So You Want to Move to Indonesia?

July 17, 2013

indtravel.jpgIndonesia is the world's fourth most populous country
with 240 million people on 17,000 islands.
But according to
Bernard Grover, a Texan who has lived there for almost six years,
there is plenty of room for enterprising Westerners escaping
the toxic political and cultural environment at home.

"Interestingly, Westerners are treated with great respect, deserving or not.  Indonesian women are highly attracted to white, and especially older, males.  The immigration laws are extremely protectionist, but when a nation has 250 million people to keep employed or face a revolution, the choice is to encourage economic activity.  There's also the matter of having been colonized by brutal Western powers for centuries and it's understandable why they would want to keep a tight rein on Westerners here.  However, the past does not affect the Indonesian's genuine warmth and acceptance, and the almost annoying curiosity.  The only way to blow it here is to be surly and superior.  In a nutshell, you get what you give."

I asked Bernard to give me the lowdown on entry requirements, making a living, cost of living and other need-to-knows.

kissing baboons.jpg

By Bernard Grover (left with wife & orang outang)


Jakarta -  Living away from the US feels very liberating. I notice the difference every time I catch some US TV.  The soft, weak men.  The wise-cracking Jews who are the only ones allowed to speak their minds.  The hard, demanding, high maintenance women, and the smart-aleck, disrespectful children.  When I watch the programs, all I hear are women belittling men for not being emotional basket-cases or good enough in bed, unless the man is gay and then he's instantly OK no matter what his character.  Honestly, I can't think of any part of modern American culture that I miss.

Here, no one defines himself by who they sleep with. There is a constant focus on religion (which can be annoying.)    Children are respectful.  Women are demur.  Men are strong and confident.  Diversity means being diverse and not marching in ideological lock-step.  People speak their minds.  Homosexuals are around, but if they even thought of demanding special rights and sensitivity training in schools, they would quickly find insurmountable barriers.

And when it comes to police state, the metal detectors aren't plugged in and most of the show is a put-on just to make Westerns feel secure.  Beat police are not armed and most people take care of their own, avoiding contact with government agents of any kind for any reason.  Everyone knows the agents are crooked and treat them accordingly.


You can get a visa on arrival ($25) for 30 days and renewable once before having to exit. A social visa ($45) with a sponsor is obtained at a consulate outside the country and lasts 45 days, renewable four times before exiting. After age 55, you can get an annual retirement visa ($800) with a sponsor and renewable up to four times before exit. If you are married to an Indo citizen, you can get the new 10-year permanent resident visa, but there have been some horror stories because the supporting regulations are not yet settled. It costs $5,000. There is a gray area that allows you to look for work on a tourist visa as long as you are not receiving income locally.

In the past couple of years, the barriers to entry have been going up all across Asia. In Indonesia, it used to be enough to be a native speaker of English to get a teaching job. At the moment, you need a BA in English, at minimum.

teacher.jpgThe average English teacher makes less than $2,000/month, and the contract usually includes your visa and work permit for one year, a housing allowance, airfare to and from the US, and transportation by taxi to and from work.

Other disciplines have higher pay, but not by much. Higher degrees can command a bit higher wage, as well. International high schools pay better than universities. Engineering, Math and Science degrees are in high demand, especially if you are a native speaker of English. But be aware, the pay, while being very good by Indonesian standards, won't make you rich back home.

If you don't want to teach, there are options, though not many. Journalist, doctor and other high-demand positions pay well, but the people in them tend to stay for life. It's very hard to get in. It's all timing.

You can start your own business, as an option. There is a type of business called a PMA that may be owned 100% by foreigners (though that may change soon). It is usually a branch of some entity registered outside Indonesia - Singapore, Hong Kong and Brunai are popular. You will need to deposit a minimum of $5,000 in a local national bank (higher for certain business sectors) and go through a relatively fast filing process. I highly recommend using a local agent or lawyer to do this, though strictly speaking you don't have to do so. Corporate tax is 25%, and VAT runs 10%, with few deductions.

