comedy shows are also a common entertainment option among expats.
In true Asian fashion, Jakarta has a karaoke club on almost every corner. Jakartans spend hours singing, drinking and eating at the different venues, and the low prices for beer and renting out the karaoke rooms makes it very popular among the locals and expats alike.
Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, doesn’t prompt any big changes to the nightlife of Jakarta. Although some bars may close earlier than usual, alcohol and food are still served in most of the places frequented by the expat community.
►For more useful information about expat life in Jakarta, have a look at Pros and Cons of Living in Indonesia
Are you an expat living in Jakarta?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Jakarta. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Ana Gaby is a Mexican expat currently living in Jakarta with her American husband and her two little boys. After living in Southeast Asia for over three years she's still learning to appreciate the ups and downs of living in the Big Durian and loves taking her kids along for the ride of a lifetime. Follow her blog, Stumble Abroad.
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