Which gets us to the fact that you cannot come here and work freelance, as is true in most of Asia. You can not sponsor yourself (without a PMA). You must have an employer or spouse, though the spouse can only supply the temporary stay visa, not the work permit. There is growing pressure on government to allow foreigners with spouses to automatically get work permits, but that has a ways to go. Also, obtaining citizenship, while not impossible, is difficult. Indonesia is very protectionist.

74421609.jpgKOST OF LIVING

The cost of living here is very low. If you stay away from restaurants (especially Western chains) and keep to a native diet, you can easily get three meals a day for less than $5.  A kost can be anything from a guest house to small complex with pools and other amenities. A decent one runs about $300 per month, up to $800 for 5-star quality. Most have laundry and maid service included. You can get bare walls or fully furnished.

Taxis run about $15 to cross the entire city at rush hour, and other forms are significantly cheaper. Keep in mind that inflation is running about 7% to 8% right now, so prices are going up, and these prices refer only to Jakarta. Outside Jakarta, prices drop precipitously.

As a foreigner, you are not allowed to own any real estate. The best you can hope for is a long term lease called Hak Bangunan, which can run up to 30 years and can be extended twice. Full ownership (Hak Milik) is only available to foreigners through marriage, but if your spouse dies, you have one year to divest the property or lose it.

Property prices, however, are ridiculously cheap. Condos run about $65,000, while houses start at around $25,000, and land in some places is as low as 10-cents per square meter. The average 2-bedroom condo is rather small by US standards, and most houses are fully-attached or semi-detached. It is hard to find fully-detached houses at any price.


With that said, there are a number of benefits once you get a foot in the door. As mentioned, the cost of living is very low compared to the West. Outside the big cities, it is even lower. For vacation time, there are some of the finest beaches, diving, sailing and hiking anywhere in the world. You are also within four hours flying time of some of the world's most exotic locations, with Cambodia and Vietnam becoming hot spots the past few years.

Crime rates are incredibly low compared to the US. Rape is almost unheard of and larceny is rare, though petty theft is endemic and a nuisance.

Illegal drugs carry up to the death penalty and no amount of personal use is recommended. Bribery is rampant and one of the on-going public debates. You can buy your way out of pretty much anything but murder, illegal drugs and official graft (!).

Indonesian medicine is often little more than a combination of pharma and superstition. Most foreigners go outside - usually Singapore - to get treatment for major problems. For the most part, though, doctors and dentists are cheap and all prescription drugs are available over-the-counter at very reasonable prices.

And as I've mentioned before, Asian women, and specifically Indonesian, are magical. I know of a number of men transferred here who quickly divorced their Western wives and took Indonesian wives.


Religion is one major drawback. The Indonesian Constitution recognizes four: Islam, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu. You must state your religion on all immigration documents; atheism is not allowed, though Buddhism is - go figure - and mixed marriages (between two religions) are not allowed. If your intended spouse is Moslem, chances are that you will either have to become Moslem, or give up. Some advantages to being Moslem include having up to four wives simultaneously, and being able to divorce by dropping the wife off at her family's door and saying, "I divorce you," three times. Marriage outside the country is possible, though the bureaucratic barriers are rather steep.

Many Indonesians claim this is an Islamic country, much as people claim the US is a Christian one, though both constitutions recognize multiple religions. For this reason, there are certain radical groups, such as FPI, who take it upon themselves to be morality police. If you live with a woman (no one cares if an Indonesian man lives with a foreign woman), there is a slight chance that a group like this might decide to make an example of you. I know of one man in particular who finally gave up and broke with his girlfriend after relentless pitchfork and torch (literally) protests in front of his house.

Indonesian culture is very traditional, and that is a two-edged sword. If you conform to local customs and do your best to fit in, you'll have no problem. But if you try to bring Western customs and sensibilities here, you will find an uphill battle. Think of how you feel about foreigners refusing to assimilate into US culture, such as it is. The advantage is that family bonds are very strong and tend to overrule any government attempts to interfere.


A good wage here in Jakarta is $400/month, but it's livable if you know how to live like an Indonesian.

Jakarta is a city of contrasts.  You can easily find a large, sprawling mansion amidst shacks and lean-tos.  There are beggars, especially around Ramadhan, but everyone knows they are a collective, with women renting babies to use as props for begging.  In Jakarta that are hefty fines for giving money to beggars and encouraging them.  On the other hand, folks take care of people in real need, and when a bowl of meatball soup costs just 50-cents, it's not hard to everyone to find a hot meal.  Weather helps, too.  There's no winter, so street people don't freeze to death, and fruit trees bear all year long and grow everywhere.

There is poverty, but families are a lot more cohesive here and work together for the good of all members.  Neighborhood women will pool their resources and make several large dishes which they all then share equally.  There's a much greater sense of togetherness and self-reliance. 


Apart from the US, most countries have very strict immigration laws. It is hard to enter a lot of places, though once in, your battle is 90% won. Indonesia has a long list of pluses and minuses. Year-round summer and fine women are balanced against protectionist government and religious chauvinism. Most of the time things run on an even keel, but occasionally they tip to one side or the other. The current month of Ramadhan is just such a time, as religious fever builds to a fever-pitch. There is a trend towards more tolerant attitudes, but rapid change is not likely.

In many ways, Indonesia is the mirror opposite of the United States, much like Alice and the Looking Glass. In other ways, Indonesia is what the US used to be, or at least aspired to be at one time. As with any move of this kind, there are many benefits and drawbacks, and you should weigh them carefully. Most importantly, what are you willing to give up in order to get what you want? I spent many years considering my move and in the end, Indonesia offered a longer list of benefits.


Bernard Grover is an independent writer/producer/director living in Jakarta, Indonesia. His work appears regularly on popular websites. He publishes the Life on the Far Side blog and produces Radio Far Side

Comments for "So You Want to Move to Indonesia?"

Derek said (July 18, 2013):

I enjoyed the post on Indonesia as well as the comments. Money may be a huge factor in Asian women finding western men attractive however another issue according to my wife (who is Filipino) is faithfulness. If she married a well to do or at least hard working filipino man, its almost guaranteed that he will have girlfriends on the side. This practice is apparently very "normal" in the Phils.

Aside from that as a western man I can easily see myself relocating to that side of the pond in the future when I no longer have a need for western employment. Although crowded Its a different feeling over there... like you've gone back in time, and yes the weather is great :)

Sheila said (July 18, 2013):

If the Indonesian way of sex, love and marriage is so much healthier than the western way, why is it that only men go there to find happiness? You would think that there would be an equal number of western women eager for relationships with Indonesian men, if their way is so much better and aligned with God's plan.

Instead this article is written solely to men, as if Henry has no female readers, or as if those female readers might not also be searching for marital happiness.

Seen from this perspective, it becomes immediately clear that this is not about love and sex, but about money. Women look for men with financial assets, so western men are very attractive to Indonesian women for that reason. Indonesian men would be unattractive to western women for the exact same reason. Remove the income disparity and Indonesia would no longer be the happy hunting ground for young, pretty females that Bernard now finds it to be.

Imagine Bernard trying to find a young, pretty wife in a rich Muslim country such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar. They have very traditional societies with women living quiet, demure lives cloistered inside their palatial homes. But those women can easily find rich husbands from their own culture, so would not be interested in someone like Bernard.

It has nothing to do with the "evil" of western women or the apparent purity of Indonesian women. It's all driven by money.

JG said (July 17, 2013):

Well written article on this latest "lost/found paradise" of Indonesia.

Unfortunately these places are eventually inhibited by people with large sums of money on the "outs" with their family seeking a refuge for themselves and their problems. They usually are very depressed people.

It's not the scenery or the weather that makes the community, it's the people!

If there is no happiness in the heart you more than likely won't be happy for too long anywhere else.

JG said (July 17, 2013):

Well written article on this latest "lost/found paradise" of Indonesia.

Unfortunately these places are eventually inhibited by people with large sums of money on the "outs" with their family seeking a refuge for themselves and their problems. They usually are very depressed people.

It's not the scenery or the weather that makes the community, it's the people!

If there is no happiness in the heart you more than likely won't be happy for too long anywhere else.

Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at